It was our first evening on Maria and we had been at the mess hall in Darlington, making dinner and playing table tennis. As we got closer to our tents we saw a possum sitting outside Mo’s tent, munching on a bit of bread. “Where’d he get that bread from?” we asked each other. The rustling from inside Mo’s tent quickly gave us our answer and as he pulled back the opening, out darted not one but two cheeky possums. They had gotten into the loaf of bread as well as nibbling on some of the small milk cartons we had brought for coffee (You gotta have coffee on a camping trip). The delightful creatures had also left some little presents in the tent to say thank you. I’m not sure how I would have reacted had it been my tent but fair play to my friend Mo, he remained calm and saw the funny side. So that brings us along to this piece of advice. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR TENT OPEN ON MARIA ISLAND!
We had enjoyed a pleasant first afternoon on the island, having arrived on the ferry around 11am. Our first port of call after setting up the tents was the Painted Cliffs, an easy short walk from Darlington and always a pleasure to walk to along the beach. I noticed on the way, there seemed to be more wombats then there had been on our previous two visits. The tide was in fairly high when we arrived at the cliffs so there was a bit of scrambling and quickly leaping over rocks before the next wave but we managed to get up onto the main area easily enough. We took our photos before continuing along the shoreline and clambering up above the cliffs to rejoin the path back to Darlington. The walk back was pleasant, taking in an old hut and watching a yacht from the University paying the island a visit. The sun came out as we got back to our campsite for a late lunch and we walked down to the beach.
The following morning, the rain was still falling gently and was scheduled to do so for much of the day. Our plan was to scale Bishop & Clerk, the smaller of the island’s two main peaks. We cycled East from Darlington, through the forests that lead you to the fossil cliffs and the beginning of the trailhead for Bishop & Clerk. As you exit the forest, the view opens up to reveal the majesty of the fossil cliffs ahead of you, with Isle du Nord and Bird Rock to your right and then the majestic summit of Bishop & Clerk to your right, towering above the already towering cliffs at it’s base. There was one small problem though….we couldn’t see s**t. We didn’t discuss whether we’d press on or not as the mantra of the weekend had become “It’s the journey, not the destination”.
The bikes were left against a tree on the edge of the grassy area at the top of the cliffs and we entered the forest once more. As we ascended through the damp of the woods, the density of poop on the ground started to wane somewhat, before disappearing entirely. If you’ve ever walked around Darlington or the campsite on Maria, you’ll know there’s a LOT of droppings from the Wombats, Pademelons, Possums and Cape Barren Geese that roam around the area. We climbed higher, through muddy sections and over fallen trees and branches, hoping against hope that the view ahead and above was clearing up. A father and his two kids were coming back down as we made our way along the trail. The look of disappointment on their faces said everything, the summit was bathed in cloud.
We reached the boulder field at the base of the summit and walked up through the mist towards the top. Another group of people crossed our path near the summit and still the view was obscured. Indeed it was as we reached the top ourselves. You could barely make out the two massive columns and you certainly couldn’t see the ocean below. We sat for a while at the top and had some food to celebrate at least making it to the summit, before commencing the descent back down again.
There was still enough daylight left to explore the fossil cliffs and their breathtaking array of fossilised sea life from millions of years ago. The place is a geologist’s and palaeontologist’s dream with fossil samples as far as the eye can see, it’s really quite amazing. The site was used as a quarry for a number of years in an attempt to create a limestone industry but it fell on hard times and was abandoned.
Instead of cycling back through the woods, we continued around the coastline and made our way along the airfield north of Darlington. This is the territory of the island’s Forester Kangaroo population, which again I was happy to see looked even healthier since our last visit. We cycled along the grassy airfield back into Darlington, did a quick possum check at the camp and ventured down to the mess hall for dinner. The next day was when the real adventure would begin.
Wednesday began far more promisingly than the previous two days. The rain had stopped and there was a welcome warmth in the air. We loaded up Mo’s bike with provisions for the day and commenced our cycle south….all the way south. Our destination was Haunted Bay, a 20km journey to the far end of the island. The cycle to French’s Farm was pleasant enough with plenty of fun downhill sections to get up a bit of speed along. I had borrowed Sinéad’s bike for the trip as it was far more suited to the conditions than my narrow tyred
street/race bike. We arrived at French’s Farm which is at the southern tip of the north island. Maria Island is of course one landmass but with the narrow isthmus, similar to that found on Bruny Island, it could be described as having two distinct islands.
We were the only people around at French’s Farm and spent a few minutes exploring the site before continuing south towards our goal. I mentioned that Sinéad’s bike was better suited to Maria Island but I was ill prepared for the isthmus, the sandy strip of land between the two main lumps of rock that make up Maria Island. The sand was deep and the journey along the isthmus was hard going. I had to walk the bike through several sections and we ended up switching bikes after a while as Mo’s larger tires made it easier for my tall frame to navigate through the quagmire of sand. We took a breather in the middle of the isthmus and got off the bikes to explore either side. The ocean beach was vast and raw with spray coming ashore all along the beach. There was a power to the waves and a rugged and wild atmosphere that contrasted sharply with the calmness and serenity of the opposite beach. The waves lapped ashore gently there and there was a massive dumping of seaweed and detritus as far as the eye could see. There were various bits and pieces of man-made objects mixed in the plant life along with large branches jutting out of the sand.
We got back on our bikes and pressed on through the sandy trail. Eventually we got through it and the path turned back to its usual muddy/rocky/branchy but pleasant self, at least for a while. The trail to Haunted Bay is mostly uphill and was a real eye opener to my lack of fitness on the bicycle. Mo pressed on slowly on his bike while I stepped off and decided to walk the bike up the steep terrain. It felt like the uphill would never end and eventually the trail became too filled with branches and tree routes to be navigable by bicycle anyway. We parked up the bikes, took our food out of Mo’s panniers and continued the rest of the way on foot.
Our first glimpse of Haunted Bay came when we reached a sign nailed to an old tree stump. Through the trees beyond the view opened up to reveal a towering cliff lined bay with the Tasman Peninsula visible in the distance. I was impressed and couldn’t wait to clamber down the trail to see the bay close up. The climb down is easy enough with plenty of trees to hold on to along the way. On the descent we noticed a number of large rocks jutting out from the soil, covered, almost completely in a dull green lichen. I had seen the fiery red lichen at the Bay of Fires but never this mossy green type before. We reached the bottom and came out at the top of the cliffs on this side of the bay. Suddenly the green gave way to that familiar orange and a yellow lichen also but on a scale unlike anything at the Bay of Fires or Binalong Bay. These rocks were massive slabs jutting in the sea whereby they were pounded by the incoming waves. The swell was immense and so powerful here, battering the rocks one moment and then retreating back to reveal the hold-fasts of the kelp and seaweed attached to the rocks before once again rushing ashore and blasting into the rocks. We sat and watched the spectacle and ate our sandwiches before exploring further into the bay. We came across a gently sloping massive chunk of rock where again the power of the ocean was on full display. It was such an incredible place and the photos below do it absolutely no justice whatsoever. It’s one of the most beautiful, astounding sights my eyes have ever had the pleasure of witnessing and well worth the journey south from Darlington…..yes even through the horrible sandy isthmus by bicycle 🙂
Thursday was to be our last full day on the island and we decided to take it easy and stay around Darlington and the surrounding areas. We decided to go for a stroll and check out the abandoned buildings to the north of the town. We came across the old hotel site as well as a few buildings from the mining days before continuing along the slopes above the airfield. The rain stayed off and visibility was enough to be able to see the Freycinent Peninsula further north. We continued down onto the airfield once more and made our way to the shoreline. I had wanted to get some photos of Bird Island on our last visit but had been thwarted by the rain, so it was great to have a clear day to get some new photos. The waves were pounding the exposed piece of rock jutting out of the ocean and every now and then a wave would be large enough to cause the seabirds to take wing momentarily. We continued along the rocky shoreline to the fossil cliffs where the waves were putting on a show. If it’s a stormy day, the fossil cliffs area a very entertaining place to be with huge waves hammering into the rocks and throwing up spray everywhere you look. We stayed there until the light began to fade and returned back to camp as darkness was setting in. A very rewarding last bit of adventure on the island before our departure the next day.