Natural Tasmania: Islands

Offshore Islands:

Number of offshore islands: 334 (16 are privately owned)
Length of Tasmanian islands' coastline:
2,049 km

Largest (area):

Flinders Island (Bass Strait): 134,000 Ha
King Island (Bass Strait): 109,400 Ha
Cape Barren (Bass Strait): 46,500 Ha
Bruny Island (Tasman Sea): 35,300 Ha
Macquarie Island (SW Pacific Ocean): 12,400 Ha
Maria Island (Tasman Sea): 10,100 Ha
Clarke Island (Tasman Sea): 8,200 Ha
Robbins Island (Bass Strait): 9,900 Ha
Hunter Island (Bass Sea): 7,100 Ha
Three Hummock Island (Bass Strait): 7,000 Ha
Schouten Island (Tasman Sea): 7,000 Ha


Length of Tasmanian mainland coastline:
2,833 km
Marine area: 22,357 sq km
Marine area (percentage of Australia): 5.5%

There are some 8,222 islands dotted around Australia's shores, of 334 are off the coast of Tasmania. Those featured below are the most well known of the state's islands, having significance for a variety of reasons, some because of their size or position, others because of their mineral wealth or their natural beauty.

Bruny Island

Across the D'Entrecasteaux Channel to the south of Hobart, Tasmania, is Bruny Island with its wild seascapes and sweeping surf beaches, rich maritime history, abundant birdlife and wildlife, tall forests and historic lighthouse. Effectively two quite different islands connected by a narrow neck of sand, Bruny was once home to a large group of Aborginal Tasmanians, (members of the proud Nuenonne tribe, who were decimated by violence and disease following European settlement) the island still carries the evidence of their pre-European existence in shell middens on its beaches. Many of Bruny's landmarks are named after these original inhabitants.

Flinders Island

Tasmania's largest and Australia's 6th largest island, Flinders Island is located in Bass Strait, some 20 km from the north-eastern tip of Tasmania, Australia. It is the largest island of the Furneaux Group. Flinders is a long, narrow island, 75km long and 40km wide, with the Darling Ranges running along the middle of the island. With a height of 756m Mt. Strzelecki is the island's highest peak. The total land area of the island is 1.333 sq km. Its population is just over 1000 people. The major population centres are Whitemark (which has the island's main airstrip) and Lady Barron (the port).

Furneaux Group

The Furneaux Group is a group of 52 islands, at the eastern end of Bass Strait, between Victoria and Tasmania. The islands were named after British navigator Tobias Furneaux who sighted the eastern side of these Island after leaving Adventure Bay in 1773 on his way to New Zealand to rejoin Captain James Cook. The largest islands in the group are Flinders Island, Cape Barren Island and Clarke Island. The islands are the remnant of a land bridge which joined Tasmania to the Australian mainland through this group of islands.

Governor Island

Governor Island is a well known landmark of Bicheno, a fishing resort village on Tasmania's East Coast. The coarse-grained granite bedrock of Tasmania's north-east outcrops throughout the Bicheno region, and nowhere is it more spectacular than Governor Island. Underwater, the granite fractures into large blocks which often overlie each other creating spectacular underwater scenery. The rocky reef drops steeply into deep water; its sheer vertical walls and overhanging rock faces are home to an unusually diverse range of colourful and captivating marine communities. Deep fissures and caves are brim full of fish both large and small. At depths below 30m, the granite reef slopes into sandy-bottomed trenches scattered with boulders. The Castle, Hairy Wall and Mr Whippy are some of the names given by divers to underwater features.

The Hunter Group

The Hunter Group of Islands lie in Bass Strait off the north-west tip of Tasmania due south of Geelong, Victoria. The island and the island group were named by British navigator Matthew Flinders after John Hunter, Governor, of the Colony of New South Wales, in December 1798 during the first recorded circumnavigation of Tasmania. Hunter, Three Hummock and the not so well known Robbins and Walker Islands and the numerous lesser islands of the group have a charm of their own. The currents here are swift and the tides repeatedly empty much of the area to an expansive desert wasteland. Adding to the beauty of the islands are the mutton birds, the pelicans and albatross along with the myriad of other wild life. The islands are small, but crammed with individual characteristics identifying each in its own very special way.

Ile des Phoques

Isle des Phoques is a tiny rock in the middle of Great Oyster Bay around 10km south of Schouten Island and 18km north of Darlington on Maria Island. It has several spectacular caves which provide some of the Tasmania's best diving. A two-hour cruise from Coles Bay via Schouten Island is one of the best ways to see the island. Ile des Phoques was named by French explorer Nicolas Baudin whose expedition spent considerable time charting the coastline and documenting the wildlife in 1802. The small granite island's name means Island of Seals; it is home to a significant colony of Australian Fur Seals - mammals once on the brink of extinction. From May to August, humpback and southern right whales can be sighted. Dolphins are a common sight.

Isle of the Dead

A small island located in the harbour off Point Puer adjacent to the Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania. It is a small, picturesque island roughly the size of Sydney's Fort Denison, and lies in the bay between the prison and the open ocean. Originally called Opossum Island, it was selected as a burial place by the Rev. John Manton in 1833. Between 1833 and 1877, about 1,000 burials took place on the island. The majority were convicts and ex-convict paupers who were buried mostly in unmarked graves on the lower part of the island. The graves of free people - 180 officials, soldiers, women and children - were located in the higher side of the island and sometimes marked by elaborate headstones cut by the convict stonemasons.

King Island

King Island is located in the Roaring Forties of Bass Strait, off the north-western tip of the main island of Tasmania, approximately 80 km northwest of Tasmania in Australia and about 90 km southeast of Cape Otway on the Victorian coast of Australia. King Island, with a population between 1500 and 2000. Wildly rugged and windswept, it boasts over 145 km of untouched coastline, an estimated 57 offshore wrecks and a wide and unusual variety of seabirds and wildlife. It is not a tiny island, being some 64 km long and 26 km wide.

Maatsuyker Island

Located approximately 10 km off the south coast of Tasmania, Maatsuyker is the second largest island in the Maatsuyker Group. It is 3 km long and 1.5 km wide at its widest point and covers 180 hectares. Maatsuyker Island is lashed by the unobstructed force of the Roaring Forties coming across the Southern Ocean from as far away as Africa. The island has an average of 250 rain days each year, with an annual average rainfall of 1.2 metres. The lighthouse's keepers log book from 1907 has this interesting entry: "Five days continuously without rain this month". There is a constant gale blowing across the island with winds averaging 50-60 knots. The highest recorded speed is 112 knots though it believed it get much higher in a storm. This cannot be proved, however, as every time attempts have been made to record it, the equipment has failed to survive the storm.

Macquarie Island

A tiny fragment of land half-way between New Zealand and Antarctica in the Southern Ocean. Each Spring, thousands of sea birds and mammals converge on the island in order to leave the water and breed. This seasonal influx of life also makes Macquarie an oasis for biologists. With the creative application of technology, those scientists are gaining fascinating insight into the mysterious ocean-going lives of the island's seasonal visitors.

The island's natural history has been a magnet for scientists and for over 50 years Australia has operated a research station at the northern end of the island. The station is home to over 40 people over the summer and around 20 through winter. A wide variety of research is carried out on the island including biology, botany, auroral physics, meteorology and medical research.

Maria Island

Maria is a mountainous island off the east coast of Tasmania, from Orford and Triabunna. The entire island is a National Park. It is about 20 km in length from north to south and, at its widest, is about 13 km west to east, and comprising two halves that are linked by a sandy isthmus. For two periods during the first half of the 1800s, the island hosted convict settlements, established in the mid-1820s and mid-1840s around Darlington. Among those held during the later convict period was the Irish nationalist leader William Smith O'Brien, exiled for his part in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. His cottage still exists in the former penal colony.

Maria Island has sparkling white sandy beaches and a coastal mountain range with lush gullies, but it is most known for its spectacular limestone and sandstone cliffs. The Painted Cliffs are one of nature's masterpieces. Beautifully coloured and patterned sandstone, carved and moulded by the sea, and bordered by rock pools teeming with marine life. Although this sort of rock formation is not uncommon, it is rare in a natural situation for it to be so extensively and beautifully exposed. The wonderful patterns are caused by ground water percolating down through the already formed sandstone and leaving traces of iron oxides, which have stained the rock formation.

Pedra Branca

Pedra Branca is a 2.5 ha rock or small island about 26 km south-south-east of South East Cape, Tasmania. It is known for its inaccessibility, rich marine wildlife, wet and windy weather, interesting geology and large waves. It is part of the Southwest National Park, and thus in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Site. An erosional remnant of the Tasmanian mainland, Pedra Branca is approximately 270 metres long, 100 metres wide, and 60 metres high. This is small enough to provide an example of an outcrop that lies on the border between being a rock or islet and an island.

Sarah Island

Situated in the remote southerly reaches of Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania's wilderness south-west, Sarah Island was the site of the first convict settlement in Tasmania. Established in 1822 it has remained unoccupied and relatively undisturbed since it was finally abandoned as a penal settlement in 1847. Its convicts laboured under the harshest conditions in nearby rainforest felling Huon pines for boat building. Of all the sites that might have been chosen, this six-hectare (15-acre) island would have been the most windswept and barren, but it was also the most secure.

Schouten Island

On navigating the east coast of Tasmania in 1642, Dutchman Abel Tasman named Schouten Island, at the southern tip of the Freycinet Peninsula on the state's east coast, after Willem Schouten (1567?-1625), a Dutch explorer and a member of the Council of the Dutch East India Company in Tasman's time. Freycinet National Park was declared in August 1916. Schouten Island, which had been administered as a scenic reserve from 1916-1941, and then again from 1967, was added to the park in 1977.

Tasman Island

Tasman Island stands defiantly beyond the tip of Cape Pillar, a rugged, desolate and windswept rock; it was named after Dutch seaman Abel Tasman who cautiously skirted its thunderous shores in 1642. Like a fortress, its grey basalt columns rise 240 metres straight out of the sea. Above is a plateau of only 50 hectares, pock-marked with sink holes, caves and small clumps of windswept vegetation.

Located off the south eastern tip of the Tasman Peninsula, the island stands off-shore from a rugged, awe inspiring corner of Tasmania known as Tasman Peninsula, that features magnificent cliffs and coastal formations such as the Devil's Kitchen, Tasman's Arch, Waterfall Bay, Pirates Bay Lookout, Fortescue Bay, Remarkable Cave and Cape Pillar. The cliffs of Tasman Island and nearby Cape Pillar are in fact the highest sea-cliffs in the southern hemisphere.

Hobart's Lost Island

Hobart's Hunter Street is not only the site where Hobart had its beginnings, but the location of a tiny rocky island which once stood out from the main shore of Sullivans Cove, and was given the name Hunter Island. Founded on convict labour, it was here that the first successful attempt to establish a permanent European colony in Van Diemen's Land was made. From these early beginnings, the Hunter Street site evolved into Tasmania's principal trading port in the mid-nineteenth century.

The growth of the port was fundamental to the growth of the city of Hobart and it was here where large-scale commercial and industrial development took place, coexisting with residential life. In March 2004, the Tasmanian Heritage Council agreed to permanently enter the subsurface remains of the Hunter Street area in the Tasmanian Heritage Register. This registration covers the subsurface remains of Hunter Island, the causeway, the Old Wharf Probation Station and the reclaimed land. Entry on the Heritage Register helps ensure that the heritage values of this important place are properly managed and protected by providing a legal framework for managing the heritage values and ensuring that its significance is considered during any new developments.

The first settlement at what was to become Hobart was by the British at Risdon Cove on the eastern bank of the Derwent estuary in 1803, by a small party sent from Sydney, under Lt. John Bowen. An alternative settlement was established by Captain David Collins 5 km to the south in 1804 in Sullivan's Cove on the western side of the Derwent, where fresh water was more plentiful. Collins and his fellow settlers moved to Tasmania upon abandoning a settlement on Mornington Peninsula on Port Phillip Bay. The day after they arrived there William Collins with Deputy-Surveyor G. P. Harris sought a site more suitable than that at Risdon for a township; they recommended the cove on which Hobart now stands, and the lieutenant-governor approved. The new settlement became known as Hobart Town or Hobarton, later shortened to Hobart, after the British Colonial Secretary of the time, Lord Hobart. The settlement at Risdon was later abandoned.

Lieutenant-governor Collins wanted to retain the energetic, efficient and highly appreciated services of William Collins, so he appointed him harbour-master from 2 April 1804 at 15s. a day. William Collins then made a further examination of the River Derwent, reported on the Huon River, set up a look-out on Betsy Island, submitted a scheme for making Hobart Town the centre of a South Sea sperm whale fishery and supervised the construction of a wharf on Hunter Island. The boat crews organised huts and other accommodation on the Domain side of the Hobart Rivulet near Hunter Island.

Hunter Island's partially isolated and relatively secure location made it a logical site for storage and the colony's first Government Stores was built there in July 1804. The site proved to be quite impractical. Access to the Stores on Hunters Island was only via a tidal sandbar that linked this small lump of rock with the shore, which was half the time under water.

In the earliest years, all cargo arriving into or departing Hobart did so at Old Wharf next to Hunter Island. Men waded across the shallow channel or along the sandbar and women were carried in sedan chairs by able seamen (the prettier the woman, the longer the crossing apparently). The 'landing' where they came ashore was next to the Hope and Anchor Hotel in Market Street. At that time, the hotel had not been built, but the first cottages behind the landing were already in position to take advantage from any trade arising from new arrivals.

In 1820 a stone causeway was built to link the island to the main shore of Hobart. and port activities increased dramatically. More than 65,000 convicts took their first steps into the penal colony at Old Wharf, jostling for room with whalers, seamen and merchants as they were marched in chains to their barracks in the town centre. As commercial interests developed, Hunter Island became the logical site for warehouses and became the business centre for the import and export of goods through Hobart. The old causeway to the island, became Hunter Street, the town's major business precinct.

In 1822, with G. F. Read as his partner, Walter Angus Bethune was among the first to build a warehouse on Hunter Island. In the next four years he exported 320 tons of oil and 10 tons of whalebone, and he claimed to have loaded four ships in 1827 with colonial produce for London and exported 8000 bushels (214 tons) of wheat to Sydney and Isle of France (Mauiritius). Some of the Georgian buildings which line Hunter Street today date from 1825 and are among the original Hunter Island warehouses. The oldest of these was the residence of George Peacock, who established the jam business that would become IXL.

Hunter Island today

In just 40 years, a tent colony where survival was a struggle was transformed into a busy base for fishing, trade and transport. By the time Parliament House was completed and Hobart town is proclaimed a city in 1842, Hunter Island had disappeared. The area around had been filled in during the construction of the many wharves built around Sullivans Cove, erected to handle the increasing amount of goods and people passing through the port.

In 1882, a mix of original Hunter Island warehouses and those rebuilt in the later half of the nineteenth century in the same austere Georgian style were incorporated into Peacock's jam-making enterprise. Ten years later, Henry Jones and his two partners bought out the failing business. Over the next 35 years, Jones's IXL brand became a household name around the world. At the time of his death in 1926, the Henry Jones and Co jam empire establishment stretched 300 metres along Hunter Street, from the purpose-built 1911 production factory at its eastern limit (now the University of Tasmania's School of Art) to Davey Street at its western end. Many of the buildings also extended north to Evans Street, parallel to Hunter Street, one street back from the cove.