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In addition to connecting me with hosts in Launceston and Hobart, friend and Tassie native, Edwina told me to check out Cradle Mountain and the East Coast on my visit. Tasmania isn’t exactly a hotbed of Couchsurfing hosts – especially outside of its two biggest cities – but I was able to find a great host in Orford. Orford is on the southeast coast of Tasmania about an hour and fifteen minute drive from Hobart. It is also conveniently located next to Triabunna, the port of departure for Maria Island.

Maria had a 50% off winter special going on, where the ferry was just $20 ASD return and accommodations at the Penitentiary on the island was $22/night. I went with Maria Island Ferry and was extremely satisfied with the experience. The company is run by a wonderful couple, John and Anne, who provided me with a ton of historical information on the island and surrounding area. They love what they do and it shows in the way they operate their business.

Maria Island has layers and layers of history. Its peopling began 28,000 years ago when Aborigines first inhabited the island. It was the first part of Australia to be charted by Abel Tasman, before mainland Tasmania, and even before mainland Australia! The island was used as a penal settlement for two periods, 1825-1832 and 1842-1851. An Italian silk merchant named Diego Bernacchi took over the island in the 1880s and attempted to turn it into a vineyard, silk producer, and cement factory. Things didn’t work out well and Maria ended up being used for farming until the 1960s.

The island was declared a national park in 1972. Since then forests have replaced pasture land and vines. With a huge variety of birds, including a number of rare species, the island is paradise for orniphiles. Several alien animal species have been introduced, most notably Cape Barren Geese and Eastern Grey Kangaroos. During my visit, the island was filled with goslings – and very protective parents. There is an alleged population of Tasmanian Devils on MI, but the rangers I spoke with said they won’t be moved there until the end of the year. I didn’t find out until after I left, but there is a penguin colony in Haunted Bay in the south of the island.

Like some of the places I’ve been to this trip, Maria Island was pretty much deserted for winter. The only permanent residents of the island are a couple park rangers, who are the only ones allowed to operate vehicles. Other than a French family staying in the penitentiary and a couple of campers, it was just the rangers and myself. Due to it being offseason, the ferry schedule was limited. I left Triabunna at 10:30 on Monday and left Maria at 11:30 on the following day. It was still enough time to see and do quite a bit. We saw 5 pods of dolphins on the 35 minute ride out to the island!

The weather was absolutely perfect for my first day, without a cloud in the sky, and it even hit 16 degrees C! I took full advantage and walked from the islands “town” of Darlington to the isthmus (the island consists of a northern and southern chunk separated by a very narrow isthmus) via the coastal route, with a stop at the Painted Cliffs. Perhaps the most iconic feature of the island, the Painted Cliffs are made of sandstone and “painted” by iron oxide. There is a huge sandy beach on either side of the isthmus and I was the only person there. I returned to Darlington by way of the inland track. The track returns to the sea at the Painted Cliffs and I made it just in time for sunset. I walked more than 30k in 6 hours and had no problem falling asleep in my cell.

On Tuesday morning, I managed to check out the Fossil Cliffs and make it to the top of Bishop & Clerk. Back when all of the continents were still together and formed pangea, Fossil Cliffs was part of the bed of a giant river that flowed from southern Australia into the sea. This resulted in the creation of millions of fossils in the cliff’s layers of rock. You get a much better view of the fossils if you drop down from the cliffs to sea level.

At 620 meters, Bishop & Clerk is the second highest peak on the island. The last bit of the ascent is pretty steep and involves quite a few rocks. The weather wasn’t as nice as the first day, but the view from the top was still decent. On a clear day, you get an excellent view of the Freycinet Peninsula. It’s definitely doable to squeeze Fossil Cliffs and B&C into 3 hours, which I needed to do in order to make the ferry.

I know this was a long post, but the place deserves it. While I was slightly underwhelmed with CRADLE MOUNTAIN, I was totally blown away by Maria Island. It isn’t really on the Tasmanian tourist radar and I consider it a bluechip, hidden gem destination. The perfect weather and discounted price certainly enhanced the experience, but the place is phenomenal. Go there!

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