King Island

More Than Just Delicious Cheese

Mention King Island to most people, particularly those who stroll the dairy aisles of Australian supermarkets and the thought of delicious gourmet cheeses instantly comes to mind!

Located half-way between Melbourne and Tasmania in the stormy seas of Bass Strait and right in the path of the notorious ‘Roaring Forties’, this wind-blown island and its residents have, for many years, been successfully developing and producing a surprising number of different services, products and attractions that most of us have never heard of. Yes, King Island’s cheese reputation is well deserved and sampling its wares is an obligatory part of any visit, but as we recently learnt on a visit to this lonely outpost, there is much more to see and enjoy here, and well, the cheese is really just a bonus!

Going back aways, King Island, measuring 64 km long and 28 km wide, was first sighted by Europeans in 1797 and was subsequently named in 1801 after the then Governor Phillip King (of NSW). In those days and for the next 100 years or so afterwards however, the island developed a disastrous reputation for sailing ships trying to navigate Bass Strait in the ever-present westerly gales and wild oceans, all too often coming to grief as they slammed into offshore islands and reefs along King Island’s shores.

Many wreck sites have these days been identified and signposted or memorials erected, including the site of Australia’s worst peacetime shipwreck. It was here on the island’s south west coast in August 1945 (at Cataraqui Point) that the Canadian merchant ship Cataraqui, loaded with 367 immigrants (and a crew of 41) heading to Australia to start new lives, founded on rocks in huge seas just 100 metres off the coast. A plaque at the site graphically records the tragedy where only nine of those on board survived.

It is recorded that over 60 ships have been wrecked around this island’s treacherous coastline with a loss of life of around 1,000 people. Any wonder they call the place ‘Australia’s Marine Graveyard’!

These days, King Island with a population of around 1,400, is a very much ‘laid back’ community spread out in three main centres – Currie, the island’s unofficial capital, and the smaller hamlets of Grassy and Naracoopa. In addition, right throughout the island are farming properties where beef and dairy cattle and sheep, bred both for wool and meat, can be seen everywhere.

Touring this delightful island indeed has plenty of variety and interest and if you are looking for a place with a real change of pace, some beautiful scenery, plenty of history and to fit in with a relaxed lifestyle, then King Island is just where you need to come. Most visitors here fly in to the airport at Currie, hire a vehicle (small sedan or 4WD) and set themselves up in one of the island’s numerous accommodation options – cabins, hotels, motel, B & Bs, chalets, etc. For the camping enthusiast there is a number of tent camping sites, including at Bass Cabins which has camping sites with private amenities. A number of organised tours, including farm tours as well as travel and accommodation packages, are also available.

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