Maria Island National Park
With a west coast characterised by gentle sloping hills and an east coast of towering cliffs dropping dramatically to the sea, Maria Island is a place of contrasts with a history as varied as its landscape. Approaching the island across Mercury Passage, the majestic peaks of Bishop and Clerk cast a spell on the visitor that lingers long after leaving this magical place.
From Hobart via Tasman Hwy to Triabunna; from Launceston via Midland Hwy to Campbell Town then B34 to Swansea and Tasman Hwy to Triabunna; ferry services operate daily from Triabunna with Maria Island Ferry 0419 746 668 or East Coast Cruises (03) 6257 1300; charter ﬂights via Par Avion (03) 6248 5390
Summer and autumn
75 km east of Hobart
- PWS 1300 135 513
- PWS Maria Island (03) 6257 1420
Park entry fee payable
11 550 ha
Triabunna (03) 6257 4772
Featured Activities in the National Park
Explore fascinating ruins from the island's varied history
Climb Bishop and Clerk for astounding panoramic views
Take a leisurely beach stroll to the Painted Cliffs
Pedal to the island's remote southern beaches
A look at the past
The ﬁrst European to navigate these waters, Abel Tasman, named ‘Maria Eylandt’ in 1642, but the ﬁrst to step on the island’s shore was James Cox, in 1789. Nicholas Baudin’s expedition surveyed the island for the French in 1802, prompting the English to establish a presence in Van Diemen’s Land a year later. Sealing and whaling – and smuggling – then took place around the island’s sheltered coves and, for a time, Darlington’s shores were strewn with the rotting blubber and bleaching bones of these hapless sea creatures.
Convicts were sent to Darlington in 1825 to build a prison farm and by 1844 there were 627 convicts, among them political prisoners from Ireland convicted of high treason. After the prison was abandoned the island was leased in 1884 to Italian merchant Diego Bernacchi, who envisaged ﬁrst a Mediterranean idyll then a cement works. During various stints on the island, he established vineyards and opened the Grand Hotel but his ventures were short-lived. His cement company was wound up in 1929 as the depression began. Darlington then became a place where holidaymakers enjoyed the island’s peace and quiet. The island was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1971 and a national park the following year. Darlington Probation Station's 14 convict buildings were given World Heritage Convict Site listing in 2010.
Belonging to the Tyreddeme, a clan of the Oyster Bay tribe, Maria Island provided an abundant supply of seafood and game. Smoke from ﬁres and dome-shaped burial mounds at Cape des Tombeaux were seen by early European mariners.
Maria is virtually two islands joined by the sandy McRaes Isthmus, with the larger northern section dominated by the 710-metre Mount Maria. On the north coast rolling hills drop sharply to the sea at the Fossil Cliffs, where there are signiﬁcant fossil beds, and sweep dramatically upwards at Cape Boullanger, the northernmost point. In the north-east is the 630-metre spire of Bishop and Clerk. South Maria has a less dramatic landscape, with a backbone of modest hills and Glenloth Cliffs in the south-west stretching north from Cape Peron.
Native plants and wildlife
Most of the island is covered with blue gum and stringybark forests. Pockets of bracken fern are an indication of past land-clearing. While mammals such as the forester kangaroo and Bennett’s wallaby were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, native species include the eastern pygmy-possum and swamp and water rats. Maria Island habitats support over 100 species of seabirds, shorebirds and bush dwellers. Cape Barren geese and Tasmanian native-hens stake a claim to the grasslands, while colonies of short-tailed shearwaters nest along the coast. The rare and endangered forty-spotted pardalote, found only in a tiny area of coastal south-eastern Tasmania, inhabits the canopy of large manna gums (Eucalyptus viminalis).
Fossil Cliffs Walk (2 hours return) will fascinate history buffs as it passes the 1922 Clinker Storage and Cement Silos, an 1846 convict-built barn, the Cemetery, 1840s houses, an 1889 cement works and 1920s limestone quarry. The beautiful cliffs contain masses of dark grey bivalve fossils from an ancient polar sea. Painted Cliffs Walk (2 hours return) heads south to Hopground Beach, where patterns on the undercut sandstone cliffs at the southern end have a painterly quality. There are lovely rock pools and some excellent snorkelling around this point.
Mount Maria Walk (6 hours return) involves climbing but rewards, on a clear day, with views to Mount Wellington (near Hobart) and the Tasman Peninsula. Bishop and Clerk Summit Track (5 hours return) is for the energetic with a head for heights. Near the summit there is some hair-raising rock hopping but from the peak there are views to Freycinet, Schouten Island and Isle des Phoques.
Scenic flights combined with cruises and guided walks take visitors to some of the best off-the-beaten-track locations on the island. Tent accommodation is provided along with gourmet meals and fine wines.
The award-winning Maria Island Walk is a four-day walk in the national park for groups of up to eight people, accompanied by two guides. The experience is a unique and unforgettable blend of wildlife, history, breathtaking scenery, candlelight gourmet dinners and elegant accommodation. For futher details, visit www.mariaislandwalk.com.au.
Take the walk to Fossil Cliffs or explore the island's fascinating buildings and ruins to learn about the varied history of Darlington. The Coffee Palace displays three dining rooms from different periods in the island’s history while William Smith O’Brien’s cottage showcases Smith’s political activities in Ireland that led to his imprisonment.
With 30 kilometres of unsealed vehicle tracks and no cars, a mountain bike that can tackle loose sand, mud and rocks is a great way to see the island. Bikes can be hired on the island from PWS and off-island through Maria Island Ferry & Eco Cruises.
The island’s coves and headlands are popular canoeing spots and the marine reserve inshore from Cape Boullanger to Return Point offers great diving locations as ﬁshing is excluded.
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