Maria Is­land

Soothe your soul with a na­ture-filled stroll through one of Tas­ma­nia’s most beau­ti­ful spots

Sunday Territorian - - FRONTIER - STORY HAN­NAH JAMES The writer was a guest of The Maria Is­land Walk

“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 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

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