I mentioned in my last post that thanks to my sister visiting, I’ve recently gotten to see some parts of Tasmania that hadn’t yet been ticked off my to-do list. Maria Island was one of those on our itinerary, and I’m glad we left it for last because it was spectacular and I didn’t stop singing its praises for at least a fortnight after our trip. If someone even vaguely mentions short walks or day trips, I get started again. This post will no doubt send me on another spiral. It’s for good reason!
Maria (pronounced like Ms Carey, not Mrs Von Trapp, and yes I know it doesn’t have an H on the end but trust me, just get into the habit, blame the British) Island, despite being a little island off the east coast of a little island, actually has a fairly detailed white history. Two convict settlement eras, an Italian entrepreneur’s silk and wine productions and a cement factory, even a couple of hotels in the 1800s and early 1900s before the great depression ended that enterprise and the island became mostly farming land until the 1960s.
In the early 1970s, Maria Island, the entire island, became a national park. Ghosts of Maria’s history lurk all over the island, mostly in building form, with those buildings in various stages of ruin and repair. Exploring the island is a heady mix of crawling over ruins (ok, don’t literally crawl over them, respect the past mate) and traversing the natural beauty. You’ve got beaches, bush, cliffs, meadows, rivulets, and wildlife to encounter on foot or by bike (BYO or hire one). You can day trip it or camp overnight, either in tents or in the old Penitentiary building.My sister and I did a day trip, heading over on the ferry at 9am and returning at 4:30pm. Our backpacks were packed with lunch and full water bottles, and our walking shoes were on our feet. Ready. To. Go. I would heartily recommend anyone heading on a day trip hit the two short walks that Katie and I did, first to the Painted Cliffs (via the Oast House) and then back through Darlington to the Fossil Cliffs. Both of these walks are part of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks, and they’ve made me want to tick more off the list… Time your visit to the Painted Cliffs for low tide, as even then there’s a bit of scrabbling over the rocks to get to the other side. But it’s worth it. Just look at them. We had a little sit down at Hopground Beach after cliff-crawling and had some lunch, then stopped in at Darlington for a gander at the Coffee Palace before hitting the trail for the Fossil Cliffs. Despite heading over on a full-to-the-brim ferry and visiting in the middle of the summer holidays, our day at Maria Island didn’t feel overwhelmed by other people at all. The busiest spots were the Penitentiary at Darlington (bustling with campers) and the Painted Cliffs, because we were all there for the low tide that morning. Apart from that we crossed paths with a few other pairs of walkers on our journeys, either walking in the opposite direction, or passing us when we stopped to take in the view or sit and eat (or both at the same time). We rounded the bend from the airstrip back to the Commissariat Store with maybe forty-five minutes before the ferry was due, so it seemed only right that we should take our shoes off and play on the beach until then. We did not encounter much wildlife (Katie was slightly brokenhearted over seeing only one very shy wombat all day) but dawn and dusk are the best times of day for those sightings, as well as the Reservoir Circuit, which was the other short walk we didn’t get time for on our trip. It will definitely be at the top of my to-do list for my next visit, and I’m even thinking of overnighting in the Penitentiary… but we’ll see about that. Maybe a bit creepy, and I’m certainly no camper.
In any case, I fell a bit in love with Maria Island on our visit, and I’m surprised more people don’t talk about visiting. I think a lot of locals went to Maria on a school camp when they were younger and so it’s got that precedent for them, but honestly, I enjoyed our day there a lot more than the peak season visit a week before to Freycinet’s Wineglass Bay lookout. I’m still very glad that I did both, but Maria Island wins for me, hands down.