Soothe your soul with a nature-filled stroll through one of Tasmania’s most beautiful spots
“I really want to see a wombat,” I suggest timidly to the two guides who will accompany our group on this four-day walk.
They can barely suppress their smiles. “I think we can manage that,” one says dryly.
The reason for their amusement is soon obvious. After our first wombat sighting at lunch on Day 1 — a mother and baby trundling through the undergrowth — by that same afternoon, we’re practically tripping over the cuddly-looking beasts.
They’re nibbling grass behind every bush and beetling determinedly across every clearing on the island — yet their kindly little faces never fail to delight.
Maria Island’s abundance of animals means this walk has just been named one of Tourism Australia’s 12 exceptional wildlife experiences — but that’s just one of the many reasons to walk Maria Island. Here are nine more.
If you’re worried you’re not fit enough for a four-day walk, don’t be: the guides ensure there are plenty of breaks (often complete with biscuits), the backpacks are light and the terrain is mostly flat. And there’s expert help on hand — those guides again — to treat any potential blisters. Do break in your boots beforehand, though.
Three-course dinners every night more than make up for calories burned during the day. A partial list of the dishes served — all cooked in camp kitchens — on my trip: scallop and saffron risotto; summer berry pudding; quail; duck sausages; and chocolate torte with cream and berry coulis. And, of course, you can fill any gaps with lollies, chocolate and biscuits for morning and afternoon tea.
It’s delicious, it’s local and there’s plenty of it — as much as you can manage, in fact, bearing in mind that you have to get up early and go bushwalking tomorrow. Hmmm …
THE LIVING QUARTERS
The first night is spent in a camp nestled in a bracken-fronded woodland between two white-sand beaches. Even when rain is drifting down from a gloomy sky, it’s a breathtaking spot. The wooden-framed, canvas-walled huts you sleep in are comfortable, if compact — and, crucially, have proper mattresses. You might baulk initially at the bush showers (after carrying your own hot water to an outdoor wooden cubicle, you pour it into a bucket fitted with a showerhead, crank the bucket up high and get scrubbing for as long as the water lasts), but you are hiking, after all. And any perceived hardship melts away on the last night, when you tuck yourself into bed, complete with hotwater bottles, in a beautifully restored historic home, Bernacchi House.
From the moment you get dropped off by boat onto a deserted, white beach, you’ll see almost no one other than your group until your final day. Even if your hermit tendencies aren’t particularly well-developed, this is a refreshing break from routine that gives you plenty of mental space.
They’re thoughtful, kind, and the sort of people you’d want around in a crisis. They also know an awful lot about Maria Island — its flora, fauna, history and colourful characters. And to top it all off, they’re excellent cooks.
Bushwalking people are good people, and great conversations as you hike along, or over those relaxed, leisurely dinners, are practically guaranteed.
From the optional Robeys’ Farm walk on Day 1 to the whole convict settlement of Darlington, frozen in time 100 years or so ago, the four days of the walk are replete with buildings that speak eloquently of eras gone by. The ruined buildings are evocative, but it’s the stories of the people that linger. Most colourful among them were the owners of the farmhouse, Viv Robey, who, after suffering injury and shellshock in World War I, retreated as far away from the world as he could, along with his resilient, resourceful wife Hilda, an aristocratic English nurse. They lived at the farm for 40 years and it’s eerily scattered with their abandoned possessions. Other island characters you’ll hear about include the Italian immigrant Diego Bernacchi, whose perennially unsuccessful business ventures damaged but never defeated him (and who built the house you sleep in on the walk’s final night), and the Irish political prisoner William Smith O’Brien, whose diaries eloquently lament his fate of being “to solitude consigned”. Sometimes it’s the people you don’t meet who make the biggest impression on you.
From the boat trip across from tiny Triabunna to deserted Shoal Bay on Day 1, to the Painted Cliffs of striated sandstone, the lookout at the top of Bishop and Clerk mountain, and the final day’s stroll around historic Darlington, Maria Island is possessed of endlessly spectacular vistas that calm your mind and feed your soul.
Walking along Reidle Beach on Maria Island. Inset, Bernacchi House
Casuarina Beach Camp
At the top of Bishop and Clerk