On Island: Riding Gravel on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait

This is dedicated to Flinders Island local, passionate cyclist and an inspiration for this story. Guy Ireland suffered a terrible accident this week that has placed him in hospital with severe spinal injuries. Get well soon Mate.

On Island

An island by simple definition is a landmass surrounded by water, however, this may be an overly simplistic explanation. Australia for instance is a landmass surrounded by water and yet it is considered a continent and not an island. An island then is not then just a landmass isolated by water, there must be more. To further develop the idea of an island, an island generally will develop a living community. linking relationships between culture, landscape, nature or an experience.

Off island, on island, island and islanders are inseparable dualities. Landscape and seascape, nature and culture, communication and isolation. There is something about islands. On island vs off island can be as much a mental state as it is a physical state or a geographic location. For local islanders, “on island” may be a description of a state of being at when home and “off-island” is a state of being away from home. For travelers, it is a different experience, yet no less significant. On island may be seen as a state of being that encompasses the destination of a journey and off-island as a reflective state of the experience provided by the journey. 

Bikes provide a medium for an openly shared experience and reflective state to experience your journey with a presence of mind. Our special “on island” experience as travelers was by bike with the support of car and planes.

Landscape and Seascape

Flinders Island, is one of the 52 islands in the Furneax Group scatted through the Bass Strait. An extension of the island state of Tasmania. The largest island of the furneux group, it is dominated by rugged granite mountains running as ridges through the length of the island, crystal blue seas, white sandy beaches and coastal lagoons.

Strezlecki and the Darling ranges form a spine between the east and west of the island. The coastal rocky outcrops of Mountains Tanner and Killiecrankie along its coastline produce a spectacular landscape of nature to explore. With little sealed road riding the island is  made up of gravel, loose sandy single track and washed-out trails. Then there are the granite slabs, so many slabs to stop, scope, test and then shred.

The duality of the landscape and seascape could not be more apparent than with Flinders. The sea is cool and inviting, wild and unforgiving perched between the Bass Straight and the Tasman Sea. Vast white sandy beaches to sheltered little coves that provide tranquility and a place for an evening under the vibrant Milky Way are there to be discovered.

Island and Islanders

Flinders Islanders are a proud and warm community with a connection to their island home. Their connection to the island is described not only in terms of time connected to the island, but generations of family. For some their seasons are not determined by weather patterns but rather a connection to hunting and gathering on the island. The seasonality of hunting Wild duck, Mutton bird, Brown Quail and Sothern Rock Lobster (Crayfish) punctuate the Flinders calendar. This is not only a connection to the island, but also a connection to family and community with fellow islanders making the pilgrimage from “off island” to take part in these seasonal activities.

The warmth of this community is apparent to travelers on the island from the moment you begin to explore. A wave to each vehicle passing by is mandatory to being connected with the local community. A conversation with one local will have them providing a connection to other locals. One connection provides private road access, a second connection and a guided tour is waiting for you when you arrive. That’s just the way it rolls here on Flinders.

Nature and Culture

The island has rich natural biodiversity. The higher elevations are wooded with eucalypts through to rolling pasture and onto costal shrub land. Cape Barron Geese, Short tailed Shearwater (Locally known as Mutton birds) , wallaby, possum, pademelon and the common wombat call the island their home. From a Sea Eagle launching from the road close enough to see its impressive talons, to finishing riding in the twilight of the day providing an opportunity to see the island nature come to life. The abundance of land-based life is mirrored in the sea. 

Flinders has experienced human habitation for 35,000 years, the Furneax group originally forming part of the land bridge between mainland Australia and Tasmania. Culturally, connection to this island is not measured in years but in generations. There is in an undeniable sense of community. Visitors to Flinders who do not engage with the “on island”, may miss this rich culture.

Communication and Isolation

There is an immediate welcome feel of disconnection, on island isolation is welcomed. Air and sea are the only means on and off island. Islands and seas provide a particular balance between communication and isolation. This balance further conditions the perception and lifestyle of island people: the greater the distance the island is from the mainland, the closer the community. Flinders in effect is an island, off an island, or perhaps a given its history a connection of islands. Vibrant and by no means isolated in the true sense of the word, it is still a place to get lost in island life.

On Island and Off Island

In a modern world, there is a propensity for a disconnect between land and community. To experience the connected duality of island and islander presents a special opportunity. “On island” and “off-island” needs to be both a physical geographic and a mental state of being. For local islanders, it is acceptance of a home and a cultural location to their island state. For travelers is it the experience and reflection provided from a destination journey. The medium of the bike an opportunity for the openness of the experience between traveler and local.