This island off an island is a place of treasures, from endless pristine coastlines to giant marbles and elusive jewels.
"Do you know how to fly a plane?," asks Steve, our Guy Sebastian lookalike pilot who himself barely looks old enough to hold a driver's licence. "Only hang gliders," I mutter, "and that was a while ago".
"Cool! Don't worry, you don't need to know what you're doing - just look at me," he replies with a wide grin before bursting into peels of laughter. My fellow passenger and I - full of bravado and confidence just moments ago - chuckle along politely, shooting sideways glances at each other while trying not to look terrified.
Before we know it we're clattering along the dirt airstrip and, as the little red Cessna lurches into the sky, a stunning expanse of white beaches and rocky outcrops dotted through an azure sea unfolds before us like a brochure for a tropical island.
"You wouldn't expect this in Tassie, would you?," crackles the voice over the headset as we bank right and head out towards Bass Strait. "You can see why some call it the Whitsundays of the south".
We're on our way back from a surprise-filled four days on Flinders Island off the coast of Tasmania where we've been treated to breathtaking hikes, endless pristine coastlines and sunrises and sunsets so achingly beautiful, they look painted on.
Flinders, the largest in the Furneaux group, is part of a remote chain of about 100 islands off the north-east coast of Tasmania that once formed a land bridge linking the state to the mainland. About 10,000 years ago as the last glacial period ended, ice melted and the sea level rose, cutting off the plants, animals and first Australians who had regularly travelled between what was to become Tasmania and Victoria.
As a result, several of the species of plants and animals found on the islands are distinct from those found elsewhere in Australia. The isolation has also left behind a gorgeous wilderness for explorers willing to stray a little further off the beaten path.
It's not empty
The first surprise of the trip is finding out just how many people call Flinders Island home. According to the 2019 census, about 1000 people live on the 54-kilometre-long fleck of land with many of them based in or around Whitemark, the largest settlement, which boasts a general store, pub and a distillery.
Legend has it, the name came from a large white mark painted on the shore by early settlers so sailors didn't miss it on the way past, which seems a believable explanation. It's an unremarkable blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of place, and it's not what we've come for, at least not today.
Our destination is out of town at the recently established Eco Comfort Camp run by Tasmanian Expeditions. It's a remote getaway nestled in bushland on a dirt side track that feels a world away from civilisation.
According to our host Shelby, Tasmanian Expeditions was only given permission to establish the camp on the condition that everything needed to be removable so the bushland could be restored to its original condition at a future date.
Those rules have led to some creative engineering in an attempt to balance glamping luxury with a light touch on the land. Along with solar panels and composting toilets (no, they don't stink), an ingenious water heater known as a donkey - involving a modified beer keg, gas burner and a bucket - makes for a somewhat complicated but nevertheless effective shower. Not normally one to worry about such luxuries as washing when out in the bush, I decide on day two to give the donkey a go out of consideration for my fellow travellers forced to spend lengthy periods next to me in the minibus. It works, and feels like a rare treat on a camping trip.
But this isn't really camping as I'm used to it - an activity that typically involves huddling in the dark over small gas stoves while eating out of a saucepan with a spork. This much, much more civilised activity involves seven large octagonal canvas tents on raised-board platforms scattered through the bush to ensure privacy, each featuring clear panels in the roof to allow for uninterrupted star gazing.
A central tent hub at the heart of the camp acts as kitchen, dining room and chillout space, and the path through the forest to the tents ends at the camp's biggest asset - a private beach.
The landscape is dotted with distinctive boulders covered in red lichen and there are no neighbours in sight, with miles of uninterrupted Tasmanian coastline.
With nothing similar within cooee, the first obvious question is how it came to be there.
Despite the lure of a comfy bed or a hot meal after a long day of walking, I find myself repeatedly drawn back to the beach during our stay, the sheer luxury of having the entire place to myself and being able to sit undisturbed and defrag from my busy life at home a rare blessing.
There's also only one mobile phone tower on Flinders Island (Telstra) and it's not the one my phone connects to. I'm happy to submit to the digital blackout for a few days, knowing the incessant notifications, alerts and emails marked "urgent" will just have to wait.
A giant rock and a dark past
We begin our adventuring proper with a short walk along the beach at Marshall Bay Conservation Area to one of the Island's best-known natural attractions - Castle Rock.
It's a huge boulder visible from miles away, and what makes it odd is its isolation. With nothing similar within cooee, the first obvious question is how it came to be there seemingly all on its own (it's a fair bet it didn't wash in with the tide).
It's described variously as scone-like, given the large crack in the top half, and some of the members of our group see faces in its smooth granite surface while others decide it's definitely the head of a Beluga whale.
As that debate rages on, we head to Wybalenna where we come face to face with one of the island's darkest chapters, the war between the original inhabitants and the first European settlers.
After repeated attacks, reprisals and violent clashes between the two groups, in 1830 the colonists mounted a huge military style operation known as the Black Line where thousands of settlers and soldiers swept through vast areas, herding people from their lands.
Wybalenna, promised to the local tribes as a safe haven, became an attempt to "civilise and Christianise" them under appalling conditions.
Today, the chapel at Wybalenna declares the place a site of genocide, and outside the solemn graveyard stands a memorial recognising the more than 100 indigenous Tasmanians buried in unmarked graves. There's a haunting presence to the place that's hard to shake.
Back on the bus, there's one more dose of history before it's time to call it a day, as we head to the Furneaux Museum on the Island's west coast.
Staffed by volunteers to cover peak periods but also open by prior arrangement, it's a quirky collection of bric-a-brac that's washed up on shore from numerous shipwrecks, where huge rusting anchors sit alongside Nissen shelters and re-created mutton birding huts.
A temporary exhibit celebrating the island's aviation history carries hair-raising tales of misadventure and missing planes while inside another room cabinets of brightly coloured eggs of all shapes and sizes from the island's bird population provide an eye-popping biology lesson (nature's act of blessing some of the tiniest birds with some of the most gigantic eggs seems particularly cruel). It's also here at the museum that we catch our first glimpse of a Killiecrankie diamond.
Finding happiness on Killiecrankie
"Keep your eyes peeled, there's diamonds in there somewhere," declares our guide Nigel as we head off for our first serious hike of the trip to the summit of Mount Killiecrankie. The first Europeans to spot the sparkling crystals on the island's north in the 1800s couldn't believe their luck.
It wasn't until after significant quantities of the "Killiecrankie diamonds" had been shipped back to Europe that it was accepted they were, in fact, topaz, a much less valuable stone. Still, the name stuck and today a boutique jewellery industry has sprung up in Tasmania processing them into all manner of rings and brooches.
I'm taken by the idea of stumbling on my own Tasmanian treasure. With eyes glued to the path ahead I instead spot ... a snake.
It's only a fairly modest serpent, so I resist the urge to shriek. By the time I meet my second snake of the day, though, I reach back into my pack and pull out the gaiters I'd poo-pooed at the bottom of the hill. We're a very long way from the nearest major hospital.
Our walk takes us through low tea tree paperbark scrub before slowly morphing into Gondwana-like cool-climate rainforest. Eventually the mossy logs and Lord of the Rings scenery also gives way to huge granite slabs as we emerge onto the impressive domed summit.
The views open up and reward our efforts with sweeping vistas of the coastline below. Islands dot the horizon as I point out one particularly odd-shaped scrap of land dominated by a conical-shaped hill. "That one's Chappell Hill Island, but you don't want to go there," says Nigel. "It's full of tiger snakes."
Nigel then goes on to explain that because the island is so small, the seething mass of deadly snakes (by now I'm envisioning a Raiders of the Lost Ark-type scenario) have had to adapt to the very limited food on offer, namely mutton birds.
Having fairly large eggs (which I can attest to after my visit to the Furneaux Museum) that also result in large chicks once hatched, the snakes on the island have over the years developed larger heads and jaws to cope with their culinary challenge, according to our guide.
Having had my fill of snake encounters for the day, I take the advice and move on, as we continue on. Along the way we pass a series of curious stone oddities with names like the white-eyed man and squeeze our way between giant granite marbles and pass abandoned fishing huts.
After leaving the valley allegedly home to the elusive diamonds and coming out empty handed, we arrive at a winding coastline scramble that delivers us to an area known as The Docks.
Here, huge cliffs run almost vertically into the sea and coves - hollowed out by the merciless Bass Strait weather - create hidden beaches of immaculate white sand.
We've been blessed with uncharacteristically warm and clear weather for April so we strip off to swimmers after lunch to enjoy the spectacular crystal-clear waters. I get as far as my knees before being reminded we're still in Tasmania and beat a retreat for the shore as I start to lose sensation in my toes, to the sound of jeers from my much bolder hiking companions who have opted for full immersion and bragging rights around that evening's dinner table.
After a long day of walking, swimming and fresh air, we descend on our four-course dinner back at camp like a flock of hungry seagulls as a magnificent plate of local chocolates and fresh strawberries emerges from the kitchen tent to finish a perfect day.
The peak with a hat
"Who's ready for an awesome day?," beams our effervescent guide Stac as we drag our weary bones to the breakfast table. "I'm ready for coffee," I mumble, as I dump my pack in the corner of the dining tent and head off in search of a fresh plunger.
A fellow photographer and I have already been up before dawn to catch the sunrise, an effort we're duly rewarded for with a spectacular display, but we're paying for it now.
"Is today's walk much steeper than yesterday?," asks one of our group. "Yes", comes the very unambiguous answer.
"And so harder then?"
"Definitely. It will take us longer and there are exposed steep cliff areas near the top."
That exchange kills any remaining breakfast-table banter and we make our way to the bus for the short trip to the base of Mount Strzelecki.
While only a six-kilometre return walk, the climb up Strzelecki goes straight up from near sea level to a height of 756 metres, so it's steps and scrambling nearly the entire way.
After a long day of walking, swimming and fresh air, we descend on our four-course dinner.
But with my second wind for the morning I power up the stones past a series of babbling creeks, cool mossy valleys and flashes of spectacular scenery that reveal themselves as we pop out of the scrub along the way.
As I sit on a shady rock waiting for my group to catch up, a couple easily in their 70s comes down the other way. They've already been to the top and are on their way home, having started not much earlier than us. I pack my ego back into my pack and resume trudging.
Near the top we reach a saddle where we pause for lunch and photos before embarking on the final short push to the top.
The forewarned exposed cliffs are less daunting than I expected and we all celebrate as our entire group reaches the top. From this high vantage point at the top of the island it's possible to see in every direction and the aching in our legs is (almost) forgotten as we soak it all in.
Just as we start to make our way back wispy strands of cloud start to curl up the cliffs around us, rapidly shrouding the peak above in mist.
By the time we return to the minibus the entire top of the mountain has disappeared under a white veil that from the plains below sits like a white, broad brimmed hat. Once again we've been blessed with luck.
Threading the needle
As the Cessna climbs higher and Flinders starts to drop from view in the side window of the plane, our pilot Steve pipes up. "Keen to go through those two peaks and get some good shots?," he asks, gesturing at Lady Barron Island in front of us.
With nods of agreement he calls in to air traffic control that we're about to "thread the needle" and he drops our plane down to ridge height. We marvel in silence as we glide past the granite cliffs and impenetrable forest below.
Soon we're heading over shipwrecks in the middle of the bay, we bank right to gawk at a cruise liner passing through the strait and a private island owned by a rich Singaporean investor, and then all too soon we're back tracking the golden sands of mainland Tasmania as we pass by the iconic Barnbougle golf course.
As we approach Bridport airstrip my phone suddenly shudders back to life as for the first time in days I come back into range. But the deluge of messages and notifications can wait; my first priority is to text the family and to post a couple of drool-worthy brag pics of those magnificent blue waters and islands to social media just to rib those back in the office about how hard I'm working.
The standard Flinders Island trip with Tasmanian Expeditions usually runs over six days, and we've compressed it into a highlights package of four. While I wonder what other surprises I've missed as a result, I'm content knowing there's one benefit - I've now got a good excuse to return.
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Getting there: While there are ferries to Flinders Island, by far the best way to travel is by plane. Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin fly to Launceston from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide or Perth, with connecting flights from Canberra and regional centres via one of those hubs. Tasmanian Expeditions can arrange minibus pickup from Launceston and transfer to Bridport. The comfort ($3595) six-day hiking packages includes a scenic flight from Bridport to Flinders Island as well as transport, accommodation, guides and meals.
Don't miss: The Furneaux Distillery at Whitemark welcomes visitors to sample their locally made whisky and gins, and marvel at their immaculate copper stills. On a sunny day a seat on the deck overlooking the pier makes a perfect vantage point for weary hikers, see furneauxdistillery.com.au
The writer was a guest of Tasmanian Expeditions.
Pictures: Dietmar Kahlesi; Jasper Da Seymour; Scott Hannaford; Rob Mulally; Getty Images