Our Editor Tim spent a day on the stunning Satellite Island; it’s a private bit of land, girt by sea, on the raw southern tip of Australia. Talisker Whisky has seen something in the island that reminds them of their wild home on the Isle of Skye in the north of Scotland – our mission was to find out what it was, and distill it onto the page.
You’ve probably heard of Tasmania’s rugged cliff lines and salt-blasted shores, but unless you’ve been there it’s hard to comprehend just how deeply the wild southern oceans penetrate every aspect of Tasmanian life.
Even in Hobart there’s no escaping the influence of harsh landscapes and harsher weather – it gives the life that survives a spark, like an acacia clinging to a crack in a cliff line. Which goes some way to explaining why the challenging MONA art gallery and subversive Dark Mofo winter festival spawned here. An adventurous nature manifests in many ways.
South To Satellite Island
The city is wedged between the towering 1271m high escarpment of Mt Wellington and the Derwent River. That river then leads south, opening into the Southern Ocean. Maps don’t prepare you for its sheer size; countless unnamed beaches, crags and bays disappear out of sight. And just before the land completely gives way to Antarctic swell, there’s a tiny, private island.
I was lucky enough to spend a day exploring the tiny 34 hectare outcrop of Satellite Island, situated in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel between Bruny Island and the Tasmanian mainland. I’d been brought there on behalf of Talisker Whisky to connect with the marine environment at the bottom of Australia.
Talisker? Aren’t they Scottish?
They are, the distillery is actually on the Isle of Skye – a rugged island in northern Scotland – and it’s about as far from Satellite Island as you can get. Yet as our seaplane banked towards the island and the rock shelf that encircles it contrasted with the deep blue of the channel, it began to make sense.
The rock shelf that surrounds Satellite Island extends out for about 10 metres around the entire island, at low tide you can even walk a lap, checking out rock pools and hunting for oysters. The shelf is dripping with sea-life, including an edible seaweed called ‘sea-lettuce’, urchins, and abalone in the depths.
Luckily, given that it’s winter in Tasmania and the sun hangs in a permanent mid-afternoon, one of the staff from the island is going to brave the crisp, salty harbour and dive for our feed.
A Cabin In The Woods, With A Huge Moat
Unplugging by going to a cabin or a remote campsite is pretty excellent, but once you’ve got a whole island to yourself you’re going to find it pretty hard to go back. Want to go kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding? Go fishing? Snorkel or (finally) do some yoga? Satellite Island’s adventurous clientele means they’ve got it all ready to go.
The tide was up so we chose to jump in the boat and take a lap of the island with its manager Richard Roe. We checked out every nook and cranny from Gunwale Point to Dreamy Bay, spotted the resident White-breasted Sea Eagles and marvelled at the strange geology of the island. The entire way around it rises vertically from the rock shelf, like some kind of ancient fortified town.
Back on land, the owner Kate Alstergren takes us on a tour of the city walls, and points out crisp fossilised imprints of shells as we climb a staircase to begin the cliff walk. It’s a nice contrast to begin a lap of the island again, this time looking out; north-west, towards the peaks of Mount Royal and Woodbridge Hill on the mainland; east, towards Bruny Island; and south, towards Antarctica.
Warm Winter Goodness
It was only 1.00pm, but the sun was sitting low in the sky. Everything was burnt yellow, but the sun had no kick and a biting wind was beginning to chop across the channel. Lured by the smell of a campfire, we hung a left and began a short hike to the centre of the island, and we weren’t disappointed.
Next to a roaring bonfire, the Talisker crew had set up a spread of oysters, abalone and venison broth (made from deer farmed on the island) to pair with a range of their single-malt whiskys, including the Talisker Skye Single Malt Whisky.
Next time you’re feasting on the high-tier combo of whisky and oysters try this: tip a little whisky onto the meat, eat, allowing the salty flavour to complement the smoke of the whisky, then rinse your shell with a little more.
An Endless Sunset & False Regret
Piling onto the seaplane to leave Satellite Island left me tinged with regret. The island has a small house, a boatshed equipped with bedding and two glamping-style bell-tents that face out to the ocean. Despite being treated to an exclusive adventure, the fact I wasn’t going to be sleeping on the island had left me wanting. Like somehow I hadn’t had the full experience.
It was days later when I had the hindsight to check myself. It wasn’t the trip to the $2k-a-night private island, the seaplane ride or the free whisky that had really made the experience. It was the real things, the things we always talk about on this site: the conversations with new friends, the sting of salt in your nostrils, the warmth of the sun and the fire, interspersed with the crisp cold of wind and water against your skin. These are the things that are really worth cherishing.
Because adventures don’t have to be polished, extravagant or even go to plan, they just need to happen, so go and plan yours.
Oh and if you want to chuck a bottle of Talisker and a dozen oysters in your pack as you head out the door, that’s cool too. It’s about balance.
You can never get enough of Tasmania