Have you heard of Maria Island in Tasmania? See wombats, Tasmanian devils, the Painted Cliffs and beautiful beaches. You’ll wonder why you haven’t been there sooner!
It’s funny what a conversation can lead to. One night Nat and I were talking about how we had never seen a wombat in the wild. A couple of months later we were on the top deck of a ferry taking us to Tasmania’s Maria Island National Park. It is both a World Heritage listed National Park and a World Heritage listed Australian Convict Site.
That night on the couch, it took about one minute of googling to discover that Maria Island is wombat central. We went on to learn that the island is a haven for a variety of wildlife, has spectacular coastline and great walks. There are historic buildings, pristine beaches and great snorkeling. How had we never heard of it?
Maria Island is on the east coast of Tasmania. It is halfway between the Tasman Peninsula – home to Port Arthur and the Three Capes walk – and Freycinet National Park’s Wineglass Bay. We’ll use its famous neighbours as our excuse for not noticing it.
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To protect the island’s wildlife, locals have written a Wildlife Pledge for visitors. It starts ‘I take this pledge to respect and protect the furred and feathered residents of Maria.’ The wombats get a special mention too. ‘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.’.
Maria Island is home to more than just wombats. Wallabies, kangaroos, pademelons and Tasmanian devils are also found there. Twitchers can spot everything from eagles and cape barren geese to a range of parrots, pardalotes and honeyeaters. You can book guided birdwatching tours of the island and see 11 of 12 bird species endemic to Tasmania.
Book a Tour : Full Day Scenic Wildlife Cruise to Maria Island
Maria Island Ferry
The Maria Island ferry leaves from Triabunna. It’s about a 75 minute drive from Hobart and a two and a quarter hour drive from Launceston. The ferry ride to Maria Island takes about 40 minutes. The schedule varies over the year. The service gets scaled back over winter so check the timetable if you are planning a winter trip to Tassie. All the details are on the Encounter Maria Island website.
Once you have booked the ferry, the next thing to do is learn how to say the Island’s name. It is Ma-Rye-Ah not Ma-Ree-Ah Island. Think of the singer Mariah Carey. The correct way of saying it was news to me until I was on the island. By that stage, my mispronunciation of the name had branded me a tourist many times over.
For our trip in August, the ferry arrived at Maria Island at 11.00am and departed at 3.30. It might not sound like much time, but it was enough to see and do a lot of things. The ferry docks five minutes from the island’s main village, Darlington.
The Painted Cliffs
The Painted cliffs are one of the must-see things on the island. The trick with these is that you can only see them an hour either side of low tide. For us, that meant making a beeline there as soon as we arrived. With the advancing tide in mind, we strode from the ferry with purpose and focus. Then, we saw a wombat.
Maria Island Wombats
If it wasn’t for trying to see a wombat, we wouldn’t even be on Maria Island. So, on seeing our first wombat, we could hardly say we’ll catch up with it later. You can’t. You have to stop and get pictures – lots of pictures. Video too. And, you have FaceTime a friend at work to show them a wombat shuffling past you.
Of the three types of wombats in Australia, Maria Island, arguably, has the cutest. The Common wombat has longer hair and a hairless button nose. They also tend to be smaller than other wombat varieties. It all adds up to a very cute animal you know you want to cuddle. It’s no wonder they have the Maria Island Wildlife Pledge.
After spotting your first wombat, you soon realise they are everywhere. From the ferry, what you thought was a grassy slope dotted with small rocks, turns out to be a grassy slope sprinkled with wombats.
Reassured that we hadn’t seen the last of the wombats, we left what was to be the first of several nominations for the cutest wombat ever and continued on to the Painted cliffs.
Book a Tour : Maria Island Day Trip from Hobart
Painted Cliffs Walk
From Darlington, it is a one and a half to two hour return walk to the cliffs. To be honest, the walk time is a little rubbery. Several things can affect it. How long you get caught photographing wombats is the first. The next, is the option to walk along Hopground Beach with views of Darligton Bay rather than the main Frenchs Farm Coastal Route. .
We can’t not walk along a beach, so we chose the sandy option. Even on a cold August day it was beautiful. The water was crystal clear and there were birds everywhere. Any other time we’d sit there and relax for a while or explore the water’s edge. But, little waves lapping at our shoes was a reminder to keep moving.
At the end of the beach you find yourself at a small headland. You look down and see stripy, colourful rocks. You think you have made it to the Painted Cliffs, but the main show is a little bit further around. It’s now you realise why low tide is important.
As well as the water covering some of the cliffs, at high tide you’d never get around the awkwardly shaped rocky point. Even at low tide, you have to crouch and crawl to get around the ledge protecting the cliffs. Once you shimmy your way around and straighten up, there they are. Their colours and contours showing off the artistic power of nature. It’s every photographer’s dream location.
The Painted Cliffs are striking for both their colour and shape. It looks like someone has come along the cliff face with a giant ice cream scoop and removed balls of sandstone. The hollowed out, wavy rock is beautifully sculptured, and wonderfully coloured. Layers of yellow, brown and orange decorate the sandstone walls and rocks that disappear into the water.
Commissariat Store & Visitor Centre
Oast House Track
On the way back to Darlington there is another detour you can take that might also affect the time of the return walk. Follow the path back to Darlington. Take a few more pictures of the cutest wombat ever, then turn right when you get to the sign for Oast House.
The track takes you past historic ruins, through a fern covered heath and into open woodlands. Along the way you’ll see some of the island’s abundant wildlife. Keep an eye out for the shy pademelons that sit just off the track under the trees. It might add fifteen or twenty minutes to the return walk but it’s worth it.
Read More : 8 Great Day Trips from Hobart
Fossil Cliffs Walk
The Fossil Cliffs are another feature of the island that you can see on a day trip. From Darlington, you can get to them in one of two directions. Depending on the route you choose, the walk takes between one and half and two and half hours. Again, those times are generous and seem to allow for either a slow walk or a lot of photo stops.
The quickest route is past the old cement silos and cemetery, and along the airstrip. It is open country and you’ll see plenty of wildlife and historic buildings.
The other route is longer. It takes you past the ruins of the 12 apostles – the remains of 12 workers cottages built in the 1880s. You walk up a long, wombat-riddled valley. At the top of long slope, almost without warning, you’re rewarded with a magnificent ocean view.
To your right is the rugged Bishop and Clerk mountain, the hike there is a full day activity. Ahead, across the water, are the distant peaks of Freycinet National Park. It’s no wonder there are several benches at the top of the valley, the view is stunning, and you’ll want to relax and enjoy it.
From the top of the hill, make your way down a long grassed slope dotted with kangaroos. At the bottom of the hill you find yourself looking out over Fossil Bay. To get to the cliffs, walk over a small wood bridge and down a short dirt track into the former limestone quarry. Look more closely at the boulders and cliff face and you’ll soon see how the area got its name.
If you have a geological bent, you’ll love the Fossil Cliffs. You can see millions of fossilised shells in the grey limestone cliffs and surrounding rocks. For us, the Fossil Cliffs were interesting enough. We’d score them 7/10. However, the walk to get there, the views, the wildlife and the history – 10/10. If you have time, the longer loop walk is the way to go.
For a winter trip to Maria Island, the walks to the Painted and Fossil Cliffs will pretty much fill up your day. For history buffs, the short day is plenty of time to take in the old buildings, ruins and the history of Mariah Island. Our only disappointment was running out of time to do the 90 minute Reservoir Circuit through the eucalypt forests.
Over summer, when the ferry arrives earlier and leaves later, there is plenty of time to do the two cliff walks and enjoy some time on the beach. The waters around the island are part of a marine reserve and offer some of the most diverse marine life in Tasmania. We’ll be packing our snorkels and wetsuits next time for sure.
Staying overnight will let you see a lot more. A dusk wildlife safari would be incredible and there are multi-day guided bird watching tours available. You can also get to the less visited south end of the island. The campgrounds there are a good base for exploring the ruins at Point Lesueur and Frenchs Farm. Tackle the sandy McRaes Isthmus that connects North and South Maria Islands and relax at beautiful Shoal Bay. Intrepid explorers can take the Haunted Bay Track to the far south of the island.
Read More : Visit the famous Wineglass Bay
Maria Island Accommodation
There are two accommodation options on the island, and both are basic. You will need to bring in all your supplies and carry them with you on the island. Getting your gear onto the Maria Island is easier. It can all go on the ferry.
There are free campsites on Maria Island at Darlington, Frenchs Farm and Encampment Cove. Darlington is the easiest to access, it’s where the ferry arrives. The other two are a 3 – 3.5 hour walk from Darlington. Frenchs Farm is the more sheltered of the two sites and is closest to McRaes Isthmus.
Bunkhouse accommodation is available in Darlington in the old penitentiary building. The dorm style rooms have bunk beds, table and chairs and wood heaters. There are communal toilet and kitchen facilities. Keep in mind you will need to bring your own bedding and cooking gear. There is no electricity either. Booking is recommended, especially over summer.
A great Hobart day trip
So, our wombat mission was a complete success. No, it wasn’t that hard to find them but that didn’t lessen the thrill of seeing them. The hundreds of wombat pictures we took is proof of that! When you’re next in Tasmania put a day aside for Maria Island. It is one of the best day trips from Hobart you’ll do.
Daily Passes are available for $40 per car for entry to national parks for a 24 hour period. (excludes Cradle Mountain). Purchase online at the Parks Pass Portal or at the National Park Visitor Centres.
Alternatively you can purchase a holiday pass for $80 to cover entry to all national parks including Cradle Mountain. Holiday Passes are valid for 2 months.
Specific daily passes for entry to just Cradle Mountain, can be purchased from the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre
The ferry sails to and from the island multiple times a day. Check the timetable below for current schedules. In peak periods additional sailings will be made available. Tickets: Adults $45 | Child $28
Maria Island Scenic Cruise with Buffet Lunch
See the best of the UNESCO-listed Maria Island and its surrounding scenic isles on an all-inclusive tour complete with a sightseeing cruise, a tour of the Darlington Convict Settlement, and more. This tour also includes a gourmet buffet lunch onboard with alcoholic drinks to purchase, as well as live commentary to make the most of your sightseeing experience. Maria Island scenic cruise with Ile Des Phoques Enjoy free time or a history tour on Maria Island Guided tour of UNESCO-listed Darlington Convict Settlement Opportunity to see wildlife like fur seals and albatross Gourmet lunch with wine or beer to purchase Optional hotel pickup and drop-off from Hobart.
Bikes are allowed on Maria Island. You can bring your own or there are a small number available to hire. Cyclists can go on service vehicle tracks but not on the walking trails. The tracks are an easy gradient although the sandy isthmus is tough going! Helmets must be worn. It costs approx. $10 extra to bring your bike on the ferry.