Blending extraordinary landscapes with teeming wildlife, this island park also happens to have one of Tasmania’s most fascinating histories.
Home to the World Heritage-listed convict probation site of Darlington, the island has seen convicts, an ill-fated industrial enterprise, and is today home to some of the most visible and plentiful wildlife in Australia. Wombats wander among wallabies, Forester kangaroos, Cape Barren geese and one of the healthiest populations of Tasmanian devils.
Walking and cycling are the only ways to get about on car-free Maria Island (pronounced “ma-rye-ah”), where mountains burst straight out of the sea and the cliffs are “painted”, naturally.
Nature gets artistic on these beautifully patterned sandstone cliffs.
The most intact example of a convict probation station in Australia presents an array of convict-era buildings. These buildings sit beside the evocative reminders of an attempt to industrialise the island at the end of the 19th century.
Look at any of the many grassy clearings around Darlington and they’re likely to be home to at least several wombats, wallabies and Forester kangaroos. Tasmanian devils have been released on the island and are thriving, while seals and even whales might be seen in its waters.
This narrow neck of sand effectively holds Maria Island together. On one side the ocean heaves ashore on Riedle Bay, while just a few minutes’ walk away, Shoal Bay can be as calm as a pond. From Darlington, it’s a full-day walk to and from the isthmus, or a half-day bike ride.
Bishop and Clerk
Named because of their apparent likeness to a bishop wearing a mitre being followed by a clergyman, these twin peaks rise to 620m above sea level. Reach them on a return walk from the ferry (4-5hr, 11km). A challenging walk with some rock scrambling leads to the summit, but the view over the island and to Freycinet Peninsula is ample reward for effort. One of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks.
Walk to a date with prehistory, making the circuit from Darlington to these globally significant cliffs containing extensive, 300-million-year-old marine fossils (90min-2hr 30min, 4.5km). One of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks.
Wander south of Darlington and along Hopground Beach to find the swirling sandstone patterns of the Painted Cliffs (90min-2hr 30min return, 4.3km). Note: the cliffs can be seen only close to low tide. When you're at the cliffs, watch for slippery rocks and possible wave surges. One of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks.
The island’s toughest challenge on foot is its highest peak. Rising 711m above the sea, Mount Maria peers down onto McRaes Isthmus and along Tasmania’s east coast. From Darlington, the 16km walk will take about 8hr.
With trails leading to points across the island, Maria Island makes for wonderful extended exploration. The Maria Island Walk and Tasmanian Hikes run multi-day walking tours, while the Wineglass Bay Sail Walk and East Coast Cruises also venture ashore for walks.
The island is free of cars, making cycling on its unsealed roads a pure pleasure. Head for the Fossil Cliffs, Frenchs Farm, Encampment Cove and Point Lesueur. Bike hire can be arranged through the ferry operator.
Tasmanian e-Bike Adventures
Pedal with some power assistance on this gentle tour through the island’s natural and human history.
Pull on a mask and snorkel and plunge into the exceptionally clear waters of the Maria Island Marine Reserve from Darlington Beach or Hopground Beach.
Need to know
Encounter Maria Island runs ferries to the island from Triabunna.
There’s basic accommodation in bunk rooms in the penitentiary at Darlington. Camping is also available at Darlington, and at free sites at Frenchs Farm and Encampment Cove.
There are no shops or other facilities on the island, so bring all that you need. All water on the island is non-potable, so bring a full water bottle with you, and extra water if staying overnight. There are signed water taps in the mess hall and barbecue shelter at Darlington, but it should be boiled or treated before drinking.
A parks pass is required for entry to Tasmania’s national parks.
Maria Island National Park is a 30min ferry ride from the east-coast town of Triabunna, which is a 75min drive (86km) north-east of Hobart.