Tasmania is known for its abundant wildlife and a number of indigenous animals that can only be found on the island…but sometimes they’re not all that easy to find. Unfortunately, we usually see more roadkill than we do living animals, and that’s something the Tasmanian community is working to help lessen.
After seeing one too many deceased wombats, before ever seeing one in the wild, we figured it was due time to seek out some of Tassie’s iconic fauna: wombats, kangaroos, and echidnas. And there’s no better place than Maria Island—the national park off the east coast of Tasmania, where you can find all of the state’s eleven endemic birds, Tasmanian devils, and myriad other Australian wildlife. Maria, pronounced like ma-rye-uh (as in Mariah Carey) and not ma-ree-uh, is a hiker’s paradise with its many trails, scenic views, building ruins from the 1800s, and virtually untouched nature.
Sound like a place you’d like to visit? We’re giving you the lowdown.
To get to Maria Island, it’s about a 45-minute drive up from Hobart to Triabunna, where you then board the Maria Island Ferry.
If you get in to Triabunna early, you’ll most likely be greeted by the locals (read: this darling dog, Charlie, who kept requesting that we throw her stick). There are local eateries, and a small espresso cart, too.
The ferry runs at different intervals throughout the day: 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12 p.m., sometimes 2:45 p.m., and 4:15 p.m., with several ferries to return you to the main island. However, this schedule does vary by season, so make sure to check out the Maria Island Ferry timetable before planning out your trip.
You’ll need to book both a Parks Pass (as it is a national park), as well as your ferry ticket—it’s best to book ahead as seats can sell out. However, when we went at the beginning of March (early autumn in Australia), we were able to book our ferry seats the morning of our departure.
The Parks Pass and the ferry tickets can all be purchased together on the Encounter Maria Island website. You can also add-on luggage, or a bike, if you’re choosing to bring either of those. You’ll need to check-in at the Triabunna Visitor Information Centre (adjacent to the wharf) at least 30 minutes prior to the departure time.
Note: During the winter months, the ferries do not run on Tuesdays or Thursdays.
It takes about 30 minutes or so to travel across the waters and when you arrive to the island it’s turquoise waters as far as the eye can see. You might spot the occasional wombat, along with several buildings leftover from when the island was a burgeoning penal colony.
Many of the original convict-era buildings on Maria Island have been dismantled, though the old prisoner’s barracks are intact, along with several buildings in Darlington Harbour, close to where the ferry docks. Other than that, the island is a ghost town with an haunting industrial past.
Monique Farmer, a writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote, “The 20th century has barely touched the island. The only vehicles belong to the rangers. There are no shops, few modern conveniences… Campers explore the island on foot or bicycle. The main activities are bushwalking, swimming and, for the more adventurous, diving and rock climbing. Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, Maria Island generally has 120 to 200 campers a night over the summer and Easter holidays.”
Before the colonial era, Aboriginal people frequented the island—you can find evidence of their presence in both the bays. The buildings, however, come from the first half of the 19th century, when the island was the home to convict settlements. When the convicts were moved to nearby penal colonies (namely Port Arthur), no one was sure what the fate of the island or the buildings would be.
In the 1880s, Diego Bernacchi, an Italian entrepreneur, saw promise for wine production on the island, as well as silk and even a cement factory. Darlington expanded, and in the early 20th century, it actually had hundreds of residents and several hotels. But by July 1930, almost all of the businesses closed, in part due to the Great Depression, but also competition from mainland producers, and the added cost of transportation to and from the island. Following this, much of the island was dominated by farming and in 1972, the Tasmanian Government established Maria Island National Park.
The building in the photo above is the old Commissariat Store—which now serves as the Visitor Information and Reception Centre.
Cape Barren goose
Eastern grey kangaroo
Left: looks like a purple rock crab (Leptograpsus variegatus); Right: Dave, not local
Another cutie wombat
And another (you’ll likely loose track of how many adorable loaves of bread, I mean, wombats you see)
Today, Maria Island is a haven for campers and hikers, alike. When you first arrive in to Darlington Harbour, you’ll notice a small settlement of old buildings, which we learned from the park ranger are available to camp in for a small fee.
The old Penitentiary has several rooms, each with 6 bunks within them, and wood is provided for an indoor fire (you’ll want this for colder months). The ranger told us that you can rent one of the rooms (all 6 bunks included) for $44 AUD a night. $44! We asked him if there’s ever a time that’s too cold to camp, and he said it’s actually quite pleasant in the winter…so, we’re thinking about testing out what ‘pleasant’ means to him.
If you’d rather set up a tent and camp, that’s allowed, too! You just have to make sure to check-in at the Visitor Information and Reception Centre upon arrival on the island.
(This is not one of the buildings to camp in, though there is a camping site just around the corner from here)
Australia wants you to stop taking selfies with wombats. Yes, these adorable loaves of bread are hard to resist—but this is their home, and we, as visitors, need to respect the island.
In an effort to educate all those that want to visit the island, the Maria Island Pledge was created at the beginning on 2019. The pledge states:
Wombats, when you trundle past me I pledge I will not chase you with my selfie stick, or get too close to your babies. I will not surround you, or try and pick you up. I will make sure I don’t leave rubbish or food from my morning tea. I pledge to let you stay wild.
One of the tricks to getting fantastic shots, while letting the animal do it’s thing? A macro lens. Chelsea remained stationed in this spot, with the macro lens doing the work of getting close to the animal. At one point the wombat wandered much closer, on its own volition, but she didn’t chase after the cutie, try to feed it, or take a selfie with it.
You can embrace nature without actually embracing it, you know?
As there are no shops on the island, or water stations, you need to come prepared with food supplies. We packed a picnic and shared it in the shade of a tree—just right of where this photo was taken.
Like we said earlier, turquoise waters for days and days…
How many wombats are we up to now?
It’s not easy to explore the island in just one day…so plan accordingly! We didn’t have enough time to tackle all of the hikes we wanted to, as we weren’t staying the night, but we’re already figuring out when we can go back. The first place on our agenda (as it was low tide): The Painted Cliffs.
The stunning textured sandstone formations are stained by iron oxide and, like their name suggests, look as though they’ve been painted.
As you’re wandering about, you will no doubt see tons of cubed poo. And we’re talking TONS (quite possibly actual tons). Wombats are the only creatures in the world known to produce this cube-shaped poo, and scientists are still trying to figure out how. One of Dave’s Ph.D. supervisors, Scott Carver, is looking into it!
What’s the cause for these uh…Tasmanian brownies (as Chelsea’s dad likes to refer to them as)—it’s likely a way to mark territory, and as cubes can stack more easily, you’ll see towers and chunky collections across the island.
We’d love to hear if you’re planning a trip to Maria Island…or if you’ve been before! What was your experience like? Did you lose count of how many wombats you saw? Let us know in the comments below! 🙂
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