From where you’d rather be: see what Picnic Island has to offer

The buildings on the island appear much smaller than I imagined, as our aqua taxi pulls up to the jetty.
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Four modest rooms sit on the edge of the island, with glass doors facing out towards the water.

There is a shared kitchen and living room next to them, and compost toilets to the side.

I’m in a small group of travel writers and photographers who have been invited to experience Picnic Island, where Melbourne planning consultant and former politicianClem Newton-Brown had been escaping to for the past decade with his family.

He bought the private sandstone island about 10 years ago, and last year, decided to open it up to the public.

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After wandering the carefully laid footpath and settling into the bedrooms, we are invited to enjoy a home cooked meal in the kitchen, overlooking the water and the Tasmanian mainland.

As the light fades in the evening, Carins bids us farewell until the morning, and leaves us with little torches, whichare dimmed and filtered red so as not to disturb the penguins and shearwaters.

He switches off the humming generator on his way out, leaving the island powerless –that way, the birds are not scared by the noise, and can come home for the night.

There is about a half-hour twilight period where it is almost silent, except for the water quietly lapping on the rocks.

But, shortly after dark, the island comes alive, with the sound of squawking and braying filling the air.

We grab out torches and carefully circle the island on the footpath. Seemingly out of nowhere, itis absolutely crawling with native penguins and shearwaters.

It is so loud, you would almost think the Coles Bay township should be able to hear it. We see penguins waddling through the scrub and shallowly burrowing into the earth.

It suddenly becomes clear why BirdLife Tasmania has been concerned about this venture.

PRIVACY: The view from the balcony in front of the guest rooms at Picnic Island. Picture: Carly Dolan

BirdLife Tasmania voiced its opposition to the project back in 2016, withdrawing its support, which it initially granted in relation to the original plans.

The organisation’s convenerDr Eric Woehler said last year that the initial proposal for a standing camp and much smaller construction project on the island was changed, which could impact the habitat of the penguins and shearwaters.

He visited the island in late August this year, with a representative from Glamorgan Spring Bay Council.

“Based on the visit and on-site discussions, BirdLife Tasmania made 10 recommendations to council and the landowner, and reaffirmed our opposition to a sculpture park on the island,” Mr Woehler said.

“I have no idea as to whether these recommendations have been acted upon by council and/or the island’s owner.”

Newton-Brown said the birds and wildlife were the island’s star attraction.

“We are continually working with BirdLife and other environmental experts to implement recommendations to ensure the seabird colony thrives,” he said.

Carins said he and his wifeSusansaw an opportunity, as locals, to help preserve the colony, which, he said, was “absolutely paramount”.

“We saw this as an opportunity to have a local business involved with the island so we could at least be privy to what was happening out there.

“It means we can be a little bit more involved with how it’s managed and hopefully preserve its beauty and the colony.

“I firmly believe it can be managed in a way that people can visitand stay on the island, but also preserve the colony.”

SKIPPER: Freycinet Adventures’ Nathan Carins in his aqua taxi, which he uses to take clients to Picnic Island and around the peninsula.

Freycinet Adventures, which is run by Nathan and Susan Carins, had always offered a four-day kayaking tour.

“But we saw a bit of a decline in bookings for that style of tour,” he said.

“After a bit of investigation, we came to the conclusion that people were seeking a bit more of a comfortable experience, rather than sort of roughing it in tents for four days.

“So we looked at some of the different options about how we could go about providing that style of tour, and the island was one of those options.”

Carins was already ferrying Newton-Brown’s private clients to the island via the aqua taxi, so he felt it was a “good fit” to go into partnership.

The Examiner, Tasmania

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