What do two intrepid travellers decide to do while on a trip to Tasmania? Where do I start!!?
Car packed with bikes, helmets, walking boots, cameras, warm clothes, food, sleeping bags, national park pass….tick ✔️ No real plans or destinations in mind just a sense of freedom to go where we feel like visiting. It’s a nice way to travel for a change, especially outside of peak holiday times.
After attending a family wedding on the East Coast we drove down through beautiful countryside, stopping at gorgeous spots along the way (future posts to come), and arrived at a little coastal town called Triabunna. It has an amazing Fish Van and we can highly recommend the fish and chips with the most fantastic presentation.
So how does this sound – park the car, load the bikes with food, sleeping bags and warm clothes and head to an island which just happens to have been a penitentiary, to spend the night in a cell?? Sound like fun? Well it gets better.
There’s no power, limited phone reception, no shops, no food available, limited untreated water – but there is a lot of history, atmosphere and awesome scenery. It’s like taking a retreat from the real world and stepping back in time.
Maria Island is described as a small island, off a big island, off a bigger island.
I was very impressed with our minimal packing and meagre supplies, some of the other passengers waiting for the ferry weren’t quite so minimalist. We took the 10.30am ferry from Triabunna with others – day trippers, campers, backpackers and families with masses of supplies, plus the kid’s bikes and the kitchen sink.
The weather was superb and the 35 minute crossing was uneventful with the captain giving us a commentary along the way. Once we arrived we rode the bikes up to the station and saw the Ranger for our cell allocation. There were trolleys available to transport gear from the jetty to the station, approximately 500mts. There are limited vehicles on the island, mainly those used by the National Park staff.
The rooms were basic with 3 sets of narrow, and low, double bunks, a tin animal-proof box in which to store our food, a table with bench seats and an unexpected bonus of a wood fire in every room!! Firewood was free and quite plentiful, we just had to collect it. We decided to get in a supply of wood before heading out as the night closes in quite early and we wanted to be prepared. There is a Mess Hall which was used by the inmates for meals and education and which we could use for heating water and preparing our lavish evening meal of soup and noodles.
We set off on the bikes to French’s Farm a trip of 11km through undulating countryside along the coastline then through native forests. We kept stopping to take photos, so it wasn’t a quick trip! The wombats were happily grazing and weren’t perturbed by us cycling humans at all. I’ve never seen so many wombats in the daytime, I always thought of them as nocturnal creatures. We were actually dodging them on some of the tracks.
We rode on from French’s Farm to Encampment Cove a beautiful camping spot which overlooks the Isthmus. Such a peaceful place to eat our lunch. By the way, I had carried the prepared salad rolls in my coat pocket all day as we were so tight on space! They were delicious, albeit a tad squashed!
We turned back and stopped at the painted cliffs, beautiful sandstone cliffs full of colour from thousands of years of weathering. They were amazing. After a short detour via the old Oast houses in the bush we returned to Darlington having ridden 28 kms. Pretty cruisy!
Our night was cosy with the fire going and without any power it was an early night. My husband kept checking the sky as we’d been told it was a good night to maybe see the Aurora but no luck!
The next day was overcast and cool but we rode through the bush to the other side of the island to the Fossil Cliffs and beach, the cemetery, the Miller’s Cottage and back into Darlington. It was just as delightful as the day before and we were sorry to have to leave on the 3.30pm ferry!
Maria Island history
The history of Maria Island is very interesting. Originally the island was home to the Tyreddeme tribe of Aborigines, they had lived there for over 40000 years.
Abel Tasman first sighted the island in 1642 and named it Maria in honour of the wife of Van Diemen, the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies. European explorers arrived in 1789 and in 1825 fifty convicts were taken to the island by English soldiers and it was established as a penal settlement.
According to the brochures Darlington Probation Station is the most intact example of a convict probation station in Australia and one of eleven convict sites recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It was abandoned as a penal settlement in 1832 and the buildings were left to others such as farmers and whalers. It was reopened 10 years later, in 1842, as a convict station and the convict numbers grew to 600 but it ceased operations in 1850.
In 1884 an Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi started up a wide range of industries including wine, cement, silk, timber, fishing and tourism. The downturn in economic climates saw his operations cease in 1896.
In 1920 a cement company was formed and operated for 10 years until the depression again hit hard. Families farmed the island in the intervening years and it was eventually proclaimed as a National Park in 1972.
It is well known for its wildlife, geology and marine life, as well as its rich history.
How to get there: The ferry leaves Triabunna throughout the year with summer months being more popular for visiting the island. It takes 35 minutes each way and day trippers are welcome. Car parking is available at the wharf with a Visitor information centre nearby for ticketing and advice.
Cost: adult $50 which includes park entry fees. Ticket price includes 7kg of carry-on luggage and extra luggage will incur a small fee. Accomodation at the penitentiary cost us $44 and we had our room which could have slept 6. Our bikes cost $10 each to take over but surprisingly there were bikes available for hire on the island. It’s a great way to get around. Camping is also available for a small fee. Call 0362564772 for more information.
What is there to do: ride your bike around the island on well maintained tracks, walk the many tracks either short or longer treks, kayak or swim as it’s a great marine reserve. Relax and take in the atmosphere.
The history is documented in the buildings on the island with interpretative boards around as well but we both felt this could have been done better. I think it’s something that will be improved in years to come.
All in all it was a great experience and we are so glad we were able to do it. It was like stepping back in time and a real treat to be cut off and feel isolated in this day and age.
Our next adventure continued the convict theme with a visit to Port Arthur, more to come on that later!
I will be sharing our experiences in this series called ‘Tour de Tassie’. While this wasn’t our first adventure in our two week trip to Tasmania, it was so different and such fun, that I decided to start with this one – our trip to The Darlington Probation Station on Maria Island.
Given my former profession as an educator in a gaol/jail/penitentiary/correctional centre/prison – it was very interesting reading the history where education was valued and encouraged. Giving the convicts a trade and an education was the aim so they could survive once they were released. It sounds very familiar!!
I’ve been out of blogging action for a while but I can assure you I’ve had a good excuse!
Until next time!
PS. You can also find Deb’s World in these places: