(December 15, 2020 – written by Dave)
When we started this blog we mentioned that we would be taking a few dead-end, off-piste roads. Well, yesterday was one of them. To ride your bike around Tassie, you need to ride through the small east coast berg of Triabunna. Rather than just pass through however, we decided to take a detour and hop the ferry from Triabunna over to Maria Island.
Maria Island (or Toarra-Marra-Monah in native language) is a small mountainous island located in the Tasman Sea, off the east coast of Tasmania. It is 115.5 square kilometres in size – making the 125th largest island in Oceania (who makes these lists, anyway?). For perspective, it is about the same size as Kahoolawe, the smallest of Hawaii’s islands.
The locals pronounce the name Maria, ma-RYE-a, which takes a little getting used to when you first see the name. It’s easy to sound like a tourist when it comes to pronouncing Maria Island correctly. The name Maria comes from Maria van Diemen, wife of Anthony van Diemen, the financer behind Able Tasman’s European discovery voyages to Tasmania in 1642. Today the entire island is contained within the Maria Island National Park, which includes a marine area of 18.78 square kilometres off the island’s northwest coast as well.
On and off there has been a small settlement called Darlington on the north end of the island. It was founded in 1825 when prisoners were first moved to the island. It only lasted 7 years before it was abandoned. In 1845 it was re-established with more convicts, only to be abandoned again in 1851. Since then, the island has been used by whalers and seal traders, plus there were attempts at grape growing, silk production and lastly a cement factory using the island’s limestone deposits. Nothing really stuck and today there are no permanent residents, other than a rotating crew of park rangers.
I should really say, no human residents, as in truth one of the reasons people venture over to Maria Island is the large population of native animals and birds. The list is quite impressive and includes bare-nosed wombats, pademelons, common brushtail & ringtail possums, short-beaked echidnas and three species of snake. There are some introduced animals as well including eastern grey kangaroos, red-necked wallabies, and Cape Barren geese. There used to be sheep that escaped from ranchers who used the island for a few years. They were present until around 1981 when they eradicated the last escapees and their off-spring.
We didn’t see but one possum, the cheeky bugger who got under our tent and tried getting into our food last night. We hated to disappoint him but we’d already stored all of our food over in the lockers at the BBQ area. Good call on that but funny, there were no signs suggesting food be stored in the lockers and nothing in the island camping guide other than a comment not to feed the animals.
And speaking of cheeky buggers, all the talk of wombats would not be complete without discussing their poo. They drink nearly no water, getting moisture from their food almost exclusively. As a result their poo is often cube shaped. They use it to mark their territories and often poo where they have poo’d in the past. All around camp there are little piles of square poo. Think of wombat poo as the township and range survey work done in the USA. Instead of erecting stone cairns, wombats make them of poo.
They introduced Tassie Devils here in 2012 and they are doing ok. They have specifically released devils here that don’t have the mouth cancer gene that is decimating the devils on Tassie proper. They eat some of the other animals here but it’s worth it as the local devil colony is all about trying to establish a “safety” population for the endangered devil.
We didn’t just lounge around today as this morning we managed to get up for a stroll to the Painted Cliffs and then this afternoon over to the Fossil Cliffs. The former is dramatic for the colours in the sandstone, the later famous for being home to millions of fossils. And of course we stopped into the many old and derelict buildings on the island. With a proper camera you could spend weeks here. Between the animals, old buildings and seascapes, you’d never run out of things to shoot.
Our Maria Island adventures end tomorrow with the 9AM ferry back to Tassie and a ride north to Swansea. It’s been a great trip over here to Island. It really does feel like stepping back in time. It’s sort of backpacking with slightly upgraded facilities and heaps of history. Throw in the wombats and you’ve got a winner.