Monday, November 19, 2007

maria island wonderland

Tasmania is an island of many wonders, but one very specific location here has taken on magical status in our hearts and minds. Maria Island.

It has grown to almost mythical proportions in our thinking as the one place we absolutely had to go. Maybe it was the trek to get there - Maria is out of the way (the best places always are aren't they). Tasmania is hard enough to get to, but add a three hour car trip followed by a ferry ride packed with everything you could possibly need for the length of your stay and we're talking isolated.

(That's 22 bikes there)

On the island there are no shops, no power, no phones, no kitchens, no internet... all the creature comforts stripped away - except for a solar powered hot shower which can be purchased for the bargain price of $1 for two minutes. Unfortunately Frank and I left our soap and shampoo behind at the caravan park in Triabunna so we had to forgo the shower and make do with moist wipes. (a medal to whoever invented those things) Some toilets were both flushing and equipped with toilet paper so we weren't really roughing it! Camping without the fuss.

Actually, apart from our monumental disorganisation, there was very little fuss for us. We figured we'd never get to Maria if we waited to arrange our own camping trip, so we booked on a group cycling tour.

All we had to do was turn up at the wharf with lunch for one day, a sleeping bag and a bike. Easy! Someone else booked the ferry ride, paid the national park fees, organised the food and did the cooking. While they did all that (thanks Chris and Tamara), we sat back and enjoyed the ride.

I use the term 'enjoyed the ride' rather loosely... for someone who has never ridden on anything but sedate asphalt paths, pelting through the bush on rocky, sandy and uneven tracks was something of an experience.

I discovered bones in my bottom I never knew existed, the palms of my hands hurt to touch anything, my knees aged 15 years and even my thumbs were sore from rubbing on the bike handles!

Not that I really have anything to complain about when compared to previous inhabitants of the island. In the 1820s and 1850s a few hundred convicts were sent out to Maria. Only the 'less criminal' convicts had the experience of scrunching into the tiny brick cells. The worst were sent to Port Arthur.

It must have been tempting to look across the water to the Tasmanian mainland and concoct escape plans - and in fact a few did manage to make it across the water. The convict settlement was soon abandoned.

The convicts were soon followed by settlers. One in particular, an Italian named Bernacchi, planted vineyards and crops in an effort to make a stack of money. He renamed the little township of Darlington 'San Diego' but in 1896 he went bust during a time of national economic hardship and Darlington became Darlington once more.

In the 1920s a cement works was established and around 600 workmen descended on Maria but the Great Depression put paid to those plans and the workmen moved over for a small community of farmers and graziers who worked the land until the 1960s.

At that point the Tasmanian Government decided that Maria was too precious a jewel to waste ,and it was declared a National Park. Because of its isolation from the mainland (which is isolated from an even bigger mainland) threatened species of Australian animals were introduced to preserve their numbers. Consequently Maria Island has become a native paradise... as dusk fell on Saturday night we were surrounded by young wombats, Cape Barron Geese, wallabies, grey kangaroos, pademelons, native hens and possoms. All the animals are wild, and since no one interferes with them we were able to stand 10 metres away from kangaroos and wallabies.

One sight that will stick in my mind forever (most particularly because my camera batteries had gone flat) is the mob of twelve kangaroos grazing in a grassy clearing that ran down to the deep blue water as the sun set. While the females pulled up grass the chief male roo bounded over to keep a watchful eye on his mob. What a peek into the world of nature.

And what an island... a tiny cosmos of everything that is Australian.

Gumtrees (I have a secret love affair with gums. They are such stately, majestic, graceful trees. Somehow they remind me of Ethiopian people, standing straight and tall and regal in the dry countryside)

Beaches... still too cold to swim but no less beautiful.

Geological marvels. (This is Painted Cliffs)

Magnificent coastline.

Wide open vistas.

Protected coves.

I'm running out of words... it was a fantastic, tiring, beautiful weekend.

Maria, we'll be back. And next time we might even rough it!

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At 5:45 am, November 20, 2007, Anonymous Sandy said...

What a great post. I loved every little adventure of it. Thanks for bringing it to life.

Gosh it is so beautiful there.

At 1:30 pm, November 20, 2007, Blogger mountainmama said...

Fabulous photos, Cecily - together with your words, you really shared this wonderful experience with us!

At 2:17 pm, November 20, 2007, Blogger Deanna said...

Wow, beautiful. Gum trees...I'd love to see one for real. But these photos gave me a taste. Thanks.

At 9:59 pm, November 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So glad you had a wonderful time and the photos ... (sigh) make me home sick! Beautiful! Mim

At 3:22 am, November 21, 2007, Blogger Cherie said...

A wild and rugged area, full of beauty, history, and adventure! Thanks for taking the time to share it with us, Cecily. Your photos are fantastic and your descriptions vivid. Hope your body is being restored from the bike ride. ; )

At 7:13 pm, November 22, 2007, Blogger Robyn said...

So beautiful. I've never heard of Maria Island before (I'm such a terrible Australian).


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