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French Island National Park
  • View from the Pinnacles Photo: David Tatnall
  • Decoy Swamp Photo: David Tatnall

"French Island attracts visitors who enjoy the beauty and isolation of walking along beaches where your only companions are hundreds of wading birds."

Mick Douglas, Ranger, French Island National Park.

Only 75 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, French Island has unspoiled natural bushland and is a refuge for a diverse range of native flora and fauna . For those who are fortunate enough to visit its shores, it is a unique island sanctuary where one can stop to appreciate rugged beauty and isolation.

The first sight for visitors after departing the ferry is a vast sea of impenetrable scrub, but spend a little time on the island and you'll soon be fascinated by the rich and diverse flora.

French Island National Park forms two thirds of the island and features over 580 indigenous plants including 100 native orchid species, several which are endemic to the island. It is also home to a large population of Long-nosed Potoroos and has the most significant population of koalas in Victoria.

"The gums provide a safe home for koalas," says Mick Douglas, a Ranger at French Island National Park. "You can see them lounging comfortably in the forks of trees, chewing the eucalyptus leaves which form their staple diet."

The park's wetlands are extensive, with over 230 bird species, including the White-bellied Sea-eagle, King Quail and the Orange-bellied Parrot, as well as 33 species of waders which forage along the coast at low tide.

Stretching out and across the top of the island is the French Island Marine National Park which protects 2800 hectares of extensive sea grass beds, mangroves and mudflats and provides a home for fish, water birds and invertebrates.

A daily ferry service, a short trip which takes roughly 12 minutes to make the crossing, operates between Stony Point on the mainland, to Tankerton on French Island.

Fairhaven camp is a remote site enjoyed by campers, hikers and cyclists visiting French Island National Park. Alternative accommodation is available on the island and includes farm stay and bed & breakfast options.

There are day, half day and shorter walks as well as bike paths starting at Tankerton Foreshore Reserve. Take a couple of days and discover the park on foot or on a mountain bike. There are several tracks which traverse the park through different landscapes from salt marsh, to heaths and open woodlands.

It is an excellent place for walking because the topography is mainly flat and gently undulating. At 60 metres above sea level, walkers reaching the Pinnacles are rewarded with expansive views of Phillip Island, Western Port and the west coast wetlands of the Park.

Of special interest is the construction of a new five kilometre walking track from Tankerton to Fairhaven which is called The Old Coast Road Track. Ranger, Julie Van Lieshout says, "it's what you see along the way that appeals to nature lovers."

The track starts at Coast Road Bridge and winds its way through to heaths dotted with Silver Banksias attracting a diverse range of bird life, including honeyeaters, fantails and Scrub-wrens. From the first observation point, visitors can view the mouth of Tankerton Creek and the nearby salt marsh. During March and April, look out for Orange-bellied Parrots feeding on the saltmarsh vegetation. The second observation point looks over Fairhaven and Chilcott Rocks and the mudflats of Western Port Bay.

Keep walking across the Coast Road and be rewarded with expansive views down to the beach and across the bay to the mainland. The track descends into a forest of Coastal Tea Tree for the last 2 kilometres to the campsite.

For further information on French Island National Park please contact Parks Victoria info@parks.vic.gov.au or visit our website: www.parkweb.vic.gov.au.

About the author
Parks Victoria wrote this article

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