It’s hard to explain the effect that Satellite Island will have on you once you have been. To even talk about if feels like hallowed ground. As corny as this sounds, I feel a part of me changed (for the better) after the three nights we were so privileged to spend on the island as guests of close friends who had rented Satellite as a bucket list dream. I felt that I had connected to myself in a way that I hadn’t for a very long time and also shared something undefinably special with those we were with. From the moment Richard, the islands affable manager, picks you up from the sleepy hamlet of Alonnah in his trusty indestructible speedboat, and the wind slaps your face like a rude awakening to life’s greatest wonder, nature, you know that you are about to embark on a journey that transcends terms such as ‘holiday’ or ‘vacation’.
I would say nearly all of you reading this have heard about, seen, or perhaps visited, the whale shaped island that lies in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel between Tasmania and Bruny Island. When I travel overseas and am asked about where to visit in Australia, it’s Satellite Island I refer to first. To me, it is an undeniable iconic Australian landmark, an untouched jewel nestled within the rugged beauty of Van Dieman’s Land.
As the famed boathouse comes into view, it is more than you imagined. Nothing surrounds her but a rocky shoreline and the pristine waters of the Southern Ocean. Winding up in the distance is a steep stairwell disappearing into the wilderness that will be our home for the next few days. Richard takes us around the island before we dock, showing us the ancient fossil clad rock shelf that circles the island and suggests we explore on low tide, which we do. From here, he tells us we can catch wild shellfish such as crayfish, native scallops, abalone and oysters or he can help do it for us.
Ahead of your visit, you will spend time planning what you might want to do and experience on the island with Kate, the owner, so take her cue. We speak with Kate about the history of the island and what it means to her family further on in the story, but for now here are our favourite field notes to an island adventure like no other.
There are three dwellings on the island. The boathouse has two rooms, sleeping eight in total, and the Summer House has three rooms, accommodating six. Tucked in amongst the native bush you will stumble across a canvas tent for two on one of the cliff walks perched on a cliff face looking out into the untouched wilds of Tassy.
The only other human living on the island besides you will be Richard, the island manager. He is incredibly discreet and very handy, only appearing when one needs absolutely anything. From shucking an oyster to setting a stylish table setting in the wilderness Richard is ‘the man’. Other locals to keep an eye out for are the pair of white breasted sea eagles who can be seen soaring high above the huge blue gums, the cutest black-faced sheep that amble around the walks, Rodney the rooster and a brood of productive egg laying hens, guinea fowl and I think approximately sixty deer. It will be Bert and Henry who steal your heart, two stags that you will see jumping and frisking around the place waiting for you to offer them juicy red apples.
EXPERIENCE | Sarah Glover
If your timing is right and Sarah is in her hometown of Tassy, booking her to come cook on Satellite is something I can’t recommend enough. This wild warrior chef brings local knowledge of freshly caught, grown and farmed Tassy produce to the table, literally. Prepped and cooked right there on the pebbled shoreline, watching Sarah use the landscape as her kitchen brings an acute appreciation to the meaning of this meal and how it brings people together. Nature was our dining room and we feasted under the crisp blue sky on the water’s edge of the boathouse until the sun goes down and a fire is lit under the star-studded roof of night.
COMB for treasures on the rock shelf walk around the island. Knarled and knotted milky white oyster shells, ocean weathered driftwood and the bubbled ochre pink of mussels. Oh, how I wanted to bring a little home with me but it felt good to leave nature where it belonged.
FEED Henry and Bert, the stags. Mention it to Richard and bobs your uncle a bucket of juicy apples will appear at the back of the Summer House. Beautiful creatures.
WALK the field walk. It only takes half an hour and you follow the mowed pathways to explore, you guessed it, the fields. Quaint signs will direct you to significant landmarks passing deer and native birds on the way to the very top of the island. From here you see sweeping views of the entire island out to D'Entrecasteaux Channel, Bruny Island and the world heritage Mt Hartz National Park and mountain range.
SWIM in the pristine waters of the Tasman sea where your breath will be stolen but you will never feel more alive. Bring a wetsuit for the colder months.
SLEEP with the doors open in the boathouse. Being lulled to sleep by the lapping water against the shore as the cool night air fills your room with the scents and sounds of the Tasmanian sea (the rooms have automated heaters that keep you completely toasty even though you feel like you are sleeping outside, heaven) was one of the most intoxicating experiences of my life. Being woken by the gentle blush hues of sunrise over Bruny Island, watching nature perform her morning ritual was as spiritual an experience as anything.
READ an actual book with real pages at one of the many scenic spots marked with a deck chair and nothing else. Magical spots dotted across the island offering complete peace and sanctuary.
COOK an incredible feast of locally caught crayfish on the fire. Gather around the potbelly stove in the main house and tell stories. Laugh, play games and create unforgettable memories with those you love the most.
Island life is simple living and packing should follow suit. Be prepared for exploration so hiking shoes or Blundstones are ideal but you can leave the gumboots at home as Kate has very thoughtfully left a selection at the back door with some rainwear. Also, be prepared for doing nothing so think oversized chunky knitwear and well worn favourites. There is something completely romantic about Satellite that makes me dream of being a writer or a painter or perhaps a sailor hiding from the storm. Think creams, canvas, khakis and kerchiefs with a little Katherine Hepburn gone country. Also, the shelters are home to a selection of straw hats which you are free to use, Thank you Kate. x
Weather report looks a little like December, January and February are going to be the warmest. But this is also peak season, so I'd suggest heading down for months of March to May for mild daytime temps and perfect snuggle-weather in the evening.
How to get there... Fly with QANTAS to Hobart and from the airport, it's only about a half hour drive to the car ferry which takes you across to Bruny Island. The journey is all part of the excitement. If you follow Kate’s supplied recommendations you can make your way to Satellite Island via a treasure map of local bakeries, wine cellars, cheese makers and butchers. The best food stops that Hobart and Bruny Island have to offer.
Once you've got a plentiful bounty of treasures, make your way across Bruny, to the Alonnah hamlet, which takes abut 40 minutes. From there, you'll see Satellite Island just across the water, and it's a five minute dash across in Richard's speedboat.
IN CONVERSATION WITH KATE ALSTERGREN
History"The island belonged to my husband's darling big Norwegian uncle Ian. He was part of a Norwegian family of 7 brothers and sisters. He found the island in 1962 after going to Tasmania to run the family timber business. Satellite Island reminded him of Norway. He thought he would live on the island and be a writer and a painter, but discovered that he was terrible at both! Then he got involved in the salmon industry. He was one of the founders in the 1980s."
"Ian always adored our 3 boys and when he died the island became ours."
"It has been a long journey to where we are now. The island was a working salmon farm when it became ours, with nets and equipment lying here and there and it was quite run down and neglected. So we just took some time at first and then I began to travel down regularly (often with my mum for support and inspiration) to work on restoring and tidying everything. It has been a lot of work and long days and travel but I wouldn't change any of that. There is still so much more I want to do.
We feel very lucky to have Satellite in our lives. As Will and I head off on a boat on another island job, we often thank Ian for all the adventures we have shared together because of the island and because of him: crazy boat trips in wild seas, towing broken down barges miles down the Channel to be fixed, midnight crossings with torches trying to find the island in the dark, days on the tractor collecting huge abandoned fishing nets in the fields, transporting sheep and deer and cars across on the old barge, pulling back years of overgrown creeper from the summer house, letting the light in and breathing new life into this tiny little island and revealing its raw beauty."
What does the island mean to us?
"We have just spent Christmas at the island with our families and friends and each Christmas we spend there, our boys say that was the best Christmas ever. The island has become part of our family almost like one of our children. There is definitely magic there, it may be Uncle Ian or it may be this tiny island's own magic but it seems to draw special people to it, family, friends, strangers and when you are there you share the most incredible experience and memories and then you just want to come back.”
Sharing the island
"I often sit in the Summerhouse when I get to the island and read the guest book and I cry, just gentle tears. It has given me so much joy and happiness to have something so special to share with others. To hear about their time on the island with people that they love means everything. Satellite island has become part of so many people's lives and that is so wonderful. The island has definitely changed me, sharing something so special with others is a gift and it fills my heart and soul...sounds corny, sorry, but it's true."
My favourite thing to do
"Such a difficult question...watching the sunset behind the mountains from Last Glimpse Point, the amazing afternoon/evening light in the fields at sunset, a late afternoon lunch on the top of the island, a winter bonfire in the field, sitting on the Boatshed deck at anytime, at night with the vast sky and a million stars, in the morning watching the sunrise over Bruny Island, in the day on a sun lounge, swimming to the pontoon, fishing, eating fresh caught abalone, rowing. I'm sorry, Sheree, I have too many favourite things...working in the vege garden, sleeping in the tent, the rock shelf walk, midnight swims in the phosphorescence...oh and watching the Southern Lights from the far side of the island!!!!!!!!!"
Something everyone should experience
"All of the above! Go outside at night and look up at the stars!!"
The Norwegian Flag
"Will's grandfather was Norwegian and came out from Norway to Australia as a young man. We fly the Norwegian flag in honour of Ian and Will's Norwegian heritage... we ended up on Satellite Island because of them. It's a very handsome flag."
Inspiration behind the interiors
"The inspiration is definitely the Scandinavian (because of Will's Norwegian heritage) fisherman shack/cabin meets Tasmanian wilderness. Ian was struck by Satellite's similarity to Norway, with its sea cliffs tumbling down to the water below. I wanted to create a sea cabin feel where you could relax and feel like you were in your own home by the sea. I wanted it to be comfortable, a sort of understated luxury."
"The colours of the interiors reflect the colours of the island, the blues and greys of the sea and sky and the creams and beige of the cliffs. I have been lucky to work with my beautiful and talented friend Tess Newman-Morris and she has helped me a lot with the island cabins. The island brought us back together after we met at our farm in Flinders on the Mornington- Peninsula. Its sort of a spooky island magic story and I am sure the island's spooky magic has something to do with it! Tess and her Jack (who brought her to the island on a surprise holiday in 2013) later got married on the island and they are hooked! They have just bought a shack on Bruny Island...launching mid year...it will be incredible...book it now!"
What do I want guests to take away?
"The magic of staying on an island, with no one else around, the stillness, the perfect isolation, the enjoyment of the simple things in life, the company of friends, lighting a fire, cooking dinner by the sea, fishing, eating the freshest seafood just plucked from the island rock shelf... I think it is mainly the experience of being in nature and appreciating nature and where you are and who you're with and slowing down. All this is heightened when you're on a tiny island with no outside fast world distractions, it's like an old fashioned seaside holiday of days gone by."
On the horizon...
"So many wonderful but gentle plans, nothing big and brash just additions to make the experience even better...a floating Finnish sauna, another lookout deck, more secret island paths, another structure perhaps, some tweaks to the summerhouse. I'm excited!"