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Island wonders

herring island sculpture
Sculpture at Herring Island

Go island hopping without leaving the state. It might come as a surprise, but Victoria has more than 180 islands. Whether they’re cut off from the mainland by huge stretches of water or tiny shallow streams, Victoria’s islands are renowned for being natural havens, where native flora and fauna can flourish without restriction.

South Channel Fort, Gunbower, Herring Island and Snake Island are just four of the state’s beautiful inland and coastal islands. Protected nature parks, they’re perfect for the days when you want to get off the mainland and reconnect with the great outdoors. From an adventure-packed getaway with the family to a relaxed walk through a sculpture park, these islands have something for everyone.

Snake Island

There are snakes on Snake Island, but they’re not the namesakes of this idyllic island on the Bass Strait. Instead, Snake Island takes its name from its winding shape, wrapping itself around the banks of the Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park.

On most days, visitors have the entire island to themselves. They can hike through the Manna Gum bushlands, take it easy on the coastal beaches or explore the mangroves and salt marshes without seeing another soul.

From spring to autumn, Snake Island becomes a temporary home for thousands of migratory wading birds from the Northern Hemisphere, but keen birdwatchers and animal lovers will be kept busy during the rest of the year as well. Snake Island is a haven for emus, possums, sea eagles, kangaroos and Swamp Wallabies.

Like most of the world’s natural wonders, Snake Island is a little difficult to get to. Confident kayakers or sailors can reach the island on their own from Port Welshpool. But regardless of how you arrive, there is plenty to see and do. The coastal sand barriers are perfect for swimming and visitors with a recreational fishing licence can try to catch snapper, flathead and salmon. And if you’re planning to stay overnight, you can sleep in the three designated camping areas or pick your own spot in the bush. A permit is required.

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Herring Island

Herring Island is only 3km from Melbourne on the Yarra River. If that’s not incentive enough, the island is also one of the state’s most beautiful environmental sculpture parks.

The island was originally a depository for the river’s silt dredge, but has been transformed into an open-air gallery for Australian artists like Ellen José, John Davis and Robert Bridgewater.

Permanent sculptures made from natural materials like granite, red gum and bluestone blend seamlessly with the native plants and flowers all over the island. Visitors are encouraged to engage with the sculptures, which draw on themes like the Aboriginal history of the land, the interdependence between nature and culture and the beauty of the environment.

Beyond the sculpture park, Herring Island is a great place for a family outing. The self contained oasis has barbecues and toilets, and plenty of room for children to run around.

During the summer months, the island hosts the Herring Island Summer Arts Festival, inviting international and local artists to showcase their works at the island’s indoor art gallery.

You can reach Herring Island by boat or canoe, but if you aren’t much of a sailor, a punt service runs from Como Island on summer weekends.

Check the website for details.

Gunbower Island

With the banks of the Murray River at its feet, Gunbower Island is the sort of place campers dream about. An internationally recognised wetland, it is more than 20,0000 hectares of environmental bliss where the kangaroos, emus, goannas and possums always outnumber the human visitors.

Gunbower Island holds the title of Australia’s largest inland island, stretching from Cohuna to Koondrook on Victoria’s northern border. Magnificent River Red Gum and Black Box forests dominate the island, while the Murray River provides a home for a variety of reptiles and fish. Visitors can start their trip on the island with a scenic drive. The more adventurous and athletic can complete the same route on foot in seven or eight hours.

Once you’ve gotten your bearings, you’ll find Gunbower has something for everyone. Birdwatching enthusiasts can follow designated routes to see Mopoke, Barking Owls and more than 170 other species, while keen anglers can try their luck on the river.

There is plenty of space for family-friendly activities like canoeing and swimming. The island has a barbecue area, and there are plenty of camping spots for you to choose from along the Murray River and Gunbower Creek.

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South Channel Fort

South Channel Fort has been protecting Melbourne and Geelong from sea invasions for more than 120 years. Today, this tiny man-made island off the coast of Port Phillip is a hub of military history and post-colonial character.

In its heyday, South Channel Fort was home to more than 100 officers who lived and worked to protect Port Phillip. Parks Victoria reopened the island to visitors after extensive restoration of its antique buildings and the labyrinth of underground passages that were once used by the officers.

Restoration works were also carried out to preserve the fort’s disappearing gun - a 19th century artillery favoured by the Royal Navy. But South Channel Fort isn’t an island of weapons and warfare any longer.

After the officers left, the island became a nesting and breeding ground for seagulls, fur seals and penguins. It’s also one of the state’s most important breeding habitats for the endangered White-faced Storm Petrel.

Visitors can get regular cruises to the island from Sorrento. Once you arrive, you can choose to follow the walking tracks through the coastlands on your own or with a guide. Just remember to save some time to admire the stunning views of the bay as well.

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