Tasmania – Maria Island, a bay to explore and a mountain to scramble up…….

Day 5 Haunted Bay 8kms return to French Farm.

We woke to the morning sun filtering through the tent, hinting that a beautiful day was shaping up for the walk to Haunted Bay. With boots laced up we headed off trudging along the track of dense loose sand, despite the flat terrain it was hard going. The mottled shade thrown from the scrubby trees was a welcome relief from the rays of the hot sun, certainly a contrast from the previous cold rainy day. Wandering along the track it was just us, a few wallabies grazing and birds fluttering above.

Arriving at McRaes Isthmus with Shoal Bay to the right and Riedle Bay to the left it was rather uneventful. With the land width being 250mts, I expected to catch a glimpse of both bays at the same time but the height of the scrubby vegetation obscured that possibility. Maria Island is considered to be two islands joined together by the 1 kilometre in length isthmus. Scanning Shoal Bay, great views around Chinaman Bay and  Encampment Cove could be seen along with a yacht anchored in the bay gently rocking in the calm waters.

Strolling over to the pristine beach of Riedle Bay, we perched in the white sand for awhile watching the calm waves gently wash in and out. Reluctantly dragging ourselves away from this tranquillity we continued on.

Veering left at the fork in the track a gentle climb took us deeper into the eucalypt forest. There was nothing strikingly challenging or spectacular about the walk but so refreshing to just amble along soaking in the stillness of nature.

Reaching the sign alerting walkers of the pending steep decent down to Haunted Bay it was time to focus to avoid stumbling over tree roots and rocks that protruded from the track. Being able to appreciate the rocks and bay views of Haunted Bay part way down the track we decided to about face and make our way back up the just as steep ascent.

Ian found a suitable sitting rock where we enjoyed lunch in the serenity of the bush over looking the calm bay. Making our way back Ian paused to chat to a small group of hikers on their way to Haunted Bay. Arriving back at French Farm bikes were scattered about whilst people wandered around exploring the historical farm. As daylight gradually merged into twilight we sat in the stillness of the evening appreciating this simplistic but very full way of life, a fitting end to our day.

Day 6  French Farm to Mt Maria then onto Darlington, 20kms.

Another day dawning, another day on the hiking track. In the beautiful crisp morning breeze we packed up camp in readiness to head back to Darlington via the inland track with the ambition to summit Mt Maria. With only a few scattered clouds above the opportunity to enjoy the views from the summit looked promising.

On reaching the turn off to Mt Maria inland track we followed what appeared to be a vehicle track that clearly hadn’t had a rangers vehicle drive along it for some time. The vegetation changed to ferns intermingling with the tall gums as we moved along the rough track that had us significantly climbing all the way.

Crossing the slow flowing creeks we danced across the rock tops poking out of the water in an attempt not to slip in. Moving into dense forest the forest mood was calm as branches above gently swayed in the slight breeze. On reaching the junction to Mt Maria we offloaded our backpacks, put a few necessities into the day packs and headed off along the rocky track.

Walking through eucalypt forest we were surprised to stumble upon an oasis of ferns creating a sub tropical haven as water trickled over rocks and with a significant drop in temperature. With the track being slippery and we were mindful of not taking a tumble as we stepped over and around the rocky track.

Emerging from the oasis we were greeted by the start of the dolomite boulders. Despite being prepared for the dolomite rock climb over the last 100 meters we weren’t sure whether we would actually reach the summit. Embracing the challenge we started the scramble over the large boulders which became increasing difficult the higher we climbed. There was no dirt track to follow just the occasional track marker indicating a general direction to follow over the boulders. Taking a breather, I perched on a rock and enjoyed the bay views whilst Ian climbed higher. A hiker was on her way back down and informed Ian that the boulders ahead only increased in size and that she wasn’t able to reach the summit. On that information we decided to enjoy the views before us and accept defeat by the last 30 metres. Sometimes but very rarely a sensible decision wins over determination!!!

Gathering ourselves up we ventured back down the mountain retracing our steps to the junction. In no hurry to finish our walking for the day we stopped and chatted to a couple of avid bird watchers. It was fascinating to learn of all the different bird species that made the Island their habit which encouraged many bird enthusiasts to visit Maria Island.

Back at Darlington we were surprised to see an influx of tents scattered around. Finding a spot Ian busied himself setting up camp whilst I wandered over to the camp kitchen to mingle with other campers. Before rolling into the tent for the night we wandered down to Darlington Bay and watched the sun slowly slipping behind the mountain range in the distance.

During the night the call of nature disturbed my sleep so by torch light I walked through the camp kitchen to the amenities block. Not taking too much notice I assumed the animal scampering around searching for food morsels was a possum. The growling and hissing of this nocturnal animal brought me to a sudden halt. I had come face to face with a Tasmanian Devil who didn’t appreciate being disturbed from its midnight feasting. Despite being delighted I’d actually seen a Tassie Devil I was disappointed I didn’t have my camera to snap a pic!!!

Day 7 Darlington Precinct

With our ferry departure being later on in the day we wandered over to the Darlington precinct to look around and appreciate the overall history of Maria Island through its many and varied eras. A detailed account of Island history can be googled or better still pack your bags, book the ferry and enjoy a visit to the Island.

In brief,

The Commissariat Store, being the oldest building on the Island was built in 1825. It is the first building you come across which is only a few 100 metres from the jetty. Today the Commissariat Store is utilised as the Island reception where visitors register their stay.

In 1830 the Penitentiary was built being a building for both the first and second convict eras. Today the Penitentiary serves as bunkhouse accommodation for visitors to the Island.

The existing toilet block back in 1842 was a bread store and cookhouse.

The Mess hall carries the history of convict dining quarters. Being a versatile building it was also used as a school and church on Sundays. These days the mess hall is equipped with kitchen and dining facilities along with an activity area.

In 1888 the Coffee Palace was built as a restaurant.

Today the Coffee Palace houses many fascinating artefacts and history books highlighting the history of Maria Island.

The terrace cottages that are now used for private groups were established post convict era in 1888 by Diego Bernacchi as accommodation for industrial workers. The bricks used to rebuild the cottages have been recycled from original buildings.

The existing rangers office was in 1922 the school masters house with adjacent classrooms.

Many other building ruins remain that accommodated magistrates, superintendents, officers, clergy, farmers and workers remain as evidence of life on the Island of yesteryear.

For the hiker, Maria Island isn’t about long gruelling days on the track but rather wandering about the Island enjoying nature and history.

Until next yarn, happy hiking from Bernadette and Ian



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