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Maria Island

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The wild and rugged Maria Island is historically significant. Just 20 kilometres long and 13 kilometres wide, it has sheer cliffs falling into the sea, jagged rocky outcrops, extensive fossil deposits and ruins of the 19th-century penal settlement. The Bishop and Clerk reaches 915 metres and Mount Maria 710 metres. It is separated from the mainland by Mercury Passage.

The island experienced four distinct periods of European settlement. The first was whalers and sealers, who lived a hard and temporary life on the island in the early 19th century. They viciously exploited local Aborigines and plundered the seal population.

In 1825 the sealers gave way to a penal colony, the second to be established in Van Diemen's Land, ordered by Governor George Arthur to ease the ever-increasing pressure on Hobart Town. They built a number of buildings from local stones and bricks. Only the Commissariat Store and the prisoner's barracks, known as the Penitentiary, still stand.

In 1884 Maria Island began a new phase when Diego Bernacchi, an Italian silk merchant, leased the entire island. Bernacchi was a dreamer who was attracted by the mild climate and good soil and decided to turn Maria Island into a Mediterranean paradise. He planted 50,000 vines and built a 30-room Grand Hotel and Coffee Palace.

So enthusiastic was Bernacchi that he attracted a state school (now used as the ranger's office), general store, butcher and baker to the island. The project failed and Bernacchi abandoned the island around 1895. Undeterred, he returned in 1920 to build a pier and railway line to exploit the island's deposits of cement.

Like every other activity on the island, the cement works was short-lived. By 1930 the works lay silent and farmers had quietly assumed economic pre-eminence.

In 1972 the whole island became a national park. The former penal colony is now a sanctuary for endangered species.

The Maria Island Company's Once Upon Maria tour is a one-day eco-tourism experience. Visitors are collected by bus in Hobart and taken to the Triabunna ferry for the 30-minute crossing to Maria Island. Highlights of the cruise include the Painted Rocks and Fossil Cliffs.

After tucking into a boxed picnic lunch, the group is guided on a half- hour gentle walk. The serenity of the island, its wildlife and countless species of birds are captivating. You will also see the remnants of Senor Bernacchi's dream.

Guides are well-versed in all aspects of the history of Maria Island, from European settlement up to today.


Off Tasmania's east coast.


The Maria Island Company's Once Upon Maria day trips are $160 for adults and $80 for children. Coach transfers from Hobart, ferry trip, park entry, cruise, morning tea, lunch and guide are included. The company also offers a four-day experience where participants stay on the island

Virgin Blue has flights to Hobart.

One-way fare from;
  • Melbourne, $89
  • Sydney, $99
  • Adelaide, $125
  • Brisbane, $139
  • Perth, $300
  • Darwin, $340

There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares are one-way on the Net. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Fares are correct at March 8, 2007, and are subject to change.

Prices correct at March 8, 2007.

More information

Once Upon Maria tours
PO Box 2054
Lower Sandy Bay 7005
Ph: (03) 6227 8900
Fax: (03) 6227 8811

Virgin Blue
Ph: 13 6789

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