Maria Island

November 20, 2013

We were up early today—the traffic noise starts soon after 6 am and it’s hard to sleep then. So it was soon after 8 am when we loaded up the car and set off. Today was our boat trip to Maria Island, where we would be staying for two nights. We drove along the Tasman Highway again, turning north at Sorell this time. The weather was a bit iffy, with the occasional rain shower, and when we arrived at Triabunna it was still raining lightly.

When we had originally planned the trip, there were two boats which went to Maria Island with almost identical schedules. We had chosen one of them based on part of the schedule which wasn’t identical, but then that boat had had some kind of malfunction. There had been numerous e-mails between the local tourist bureau and us, and eventually we had been rebooked on the Maria Island Ferry. As a side effect we were on a morning boat instead of an afternoon boat, which suited us just fine as it would give us more time on the island.

We were quite early for the morning boat, which was supposed to depart at 10:30 am, so we stayed in the visitor information centre for quite a while. The boat finally arrived from Maria Island at 10:30 am, and it took quite a while to load because there was a school group of about 20 girls along with us and few other miscellaneous passengers. The trip to the island took about 45 minutes, and when we got there we collected our packs and headed up towards the campground. On the way there we noticed a wombat grazing in a field beside the road—our first wombat! Cute! Little did we know that it was the first of many.

This part of Maria Island, the village of Darlington, was originally a penal colony in the 1800’s and later became a resort and then a cement factory. The flattish grassy area which was our campground had been the cricket pitch at some point in time, but now it was home to a lot of Cape Barren Geese. We found a spot which looked flat and sheltered and cleared away all of the goose turds we could before setting up our tent. It was now lunchtime and luckily for us, besides the gas barbecues there were also gas burners which we could cook on. We had soup and crackers for lunch followed by hot chocolate.

It was still cloudy and cold, but it wasn’t raining, so we decided to go for a walk to the Fossil Cliffs, which Matthew had visited a few years ago for research. We passed through Darlington, checking out the historic old buildings, and then followed the track along the coast. Surprisingly there were skylarks singing above the meadow! We were reminded of all the skylarks we had heard on our Cotswold Way walk back in June. Soon we arrived at the cliffs, which are loaded with layers of Permian mollusc shells. It was quite amazing to see so many fossils all piled up together, and some of the shells were very large.

We carried on around the circuit, passing through grassy areas which were probably sheep pastures in the old days, but which were havens for birds now. The best bird was the beautiful Flame Robin which we saw sitting on one of the bushes. It was still early and it wasn’t raining so we decided to walk the Reservoir Circuit as well. This path led through a strong-smelling eucalyptus forest to a dam which held back a small, pretty pond with rushes all around and grebes diving in it.

Back at the campsite it was time to make dinner. We had one whole side of the camp kitchen to ourselves, which was nice, and the other side was being used by two marine biology students who were cooking steaks for about 40 of their fellow students. Our dinner was easily prepared so we were done eating and all cleaned up quite quickly. After dinner we walked to the Painted Cliffs, which weren’t far down the road. The fields were full of wombats and wallabies, many of which bounded away as we approached. We were quite surprised to see how fast wombats could run when they wanted to. The Painted Cliffs are best viewed at low tide, but unfortunately it was high tide now so we couldn’t see much of them. But it did make for a nice evening walk.

Before going to bed we had to possum-proof our campsite. This involved securely bagging all food and storing it in the tent, and putting everything else either in the tent or inside the tent’s vestibule to keep it out of the rain. This made the tent a bit cramped, but it wasn’t too bad. As we went to sleep the night sounds were interesting to listen to, with the waves on the shore, the occasional grunt from a goose, and some night bird squeaking.

November 21, 2013

We were woken up a few times in the night with heavy rain on the tent. But all was dry and cosy inside. We got up at 7:30 am, when it wasn’t raining, and went over to the camp kitchen for breakfast. The camp kitchen was quite large and well-equipped. There were barbecues, gas rings, picnic tables, and even fireplaces. The building was significant enough that it had been opened by the Governor of Tasmania in 1986. The Korean group who had come over on the boat with us took over one end and we took over the other end.

After breakfast the weather had not improved, so we donned our rain gear and headed off on our walk. No point in just sitting around the campground all day! Our destination was French’s Farm and possibly farther, depending on time and weather. The route followed a road, so footing was very easy. However the forest the road went through wasn’t that interesting and the people who had told us we should rent bicycles to do it were mostly right. On the way to the farm we counted 16 wombats and also saw kangaroos and wallabies. We were also looking for Tasmanian Devils, but they are nocturnal so no wonder we didn’t see any. There were also more kookaburras along the road than we had seen on the whole trip now, maybe ten of them. We found that the famous Laughing Kookaburra call is produced by a pair of birds. One bird goes “KAKAKAKAKA!” and the other one goes “HOO! HOO! HOO! HOO!” at the same time.

The road went through forest mostly, patches of various kinds of forest, but parts of it followed the shoreline. We were continually going up and down small hills, which made the route a bit more interesting. Occasionally we came to rusting old equipment and new signposts labelling creeks. From the description in the brochure we thought the return distance was 10 km, but by the time we finally reached the farm we realized that the distance was 10 km each way. We had all day, though.

There’s a campground at French’s Farm, and there were three tents there with a portable shelter. We found out later that they were Tasmanian Devil researchers. Luckily for us the old farmhouse was open and there were 1930’s-era chairs and table inside, so we sat in there to eat our lunch.

It was still early, so after lunch we decided to walk a bit farther, down the road to the other campground at Encampment Bay. This part of the road was less developed so we had to be careful walking around the big puddles with their slippery mud. There were people camping there, too. Since the bay was outside the marine park reserve, fishing was allowed, so some fishermen had set up their tents. They also had a portable shelter, not to mention a lot of empty beer cans.

On our return trip to Darlington we counted 32 wombats. As it happened the tide level was right for us to go and see the Painted Cliffs, so we stopped off there. The cliffs are fine-looking with artistic sandstone layers, and despite the rain they did look a bit bright and colourful. Just as we left there the rain started pouring down, harder than it had all day. Fortunately we only had another half hour of walking to get back to the campground.

Once back there we hung up our wet rain gear in the camp kitchen and checked out our tent, to find it still dry inside. The Korean group had water in theirs, so they had moved it inside the camp kitchen and set it up there. We debated whether to do the same, but it would have been a lot of work to move it along with all its contents, so we let well enough alone. The Koreans had also started a fire with available scraps, and they helped us to get a fire going on our side of the kitchen. However we were running out of wood so Paul went to the woodpile to get some more. Unfortunately the woodpile consisted of a few very large logs and an axe whose handle had been broken off!

Rosemary went up to the ranger station to ask about a replacement. Luckily the ranger was there and she found another splitting maul, which she took down to the woodpile along with a burly construction worker who split some of the logs. Our fire did well with this new wood and actually threw out some heat. We made our dinner before it got dark and sat by the fire listening to the rain outside. About 9 pm the rain stopped, so we went out with our headlamps to try and locate a Tasmanian Devil. The ranger had told us that they might be found around the penitentiary buildings, but we had no luck.

Next: East and North Coast

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