I’ve been invited to fly to King Island on a magnificent old warbird – a 70-year-old DC-3 C47 (aka Dakota) plane, for a quick day trip to experience the best of what KI has to offer.
It’s the night before my flight on the Air Nostalgia DC-3, and to tell the truth, I’m a little nervous about flying on such an old plane, especially considering the wild weather we’ve been having this past week. But I wake to beautiful blue skies, no rain and, more importantly, very little wind, which calms my nerves no end.
A quick trip to Essendon Airport and I meet the tour operators, the crew and my fellow passengers. There’s about 20 of us. Everyone is incredibly welcoming and excited to get on board the DC-3, but no more excited than I am once I get my first glance at my transport to King Island.
Any trepidation I am feeling quickly evaporates once those props begin to twirl. They chop through the air and make the most magnificent rumbling hum – ‘thrum’ would be a better word. And the throbbing engines soothe everybody on the plane into casual conversation and all the excitement of embarking on a great adventure.
We’re stuck on the tarmac for 10 minutes while we await clearance to take-off. Something to do with Joe Biden being in town. Air traffic security is tight. The Yanks are still a bit paranoid – and maybe rightly so. Soon, the props hit maximum velocity, the engines have roared into life and the plane with its million rivets, polished aluminium and the necessary number of wings is in the air. All I can say is “wow” as I stare down at my hometown Melbourne.
After an hour’s flying, enjoying the tea, coffee, homemade cookies and banter of our incredibly hospitable air-hostess Annie, I catch my first glimpse of the island. King Island looks beautiful from 5000 feet and I have no doubt it will be even better once we land.
We hit the runway with a slight crosswind blowing us around, but the touchdown is actually every bit as smooth as that of a commercial airliner. I’m very impressed with the crew.
Someone is there to unlock the airport. Yes, King Island Airport is not your standard affair. It’s pretty much closed on the weekends unless a plane comes in. We make our way onto our King Island Coach Tours bus for the day and Mike Hill, our tour operator, instantly ingratiates himself with his introduction, which goes something along the lines of: “Hi, I’m Mike and I’ll be your guide for the day. If you have any questions, ask someone else!” Mike is typical of the people of King Island – no nonsense, no pretence and quite refreshing.
First stop is the Boomerang by the Sea for a buffet lunch. The food is all locally produced – fresh oysters to die for, mussels, beef, calamari, salads and salmon. All fresh, tasty and honest food. We eat while looking out over the ninth and 15th holes of the Links Golf Course (one of a few courses on the island) and the expanse of angry waves that crash into the rocky shore. Speaking of golf courses, Mike tells us that the Cape Wickham Links, which opened late last year, has already been rated in the top three Australian courses. There’s another course on the way, which promises to be even more spectacular. One day, I’d like to come back for a golf weekend. And when I think about it, it’s probably just as affordable to play on a world-class course here as it would be to play on equivalent courses on the mainland. And that’s including flights.
We’re taken on a short tour of the island’s sights and landmarks, driving along a coastal trail that features shipwreck memorials, a beautiful old lighthouse and families playing golf and enjoying the stunning, rugged coastline.
Upon leaving the trail, we see the King Island kelp factory. Kelp is a major export of the island and we’re lucky to meet a couple of kelpers, who are true characters, bringing in the day’s ‘catch’. The kelp comes in from massive underwater kelp forests from anywhere between South America and King Island – there’s no other land mass in between. It’s reeled in and hung on huge hangers to dry, then run through a kiln before being sent to the parent company in Scotland, where it is processed and used for make-up, ice-cream, supplements and to put the head on your beer.
The coastline and the land is stunning, green and lush. If I am pressed to provide an analogy, I’d say it’s as though I’m driving through one great beautiful farm surrounded by a scintillating, yet ominous, surf beach. It’s serene and peaceful with almost no-one in sight.
Next we make our way to the famed King Island Dairy, home of King Island’s gourmet cheese producers. As I walk towards the farmhouse-style cheese sales room, I can’t help but be struck by the romance of the place. So peaceful and perfect for a weekend away.
I’m amazed when they tell me I can sample every cheese produced by the dairy. And when I see the wheels of brie, cheddar and camembert laid out before me I’m in heaven. I do love my cheese, so this is a real treat. And I waste no time sampling each wheel – they do not disappoint – so I purchase my favourites for around a third to half the price I pay in Melbourne.
Back on the bus, we make our way to the airport for our short trip home. It has been a great day, I’ve met some really outstanding people and seen some spectacular countryside. However, what I’ve experienced today is but a small portion of what the island has to offer.
There’s so much more food and produce I’d love to sample and I really want to come back to see the Calcified Forest – an ancient forest that was rapidly covered by sand and has since turned into fantastic limestone features. Then there’s the Cape Wickham Lighthouse, which is the tallest lighthouse in the southern hemisphere. King Island is also home to more known shipwrecks than any Australian coastline – one of which, the Netherby, has an interesting tale. The ship, carrying 500 passengers, hit ground 250m off shore in 1866. The crew somehow managed to get a lifeboat ashore, from where they ran a rope back to the ship and saved 501 passengers – because a baby was born during the rescue operation.
I’d also love to just drop out here. It’s so peaceful and laid back it would really be an ideal place to leave the hustle and bustle of the big smoke behind for a relaxing long weekend away.
Well, I’m back on board the Air Nostalgia DC-3 and heading for home. King Island is one of those quintessential Australian places you see in photographs and read about, but may not visit because of its remote location. But if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend booking a passage on the DC-3 and treating yourself to the rugged beauty that is King Island.
I really must thank Air Nostalgia: The DC-3 Joy Flight Experience for having me aboard and showing me a great time.
Air Nostalgia has a couple of great flight tours on offer. For only $449, you can fly to King Island on its buffet tour, where you’ll enjoy a three-course roast beef and seafood buffet and complimentary drink at the Boomerang by the Sea Restaurant, then be whisked off on a bus tour of the island and see all that I’ve covered in this article. If you’re interested in something closer to the mainland, the Around the Bay Dinner is $249 per person, and includes dinner in the DC-3 whilst flying over the city and coastline of Melbourne.