A large group of eleven sole sisters took off in November 2018 to explore Maria Island off the east coast of Tasmania. The Island is located about 60 minutes drive north of Hobart plus a 40 minute ferry ride. It is famous for its convict heritage, abundance of wildlife, pristine beaches, sweeping bays and dramatic cliffs. We decided to stay 4 nights on the island using The Penitentiary as our base.
The day before departing Hobart, a few of us climbed Mt Wellington using an Uber to transport us from the city to The Springs and taking the Pinnacle and Zig Zag tracks. This is a relatively easy walk with a steady ascent to the summit. The track is well marked and took us about 75 minutes including breaks to look at the views and admire the alpine plants. The views at the summit were well worth the effort but be prepared for a huge drop in temperature and big wind gusts at the top. We elected not to walk back down (there is a loop track but Uber seemed a better option).
Maria Island – leave ordinary life behind
We departed Hobart early using East Coast Cruises (Maria Island shuttle bus) to transport us to Triabunna where we met the ferry to take us to the Island. Our ferry ride was calm and we enjoyed watching the dolphins surfing next to us.
Arriving at the wharf, there were useful trolleys to take our luggage to the dorm- style accommodation in The Penitentiary. A bonus here is that each room has a fireplace and there are hot showers at the campsite a short distance away. Compared to our usual multi-day hiking accommodation, this looked like luxury.
The first thing you notice on Maria is the profusion of wildlife. As mainlanders, it’s rare to see quite so many wombats grazing by day. We were pretty excited seeing our first wombat – especially as this mum had a joey with her. After a while, you start to notice that the grey rocks in the distance are occasionally moving and are actually wombats – and, guess what, they’re everywhere. Next to the wombats you are likely to see kangaroos, Cape Barron geese, the odd pademelon hiding in the scrub and wallabies skitting about. This is surely a heaven for lovers of our native wildlife. The more patient amongst us were lucky enough so spot a Tassie devil on its way back to bed from a night’s hunting.
The next impact was the history of the island. It is fair to say that you could spend many hours exploring the buildings and ruins, reading about the island’s history and watching wildlife videos. There were two periods of convict settlement, an agricultural period and an industrial period before the island became a wildlife sanctuary and later national park. We were fortunate to persuade one of the rangers to give us a tour of the convict buildings and ruins which brought that era to life.
Indeed the island is barely billed as a walker’s haven but there is plenty here to keep most hikers happy for several days. Whilst we gave ourselves 4 days to explore, we felt that an extra day would have allowed us to cover the island more fully with two nights of camping. Current walking notes are good but we would love to see a few changes to make this special place more accessible to most walkers – particularly some foot holds and ropes to climb Mt Maria and Bishop & Clerk plus track notes to Haunted Bay.
Weather on Maria at times seems a little different from Triabunna and the mountain ridge is often cloaked in cloud. Whilst we had planned our walks in a certain order, being flexible is important to make sure that the clearest days are going to be the ones you climb the summits of Mt Maria and Bishop and Clerk. As a result, there was considerable repacking and pfaffing about as we quickly changed our itinerary on the first day. We were fortunate to have a conversation with our bus driver who also runs East Coast cruises and was able to drop us off at Encampment Cove by boat. This saved us 3 1/2 hours of walking with a full pack, inluded a brief commentary, views of the Painted Cliffs from the water and was totally worth it!
Camping on Maria
We elected to camp at Encampment Cove which has nice views of the bay but unfortunately it was raining by the time we pitched our tents so we didn’t really appreciate them.
Fossil Cliffs and Painted Cliffs
There are a few short walks close to The Penitentiary worth exploring. Both can be added onto longer day walks.
The short easy two hour walk around Fossil Cliffs has several interesting historical buildings and ruins, sweeping views of the ocean and a fascinating glimpse into a prehistoric era of fossils at the old quarry.
Another short walk is the Painted Cliffs a spectacular sandstone rock formation.
There are a number of ways to reach South Maria: walk or cycle the long coast road or the inland route to French’s Farm, or catch a ride in a boat. From French’s Farm, tracks lead to the ruins at Encampment Cove and Point Leseuer, or across McRales Isthmus where the path forks to Robey’s Farm in one direction and Haunted Bay on the other.
We underestimated the distances and walking times – the island is bigger than you think!
Bishop and Clerk
The climb to the summit of Bishop and Clerk takes about 4 hours return and can easily be combined with exploring Fossil Cliffs or The Reservoir. The walk is relatively uncomplicated with a steeper section over the scree slope before the final rock scramble to the top.
- Distance 11000 m
- Time 0 s
- Speed 1.8 km/h
- Min altitude 0 m
- Peak 0 m
- Climb 600 m
- Descent 600 m
The highlight of our visit to Maria Island was the long climb and rock scramble to the top of Mt Maria on a perfect day, with views in all directions.
Map of various walks on Maria Island