Despite lots of last minute checks, Miss 9 still managed to leave something behind with our farm hosts in Hobart… On the plus side, our host family also happen to have a little shack in Orford and were visiting there the day we were in Port Arthur so dropped the stuff off for us to collect on our way up the coast.
Orford is also only about 15 minutes from the ferry in Triabunna so from Port Arthur, we headed to the shack to drop off the camper and drive to Triabunna to catch the lunchtime ferry to Maria Island.
With the eery lightening strikes of our ghost tour, over 2,200 strikes hit the ground in Tasmania, starting fires right across the state, including on Maria Island. The fires were well contained however, a number of the longer hikes and camping grounds were closed for the day.
The ferry ride over was relatively short yet entertaining with a comical captain providing some running commentary for us. Once we arrived at the island we headed into the historic Darlington township, past the oldest building on the island which is now the information centre.
Based on our online booking attempts, we had thought that the hire of bikes would be very difficult with insufficient bikes for visitors. I was grateful that our online booking attempt had failed as when we arrived and rushed to the bike hire shed, we found that there were not only plenty of bikes available for hire but that the hire price was quite a lot cheaper than online! With some (limited and grumpy) assistance from the bike hire man, we used our pedals to take us out to the Painted Cliffs to make the most of the low tide. When we got there, Miss 9 quickly befriended a Master 9 who together, clambered up the cliffs in search of adventure. We decided to follow their lead and take a slight detour up the cliffs and into the bush to get ourselves down to some of the crystal clear azure waters on the other side of the painted cliffs.
The beach and the painted cliffs were definitely the highlight for us on the island. The unique colourings and markings along the cliffs were quite remarkable (and I did find one area in particular that looked a little like the rocks were mooning you but didn’t share this observation with the kids!).
From here we rode our bikes back to Darlington and then onto the Fossil Cliffs. There was a bit more uphill work to be done on the bikes in the blaring sun for this track so Miss 9 and I walked our bikes up a section of these (she has a knack for asking me to stop just as I’m gaining some momentum).
The Fossil cliffs, while historically significant, didn’t share the beauty of the Painted Cliffs so we decided against staying there for lunch (there was also no shade on this part of the island). We had caught up again with Master 9 and his mum so joined them for the ride back to Darlington to return the bikes. The first leg of the return trip was an extremely steep grassed pathway to the top of the hill – one very fit, experienced and enthusiastic mountain bike rider got up the hill in about 3.5 minutes – I could barely pedal the first two metres! We decided to walk the bikes up the hill (which was a workout enough in itself) and needed enough of a rest at the top that we stopped and ate part of our lunch. While we could see the walking tracks for the Bishop and Clerk summit, we couldn’t see any signs of the fires on the island from the top of the hill.
The kids and I enjoyed the ride downhill and then along the track back to Darlington (it helped that Master 9’s mum knew a lot about mountain bike riding and could give us some additional tips to get the most out of the bikes). After returning the bikes, we took a look around the township at the historic buildings that remain in tact on the island.
From the ‘Coffee Palace’, separate apartments, school master’s quarters and the Penitentiary where you can book and camp in a prisoner’s barracks for the night, much of the buildings are still in tact and include a number of artefacts (inducing a piano that you’re allowed to play – Miss 9 proudly got me to play ‘chopsticks’ before another visitor took over and played some real music! She was then outdone by a young girl who hopped on the keys and started playing some Queen.
We finished the day with a splash on the shore while we waited for the final ferry to come and collect the day’s visitors. We joined Master 9 and his mum right up the front of the boat on the outside deck with the wind in our hair (as if Miss 9’s hair needs any assistance to achieve the ‘windblown’ look!). As we approach Triabunna the gorgeous sunny weather very quickly went black before our very eyes and the rain came down hard so we all retreated to undercover before landing ashore where you wouldn’t have noticed that any rain had been there had it not been for the young crew woman trying to shift some water from the roof of the outdoor section of the boat and all of the water rolled to the edge of the roof and then doubled straight back in under the deck completely drenching her to the delight of her fellow crew!
Maria Island was a lovely place to visit and like so many other places we’ve been, has a really rich and diverse history. From a whaling and sealing island, to a failed convict station (too many escapes off the island meant it was converted to a convict probation station), to a vineyard and base for the National Portland Cement Company. Many of the islands structures are still in place, while others have left behind ruins simply photographs of what once stood.