If it wasn’t a continent, Australia would be the largest island in the world, toppling Greenland. Yet, apart from the island continent itself, Australia is home to more than 8,200 islands. Some of them are massive in size and boast their own beauty, geological features, and biological wonders, too. From Tasmania to Mornington Island, here are the major islands of Australia that are bound to surprise you.
Having an area of 68,332 square kilometers, Tasmania is the world’s 26th largest island and the biggest in Australia. It’s home to nearly 550,000 people, making it the most populous among the islands in the country, and is the only state not situated in Mainland Australia.
Tasmania is a sanctum for wildlife in Australia, being one of the most untouched and beautiful landscapes on the planet. It’s best known for the Tasmanian devil, the world’s largest living carnivorous marsupial in the world, which can only be found in the island state. Birds like yellow wattlebird, black-headed honeyeater, Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle, and the dusky robin are also endemic in Tasmania.
Vegetation in Tasmania is also remarkable. It’s a refuge to some of Earth’s most ancient plant species, oldest plant clones, and tallest flowering trees. Many of the plant species are endemic to the island as well. With a surfeit of a variety of pristine habitats, ranging from alpine to rainforest, wild open heath, and coastal scrubland, it’s little wonder that flora and fauna thrive incredibly in Tasmania.
Melville Island is Australia’s second-biggest land with an area of 5,786 square kilometers. It’s part of the Tiwi Islands, composed of Bathurst Island and nine more small uninhabited islands. Milikapiti (Snake Bay), a coastal village on its northern coast, is its largest settlement with a population of only nearly 600. Pirlangimpi, the other Tiwi community, comprises about 500 people.
Wildlife in the entire Tiwi Islands is flourishing, with more than 200 bird species recorded in the area. It has high densities of bush stone-curlew, red goshawks, great knots, and partridge pigeons. Mammals like water buffaloes, cattle, wild pigs, and horses, plus marine creatures like the dugong, whales, and dolphins are also supported by the islands.
Situated in South Australia with an area of 4,405 km², Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third-largest island, just 8.4 miles southwest of Adelaide. Aussie wildlife can be found here anywhere, with over a third of its landmass being part of the national park. Thousands of kangaroos (hence the island’s name), wallabies, and koalas roam freely. Marine animals like penguins, sea lions, and fur seals are also in stunning numbers. Apart from the abundant wildlife, Kangaroo Island also has impressive landscapes, ranging from malle scrubs, sugar-gum forests, sand dunes, caves, to rugged shorelines.
Coming in fourth is Groote Eylandt, the biggest island in Carpentaria Gulf. This super remote island is inhabited by the indigenous Anindilyakwa people, also called the Warnindhilyagwa or the Ingura. Translating to “Great Island,” it enlivens its name given its spectacular sceneries and untouched natural and marine environment. Bird species like the roseate tern and the endangered northern quoll live in Groote Eylandt. Hawksbill and green turtles lay eggs on the island, but saltwater crocodiles also abound.
Another part of the Tiwi Islands, Bathurst Island is the fifth-largest in Australia. It nestles in the Northern Territory, off the north coast of Australia, in the Arafura sea. For thousands of years, the Tiwi people inhabited the islands, resulting in a distinct culture that continues to prosper. Wurrumiyanaga, the largest of the Tiwi communities with a population of nearly 1,600 people, is located on the southeast corner of the island.
A UNESCO World Heritage site stretching 122 kilometers long, Fraser Island is deemed as the world’s largest sand island! Ocean waves and currents have blanketed its shores with sands for hundreds of thousands of years, resulting in the majestic paradise it is today. Yet, lots of sand doesn’t imply it’s desert-like as it is brimmed with tall, tropical rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, peat swamps, wallum, freshwater dune lakes, perched lakes, and wetlands.
Fraser Islands is also teeming with life, being home to over 350 bird species including raptors, kingfishers, and migratory birds. The island is also renowned for its dingo population, while marine animals like dugongs, rays, dolphins, whales, and turtles also frequent the island’s surrounding waters.
With an area of 1,367 square kilometers, Flinders Island is the seventh-largest in the country and biggest in the Furneaux Group. It’s situated northeast of Tasmania and is part of the Tasmanian strait. Brimmed with lots of natural wonders from sheltered beaches to the granite peaks and mountain ranges of the Strzelecki National Park, the island is also home to many endemic plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet.
Over a hundred bird species have been recorded on the island including hooded plovers, Cape Barren goose, Grey-tailed tattlers, and the swift parrots. Bennett’s wallabies, wombats, pademelons, potoroos, bats, skinks, and echidnas also call the island home.
King Island is another island that belongs to the Tasmanian state. It is the second-biggest island in the Bass Strait, following Flinders Island. Possessing abundant wildlife, King Island is the refuge of rare orange-bellied parrots and the elusive platypus. Other animals that live in its area include possums, swamp rats, echidna, antechinus, and lizards. With its entire coastline dedicated as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), 164 species of birds have been recorded on the island including endemic, resident, visiting, and migratory birds.
Also called Kunhanhaa, Mornington Island is the largest among the Wellesley Islands group and ninth-largest in Australia having an area of 1,002 square kilometers. Wildlife here is teeming as well, with wallabies, kangaroos, bandicoots, sugar gliders, bats, and different bird species inhabiting its shabby dunes, coastal cliffs, estuaries, and flourishing wetlands and woodlands. Some notable species to see include the dugong, rainbow bee-eater, dugong, and endangered brolga, the only crane species native to Australia.
Australia is indeed blessed with some of the world’s most striking islands that are also home to many of the world’s most fascinating plant and animal life. Thus, making it one of the most vital nations on Earth for biodiversity. If you happen to visit its islands, make sure to appreciate all the bewildering sights awaiting you, while being responsible at all times to protect all these natural wonders.