Maria Island National Park
Maria Island is a special place with something for everyone - historic ruins, sweeping bays, rugged cliffs and mountains, and remarkable wildlife.
Set just off the warm east coast, the island is easily accessed by ferry. Once on the island you will discover a place where there are no motor vehicles, no shops and no worries. Whether you're here for hours or days you can choose the kind of stay that suits you and let Maria work its spell on you.
Maria Island can only be reached by boat or plane. To reach Triabunna (the departure point for ferries to Maria Island) from Hobart, drive on the A3 road to Sorell and then on towards Orford on Tasmania's east coast. This drive takes approximately one and a half hours. From Launceston, take the Midlands Highway (A1) south to Campbell Town, the B34 to Swansea, and the A3 to Triabunna. It takes about two and a half hours from Launceston.
The Maria Island Ferry Service operates out of Triabunna. The ferry leaves from the wharf about 150 metres south of the Triabunna Visitor Centre in Charles Street.
Darlington - day visitor facilities
Just to the right of the jetty is the island's oldest building, the stone Commissariat Store. This provides visitor reception, displays and information. Park entry fees and camping fees can be paid here.
A ranger's office and public pay-phone are situated close to the centre of the Darlington settlement. Just behind the sand dunes of Darlington Bay is a large open-sided shelter with free gas barbecues and picnic tables. Water and toilets are nearby. There are no shops on the island.
Accommodation and camping
Very basic accommodation is available in the old Penitentiary at Darlington. This offers 9 rooms, each with 6 bunk beds and vinyl matresses, table and a wood-fired heater. Wood for use in the penitentiary is supplied to the wood room at the end of the building. There is no electricity. You need to book rooms well in advance. Toilets are nearby. Gas operated hot showers are available in the amenities block near the barbeque area. A gold coin donation for showers would be appreciated. Please limit your shower to three minutes.
The large open camping area close to the creek has plenty of level sites with a number of fireplaces, but a portable stove is recommended. Water is provided from a centrally located tap.
Campsites are also available at French's Farm and Encampment Cove some 3 - 4 hours walk away. Portable stoves are recommended for cooking at these two sites. Campfires are only permitted at Encampment Cove. Both of these sites are free.
Water in Darlington is supplied from rainwater tanks and the old convict-built reservoir. Limited water at French's Farm and Encampment Cove is available from rain water tanks. Frequent dry weather and high seasonal demand make water a precious resource. Please use it with care.
Fires and firewood
Fireplaces and some firewood are provided in the camping ground. Light fires only in fireplaces. As firewood is sourced from within the national park please use sparingly.
Please take all your rubbish with you when you leave the island. Garbage bags are available from the Commissariat store or please ask any staff member. Disposal bins are located at the jetty in Triabunna.
Maria Island is one of the best places in Tasmania to go bird watching. Many of the state's endemic species (ie. those species only found in Tasmania) are to be found on the island, including the endangered forty-spotted pardalote. A conspicuous resident of the island is the Cape Barren goose, one of the world's rarest geese.
The diversity of habitats on the island ensure a variety of birds will be seen. Bring along a field guide and a pair of binoculars when you visit the island and you will be amply rewarded.
Bike riding is a popular way to see Maria Island. Many of the roads on Maria Island are suitable for mountain biking and it is an ideal way to explore the length of the island. As there are no cars on Maria it is also an excellent environment for families with children to explore by bike. Cycling is allowed on formed roads only, and wearing of safety helmets is required.
Note: To reduce the spread of Phytophthora, a disease which attacks our native plants, please ensure bikes are free of mud before arrival at Maria. If you need to clean them on arrival there is a wash down station near the jetty.
Important! Before planning any walks, be sure to check the weather.
Historic Darlington Walks
The buildings and ruins around Darlington don't all come from the early convict era. Two separate convict periods (1825 - 1832 and 1842 - 1850) were followed by two distinct industrial periods (1884 - 1896 and 1920 - 1930). Each has left its mark. The two walks outlined here offer insights into that varied history.
Darlington Township Walk
Time: 1/2 hour upwards.
Features: Buildings and ruins from the 1820's to the 1920's.
1.Start from the Rangers Office, which was a school house in the 1920's, and walk eastward towards the courtyard.
2.The row of three white cottages on the right dates from the 1840's. The central one was occupied in 1849-50 by the renowned Irish political prisoner William Smith O'Brien. Inside. high up to your left you will see a fireplace. Smith O'Brien was for a time confined to this attic room and here wrote a secret diary. After a failed attempt to escape by ship he was transferred to Port Arthur, from which he was given ticket-of-leave in late 1850. The cottages on either side were quarters for the Assistant Superintendent (on the left) and the Catholic Chaplain (on the right).
3.The next building is the day room and chapel (1847). Once a wet weather shelter and Protestant chapel, it now contains displays and memorabilia.
4.Across the courtyard the first building , dating from 1842, housed convict administrative offices for the magistrate and Superintendent. During later eras it was used as a shop and Post Office.
5.The large weatherboard building dates from 1888, when the Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi's manufacture of wine and silk was well under way. This stylish building was the Coffee Palace, frequented by tourists fascinated by the still-fresh convict past and by Signor Bernacchi's styling of the island as a Mediterranean paradise. During the 1920's - 30's the Coffee Palace was used to house senior cement company officials and was later a boarding house.
6.The long Penitentiary building was built in the 1830's as six conjoined rooms, much as it is today, except that nearly 400 prisoners slept here. In the late 1840's the interior walls were knocked out and prisoners slept in one large room - their bunks separated by wooden battens - "like bottles in a bin". If you look beneath the 1920's veranda, about four doors from the left end, you may see one of the original 1830's steps. Inside, the wooden beams show where the convict bunks were positioned.
7.Next to the Penitentiary is the Mess Room, built in 1845. Imagine hundreds of hungry prisoners seated at twenty tables in this space! The building was also used as a school room and a Catholic chapel. In the 1920's it was again used as a mess, this time for the cement workers.
8.The ruins here are the foundations of the solitary cells where convicts were confined for up to 30 days and fed only bread and water.
9.What is now the toilet block used to be part of the cookhouse and breadstore complex. One trusted convict was expected to cook for 100 of his fellows.
10.Along the roadside to the east of here you will see a number of ruins. Known as the Twelve Apostles, these were built in the 1880's to house workers from Diego Bernacchi's vineyards. They were removed in the 1930's to a Hobart suburb. How much of their layout can you still make out?
Cliff and Quarry Walk
Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Features: 19th century convict and industrial ruins; historic cemetery; Fossil Cliffs.
(Note: The clockwise circuit described here can also be walked in the reverse order, starting from The Twelve Apostles and walking up the valley towards the old Cement Works area and then the cliffs.)
1.Start at the Commissariat Store (1825). Downstairs was used for the storage and distribution of food, while the upper storey housed military supplies. A bakehouse used to stand behind the store.
2.Towards the jetty are two ruins from the 1920's. The first, the massive clinker store, held material ready to be ground into cement powder. The cement was then stored in the silos for shipping.
3.Up the hill is the old brick barn (1846). This building was constructed by convicts using bricks made from clay puddled with sea water. Look at the way some of the bricks are disintegrating. The salts from the water have crystallised and weakened the bricks. The building now houses a range of old farming implements.
4.The Cemetery tells some fascinating stories, spanning most of the island's eras. One concerns a Maori warrior named Hohepa Te Umuroa, a political prisoner from the Maori Wars, who died here in 1847. His remains were exhumed and returned to New Zealand for tribal burial in 1988, but the gravestone remains.
5.See if you can find out which year the Millers Cottage was built. A windmill here was used for grinding wheat and corn, though only a large stone circle now remains. The mill's long tailpole was rotated around this circle to turn the mill to face the wind.
6.A detour can be made via a collection of ruins about 400 metres southwest of the mill. These include the religious instructor's house (1843), which became the 1880's home of the Bernacchis. The old convict hospital was levelled to make grounds for the Grand Hotel (1880). A good imagination is needed to envisage all this among today's ruins. A shorter circuit walk can be made by returning to Darlington from here.
7.Between the miller's cottage and the aircraft landing ground you may see a narrow linear depression in the grass. This marks a tramline along which quarried limestone was transported during the 1920's. The airstrip covers one of the vineyard sites of the 1880's.
8.At the edge of the sea lie the spectacular Fossil Cliffs. Full of millions of fossilised shellfish, these were mined for their lime-rich deposits. Climb up the hill to the second stile, then descend into the gully on the right hand side. (A track to the left follows the cliffline towards Bishop and Clerk.) Near the end of the gully are a few scattered buildings from the days of the first cement works.
9.The large red brick ruin was the Cement Works, built in 1889. In the hills behind here are kilns that were used for both lime and brick manufacture. Some date from the first convict era, others from the 1880's.
10.Across the clearing are the remains of the manager's house with only its two tall chimneys and entry gate standing.
11.Nearby a smaller worker's cottage has been partly restored. These houses date from the 1890's.
A 1 1/2 to 2 hour return trip from Darlington takes in the Painted Cliffs, just south of Hopgrounds Beach. Best tried at low tide, this walk features beautifully patterned sandstone cliffs created by the movement of mineral-rich water though the rock, and by the later eroding action of wind and wave. The peaceful beaches and shoreline also have a wealth of fascinating tidal-zone marine life.
Further afield are many other fine walks to places like Bishop and Clerk, Mt Maria and South Maria. For these walks and others please refer to Maria Island National Park: Map and Notes available from TASMAP, or contact park staff.
A Rich History
The story of Maria Island is dominated by the sea: from the rise and fall of the sea that created the island and left a legacy of sea creatures fossilised in its cliffs, to the history of its human occupation. As you cross to the island you follow in the wake of Aboriginal tribes who for thousands of years made regular canoe crossings to the island they knew as TOARRA-MARRA-MONAH.
The present name dates from 1642, when Abel Tasman sighted it from the sea and named it in honour of Maria Van Diemen, the wife of the governor of Batavia. The Mercury Passage is named after an English vessel whose crew landed on the island in July 1789 and met with Aborigines living there. In 1802 a French expedition led by captain Baudin explored and charted the island extensively. Many features of the island still bear French names. The English settlement of Van Diemens Land a year later was hastened by this interest shown by the French.
By 1825 Maria had become a penal settlement. Just as quickly convicts were making their escape across the water. One unlucky group drifted across the channel on a raft only to walk ashore into the arms of two lost police constables! The island was soon infamous for the number of escapes and was known among convicts as a place of ease. By 1832 the convict settlement was abandoned in favour of Port Arthur. From 1842 it was used as a convict probation station, but by 1850 this mainly agricultural station was also abandoned. However this was not the end of settlement here. To discover the full, rich history of the island.
You will also soon notice the special nature of the wildlife on this island. In the last 25 years Maria has become a kind of Noah's Ark, as a number of threatened species have been introduced here in a bid to build their numbers. The very things that made the island a convict settlement, now make it an ideal refuge for plant and animal species that are elsewhere under threat. So alongside native pademelons which occured on the island naturally, are Forester kangaroos and Bennetts wallabies which have been introduced to the island. Cape Barren geese and swamp-hens have also been introduced.
The rare forty spotted pardalote is a famous local bird found here in good numbers, along with the white gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) that is essential to its survival.
Some of the waters around Maria Island are a Marine Reserve. This recognises the special nature of the marine life to be found here, including visiting seals and whales. While there is no fishing in most of this reserve, wading, snorkelling and scuba diving offer the rewards of experiencing marine life at close quarters. Some of the fish are as readily observed as the wildlife around Darlington.
Maria Island National Park
Maria Island National Park
via Triabunna TAS 7190
Phone:03 6257 1420
Information for this National Park has been supplied courtesy of Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania