Friday, April 18, 2014

Maria Island Magic

Darlington, Maria Island

I don’t have to say much in this blog post, I think the picture do most of the talking.  However, I do need to introduce Maria Island.  For those of you who don’t know, Maria Island is located on the East Coast of Tasmania, closer to the south than the north.  It is a tiny little island, about 40 minutes by ferry from the town of Triabunna.  There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the island.  The only cars there are a few of the park ranger vehicles that drive around to survey the area.  Most people bring bikes, although  they also be hired. A lot of people just bring good old hiking boots as there are plenty of gravel paths and trails to explore.  Time on Tasmania for me is running out so I could only spend a day and night on the island, although I could have easily spent a week or more.  There is so much to see and explore but you definitely get a great taste for the island in a day. 

I expected to see a big ferry boat with a proper ticket sales office and a long cue when I rolled up to the Triabunna waterfront.  I thought I should probably arrive a good hour in advance.  The ferry left at 3:30pm, and at 2:45, there was no one to be seen, not even a boat big enough I’d call a ferry!  I popped my head in the visitor information center and sure enough I was in the right place and in fact, the boat was just 100 meters from me.  The lady there told me I could buy my ticket from the skipper directly, and that he’d show up closer to 3 or 3:15.  I went to the super market in town to pick up some groceries as there is also no store, café, or restaurant on the island.  Everyone has to bring in their own food and carry out all their waste.

By the time I returned to the harbor, things had picked up.  There was a couple, trekkers, and some women and children loading up boxes, suitcases, and backpacks of goods.  It looked like they were headed over for an entire month with the amount of stuff they had.  I bought my ticket from the skipper, John, and he helped my lift my bike onto the boat (no…there wasn’t even a proper ramp, the boat was that small).  There were 11 passengers total, maybe space for 50 passengers.  I was pleasantly surprised that with the Easter holiday there weren’t more people headed over. 

Maria Island bound......
The boast ride was the worst part of my experience.  I don’t do well on small boats; I get motion sickness.  John was so thoughtful and full of information for where to camp and cycle, but I could hardly listen as I was trying not to loose my lunch. Luckily the ride only lasted 40 minutes.  We arrived to what is called Darlington, a small establishment, once the center of convict life, that was well preserved and maybe a total of ten buildings, including what was once a coffee palace, mesh hall, penitentiary, and barn (next to which I camped).  There was also a visitor center and ranger office where I was supposed to sign in, but never saw the sign.  I was too busy strategically planning my early evening plan to make the most of the few hours of sunlight. John had told me where to go see the sunset, so I quickly ditched my bike, changed into less obvious cycling gear, and headed off to walk up to the fossil cliffs. Another thing I should mention, you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your stuff On Maria Island.  I just left bike and all under the silos and nothing was touched.  Oh, and yes, I do appreciate time off the bike, so when there is a great path that can be hiked or biked, I choose to hike!  You have to change things up a bit, or at least I do!

Fossil Cliffs at sunset

At first I didn't recognize a live wombat, they look so different than the roadkill version

Surely there would be other walkers out, who wanted to see the sunset from the cliffs but to my surprise I found more kangaroos and wallabies than people.  In fact, I didn’t run into one other person!  I also saw my first wombat, which I didn’t recognize alive.  I’ve only seen them dead and they look much different as road kill. Alive, they still look a bit swollen and inflated, but I’d say they seem to be more of a ground koala bear than I imagined.  They are cute little fellows, and everywhere on Maria.

Sunset with mainland tasmania in the distance

My only company on my walk, heaps of wallabies

Sunset from the skipping ridge was incredible!  The cliffs were impressive, like horizontal corrugate cardboard, all different shades of bronze, that went vertically down into the waters below.  It was windy from high above, and someone with vertigo would have had their challenges, but I took it all in, jaw dropped the entire time.  Off in the distance over mainland Tasmania, the sunset and illuminated the sky with all sorts of vivid pinks, greys, and blues and I was all by myself, expect for the groups of kangaroos feasting on the grass down below. 

See that little house off in the distance,.....that is where I camped

On my way back to my bike, I spotted the perfect campsite off in the bush, above Darlington, as to not be bothered by the others, although at this point, I wasn’t convinced there were many “others” even on the island.  I collected my bike and wheeled it up the hill next to the barn, which would block my wind for the evening.  There was still enough sunlight and now moonlight to set up my tent, eat dinner without using my head torch. Again, I was in complete solitude except for the exception of some wombats and kangaroos grazing and the sound of the howling wind. Luckily the wind kept the sky free of clouds so I had the most impressive view of the stars in the southern sky before going to sleep and the temperature was just right for sleeping.

Can you remember the last time you went to sleep at 7:30pm,…and slept until 7:30 the next morning.  Well, I seem to be in this routine as I find myself free camping more and more here in Tasmania.  I seem to be catching up on a lot of missed sleep over the years.  You’d think one night of sleeping 12 hours would impede on the following night,….NOT TRUE, I can sleep and sleep, and sleep, and even have to set an alarm to make sure I’m up before I get “caught”.  Should I also admit that I wake up in a puddle of drool, from my sound sound sleep?!?!
Heading south on my walk, the storm has yet to blow in......
So many little beaches to be found here

From John’s advice, I could cycle most of the northern island in a day and see some of the main natural attractions.  However, my legs were itching for a change and I decided to try walking the same route.  I had enough time to give it a go and explore on foot.  I set off after a quick breakfast and headed towards the southern portion of the north part of the island.  I was a bit chilly when I set off, but in the matter of a half hour, I was so warm, I had stripped all my layers and wishing I had brought a bigger backpack.  I ran into a few hikers, three, to be precise, who were all headed back to Darlington.  I arrived to the southern campground on the island where there was a small house.  I didn’t think of stopping, as I felt great and didn’t need a rest.  Up above in the sky, grey clouds had rolled in.  I didn’t think anything of them, here in a Tasmania, there is a saying about the weather.  If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.  I was quite content with the clouds, but sure enough 5 minutes later the heavens opened and down it poured.  Along with the buckets of rain came huge gusts of wind.  I tried to hide behind a tree, but it must have been the skinniest tree in the entire forest and hardly covered me.  This rain seemed to be around for more than 5 minutes so I decided to take my chances and run back to the shelter at the campsite.  By the time I reached the house, I was dripping wet.  The house was luckily open, so I went in.  There was nothing inside except for a guest registration booklet and a fireplace that said fires were prohibited. 

I couldn’t complain, at least I was out of the rain, which didn’t seem like it was going to let up any time soon.  I quickly took off my wet clothes and put on a few drier items.  Then I did something I wasn’t suppose to….I lit a small candle on the fireplace and kept sticking little piece of paper in it to keep it burning and warm my hands.  I wasn’t breaking any rule really, as my fire wasn’t in the fireplace, and I had it completely under control.  The votive candle fire was the perfect flame size to keep my hands toasty.  In the meantime, I kept my positive thoughts flowing that the rain would shortly stop.  This time it was longer than 5 minutes, but eventually the weather did change, the rain stopped, and I was able to set off walking again.  With the storm, temperatures had dropped about 7 or 8 degrees Celsius and I was chilled, to say the least.  I had a good incentive to keep a fast pace….the faster I walked, the warmer I’d be, and the quicker I’d dry.

The smallest of fire made the biggest difference.....

On the way back from my loop walk, I saw the island’s famous painted cliffs.  Again, to my surprise, I was there alone.  There was no one around and these cliffs were just about the prettiest sight I’d seen in all of Australia.  How could it be?  Where was everyone?  This is what I love about Tasmania, it is one of the best kept secrets in the world and the Australians aren’t ones to boast about themselves, their culture, or their country, so by no means are they going to spoil the natural beauty of their surroundings any time soon.  You just don’t have the mass tourism like New Zealand, but the beauty is equally astounding if not more impacting. 

The Painted Cliffs, Wow, wow, and wow!!!!

From the other side

The painted cliffs were like something out of a magazine.  The erosion from the waves makes for a symmetrical pattern of variegated shades of orange, from light to dark and back again.  The tide has to be low to see the cliffs at their prime, and luckily it was on its way out when I visited.  I must have spent a good hour sitting there in awe taking in this magical sight.

Layers of colors

With mainland Tasmania off in the distance and the sun slipping down over the mountains, I headed back to Darlington, collected my bike and belongings, again, untouched, and boarded the boat back to mainland as happy as could be. By the time I hit Darlington I had completely dried out, one more thing to be grateful for.  Maria Island had just done it for me,…….it put Tasmania at the top of my list.  What list is that?......That’s a whole other blog post, just wait and see!

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