A guide to visiting Maria Island

    May 11, 2021Matt Cheok

    7 min read

    Plan an unforgettable wildlife and walking experience.

    Maria Island (pronounced muh-rye-uh, like Mariah Carey), located just off the south-east coast of Tasmania, is the perfect place for wildlife encounters. Its creatures are unfazed by human presence, and usually more interested by the snacks they bring to the island. So when you come for a visit, don’t go leaving your bags unattended, because it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll find an animal burrowing inside and devouring the contents within. Long after the sun has set, you’ll hear the screeches of Tassie Devils and if you’re lucky, you might even spot one under the red light of your head torch. It makes for a fun post-dinner activity!

    A bite-sized history

    Maria’s first inhabitants were the Puthikwilayti people, the original custodians of the land for an astounding 40,000 years. Though sadly, through colonisation, in 1825, the island was turned into a penal colony and became a place where convicts were sentenced to hard labour at the sole settlement in Darlington— the port at which visitors arrive.

    Today, the convict buildings (14 of them) serve as a reminder of our past, with the settlement now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. When you first step onto the island, you’ll notice the old Commissariat Store has been converted into Maria’s Visitor Information Centre and the former penitentiary has been repurposed as a dorm-style sleeping quarters for overnight stays.

    Getting there

    If you’re coming from Hobart, you’ll need to get yourself up north to Triabunna (bus no. 737 departs from the city centre). Tassielink is the most affordable transport option, with the commute taking just under two hours and dropping you right outside the ferry terminal. They’re still fairly old-fashioned so you’ll need to pay with cash or by Greencard(Tassie’s equivalent of a transport pass). For those driving, there’s ample parking at the ferry terminal.

    At Triabunna, enter the Visitor Information Centre to check-in. Ferry fees are $45 for an adult (return), $39 for a concession (including pensioners), $28 for students and children, and infants under 3 travel for free.

    Ferry Jetty, Darlington

    Your ferry ticket includes one carry-on 7-kilogram bag, but for any additional luggage, you’ll be charged a fee (and note that packs are placed on a scale so there’s no way to avoid it). A Tasmanian Parks Pass is also required, however, most visitors should have this if they’ve already entered any other of Tasmania’s national parks.

    The ferry trip takes about 30 minutes and arrives in Darlington Bay where you’ll be treated to views of the impressive cement silos, heritage buildings and the striking hills rolling behind it. There aren’t any shops (or rubbish bins for that matter) on the islandso come well-prepared for your stay. Strong phone service is available on the island.

    Close wildlife encounters

    There’s a stack of animals roaming the island — from forester kangaroos, ringtail possums and brown bandicoots to grey-plum Cape Barren geese, with legs that look like they’re wearing red footy socks.

    Cape Barren Goose

    With a bounty of free-range creatures dispersed across the island, that also means their litter is scattered everywhere, so watch your step! There’s even an opportunity to spot 11 of Tassie’s 12 endemic birds — ones that aren’t found anywhere else in the world!

    And of course, standing front and centre (and a huge part of Tassie’s tourism campaign) are the make-your-heart-melt wombats. These deceptively speedy animals love to graze and bask in the sun during the day, and won’t hesitate to go peeping in and around your tent. Tassie Parks urge you to keep a safe distance away from them (nor feed them), no matter how cute they are.

    Grazing wombats

    Since the 1990s, the Tassie Devil species has been plagued by a contagious facial tumour disease, which led to a huge decline in their numbers from as many as 140,000 down to as few as 20,000. Thankfully through conservation efforts, a number of healthy tumour-free populations have been introduced, including a successful breeding program on Maria Island. They remain monitored and trapped regularly for health checks. You can learn more about the Devils at the Island’s visitor centre, including a worthwhile video about these conservation efforts.

    FUN FACT — Tassie Devils have the strongest pound for pound bite of any mammal on the planet, so you’ll want to keep your distance if you encounter one!

    Getting around

    Aside from the Tassie Parks 4WDs, Maria is a vehicle-free island. There’s bike hire available at Darlington, or alternatively, online bookings can be made on Encounter Maria Island’s website — $33 (per day) for adults and $20 for children (discount rates apply for multiple day hire). Personally, if you’re just visiting for the day, I’d recommend getting around on foot.

    Fossil Cliffs

    Bishop and Clerk — a must climb!

    If you’re only able to do one major walk, make sure it’s the one to Bishop and Clerk summit. This 3-5 hour (11 km) adventure begins down at Darlington ferry port, rising up from the grasslands and along to the edge of Fossil Cliffs. Here you’ll encounter the magnificent layered cliff edge and views of Schouten Island and the Freycinet Peninsula to the north.

    Beyond the cliffs, you’ll enter a beautiful forest and then navigate a rocky scramble up boulders to the heavily exposed and windy summit (620m) for views of the iconic dolerite columns. On your return, take the shortcut through Brickfields Valley back towards Darlington.

    Bishop and Clerk Summit

    Other island walks

    The loop around Historical Darlingtonis an easy introduction to the island and perfect for exploring the old convict settlement. Further south, you’ve got the pretty stroll to the Painted Cliffsvia Hopground Beach, though keep in mind that you’ll need to walk around the base of the water’s edge to view them (so access is dependent on the tides).

    If you’re keen for something longer, check out the 16km track to Mount Maria which will take 8 hours walking or 3-5 hours cycling from Darlington. For those spending multiple days on the island, consider Robeys Farmor the Haunted Bay Walk, which are best accessed by camping overnight at Frenchs Farm or Encampment Cove.

    Painted Cliffs

    Where to camp

    Most overnight campers will stay at the unpowered sites at Darlington Campground, but you’ll need your own tent and sleeping gear — it’s $7 per night for an adult, $13 for two people and an additional $5 for each extra adult. You’ll find lockers to store your food, a rain tank, bathrooms and gas BBQs (plus a handy kettle too). Alternatively, you can also enjoy bunkhouse-style accommodation in the penitentiary which you can find out more here.

    Elsewhere, there are free camping sites further south at Frenchs Farm or Encampment Cove though it’s slightly too far of a distance to cover if you're only here for one night.

    Darlington Campground

    How long should I stay for?

    While a day trip is absolutely doable, I’d personally recommend staying on Maria Island for at least one night. You won’t be disappointed by the serenity at dawn and dusk, nor have to compete against the flock of visitors on the trail!

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