16 October, 2020

Discover Maria Island’s convict heritage, cute critters and epic views

This wild yet peaceful isle off Tasmania’s east coast is loaded with nature and history.

If you like getting away from it all, exploring wilderness scattered with heritage buildings and ruins, Maria Island should be high on your Tasmanian wish list. The entire island is a national park, with a marine reserve too, while the Darlington Probation Station is a UNESCO World Heritage convict site.

Now and then

The only way to get to Maria Island – unless you’re chartering a boat or light plane – is by the regular passenger ferry, which takes 45 minutes from the little town of Triabunna. There are no cars on the island except a few rangers’ vehicles, and no shops or eateries so come prepared with food, water and a sense of adventure.

This has always been quite a wild place, even during the 150 years of European settlement. Named by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642, Maria Island didn’t have permanent residents until the British established the Darlington penal station in 1825. Many of the buildings from this period still stand, near where the ferry docks, while ruins of post-convict era enterprises including farms, a cement works and an Italian entrepreneur’s hotel and winery are also dotted around the island.

Convict Barn and Clinker Store (Image: Stu Gibson/Tourism Tasmania)
Convict Barn and Clinker Store (Image: Stu Gibson/Tourism Tasmania)

These boots are made for walking

The only gear required to get a good taste of Maria Island is sturdy shoes. Start with a ramble around Darlington’s well preserved convict buildings, including the old Commissariat Store. The island’s oldest structure, it’s now the park’s visitor information centre.

Maria Island has no less than three of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks. If you only do one, make it the easy walk to the Painted Cliffs. Naturally sculpted into dramatic shapes by sea and wind, with swirling stripes of cream and ochre-coloured rock, this geological wonder is best approached at low tide and especially impressive in the afternoon sun.

The other Great Short Walks are another fairly easy one to the Fossil Cliffs, where countless marine creatures were deposited 300 million years ago, and the more challenging hike to the twin peaks called Bishop and Clerk. The summit views across the island and Tasman Sea are spectacular.

There are several other walks, and wherever you go you’re sure to meet grazing wombats, wallabies, kangaroos and pademelons, and birds including big Cape Barren geese.

Painted Cliffs (Image: Stu Gibson/Tourism Tasmania)
Painted Cliffs (Image: Stu Gibson/Tourism Tasmania)

From biking to boating

Bring your bicycle on the ferry, or hire one through this service, and explore even more of Maria Island’s natural and historic treasures. The landscape usually undulates gently and the multi-purpose tracks are generally well maintained, so a look at the island’s less developed southern end is possible on a day trip.

You can arrange to bring your seakayak on the ferry to get a different perspective of the rugged coastline’s cliffs, seacaves and waterfalls, and perhaps close encounters with dolphins, seals and passing whales. Or bring snorkelling or diving gear to discover the abundant fish, huge lobsters, seagrass meadows and kelp forests in the marine reserve’s clear waters.

Mountain Biking on Maria Island (Image: Stu Gibson/Tourism Tasmania)
Mountain Biking on Maria Island (Image: Stu Gibson/Tourism Tasmania)

How long should I stay?

Anything less than taking the first ferry out and the last ferry back is selling your Maria Island experience short. Even better is staying overnight so you can walk or ride multiple trails, see the sunrise and sunset, and hear nothing but nature in the night.

Darlington’s UNESCO-listed former convict penitentiary is now simple bunkbed accommodation with wood fires. Running water and cooking facilities are also available. If you’d rather pitch your tent there’s a campground close by, or walk or ride to the more remote sites at Frenchs Farm and Encampment Cove.

Darlington Probation Station Penitentiary (Image: Stu Gibson/Tourism Tasmania)
Darlington Probation Station Penitentiary (Image: Stu Gibson/Tourism Tasmania)


Information included in this blog is correct at the time of publishing. Please contact individual operators for further information.

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