Catriona Rowntree visited Maria Island, a little gem 4km off the eastern side of Tasmania. It's separated from the mainland by Mercury Passage. The entire island is a national park and its one town is Darlington. Other than a few rangers, Darlington has no permanent occupants.
It's an hour's drive east of Hobart, and then a short boat ride. There are no vehicles or shops, and despite the things it "lacks", Maria Island has won more Gourmet Traveller travel awards than anywhere else on earth.
The rugged island is historically significant and a favourite for day-trippers who enjoy cycling, and those with more time to spend in its beauty taking part in the four-day Maria Island Walk. It's a moderate walk, and you just carry a light pack with your personal belongings. Everything else is transported for you.
A maximum of eight walkers with two guides enjoy a wilderness experience. But they're not exactly roughing it! Two nights are spent in comfortable, permanent wilderness camps located only moments from pristine white sand beaches. The last night is spent in the restored Bernacchi House in Darlington's convict settlement. It has four bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi took out a long lease on the island in 1884. He saw potential for wine and silk production, fruit growing and tourism. Local limestone was used to open a cement works and 250 people from various countries worked there. Sadly, the Maria Island Company went into liquidation in 1892, and Bernacchi took his family to London.
Looking at the settlement now makes it difficult to imagine more than 600 convicts living there in the 1800s in very in harsh conditions. They tried to grow wheat for their colony and the mainland, but pesky seals loved to roll in it, thus destroying the crops.
Meals are nothing short of gourmet. They showcase some of Tasmania's finest produce, seafood, beers and wines. Candlelit dinners are served in a bush setting under the stars.
Maria Island is on the whale migration path. In the old days, whaling was prevalent in the area and there are remnants of those days. Fortunately these days they continue on this part of their long journey without fear.
Around 30 years ago, Tasmania's Parks & Wildlife Service created the Noah's Ark Project. Thanks to that, more than 20 endangered species have been introduced to Maria Island in a bid to build numbers.
Catriona said there's so much to see you could end up with whiplash! There are around 12 unique bird species, fairy penguins, dolphins and whales and native hens that run like the wind.
The end of a day is spent in some of the best Aussie bush around. Walkers enjoy sitting around the table, talking about what they've experienced, including the amazingly coloured 10m-high Painted Cliffs, Mt Maria's 709m summit and the view to Freycinet Peninsula from the Bishop and Clerk Trail. See the wildlife on the inland track to Hopgrounds Beach it's a truly memorable experience.
After a delicious dinner and some Tasmanian wine, the mattress calls and Catriona now fully understands the new word "glamping": glamour camping.
Maria Island, an hour's drive and a short boat ride from Hobart in Tasmania.
Maria Island four-day/three-night walks cost $2150 per person. It includes transport to and from the island, two nights' elegant wilderness camps and one night heritage accommodation, all meals and wine, two professional guides and national park entry fees. Backpacks, sleeping bag liners, pillow cases, heat torches and waterproof jackets are available. They run between October and April.
Virgin Blue has one-way flights to Hobart from:
- Melbourne $79
- Sydney $105
- Adelaide $154
- Brisbane $158
- Perth $299
Prices correct at September 17, 2011.
For further information
Ph: 136 789
Maria Island Walk
Ph: (03) 6234 2999