A French Island Holiday

Imagine spending a sunny afternoon cycling around a French Island. Sounds pleasant. The French Island in question, however, isn’t in the Mediterranean but in Westernport. It doesn’t have wine and croissants but mosquitos and snakes (or so I was told).

The journey started from Cowes on Phillip Island on the ferry, a smallish boat that chugged the thirty minutes across the water to Tankerton. Tankerton is, I thought, French Island’s main centre, and it may be, but there is nothing there. At least there is nothing at the jetty except the three of us who disembarked – my wife and myself with our bikes and a local – and some parked cars. Cars on French Island – generally rusty, unregistered and most probably unroadworthy. There is no local council, no police, no law saying your car has to be registered. Salt air makes sure that only the dregs of the car world remain here. They were the most noticeable thing about getting off the ferry at Tankerton – the line of rusty cars.

The other passenger disembarking was a local farmer. He smiled and asked if we had any mozzie repellent. We didn’t (I’d forgotten). He laughed and said he had some in his car – everyone on French Island has a  stash of insect repellent handy, probably two or three, he informed us. As he rummaged around he also chatted about snakes.

“You’ll see a few, but they’re friendly. Copperheads and Tigers. They’ll just ignore you, they’re pretty lazy really.”

We headed off down Coast Road, which follows the island’s west coast past mangroves and paperbarks, mostly in the national park which covers maybe half the island. It was rather corrugated. Even the corrugations had corrugations.  One of the island’s main roads though apparently. We had about three hours before catching the ferry back to Phillip Island and the plan was to ride to the Pinnacles (good views, I’d heard) and then to Tankerton for a coffee. The Pinnacles are found along Pinnacles Track which leads off from the Coast Road and we were soon peddling inland. Slowly. The track was sand and the going was slow; walking pace at times, but occasionally slowing to  ‘walking while wheeling you bike up a sandy hill’ pace at other times.

The Pinnacles is one of the high points on this rather flat island, rising a staggering couple of hundred of metres above sea level. The views were rather obscured by the surrounding shrubs but there were glimpses of the wetlands further north, Phillip Island across the bay and the industrial port of Hastings to the west. We ate lunch and reapplied sunblock before continuing on our way – more sand until Pinnacle track reaches Chump Road. Much to our relief Chump Road was gravel – eventually – after the sandy bits.

We were soon on Tankerton Road – the island’s main drag – a strip of corrugated gravel that runs across the island to the distant chicory kiln tea rooms and the even further away former prison. Next time – there was coffee in the other direction.

The general store and post office was our next stop; a rather grand building decorated with photos, a cat skin, and shelves of books. The proprietor was busy making choc-top ice-creams – possibly an  island delicacy – but stopped to take our order for coffee. The kettle was then filled up and put on the stove (none of that fancy barista machinery here) and a reasonable coffee was soon sitting in front of us – possibly the best coffee available on the island.

We then continued onto the jetty with time for a walk along the beach checking out the mangroves and wildlife. The ferry back to Phillip Island was a bit more crowded than the trip earlier that day  with a total of four people on board. One of them was dressed in lycra cycling gear and had his bike on board. Noticing our bikes he asked about cycling on the island.

“Would a road bike be okay?”


That’s not just “nope” but “really, no – road bike – no, bad idea, you will cry”.

French Island is another world. Interesting to visit, a throwback to another time – not sure when – but definitely another time. There’s a camping area in the national park and probably a couple of other hidden spots that might make it a worthwhile overnighter. We didn’t see any snakes, which is unusual as the island has a reputation of there being quite a few (shake out your sleeping bag before getting in – just in case). We also weren’t bothered by mozzies, which is also apparently unheard of. And we didn’t see many people (only two actually), which, apparently, is quite normal.

Oh, and the shop did sell wine. Might even sell croissants. Could have a real French Island holiday.


  1. An entertaining read as always, Ian. Nice little adventure.


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