How many times have you and your cycling buddies said “we should go to...” or “imagine if we went…” or even “have you ever ridden in….”. If you’re like my friends and I, chances are you’ve had these conversations a lot. Yet somehow life gets in the way, and we end up repeating the same loops every weekend.
After a recent slackpacking trip through the Dargo High Plains in central Victoria that didn’t go according to plan (but was a day I’ll remember forever), I immediately started thinking about the next trip. Where could we go, what could we do. The ideas brewed for a couple of weeks, until one Saturday I shot out text messages to Tom and Andy.
“Hey guys, thinking we hire a plane and fly to Flinders Island. Looks pretty awesome and not many people have ridden there. I’ve got a free weekend in December, keen?”
3 hours later, the plane was booked and we were locked in. Tom, a rider for MAAP-Basso and also a pilot, would fly us down for the day. Andy, the creator of Everesting and founder of Hells 500, would be responsible for route planning.
We had one seat left in the plane and I knew exactly who we needed. The terrain at Flinders Island was sure to be spectacular, and we had to do it justice with photography beyond my skillset. So I hit up Harry Dennis, a 17-year-old photographer from Brisbane to see if he was keen. Harry said yes immediately, and we were set.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and the day arrived. We met in the centre of Melbourne early on a Sunday morning for the ride out to Moorabbin airport. We made good time, all excited by what we were doing and eager to get to the airport. There was no check-in time, no set departure.
Once we got to the airport and did a couple of sprints on the tarmac (wouldn’t you if you had the chance to ride on an airstrip?), we loaded up the plane and were away. Andy’s dad was a career pilot, so Andy was keen to take on co-pilot duties for the day, while Harry and myself were happy to be as far away from the controls as possible.
Tom did a great job as our captain, supplying fresh pastries and beverages for the 90-minute flight. We arrived to bright blue skies and light winds, a beautiful morning on Flinders Island.
Flinders Island is a small, remote island off the north-east coast of Tasmania. Its landscape is rugged, windswept, and punctuated by Mount Strzelecki and the Strzelecki National Park in the south-west.
Most recent population figures put the number of inhabitants at just 700, I dare say making the people of Flinders Island outnumbered by wallabies and various other wildlife.
All of this means Flinders Island is an adventurer’s playground; quiet roads, beautiful coastline, and a sense that you’re discovering a place relatively untouched for hundreds and thousands of years.
Our plan for the day was to get off the road as quickly as possible, and follow a route Andy put together using Google Earth. There were some marked tracks, but long stretches through thick bush were little more than a small clearing.
This route would take us south to the second largest town on the Island, Lady Barron. Lady Barron is home to around 100 people and more importantly home to the Furneaux Tavern, a small pub that claims to have one of the best beer gardens in Australia.
Our route had more variety than the most well designed cyclocross course. It would change from hard packed gravel to soft sand to creeks and then back to a dense forest in half a kilometre. Each had their perils; the soft sand was almost impossible to navigate without washing out, while the creek crossings meant soaked socks and shoes and more mosquitos than I’ve ever seen in my life.
Of course, the rewards were great. Trousers Point was a detour that became a highlight of the day. Through gravel, rocks, and sand, we emerged onto a walking track that delivered us to the most spectacular stretch of rugged coastline I’ve seen. Everything here seemed fuller and richer, highlighted by the bright blue water and red earthy boulders. It was so calm, not another person or sign of life for miles, and it felt like we were the first people to ever set foot on this stretch of coast (we weren’t, obviously).
When we finally turned to head back to our trail we had the most amazing view of Mount Strzelecki, an imposing 750m peak featuring jagged granite faces.
The next hour was spent riding, falling, and laughing our way through the bush, until finally we spotted a rooftop in the distance and knew our lunch was in sight. The only thing that slowed our pace through this section was some kind of pterodactyl that ran out and confronted us, then proceeded to run ahead for 100m with its wings raised like an escort into town.
While we were all dreaming of your typical pub fare for lunch, the Furneaux had other ideas. With their kitchen closed, we were sent to the General Store for icy poles and Coke. The beer was calling though, so back to Furneaux for chips and beer, while the under-age Harry opted for Coke and a block of chocolate.
The ride back to the plane was challenging for different reasons. Pushed for time (we underestimated the time required to ride through sand, and also the time needed to rehydrate at the Tavern) we took the sealed road back, only to be belted by a block headwind for 30kms. I had read there were turkeys on the island, so it was nice to see a rafter of feral turkeys on the roadside, equal parts curious and cautious about our presence.
The weather was threatening to turn, the grey skies truly bringing out the already glowing sunburn sustained by Harry.
To add one last piece of excitement to our time on the island we were forced to jump an electric fence to get back to the plane. There was something fitting about then riding our bikes back onto the tarmac and right up to our plane, an aircraft used in summer months for spotting bushfires.
The trip home was spent assessing sunburn, reliving events of only hours prior, and talking about the possibilities for the next trip. This sequence was repeated back in Melbourne’s CBD as we finished at Riverland on the banks of the Yarra. 100 meters from where we met in the morning, we shared burgers and beers as the perfect finale before we went our separate ways.
This trip wasn’t designed to be the longest ride of our lives. This ride was about exploring somewhere totally new. It was about taking the time to get lost in a part of Australia that only a small population will ever get to experience. Our country is so big, there's so much opportunity to get out and explore new surrounds. We barely scratched the surface of the island, but not for lack of trying.
When we got back to Melbourne Andy and I spoke about the remoteness of Flinders Island and what that meant for the community. It felt like they are totally isolated from current affairs and events occurring throughout Australia. Somehow removed from the trivial stuff we fill our days worrying about. Like nothing except the weather could impact their life on the island. What a wonderful thought.
If you want to ride Flinders Island, you can check out our Strava route for the day here.
Words: Riley Wolff
Images: Harry Dennis & Riley Wolff