A trip out to the stunning Maria Island off Tasmania’s east coast is not something that every grey nomad gets to do … but perhaps they should!
This pristine natural wilderness is just a half an hour or so boat ride across the Mercury Passage from the Tassie town of Triabunna, and few who make the effort regret it. The island is actually two landmasses joined in the middle by a long narrow sandy isthmus, with the stunning white granite sand beaches of Riedle Bay and Shoal Bay on either side.
As well as being a genuine haven for birdlife and wildlife, the 115-square-kilometre island has a fascinating – if brutal – history. Given its remote location, it is no surprise that the island was used as a convict colony in the early to mid 1800s. Structures such as the Commissariat Store (now a visitor centre) at the former convict settlement of Darlington, and the penitentiary (which is now used to accommodate visitors) are still there as a reminder of what once was.
While there are no permanent residents here now, summer does bring a steady stream of lucky tourists. There’s a regular ferry service on which you can bring your tent, your cycle, and your canoe … or there are also some excellent cruises and guided tours available.
The accommodation in ‘the Penitentiary’ consists of basic bunk beds, but there is also a camping area in Darlington and at various spots around the island, including at Frenchs Farm and Encampment Cove. This is a cyclist or hiker’s heaven. Great walks include those to the sandstone Painted Cliffs at Hopground Beach, and to the limestone Fossil Cliffs.
Part of the island’s appeal is its mountainous terrain and a bracing four- or five-hour return hike up to the peaks of Bishop and Clerk (620 metres) may appeal to the more action-packed traveller. The rewards are spectacular views of the island, the Freycinet Peninsula and the Tasman Sea. Even more challenging is the seven hour or so return walk up Mount Maria (711 metres). But there’s no need to panic if you don’t like to stray too far from the comfort of your campchair.
There are a swathe of shorter walks enabling you to sedately explore the island’s historic buildings. And then there’s the wildlife. There’s a rich array of birds, including swift parrots and Cape Barron Geese, and visitors will also enjoy looking out for bare-nosed wombats, pademelons, fairy penguins and, of course, Tasmanian Devils. Some three years ago, a group of Tasmanian Devils unaffected by the facial tumour disease devastating the mainland Tassie population was released here as an ‘insurance’ policy … and they are reportedly thriving.
While the comforts of the caravan or motorhome may be a boat ride away, grey nomads might just be surprised how little they miss ‘home’ once they start exploring this magical island.