We visit some of the most fantastic locations imaginable on our tours and one of the exclusive spots that we get to visit on our Phillip island tour is the remote wilderness of French Island. Only an hour from Melbourne this place is an absolute wonder so we thought we would catch up with Steve and learn more about this amazing place.
EA: Tell us a bit about yourself, what's your story?
Steve: I’ve got a background in science and education; I was a lecturer in Western Australia for about 15 years in Environmental Science and Land management. I relocated to the Mornington Peninsula about 4 years ago and set up my own eco tour business and found my way to western port ferries where they were interested in me doing tours for them on French island.
EA: How long have you been taking tours of French Island?
Steve: Almost 2 years and I thought there would come a day when I would extinguish the possibilities of new stories but that’s certainly not the case as something new happens all the time whether that be through the people or the seasonal changes or the wildlife. New anecdotal information seems to pop up which makes it interesting all the time.
EA: Can you tell us a bit about French Island?
Steve: Well It’s quite unique, it’s Victoria’s largest island almost 17 thousand hectares which makes it just about twice as big as Phillip island. There’s only about 110 people that live there permanently, about 3 quarters of it is national park. The rest is basically farmland. and farming which is undertaken by those who are based here permanently.
The Island has no sealed roads, no mains electricity, water or gas. They are not part of any shire or council and the residents are not required to pay rates.
There’s an abundance of birds both migratory and residential including birds of prey. There’s Echidnas, Koalas the long nose potoroo and the recently released Eastern Barred Bandicoot the lack of predators allow animals to go about their business with confidence.
EA: How do you get to there?
Steve: The Western Port Ferry Service runs all day from Stony Point and also Cowes.
EA: Once you get there how can you travel around the island?
Steve: It’s possible to ride bikes and they do hire bikes from the general store but the easiest and most comfortable way to get around is to take one of our tours.
EA: What should a person expect when visiting?
Steve: To be in a place that is completely unique, there’s very little infrastructure whatsoever, no power, no mains water it really is remote with there being only one shop on the island. So a lack of facilities and an abundance of wildlife and the feeling of being somewhere scary remote quite easily.
EA: What wildlife are visitors likely to encounter?
Steve: Echidnas and Koalas are abundant, there’s birds of prey like white bellied sea eagles, wedge tailed eagles, swamp harriers, whistling kites, peregrine falcons, nankeen kestrels are all likely to be seen on the island. So bird watching is quite spectacular here, Black Swans are also high in abundance with about 20 thousand in the area.
There’s also residential shore birds such as the little pied cormorant, pied cormorant, sooty cormorant, pied oystercatchers, terns, and then the migratory species that visit during the summer mainly being the shearwaters or the mutton birds, bar tailed godwit and the easterly curlew, red necked stints and sandpipers are some of the birds that come to French island between November and April.
EA: Do you have a favourite part or highlight of visiting the island?
Steve: My favourite changes a little bit. When I first started coming to the island the blue gum homestead with the views that it offers over San Remo and the southern part of western port bay really grabbed me. More recently I’ve been exploring more remote areas of French Island where the bushland is completely intact and has been since day dot. Those sorts of remote areas have been becoming my favourites more recently.
EA: Is there a best time of year to visit?
Steve: I’d say anytime of year is good to visit French Island, I prefer when temperatures are below 30 degrees for traveling around the island but as long as you are properly prepared you will be fine.
EA: What in your opinion makes French Island so unique?
Steve: Having this remoteness and this amount of wildlife so close to a capital city makes it very unique. It’s only 80 kilometres from Melbourne and the only way to get there is by passenger ferry over the water, so I think that makes it very special.
EA: What advice do you have for potential visitors?
Steve: Do your homework, a lot of people come over to French island and they’re told by the ferry crew about the conditions of island and are surprised. After a couple of hours they jump back on the ferry and complain that there’s nothing there so the fact is If you don’t bring a bicycle or book one of our tours then your not going to be able to get anywhere and see anything. So my advice would be to do your research and be prepared.
EA: Is there anything you think we've missed out on that you'd like to mention?
Steve: As well as the wilderness and wildlife there’s also a great cultural history to French Island both Aboriginal and European, there’s been a prison farm here for about 70 years from the early 1900’s, there’s also a lot of early settler type buildings scattered over the island so if it’s cultural history that you’re after French Island is abundant in that also.
EA: Thanks for your time Steve!