A Convict Camp Turned Hikers Glamp
by Lily Whiting
There is something otherworldly about an island brimming with wombats, a bounty of hikes and gorgeous beaches to laze on.
Known to the Tasmanian Aboriginal people as wukaluwikiwayna, Maria Island is infamously known for its time as a penal settlement from 1825, and then a convict probation station until 1850. The isolated island made an ideal convict settlement, and now a perfect refuge for endangered plants and animals. Only a 90 minute drive from the city, Maria Island is an idyllic weekend getaway for some rest and recreation, made even better by the inexpensive accommodation on offer.
Bailing out of the city early on Friday with enough provisions (and more) for the weekend, we hopped on the mid morning ferry across to Maria. The ferry departs Triabunna five times daily, a short 25 minute commute across the Mercury Passage, best enjoyed laying on the boat’s bow. Once landed, we used the handy trolleys to move our luggage (and a few bottles of wine and wheels of cheese) up to the Darlington Probation Station. I was extraordinarily lucky to nab some accommodation last minute in the bunk-style penitentiary rooms, perfect for those who like to camp, but love to glamp. The rooms are simple: three bunk beds, a picnic table, fireplace and some storage space, but ample as most of day and night is spent exploring or bathing in the sun on the deck. The accommodation includes access to communal amenities: a mess hall complete with gas cookers and running water and a toilet block nearby – flushing, what a perk!
Hiring bikes to explore the southern end of Maria proves to be an efficient way to see parts of the island that would be a mission to reach by foot. In two-ish hours we made it down to Frenchs Farm and Encampment Cove, the alternative camping areas to Darlington. A quick ocean dip on the way back in a fleeting moment of sunshine was our shower for the day and eased our sore legs amongst other sore body parts (who are bikes made for, seriously?!).
We were definitely going to earn our cheese and wine for the weekend as we set off for Mount Maria early on Saturday morning. A decent 16km return trip, Mount Maria boasts views towards the south over McRaes Isthmus towards Riedlé Bay and beyond. We were privy to a blue sky cloudless day, and somehow managed to complete the hike in four and a half hours instead of its suggested eight. The hike rises 711m above sea level with an enjoyable mix of terrain including a large rock scramble at the end just to keep things interesting. Safe to say my 5ft7in body was powering to stay alongside my taller and fitter friends, however the speedy mission uphill was worth it for the swim at the Painted Cliffs in the glowy afternoon sun. We settled in for wine and cheese back on the deck at dusk, overlooking the very mellow wombats only metres away. Maria Island definitely lives up to its title as a wombat capital. Easily spotted zig-zagging on every grassy hill of an afternoon, these residents are oblivious to guests gawking at their every move.
Whether you have time to stay overnight or are doing a quick day trip, Bishop and Clerk (602m) is perhaps the most walked hike on Maria Island and very achievable in half a day with a good level of fitness. From Darlington, the walk starts by hugging the Fossil Cliffs, a dramatic cliff edge where some of Tasmania’s best preserved fossils lay wedged in the limestone rock face. Unfortunately this is the flattest part of the hike, and the hike quickly becomes an uphill slog through the eucalypt and she-oak forest.
Navigating the exposed boulders towards the end of this hike are not for the faint hearted, however the striking views from atop the towering dolerite columns and further afield to Freycinet make this 11km return hike a dreamy lunch spot.
Our weekend had come to an end, and I have no doubt we were all daydreaming about a hot shower while we napped on the boat’s bow on our way back to “mainland” Tassie. This wombat wonderland lives up its postcard pictures and being my second trip here, I can assure you, the novelty of it being so close to Hobart hasn’t worn off yet.
Ferry bookings can be made via encountermaria.com.au. For Penitentiary accommodation, head to the National Parks website for availability.