Maria Island: Bishop and Clerk

Where we went: Bishop and Clerk (Maria Island)

When we went: Late summer 2020

Estimated time for walk: 4 – 5 hrs

Time spent on walk: 4 hrs

We were going to catch the first ferry out to Darlington, but we thought better of it (on account of our mutual love for sleep) and caught the second ferry to Darlington instead, which departs from Triabunna at 10:30am. As this was now our second trip to the island in 2 weeks were have really honed our skills, for example, we now know that the boot scrubbing station’s brush bristles are almost non-existent (although the hand-held one meant for bikes is still functional), and the spray feature is so utterly defective that you will end up with a very wet leg and a mostly dry boot. Scrub your boots at home and then do a quick once over at the ferry terminal to make sure there are no seeds or chunks of mud in the treads of your shoes.

As soon as we landed in Darlington we headed to the information centre to check in to the Darlington campsite and pay the fare ($7 per adult per night – eftpos only, cash is not accepted). We chose a secluded little spot with enough trees around for us to tether our tent comfortably (it was a very windy day) and set up our food scraps bin (literally just a metal garbage bin available from behind the ranger station that you must store all food, cooking equipment and food scraps in to keep the Devils out of your tent. To quote the park ranger, “Devils rarely use the front entrance”)

Satisfied that our tent was tied down and no food was stored inside it we set out at around midday on the notoriously difficult hike (grade 4) to Bishop and Clerk. The track begins from Darlington and you can take the short way which heads straight to the track, or the long way which runs around the Maria Island Airstrip (which is still an active airstrip so please keep to the marked path and do not just roam aimlessly around the big open airfield), along Fossil Cliffs and off into the she-oak forest that marks the formal beginning of the Bishop and Clerk walk. We took the scenic route on the way out and the direct way on the way back (there were convict ruins that I really wanted to see). We stopped to admire the length of the Cliffs and the hundreds of fossils deeply embedded therein. It was an overcast and rainy day and the ocean was churning up particularly huge, loud waves, which served as a sea-sprayed reminder that the ocean is very slowly reclaiming the fossilised remains of her creatures.

We took a very relaxed pace after leaving Fossil Cliffs, first looking out along the open plain to see if we could see any of the kangaroos (kangaroos are not native to Tasmania, and the only population in the state is the one introduced to Maria Island). I also took great pleasure in pointing out all scats belonging to carnivorous mammals along the way (they are easy to spot; they contain fragments of hair and sometimes bone) by bellowing, “DEVIL POOOOOOOOOOOO!” whenever we came across one. Sommelier, who has expressed an interest in learning to track animals examined the first poop with interest but quickly switched to his classic, “that’s nice, dear.” As he does not share my passion for the poops.

The she-oak gives way to a more heavily forested area with a variety of gum trees and smaller shrubs that we were unable to identify. As we were walking on a warm and rainy summer’s day we were greeted by a cacophony of rainforest aromas. The menthol scent of the gum leaves breaking through the heady earthen smell of leaf litter and moss, neither successfully overpowering the distinct smell of lichen covered granite. Due to the weather there was little by way of wildlife to be spotted (with the exception of devil poo), but we were greeted with regular birdsong and the sound of rain falling on the canopy above without quite reaching us below. Particularly large waves also managed to occasionally break through the forest’s silence, the sound muffled by the leaves and the long distance it had travelled.

After a little over an hour the rainforest ends abruptly in the face of a field of small rocks. The path zig-zags through these sharp little rocks with relative comfort and, while the path markers are not always extremely obvious they are not strictly necessary as the path is well worn and clearly very popular (although we saw very few other people, likely because of the weather). The openness of this section lent itself well to viewing the path already travelled, the Fossil Cliffs being clearly visible, and the ocean being easily audible from our vantage point. Small rocks turn to boulders and, while the track mostly weaves around the boulders, it is here that the hike earns its title as a “challenge”. Sommelier and I are both reasonably fit and 6ft tall so we had little issue in the sections where actual rock-face scrambling is necessary. We wear Blundstone boots, but you may find it easier in proper hiking boots with deeper tread. Granite can become very slippery when wet so we proceeded with extreme caution. It was lightly drizzling with low clouds being blown across our path, briefly enveloping us in the sky, before dispersing into the wind when, with a heavy grunt and a frantic, blind scramble for a hand-hold I emerged at the top. Like a child peeping over the table to see the Christmas feast laid out I caught my first glimpse of the perfectly flat summit of the Bishop and Clerk walk. Sheer cliff with the rainforest and ocean below were visible in the occasional partings of the clouds and the looming figures of the rock formations known as Bishop and Clerk, for their resemblance to a Bishop and a Clergyman, respectively.

We stood on the flat surface of the summit, the clouds occasionally shrouding us and our view and misting our faces with captured raindrops. The rainforest sprawled out below us, a particularly long trench of man-ferns heralding a water-source far below us. It is easy to feel as though you are at the end of the universe when you are above the clouds, with the wind whistling upwards, rather than across. The ocean sprawled infinitely onwards; the churning whites of the furious waves rendered silent by our distance above them. There is not a lot of space at the summit, so there is no urgent call to explore further. There is just towering sense of touching the sky and the ardent desire for the gift of flight that comes with it.

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