Maria Island: Haunted Bay

Where we went: Haunted Bay (Maria Island)

When we went: Summer 2020

Estimated time of hike: 8-9hrs

Time spent on hike: 10.5 hrs (there was a LONG detour)

Haunted Bay – so named because of the sound that the Little Penguins make when they roost in the nearby beaches reverberating of the giant rock faces (imagine a sea-gull attacking a squeaky toy and then imagine that sound at night, warped and echoed by rocks) – was our primary objective for the day. The 7-9ish hour walk begins near the French’s Farm camping area. We did not bring or hire bicycles for our time on Maria Island, but it should be noted that this is an option, and it is probably the only way to do Haunted Bay as a day walk if departing from Darlington (running being the only exception I can think of). It should also be noted that most of this particular track consists of beach sand, which – I know from a faceplant-in-my-youth related incident – is not particularly bike friendly. We recommend staying over night (for 2 nights) at either French’s Farm or Encampment Cove.

We awoke at Encampment Cove remarkably well rested and not as stiff as we thought we would be, having undertaken the 4hr hike to our campsite (with multiday packs) the day before. Campside catering can be something of a difficulty when a member of the couple (me) has a severe sulphite intolerance and therefore is unwilling to risk even trying a freeze-dried meal while far away from medical intervention. It can also be difficult if a member of the couple (me, again) is a caffeine addict who prefers not to drink instant coffee. We circumvented the no freeze dried meals issue with organic quinoa porridge sprinkled with homemade strawberry fruit leather. For the coffee we had traditional Greek style coffee (it’s traditionally prepared in the coals of the fire, but we made do with our gas burner). Fed and caffeinated we packed our day packs. Sommelier’s day pack straps to the outside of his night pack, which is a very handy feature, and I use a little backpack that folds up for all my daypack-while-camping needs. We each carried our 2ltr water pouch and Sommelier kept an extra 2ltrs for when we inevitably ran out. We also packed our fruit leathers (we made A LOT), sulphite free scroggin, and biltong. It was mid-morning by the time we were setting out on our very long walk, but we were keen to test our stamina and recovery time. We also checked the weather before embarking and were informed that there was a 20% chance of rain. We packed wet-weather gear and a few drysacks (which proved expedient when that 20% turned into a small deluge). 

The track moves along Shoal Bay and across McRaes Isthmus. Our stroll along the isthmus was leisurely and we stopped several times to enjoy the beachside flora and birdsong before the aforementioned small deluge hit and we took shelter in amongst the she-oak trees. It became apparent to us very quickly that while our minds and legs were fine with the walking we had done yesterday, the soles of our feet could not relate. If you are in a similar position you may find comfort in the knowledge that Haunted Bay is one of the longest walks on Maria Island, but it is not as challenging as the other 2 as it is often flat or only gradually inclining even though it is listed as a Grade 3 walk on the parks website. Plus the beach sand makes for some very soft, cushioned footing.

After the isthmus there is a fork in the road, the left leads to Haunted Bay (eventually) and the other leads to Robey’s Farm. If you are short on time head straight to Haunted Bay, there is significantly less to see at Robey’s Farm than the star on the map would have you believe.

From the fork in the road the track trundles upwards along a sandy, gum-forested track. Lizards abounded at our feet and we had to be extremely careful not to tread on them (this was made difficult by their insistence on scurrying, at highest possible speed, under our feet). We progressed slowly upwards for over an hour before we realised that we had been frog-in-the-potted by the track and the gradual incline had developed a distinctly steep curve to it without getting uncomfortable enough for us to notice.

The steepest part of the uphill is relatively short-lived and pay-off for the struggle comes in the form of the first glimpse of pink granite cliffs through the tall gum trees. Here a small wooden sign marks the descent into the destination and the previously comfortably wide path turns into a narrow foot path that threads cleanly through large lichen covered boulders.

After around 4 hours of walking we emerged from the scrub that bordered the forest out into the vast and utterly dwarfing expanse of pink granite that makes up Haunted Bay. The ocean frothed below us pulling the dark tendrils of huge kelp plants willy-nilly in its wake. Skinks sunned themselves on the giant rocks and only very grudgingly moved to afford us space to explore. We ate lunch with the natural din of the sea meeting impassive rocks ringing in our ears and sat for a long time in the solitude of the cliff-face before beginning our trek home again.

The climb back up the rocks to the “Haunted Bay” sign is the most exhausting part of the return journey (it only lasts for about 5 minutes, but we were so puffed by the end of it that we had to take a break). The rest of the way is downhill and wooded enough to offer pleasant shade. The track is also wide enough to fit Sommelier and I side-by-side which tends to greatly increase our wildlife viewing experience because we have enough space to use non-verbal communication (excitedly slapping each other’s arms) in the event of an animal sighting  Our return to the fork in the road passed without incident, there were plenty of little animals to be seen, including what we suspect is a Betong (it did a sneeze and it was adorable!!!). We stopped to reapply sunscreen, check our water supply and have a little snack and a sit down in the beach-sand and banksia-shade at the fork when we were greeted by the tiny, non-descript chirps of the forty spotted pardalote. The dull yellow/ olive green miniscule bird with a very short beak and tiny, white spotted, frantically whirring wings is one of Australia’s rarest birds. Found only in the coastal regions of Eastern Tasmania and tending to prefer the high eucalypt canopy we have spent a lot of time (particularly on Bruny Island) trying to catch a glimpse of them. We were unable to photograph them on account of it would have required us stepping off the path and also because they did not stand still for a second longer than just long enough for us to ascertain their identity. To quote Sommelier, “I have no idea where they think they’re going, but they sure are in a rush to get there.”  In summary, if you see a tiny flash of yellow and white make a little chirrup sound as it barrels towards the unknown in the tree-tops there’s a chance it’s a forty-spotted.

Re-energised by our exceedingly rare bird sighting, and hoping to catch a glimpse of a few more in the banksia grove we followed in the general direction of their frantic travel – towards Robey’s Farm. Now, dear reader, it must be noted that Robey’s Farm is 50mins one way, so you’re looking at adding an extra 2 hours to your total trip. It must also be noted that the bridge to the farm has been washed out and some mild creek crawling is required to access it. What is “it”? you ask; well, it’s a small weatherboard house that was built in the 1920s by a retired war veteran and his wife, who had been a nurse tending to him while he recovered from wounds sustained in battle. A book detailing their lives can be picked up from the gift cabinet at the information centre at the ferry terminal on Maria Island if such things are of particular interest to you. The farm was abandoned in the 60s when the widowed and pining Mr Robey required urgent medical attention for malnutrition. He never returned to the island (although he did live a further 15 years) and the dinner he had prepared for himself remained laid out on the table with his rice pudding still in the oven. Today it functions as a minor tourist attraction and an emergency shelter. It is the most modern of the abandoned relics on Maria Island, and in that sense it is an interesting place to visit; however the 2 hours added on top of our already very long walk was a more foolish venture than we fully anticipated and it was a very slow, weary and forty-spotted-pardalote-less voyage back.

We dragged ourselves home, stopping frequently, quietly grateful that it doesn’t get dark in Tasmania in summer until around 9pm so we had enough light to see by. The unexpected benefit of our lengthy detour was that, being out in the evening hours radically increased our chances of seeing Tasmania’s nocturnal mammals (an astonishing proportion of which are critically endangered). We were near the French’s Farm campsite when the unmistakable guttural growl of the Tasmanian Devil broke the early evening stillness and heralded the start of nocturnal prowling. Wombats lumbered lazily about at frequent intervals and we made our way back to camp via the Convict Cells walk so as to better see even more wombats (we has excitedly told a park ranger that we had seen 5 wombats there and he helpfully informed us that there were probably about 500 – he was not wrong, most of the ‘rocks’ on the sparsely covered hills by the convict ruins turned out to be the bare- nosed wombat. We stopped counting how many we had seen.)

We were cooking by the dim light of dusk and the meagre illumination of head torches, keeping an eye on the possums that kept trying to creep into our tent when the sooty black and white form of a very fast moving Devil made it’s unexpectedly nimble, sprinting way through the trees on the outskirts of our camp before disappearing into the bushes only to be heard from again once night had truly fallen.  

Maria Island is the perfect wildlife sanctuary; the wombats are currently free of the mange that has devastated other populations; the introduced Devils remain free from the deadly facial tumour disease; almost every endemic Tasmanian bird species can be seen on the island. With no cars (except for park rangers) allowed Maria’s only indication of the indelible influence of human intrusion comes in the form of dilapidated ruins and rusty relics, and the occasional contemporary footprint.

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