Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Maria Island Walk, Tasmania

Tim's Feet and Shadow
Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
“Four days that will last a lifetime”

I remember when I first read about the Maria Island Walk. I was sleep-deprived, having got a 6am cab for my flight to Melbourne. Luckily there was a new Qantas in-flight magazine and I was so taken with the mention of a marsupial lawn and delicious Tasmanian produce that I ripped out the article. As the plane was buffeted by force 21 gales as we squealed into Melbourne, I promised myself that, if I lived, I would do the Maria Island Walk.

Maria Island is a national park just off the coast of Tasmania. It’s split into two distinct areas connected by an isthmus with an amazing diversity of wildlife and scenery. Best of all, it’s home to many endangered species. The walk takes you across at least five beaches, past some of the most extensive fossil deposits in the world and across the colourful sandstone Painted Cliffs. Maria is home to the more unusual blonde wombat, along with Forrester’s kangaroos, echidnas, leopard seals, fairy penguins, pademelons and some snakes. Which I was really hoping would keep themselves to themselves while I was there.

The Maria Island walk has won all sorts of awards, including Gourmet Traveller’s best eco-tourism initiative for 2008. I sold it to my travelling companion, Inês, as an Australian walking safari, with amazing food. She had second thoughts when I mentioned that a night in the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart might be a nice idea before we had a couple of nights in tents.

You see, Inês is like me. God wouldn’t have invented the boutique spa hotel if he had meant us to sleep under canvas. My ideal accommodation involves carpets, a take-home shower cap and, ideally, a Martini bar within staggering distance to the steam room.

So why was I was about to go on a four day wilderness hike?

Well, you see, I was seduced by the promise of gourmet food and the wombats. I didn’t realise we’d be carrying our own packs, and that a wilderness camp would involve the clivus multrum drop toilet and no hot running water. In fact, forget the hot. No running water.

But I just had the best holiday of my life.

It started as we sailed from Triabunna marina. We watched a seal wrassling a fish for its lunch as the gulls outpaced our boat. My glasses were misted with sea spray as a pristine white beach came into view. I was leaving life behind, on my first holiday for years without a laptop or mobile phone.

The walk is a total sensory experience. From the smell of musty rotting wood, to the feel of the pack on my back as I listened to the crashing waves in chorus with the black cockatoos. Watching the beaches curve away in front of us and tasting the convicts desire to swim across to Lachlan island and escape their penal solitude. I wasn’t a great travelling companion. I walked 14km on the second day and said no more than 50 words to anyone else.

This is billed as luxury camping. Now, I’d been stung with this before at the working ranch at the Grand Canyon. A tipi is a tipi, no matter how nice the painting of a elk on it. There’s a wacking great hole in the top and no built-in wardrobe. But each night on Maria, our guides conjured food and served wine that many restaurants would struggle to produce. Scallops from Shoal Bay with risotto. Marinated quail. Duck and kangaroo sausages. But at the end of the day (which comes earlier than you’d imagine when there’s no electricity) you are in the bush, in a tent, falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean. And feeling a bit scrutty because the only wash you’ve had was a thirty second dip in the Mercury Straits.

The reason that this is four days that will last me a lifetime is because I learnt that luxury isn’t 24 hour room service or someone to carry your bags to your room. I can be a bit of a princess at times, but I swear that I have had few happier moments than when Tim cracked open the Cadbury’s roasted almond chocolate as we gazed over the ocean. Or when I went off to walk by myself and watched an endangered Cape Baron goose and its three chicks pecking for grubs. Or when I petted a wombat. Or when I was surrounded by 300 million year old fossils.

There are too many moments that I could tell you about. Really though, if you have legs and want to really experience the power and beauty of our planet, you could do no better than take four days to do the Maria Island walk.

Maria Island walk website:

Henry Jones Art Hotel, Hobart is amazing old jam factory, converted into a boutique hotel. The restaurant, Henry’s, really wasn’t very good, but this is one of my all-time favorite hotels

I also had a great lunch at Fish Frenzy before setting off. Half a dozen local oysters and fish and chips. Fish and chips taste a thousand times better when you’re sat in the sun, near the ocean with the taste of ozone on your lips.

Those tipis I mentioned are at the Grand Canyon Ranch.

There’s a set of my favourite photos from the trip on Flickr.

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Blogger jane said...

I took the walk in January 2008 and couldnt agree with you more.

Was watching the Aussie Open and missed Australia and did a search on Maria Island and I found your blog.

Unfortunately, being from the states, I didn't know where to stay in Hobart, and our hotel wasn't quite so nice.

9:36 PM  

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