Picnic Island

Article and Photos - Andrew Johnstone

Like many kids, I was fascinated with the idea of living on a remote island, fueled by stories of pirate treasure and Robinson Crusoe. However the islands of my imagination were always tropical with surf lapping at the shore, palm trees, coconuts and monkey butlers.

Picnic Island, a tiny slab of rock nestled just off the coast at Coles Bay, was not quite the tropical paradise I had imagined as a child. What it lacked in monkey butlers it made up for with a colony of penguins and unbeatable 360 degree views of the beautiful Freycinet region.

Lume had been invited to the unique destination (which only opened last year) and the itinerary was set: a night at Picnic Island, sea kayaking with Freycinet Adventures, and a trip to Wineglass Bay.

First up was the kayaking. Launching from the docks at Honeymoon Bay with the imposing Hazards in front of you, it was easy to feel small and vulnerable in the two-seater sea kayaks. I was glad we hadn’t attempted to strap my son, a toddler, into one of the kayaks and had instead sent him and his Mum straight off to relax on the island. The steady hand and reassuring commentary from our guide kept us all together as we paddled across the bay and, after a brief stop at an old rock quarry, we landed on an isolated beach for afternoon tea. I’ve definitely had a cup-of-tea and a cookie in worse places.

After paddling back to the docks we were met by Nathan Carins from Freycinet Adventures, who happens to also operate a local water taxi. In no time at all we arrived at Picnic Island, getting our first glimpse of the retreat, owned by former Melbourne mayor and retired Victorian politician Clem Newton-Brown and his wife Jane. They bought the island a decade ago, which gives you an indication of how long it’s taken to clear red tape for their eco-friendly lodge to take shape.

There are two buildings that make up the Picnic Island experience, designed by Tasmanian architect John Latham. The first contains the five guest rooms; small but comfortable spaces set metres away from the water. The second building is the common space that houses the kitchen, dining area and bathrooms. It’s an impressively designed space with large windows looking out over the dock and water beyond. Both buildings are entirely clad in copper that has weathered to a pleasing patina.

The island itself is tiny. The circular pathway takes only a few minutes to circuit, but with views in every direction, it’s almost impossible not to take a lot longer.

Now, this is a big call, but I’m going to say it. There is no better view of the Hazards. They sit brooding over the bay to the east. To the west is the main bulk of the huge bay that makes up the Freycinet area, with the sun setting over Swansea, lights twinkling in the distance. You can see the high-end Saffire hotel to the north and, surprisingly, feel a sense of superiority over their wealthy guests. That view, remember!

The experience on the island was of complete peace. Given it’s distance from the Coles Bay township there is very little noise apart from the lapping of the waves on the rocks, an occasional seagull, the sound of an outboard motor going by, or the generator that provides power to the island for a few hours each evening. Even as my wife and I chased our extremely active and inquisitive two-year-old around, there was a definite feeling of calm on the island.

The islands locals, a colony of penguins, arrive back at their nests on the island each night after a long day of fishing. How often do you get to sleep amongst a penguin colony? I confess, however, that after a long day, tiredness got the better of me and I slept right through the penguins arrival back at the island. As disappointed as I was, it was nice to spot a couple of the locals who stayed in their nests the next day.

Not content with the sea-kayaking and the night on the Island, the Freycinet Adventures team had another treat in store for us that morning. Into the boat we hopped for a leisurely cruise around to Hazards Beach and a quick thirty-minute walk to Wineglass Bay.

What can you say about Wineglass Bay that hasn’t already been said? It’s beautiful. Crystal clear water on white sand surrounded by Tassie bushland. As we sat on the sand devouring a slice of carrot cake and a cup of tea, all provided by our guide, I had to pinch myself. Admittedly, I enjoyed our brief stop at Hazard’s Beach more than Wineglass Bay due to its isolation from the throngs of tourists.

As we arrived back at the docks, our trip complete, I thought about our Picnic Island adventure. Kayaking in front of the Hazards, relaxing on an isolated island in beautiful Coles Bay, sleeping amongst a penguin colony with only a handful of other people, and a cup-of-tea at Wineglass Bay. It wasn’t that vision of a remote, deserted island I’d cooked up as a young tyke, but it had plenty of treasure of its own kind.