A short jaunt across the ocean from Tasmania’s north-east coast, Flinders Island (population: 800) is known for its rugged landscape, pristine waters and excellent seafood including fish, scallops and abalone. But that seafood is not always easy to come by.
Until recently, if you had a hankering for crayfish, first you’d need the number of Alan Wheatley. Alan’s brother is 77-year-old Jack Wheatley, the only remaining cray fisherman on the island. The Wheatleys would work out whether they could source one for you, then you’d need to pick it up either from Alan’s house, or from the jewellery shop he runs with his wife in Whitemark.
Now local couple Jo and Tom Youl – also behind waterfront diner and distillery The Flinders Wharf – have secured their own licence, and are working with Jack and Alan to bring local crays within easier reach of visitors.
“Up until now if a visitor wanted to try a crayfish there was no shopfront available for them to actually purchase one,” says Jo. “Alan’s a lovely guy and would always help if he could. But sometimes visitor timing wouldn’t line up to his boat schedule, or his catch was already spoken for.”
During crayfish season, from November to April, the Youls are putting on a catch-your-own fishing and lunch experience.
After getting yourself to Launceston, it’s a five-minute drive to retro Tasmanian Aero Club where you’ll hop aboard a helicopter or plane to the island. The landscape shifts beneath you from lush pine forests and terracotta-coloured rocky outcrops to wild and woolly beach scrub and cerulean waters, and as you start to pass smaller islands along the way keep an eye out for sharks and seals down below.
It takes around 45 minutes by helicopter and 35 minutes by plane to reach the island, where you’ll touch down at a small private airstrip. From there it’s a short drive to the white-sand Killcrankie Beach. Tranquilise any aviation-induced nerves with a Flinders Island Gin and tonic, then try your hand at hauling in a crayfish (also known as the Southern Rock Lobster) from a cauf; an underwater cage where fisherman store their catch.
Your crays – around one kilo per person – will then come with you in the chopper to Flinders Island Wharf, where chef Mikey Yeo prepares them for lunch. If you have a soft spot for crustaceans it’s probably best not to name your crayfish (though he will be no less delicious than his anonymous mates, eating “Larry” for lunch can make things a little glum.)
Before the main event, there’s a salad of purple, yellow and orange beetroot, peppery greens and pickled radish all from the garden of local grower Gail Grace, a fifth-generation Flinders Islander. Next is a tiny crustless white-bread sandwich with shredded iceberg, a little poached crayfish and spicy mayo; followed by local octopus, cooked in seawater and served on skordalia (whipped potato and garlic). Then Larry arrives, poached and served with garlic butter on the side.
After the feast you’ll head back to the Tassie mainland for your connecting flight home. But there's also the option of having dinner at acclaimed restaurant Stillwater in Launceston, and an overnight stay at Stillwater Seven, the new luxury seven-room hotel above.
When you get to the hotel, you’ll have a couple of hours to wind down in your room, making the most of the deep in-room bath and arguably deeper mini-bar selection, which includes cheeses from Bay of Fires and Coal River Farm, house-made chicken liver parfait, olives, Clover Hill sparkling and spirits from Lark distillery, Sullivan’s Cove and more. Or wander up to the stunning Cataract Gorge, a 15-minute walk from the hotel.
Dinner is by chef and co-owner Craig Will, and can include another crayfish from the island – if you can handle eating another of Larry’s mates, that is.
The Flinders Wharf Catch and Cook crayfish lunch starts at $1000 per head for groups of six, or $3625 total for groups of two. Cost includes return flights from Launceston to Flinders Island operated by Unique Charters. Charters from other cities are available for an additional cost.
Rooms at Stillwater Seven start at $490 per night, twin share, with breakfast included. Dinner at Stillwater is a la carte.