Of happy cows and shipwrecked bows: King Island, Tasmania

Pristine white powdery sand between your toes, blue skies, a world-class surf break off shore, miles of national park with not a house in sight and more cheese than you could ever eat. Sound like heaven? Well, despite what you might be thinking from the above shot, we’re not in the Whitsundays (surf should have been a dead giveaway…).


Our latest project took us soaring high into the sky, as Kirkhope Aviation’s Piper Chieftain expertly piloted by Tony took us on a short panoramic loop above Melbourne’s spectacular CBD, followed by the scenic route across Port Philip Bay past the Great Ocean Road towards Tasmania. After an overcast morning, the clouds parted in multiple layers as streams of golden sunshine spilled on the ocean below and our destination came into sight. Nestled between the Great Australian Bight and the Bass Strait, approximately half way to the Tasmanian mainland is King Island, handily not named after a king, but someone with the surname King, who was actually a Colonial Governor of New South Wales. Go Aussie naming.


As we approached the tiny airport, our group started chatting animatedly about the landscape aerial view, the rugged coastline and near emptiness of lush green grasslands. Due to the plane’s size (7 passengers plus pilot), everyone got a window seat, and with more legroom than you can do a can-can in, the 45-minute flight passed like lightning. King Island is known to be windy, slap bang in the middle of the Roaring Fourties southern global wind tunnel, but it was certainly favouring us today as blue skies greeted us along with Ian and his all-terrain vehicle at the airport. After unloading our kit and the drone out of Piper’s nose (a flying machine in the nose of a bigger flying machine!), Ian bundled our group into the ride for the day, to take us for our ride of the day. Heading straight north to Whistler Point and Quarantine Bay, we soon spotted our first shipwreck, the American full rigged ship ‘Whistler’ (what a coincidence!), that sank in 1855 and is now nearly completely buried by sand. Eerie to think of this whole structure underground. If you’re a fan, you can find out more eerie stuff about King Island’s shipwrecks here.


We quickly saw the benefits of our all-wheel drive, as Ian scaled dunes and navigated rocky outcrops in between sprints on the beach. King Island is famous for its birdlife, some of which, such as the Ruddy Turnstone (we’re not making this up), migrate from Japan every year. An avid bird photographer on board asked a few times if we could stop for photos, which was great for us to have time for landscape shots including the group. As we headed inland for morning tea, kangaroos jumping next to us down the dirt track and cows peeking curiously out from the grassland, Ian explained that King Island was until recently covered in temperate rainforest, which was replaced by industrious types with grasslands to raise cattle. King Island has near perfect conditions for cattle and dairy farming, and one handful of little millet seeds washed ashore from Scottish shipwreck mattresses in the last century or two started a whole new floral colonisation of their own, spreading far and wide across the island. The cows, we’re told, love the stuff.


After lunch at Cape Wickham Golf Course (one of the best in Australia, if not the world) which gave us a good opportunity to fit in some drone photography without holding up the group, we headed to the nearby Cape Wickham Lighthouse, Australia’s tallest and only surpassed by a couple in Argentina for the prize of tallest in the Southern Hemisphere. There was said to have been some dispute during the build, as it seemed to cause more shipwrecks than it prevented. Again, if you’re a shipwreck aficionado, you know what to read next. Bright eyed, bushy tailed and full of lasagne and cappuccino, our group headed to Penny’s Lagoon, but not before saying hello to some rather intrigued but confused looking cows. What might look like a rather picturesque mirror-surface, but otherwise pretty ordinary lake, is in fact a natural phenomenon. The freshwater part of Penny’s Lagoon is suspended above the water level within a huge bowl made out of sand and decomposed organic matter, whereas saltwater flows below it from the sea. In a way, the freshwater hovers above the saltwater without mixing due to a layer of earth in between. We thought it was pretty neat.


Over the next hill though lay something that will definitely impress anyone – the most pristine white sand beach imaginable. Kelly Slater himself gets a private jet down when the conditions are right to surf the Martha Lavinia break just offshore (named after… you guessed it, an 1852 shipwreck) and we certainly enjoyed our walk in the sunshine pretending we were part of a secret world pro surf elite club. We were certainly part of a world-famous cheese-eating club half an hour later as we scoffed down tasty morsels at King Island’s famous cheese factory. Say what you like about cheese, but you could certainly taste happy cows through it, and see them all around munching away on green grass doing their free-range organic hippy cow thing in the landscape all around us.


Apart from cheese, lobsters and other seafood have made the island famous, freshness confirmed by a quick chat to a fisherman at the dock. Organic seaweed is also harvested on an industrial scale (and grows back on an industrial scale so is super-sustainable) and used as a thickening agent, for food and fertiliser. The island’s pollution-free environment has also led to one clever lad bottling rainwater and selling it overseas as ‘Premium Cloud Juice’. Again, not making this up. A final stop off in Currie for refreshments and a walk on Memorial Rock beach where we met the world’s friendliest horses topped off our King Island shoot perfectly. The plane was buzzing with conversation on our way back, how lucky we had been with the weather, how much fun everyone had had in the all terrain vehicle (despite or maybe because of some impromptu donuts) and we couldn’t get enough of shooting all the locations we had captured throughout the day, this time thanks to Piper’s big windows, from the sky. Accessing mostly inaccessible locations needs specialist transport and a lot of organising, but this shoot ran so seamlessly, it was a joy to complete.