Where we went: Mount Maria
When we went: late summer 2020
Estimated time to complete walk: 4-5hrs
Time spent on walk: 4hrs
Are you, like us, carefully planning the rest of the year once we are allowed out again? Are you concerned about the weather in Tasmania given that we are likely to be released from our house arrest in mid-winter? We highly recommend that you consider Maria Island. While we admit to traversing this Grade 4 walk in summer, the Island has no specific season in which it is best to travel; each season has its own perks and pit-falls, and it is up to you what you make of these. Our summer (early March to be exact) pitfall was the snakes. If the thought of snakes fills you with abject terror, then it should be noted that this article contains snakes. Neither snakes nor humans were harmed in the making.
When we had first researched this walk we were under the impression that the walk would take roughly 8 hours to complete. With this in mind we woke up just before the sunrise in a frantic bid to fit in a big walk, pack up our campsite, and get back home in time to shower and go to work in the morning (this was a few weeks BC (Before Covid-19) and we were still concerned about such things). Breakfast was pancakes cooked on the communal BBQ (we had run out of the gas burners we brought for ourselves) and homemade cherry and brandy jam eaten under the watchful gaze of a herd of potoroos and the tentative, watery sunrise from behind Bishop and Clerk – our big adventure of the day before.
We were ready to set out just as the rest of the camp was waking up, and long before the first ferry had arrived for the day. Walking along the main road we stopped by the Oast House for a little poke around and said a casual “good morning” to all the wombats that we saw along the way. We were a little under an hour into our comfortable, dirt road track when we came across the sign indicating that we had reached the official beginning of the Mount Maria track. which helpfully informed us that we had completely misinterpreted the maps and that Mount Maria is only a 4hr return trip from the beginning of the track. It would have taken roughly 8 hrs if we had departed from Encampment Cove, but we were departing from Darlington and could have definitely had a little sleep-in.
Sleepy, but pleased to have suddenly gained a spare 4 hours to explore Maria Island, we pressed on with our walk, which started along a sandy, forested track, climbing gently upwards. Whereas the Bishop and Clark walk is almost exactly half rainforest and half steep rocky climb, Mount Maria is more like a quarter casual rainforest walk and three quarters steep slopes and rock scrambling. Both walks are equally rewarding, it just depends on what you want out of life.
Stiff from our exploits the day before, cranky from lack of sleep (there was a minor devil trying to enter the tent incident in the night) and very muggy under the stifling hug of heat trapped in the rainforest understorey we made a slow and uncheered trudge upwards through the forest. There were only a few areas to stop and see our progress upwards, and each of them were gratefully savoured. Brief glimpses of treetops from the lower tiers of the mountain were caught between the branches of the trees that sheltered us. The sudden start of the rock scree came as a slight surprise, not least because it quickly gave way to much bigger rocks, which required a lot of jumping and amateur parkour practise. We found our second wind on these big rocks, with the change of scenery and the change of pace breaking up the monotony of plain-old-walking quite nicely.
The path remains a rock-leaping experience which was occasionally interspersed with forested areas and some interesting alpine plant-life, particularly the plant known as “dragon heath” which is spikey and creates a slippery-leaf-litter-on-the-sloping-rocky-floor situation, so take care when passing through it.
The rock leaping turned to full scale boulder climbing and Sommelier had to go in front to assist my damsel-self up the especially big rocks. It was getting to be a very warm day and we had removed several layers, but the closer we got to the summit we found ourselves adding layers to deal with the biting wind. The summit, which is marked with a ‘trig station’, is made satisfying by the sheer effort that it takes to hoist oneself up there (I had to stick my tongue out to improve concentration on several occasions). The summit surveys the isthmus’s glittering blue waters lapping the white sand beaches in one direction, and the rich green forests on the world below. The plants at the summit are unexpectedly luscious for a windswept, alpine area. We had a long lunch on the top of Mount Maria resting our very shaky legs for the walk back.
Climbing down from big boulders is significantly more terrifying than climbing up, especially when the aforementioned boulders reside, precariously, on the face of Maria Island’s tallest peak. The sun was out in a very convincing manner by the time we were walking back, and we saw an exciting variety of skinks, especially in the rainforest section where we saw our first ever she-oak skink. While skinks are a harmless sight, they are often a clue that there may be snakes in the area and we were on the lookout for danger noodles, which proved expedient when we stepped to the side of the path to let a group of 3 pass. When I returned to looking at the ground to resume walking I made very awkward eye contact with a tiger snake slightly reared and mock striking right at my feet. Now, reader, I am reasonably comfortable in the presence of reptiles, and I know that standing very still is the correct response when confronted by snakes, but my brain did not agree to this plan of action and I was already running and shouting a swear word long before it occurred to me to make sure Sommelier was safe and aware of the situation (he was not aware of the situation as I did not use our agreed on and very sophisticated code of “SNAKE!”, but he generally admits to just trusting that if I am running and swearing then he should follow suit). We made it about 5 paces before turning and watching the equally stressed reptile unfurl itself and slither into the safety of the undergrowth.
We were back on the road part of the track when tiger snake number 2 was sighted and I grabbed Sommelier’s arm to indicate that he needed to freeze. Now, for some reason, Sommelier struggles to see snakes and there was a brief argument about whether the thing I was fairly certain was a deadly reptile wasn’t actually a stick. The matter was settled (and I was the winner) when the creature formerly suspected of being a stick revealed itself to be the largest tiger snake I have ever seen in my whole life ever.
Due to our colossal misunderstanding of the time it would take to complete the trek we found ourselves with several hours to spare once we made it back to Darlington so we amused ourselves with exploring the ruins and the hills around the ranger station (great wombat watching site), stopping by the painted cliffs again, and generally saying goodbye to the island before allowing ourselves to finally rest and let our few days of huge walks sink in and settle. There are 3 grade 4 walks on Maria Island, all that are extremely rewarding of the effort that they take, but there are countless small walks and areas that are safe and beautiful to explore with children (especially if you are there at low tide and can fully appreciate the Painted and Fossil cliffs). What makes Maria so particularly special is the wombats (please observe basic social distancing rules and don’t get too close to them) which are golden, plentiful, and, for the time being, free from the mange that has ravaged their mainland counterparts. Maria Island is the perfect little wilderness retreat, regardless of whether you like to exhaust yourself on a mountain climb, or potter around some historic architecture and natural phenomena. It also offers a safe and comfortable camping experience, with the chance of a Tasmanian Devil sighting and a noticeable, but not overbearing park ranger presence, should you have any questions that need answering.
Our return to the city was met with lockdown and endless weekends on the couch, but we are extremely grateful that we had time to submerge ourselves in nature beforehand, it has made our time in self-isolation much more bearable. We are looking forward to getting out again when it is safe to do so, even though we usually take winter off.