After several visits to the island of Tasmania, I am still charmed by the place. With its wilderness, history, wildlife and stunning beaches, Tasmania tours have a lot to offer. On our last road trip there, we took a day trip to Maria Island, Tasmania and enjoyed this unique place on a beautiful sunny day.
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The Best Things to see and do on a day trip to Maria Island, Tasmania
Maria Island is a sizeable island off East Coast Tasmania, made of two land masses joined by an isthmus. The island is a natural gem, where tourism and human dwelling only exist in their most basic form in order to preserve the wildlife and natural environment. If you are looking for things to do in Tasmania, Maria Island is worth a day trip or even a few days’ exploring if you are keen on camping.
Islands in Australia often offer a mix of scenic nature and history and Maria Island is easily in the top 10 things to do in Tasmania. For another beautiful place, there are plenty of things to do on Bruny Island.
Maria Island History
One of the main attractions to Maria Island is its place in history. It was initially home to local Aboriginal tribes. In 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman named it after Mrs Van Diemen, wife of the Governor General of the Dutch West Indies. Tasmania was initially named Van Diemen’s land. Later on, convicts and whalers gave Maria Island a place in history. In 1802, French explorer Nicolas Baudin encountered the first whalers there.
Activities in Tasmania often relate to Australia’s colonial past and there are two convict periods in Maria Island’s history. The first one went from 1825 to 1832 and from 1842 to 1851, Maria Island became a Convict Probation Station, where secondary offenders and runaways were put to work in the clothing, shoemaking and carpentry workshops. At the time, Irish Nationalist leader William Smith O’Brien was held there for his part in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. He was later sent to Port Arthur, where his cottage still exists.
Maria Island has some fine examples of convict-era architecture and there are three remaining buildings: the Commissariat Store built in 1825, which is now the reception and visitor’s centre, the Convict Penitentiary, completed in 1828. The dam at Bernacchis Creek was also built by convict labour.
Both Maria Island and Port Arthur are places of interest in Tasmania for convict sites.
Seal hunting started as early as 1805 and whaling became a local industry in the 1830s and 1840s. In the 1880s, an Italian entrepreneur set several enterprises on the island, such as silk, wine making and even a cement factory. In 1920, cement works were built at Darlington, which became a sizeable township with a few hundreds of residents and several hotels.
All those business ventures failed around 1930, partly due to the Great Depression, and until the late 1960s, Maria Island reverted to farming.
How to visit Maria Island
The Maria Island ferry leaves from Triabunna. Ferries run several times a day and it’s a pleasant 30 minutes crossing. There are also some Maria Island tours leaving from Hobart if you are not motorised.
The island is fairly sizeable, 20km from north to south and 13km from west to east, and the only way to get around is on foot or on bicycle. I wanted to add some Tasmania walks to my journey but the island is pretty big so cycling was a better option.
Accommodation Maria Island
Maria Island accommodation is quite basic. Visitors can book to stay at the Penitentiary, where convicts used to be housed. There is no electricity or running water in the rooms but there are hot showers, toilets and cooking facilities available.
As there are no shops on Maria Island, visitors need to bring all their food, water, cooking gear and bedding. There are several camping areas on the island at Darlington, Frenchs Farm, Encampment Cove and Robeys Farm.
Bookings for the Penitentiary must be made through the Parks & Wildlife Service and park fees apply for camping.
As we were doing a day trip, we stayed in Orford, Tasmania. For previous Tasmania getaways, we’ve also stayed in Swansea, Tasmania but that’s a little further north.
The Best Time to visit Maria Island
December and January are the busiest months due to school holidays in Australia and the Tasmania weather is likely to be the warmest and sunniest. We visited in December and the ferry was busy, but we didn’t find the island overcrowded once you get away from Darlington. March and April are probably the nicest months of the year to visit Maria Island as there are less visitors and it’s a little cooler.
You can also explore Maria Island in winter, however the ferries run less frequently.
In my experience, Tasmania destinations are great all year round but the winter does get cold and the sky gets pretty cloudy, the island being so close to the Southern Ocean.
What to do in Maria Island National Park
Maria Island is home to very diverse wildlife: kangaroos, wallabies, Cape Barren geese, wombats and Tasmanian devils. Tasmanian devils are not easy to spot as they are quite shy but wombats are everywhere and fairly tame. It is important not to feed them and not try to handle them too closely: they are still a wild animal and Maria Island is their sanctuary.
The main activities on Maria Island are walking, cycling, swimming, snorkelling, camping, bird watching and generally relaxing. Don’t forget to pick up a Maria Island map when you get there!
If you intend to cover the whole island on foot, it will take you several days. Cycling will take you places quicker but you need to be comfortable on fairly rocky terrain. Bicycles and helmets can be rented at Darlington.
We had mixed Maria Island weather that day, a bit of sunshine and a bit of cloud. There are some beautiful beaches in Tasmania but we wanted to experience an island walk that day so we didn’t worry about swimming.
Many Tasmania attractions are connected to the colonial past and here, the main convict settlement and only township is Darlington. The ferry docks at Darlington Jetty, just near the old cement works and the Commissariat Store. Darlington is one of these places in Tasmania that mixes the old with the more recent and it’s a little mismatched…
Built in 1825, the Commissariat Store is a fine example of convict architecture and is now the Maria Island visitor centre. The ranger on duty can give you information on Maria Island activities and there are displays about the island’s history. The cement works are less attractive…
When you get to the Darlington settlement, there are several buildings to look at, including the Penitentiary and an old hotel. We found some very friendly wombats there, obviously loving the attention…
As we only a day to spend on Maria Island, we hopped on our bikes and headed south towards the isthmus.
Painted Cliffs, Maria Island
The Frenchs Farm Coastal Route will take you to the Painted Cliffs, which are definitely worth a visit. The sandstone cliffs are adorned with beautiful patterns formed through staining by iron oxide.
You can access the cliffs for about two hours before and after low tide, and the best light is in the afternoon. The sky was a bit cloudy when we stopped there and the water was fairly high. Therefore, I recommend checking the tide in advance if you want some good photos.
If this is of interest to you and Tasmania islands are too far, you can actually see it in Bouddi National Park north of Sydney, NSW.
We cycled through the forest and came across very few people. We stopped at Frenchs Farm and encountered a few campers. Frenchs Farm was established as a homestead for sheep farmers in the 1930s. There is an unoccupied cottage built in the 1950s with a most useful water tank and campers can pitch their tends around.
The old shearing shed is still standing and is definitely worth adding to your Tasmania photos. The mix of wood and rusted corrugated iron almost feels haunted but this would have been a busy workplace back in the day!
After Frenchs Farm, we continued to cycle to Encampment Cove and had a picnic there, with a view of the isthmus. Whilst the two parts of Maria Island are quite mountainous, the isthmus is very low and feels less interesting. We tried to get across the isthmus but Tasmania walking tracks are quite sandy and progress was slow. On the southern part of the island, Robeys Farm and Haunted Bay are worth visiting but are beyond a day trip.
In order to include them in your Maria Island tour, you would need to camp at Frenchs Farm.
We cycled back to Darlington as we had to catch the last ferry back to Triabunna. This day was definitely one of our Tasmania highlights!
More Time in Maria Island
There are more things to do in Maria Island of course and a day trip isn’t enough to cover it all. On the north island (Ile du Nord), don’t miss Fossil Cliffs. There are also two day hikes not to miss. Mount Maria is the highest point of the island at 711m and the return trip takes six to seven hours. Bishop and Clerk is another high point of the island and is a four-hour return trip. Those day walks probably count as some of the best hikes in Tasmania.
Port Arthur Tours
Tasmania Road Trip
East Coast Tasmania
Have you been to Maria Island? Tell me about it in the comments below? Do you recommend other places to visit in Tasmania?
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