Maria Island National Park | Is it worth it?

Standing at the peak of Bishop and Clerk after making the incredible hike to the best vantage point on Maria Island Tasmania

The first question you’re going to ask yourself is this; Is Maria Island worth it? And our answer is YES. Just like you, we were undecided whether $45 per person for the ferry was too steep to bother. That doesn’t even include a car! It took some persuading from a good friend of ours for us to bite the bullet and part with the money. But we’re so glad we did. And you will be too. So purchase your Maria Island Ferry Ticket and read on.

TIP: Book the first and last ferry to Maria Island in order to get the most out of the day. If you happen to finish earlier than expected – and permitted the ferry isn’t completely booked that day – you can change your departure time by calling the number on your ticket. These times will vary depending on the season, and you can find all the information on the Encounter Maria website.

The second question on your mind will be; Do I need a bike? To this, our answer is again YES. The entire island became a national park in 1972 in an attempt to preserve the wilderness. Therefore, no vehicles are allowed on Maria Island. So if you’re looking to do it in one day, that is a whole lot of walking! They do offer a bike hire service on the Island – $33 for the day – but for just $10 extra, you get the luxury of taking your own bike across on the Ferry. 

Historic old house on the hill in Darlington Maria Island Tasmania, enjoying the view while mountain biking

NOTE: Helmets need to be worn in the Maria Island National Park… Don’t try to slip past unnoticed, they check before entering the ferry.

The third and final question will be; Should I stay overnight on the island? We didn’t find it necessary, as visiting in summer allowed us to have up to 8 hours exploring Maria Island. But if time permits, there are two options for accomodation.

MARIA ISLAND CAMPING

To camp at Darlington, a fee of $7 per person applies with a first in first serve booking system. This campsite offers an amenities block with coin operated showers, untreated water, free barbecues and fireplaces with complimentary wood.

If you aren’t so keen on the price, free campsites are available at French’s Farm and Encampment cove, both a 3 to 4 hour walk away or 2 hour bike ride. They offer untreated drinking water and toilets.

THE OLD PENITENTIARY BUNK ACCOMODATION

Historic old Penitentiary Building which provides means of accommodation on Maria Island Tasmania

If this doesn’t sound too creepy, basic rooms are on offer at the old penitentiary building in Darlington at a rate of $44 a night for two people, and an additional adult being $10 extra. They offer 9 rooms with bunk beds that sleeps 6 and a tenth room sleeping 14 in bunk beds also. Booking in advance is essential for this form of accomodation.

Other than the bike shop, no services are provided on Maria Island… not even coffee! Don’t be fooled – like us – and expect a delicious barrister style cappuccino from the Coffee Palace, it’s not an actual coffee shop. So be sure to pack enough food and beer along with your coffee, oh and WARM CLOTHES – do not underestimate the wind chill, even in summer! Now that all the questions have been answered, we can get onto the reasons why you won’t be disappointed.

THE MARIA ISLAND EXPERIENCE

After 20 minutes on the comfortable ferry, the first glimpse of Maria Island’s National Park can be seen. Rolling hills with historic remains, rugged cliffs and beautiful white sandy beaches welcome you. Now you know you’ve made the right decision. Hopping off and collecting your bike, you’re left with one major task; squeezing Maria Island into a day. Below is a list of the essentials not to miss. Enjoy!

Eerily beautiful gum trees overhanging the road into Darlington on Maria Island Tasmania

BISHOP AND CLERK HIKE

There are two hikes on Maria Island. The most popular being Bishop and Clerk, and the most important attraction on the Island in our opinion. We recommend getting it done first to allow plenty of time. Starting at Darlington – the historic old town centre – it is a 12km return walk with the option to do a loop at the beginning to include the Fossil Cliffs. But save the cliffs for later, miraculous views from the peak of Bishop and Clerk and an awesome hike up through rough terrain are of much higher importance.

Right away, you’re going to thank us for encouraging the bike situation. This hike has the potential to take up most of your time on Maria Island. But luckily – and assuming you take our advice – the first 4km can be swiftly accomplished by riding until the sign indicating ‘no bikes past this point’ is reached. TIP: Keep going until you find said sign. We didn’t know of it’s existence and parked a kilometre further down. Don’t be afraid of the steep incline you have to ride/walk your bike up… pinning it downhill on the way back is absolutely worth it.

Example of the no bikes signs on Maria Island Tasmania's hikes, this one is on the Bishop and Clerk hike

Once you reach the no bikes sign, the hike gets real. The track winds steeply along the cliffside within the trees until it pops out at a massive pile of rocks – for lack of better description. Dylan being his usual impatient self, started scrambling up in a straight line before falling face first into the mass of loose rock. That’s when he realised I wasn’t following him, but walking along the nicely formed switchback ‘staircase’. As the altitude increases so does the terrain. Slowly, small loose rocks begin transforming into boulders and as the final 300m is in sight, climbing is required to propel yourself to the peak.

Hiker falling on loose rocks while making the climb to the peak of Bishop and Clerk on Maria Island Tasmania
Hiking up to the peak of Bishop and Clerk, navigating the loose rock and large boulders on Maria Island Tasmania

Waiting for you at the mountain top is the most incredible view courtesy of the naturally raw Mother Nature. Be careful if there is a bit of wind about, as scrambling over the last boulder situates you on top of the world. Well at the edge of it anyway. In front, colossal pillared cliffs stand perilously and before you figure out how they stay upright, you’ll realise that’s exactly what you’re standing on. Sheer drops either side make hopping from one pillar to the next an interesting and terrifying experience, but one we needed to endure to enjoy the perfect picnic spot. Just don’t look down if you follow our tracks!

Beautiful view at the top of Bishop and Clerk while enjoying a unique picnic spot on Maria Island Tasmania

After making your way back to your bike. Get ready to race each other down the grassy hill to the Fossil Cliffs. Some serious speed can be accomplished and with a wide open playing field, nothing could possibly go wrong… except taking a wrong turn at the cliff edge, that would be a bad idea!

FOSSIL CLIFFS

Maria Island National Park has a wide diversity in attractions, and this one is a geology nerds heaven. The rocks throughout this crumbing cliff – where the ocean once lapped – are littered with shell fossils. This sort of thing isn’t completely our cup of tea, however it was still very cool to see this beautiful history etched into the sandstone.

Examining the historic fossils on the Fossil cliffs at Maria Island Tasmania

And to make matters BETTER… we found a cute and cuddly WOMBAT! We thought this was a huge win until we saw 20 more throughout our time on Maria Island. Never the less, we got to get up close and personal with this cutie, really making Candace’s day.

Wombat eating at the Fossil Cliffs on Maria Island Tasmania
Cute Wombat eating lunch at the Fossil Cliffs on Maria Island Tasmania

MARIA ISLAND’S SPECTACULAR PAINTED CLIFFS

The order of the day is somewhat dependant on the tide, as Maria Island’s Painted Cliffs are enjoyed best at low tide. So make sure you are up to scratch with what our cute little moon is up to. Located on the west side, it’s a simple short ride from Darlington to get to the sandstone cliffs. Carved and moulded by the sea, these painted cliffs display beautiful patterns and colours in what is probably Maria Island National Parks most decorative feature. The colours are caused by ground water percolating down through the sandstone and staining the rock over thousands of years.

Walking through the spectacular Painted Cliffs on Maria Island Tasmania while the surf was small and low tide
hiding amongst the rough sea blown rock face of the Painted Cliffs on Maria Island Tasmania

On low tide you can wander in and around the cliffs and search the rock pools for marine life. If the weather permits – it was way too cold for us – a swim here would be perfect. Our research has informed us that snorkelling on a calm and warm day is worthy of your time as well.

MOUNT MARIA HIKE

We’ve heard great things about Mount Maria and the hike itself, but unfortunately managing both this and Bishop and Clerk in one day would be an impressive feat. Mount Maria is located south past the Painted Cliffs and is a total of 16km, making it the longest walk on Maria Island. For more information and spectacular photos, go to Fork and Foot’s blog post.

MARIA ISLAND HERITAGE BUILDINGS

Maria Island has no shortage of history for such a small land mass. First home to the Tyreddeme People before it’s discovery by the Europeans in 1642, Maria Island has gone from being home for Sealers, to the Convicts, to the farmers, to an Italian Silk Merchant, to Cement workers and back to Farmers before becoming a national park in 1972.

For further information on the history of Maria Island, head to Aussie Towns’ blog post.

Mountain bikes outside the historic old factory on Maria Island Tasmania with the beautiful back drop of the silos overlooking Darlington

You’ll find remnants of buildings dotted all over the Island. Most of them have been preserved in their natural state for you to wander through. This particular one housed a very special guest… ANOTHER WOMBAT! This little bubba was having a grand old time scratching his butt on the ancient machinery and our presence didn’t seem to worry him at all.

Cute baby Wombat in an old abandoned factory on Maria Island Tasmania

In the town of Darlington, the Silk Merchant; Angelo Guilio Diego Bernacchi’s remnants of an abandoned dream are apparent. His crazy ambition of turning the Island into a world class ‘Resort’ died to an unfortunate lack of business. A Grand Hotel, a quaint Coffee Palace and Wineries stretching as far as the eye could see were all part of the bigger picture, but sadly for the Italian Silk Merchant, things didn’t go as planned. The Coffee Palace still stands and visitors are welcomed to wander through. Inside some intriguing artefacts from when the Hotel was in business can be found along with fake table settings showing what life was like back in the day.

Historic Coffee Palace in Darlington on Maria Island Tasmania

The Convict Probation Station is located across the courtyard. Ironically, the most in tact and well preserved station in Australia is now used as a means of accomodation for paying customers. We don’t know about you but there is something eerie about sleeping in an old Gaol cell! Plenty of history can be found written on the walls throughout, forcing you back through stages in time and providing an insight as to what life was like for the prisoners.

Mountain Biking through the historic town of Darlington on Maria Island Tasmania

MARIA ISLAND ANIMALS

It is no secret that an abundance of wildlife can be found scattered around Maria Island, as you would have guessed through our several close encounters with Wombats. This is due to Maria Island National Park acting as a sort of sanctuary for endangered species. Common Wombats, Forester Kangaroos and Tasmanian Devils are thriving in this safe environment. However, they’re still wild animals and with some recent troubles with tourists acting badly, we recommend reading and signing the Maria Island PLEDGE on how to interact with our beloved wild animals before visiting. Good luck trying to get closer than this without them hurrying off anyway.

Mountain biking with Kangaroos on Maria Island Tasmania

The elusive Tasmanian Devil’s. Sadly these little buggers aren’t as outward as Kangaroos or Wombats so chances of seeing one in a day are very limited. Reportedly most common sightings are at dawn and dusk. So if ticking off a Devil on the Island is on your bucket list, maybe an overnight stay is in order.

Hopefully you’ve got all the information you need to enjoy the Maria Island National Park to it’s fullest. If you’re short on time and trying to decide between Maria Island and Bruny Island, take a look at this post from Travel Made Me Do It. Their Bruny Island day trip will help you decide which one is right for you. And if you’re lucky enough to have the time… why not do both!?

Please comment below and tell us about your experience. If you’re planning more than a day on Maria Island, check out Hiking the World’s blog for other cool hikes and attractions.

Mountain biking on the edge of a cliff on Maria Island Tasmania with the Bishop and Clerk hike in the background