Andrew Bain provides us with his eight reasons why The Maria Island Walk is among Tasmania's most compelling travel experiences.
It’s the island off an island, a place where history – both natural and human – looms large. It’s entirely national park, with a convict story older than that at Port Arthur. Welcome to Maria Island.
The best way to see this extraordinary island off Tasmania’s east coast is on foot, striding from its toe to its tip with The Maria Island Walk.
Here are eight reasons why this guided island walk is among Tasmania’s most compelling travel experiences.
1. You’ll Meet a Wealth of Wildlife
Maria Island has been called a natural Noah’s Ark, and it’s not hard to see why. Since the late 1960s, when a number of threatened species were introduced to the island, it’s become a place where critters are king. Step out onto the lawns around Darlington at any time around dawn or dusk and they crawl with wombats, Forester kangaroos and Cape Barren geese.
At Haunted Bay, on the island’s southern coast, the walk passes a host of penguin burrows – when I walked through, there were a number of penguins at home. A release of healthy Tasmanian devils in 2012 has also made Maria one of the most reliable places to spot this most rare and emblematic of Tasmanian creatures.
2. You’ll Sleep in Exclusive Camps
It’s the great outdoors meets camping opulence on the first two nights, when walkers sleep at The Maria Island Walk’s two exclusive camps, just steps from beautiful, empty beaches. The purpose-built, wood-framed ‘tents’ have raised beds and canvas windows that can roll up to let the starry night become the bedtime view.
3. You’ll Meet Inspiring Guides
They hike, they cook, they’re generally encyclopaedic about Tassie flora, fauna and geology. The Maria Island Walk’s guides are informative and warm, with a ready willingness to share their passion for the outdoors and the island, and make your trip truly unforgettable!
4. You’ll Get a Taste of Tasmania
The Maria Island Walk’s guides also double as fine walking chefs, preparing meals that might easily have come from a restaurant kitchen. The three-course dinners are a gourmet tour of Tasmania, featuring the likes of Tasmanian scallops with saffron risotto, Huon Atlantic salmon and duck and roo sausages. Wines come from local vineyards, and beers from Tassie brewers. Walking up an appetite has never been so fulfilling!
5. You Can Climb Mt Maria
On the third day, as you leave camp at White Gums, you have the option of upping the ante on the walk and climbing the island’s highest peak, Mt Maria (710 metres above sea level). What it adds in effort, it more than compensates for in views. From the rocky top you can see north to the Hazards on Freycinet Peninsula and south to the mighty cliffs of the Tasman Peninsula. Most striking is the view immediately below – the long white lines of the isthmus that holds barbell-shaped Maria Island together. It’s stunning!
6. You’ll Get a Window into Tasmanian History
If you thought it’d be all about nature because you’re in a national park, think again. The convict station at Darlington predated Port Arthur, and there are additional convict relics in the form of the red-brick cells lined along an open ridge at Point Lesueur (though the only inhabitants now are wombats).
Aboriginal shell middens line the coast, and there’s an old woolshed (complete with fleece still strewn over the boards) at French’s Farm. You’ll see them all on the walk.
7. You’ll See Crazy Cliffs
Darlington is bookended by a pair of curious natural wonders. A short stroll from The Maria Island Walk’s accommodation in Darlington are the Painted Cliffs – gorgeous honeycomb-like cliffs that swirl with golden patterns in the sandstone.
When we walk the opposite way on the final morning, we come to the Fossil Cliffs, where millions of shells have been compacted over time to form a cliff face beneath the striking peaks of Bishop and Clerk.
8. You’ll Sleep Inside a World Heritage Area
How many chances do you get in life to sleep at a place that sits inside a Unesco World Heritage-listed precinct? On our final night, as we wander in from Mt Maria and the Painted Cliffs, we are staying in Bernacchi House in Darlington.
This house, built in the 1880s, was once the home of Diego Bernacchi, the ambitious entrepreneur who tried to transform Maria Island into a cement, silk and wine empire. Step outside and you’re immediately inside the well-preserved Darlington convict station, part of the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage listing.
A walker’s paradise, the island of Tasmania is home to four of the ten Great Walks of Australia and the Maria island Walk is one just of eight extraordinary Great Walks of Tasmania that cover the diverse landscapes that Tasmania is so well known for – pristine islands, alpine areas, coastal strips, lush rainforests, mountains and untouched wilderness areas.
Tasmania might be at the edge of the world but it isn’t just for hardy explorers. The island’s ancient World Heritage wilderness, deserted beaches, and prolific wildlife can be enjoyed hand in hand with gourmet food and wine, luxury accommodation and jaw dropping scenery.
All of the Great Walks of Tasmania are accompanied by local expertise and intriguing insights into Tasmania’s rich cultural heritage. Friendly and passionate guides double as highly informative wilderness experts by day and competent gourmet chefs by nightfall.