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The Tasmanian east coast is rife with white sand beaches, turquoise water, and rock formations that defy logic. Painted cliffs and royal monoliths stand perpendicular to the raging waves, temperate rain forests with fern trees and abundant wildlife adorn her small island mass. Tasmania is a place that I could stay for ages and still not grow tired of her views.
After exploring Bruny Island (as described in last week’s post) we drove north on the eastern coast of Tasmania. We stopped at longitude line 43, because it is the age we retired, an inspiration for this blog, and there is a lodge called “43 Degrees”.
The name 43 Degrees was chosen because of the maritime importance and it is also the longitude line of Pirates Bay where this lodge resides. Pirates Bay or Adventure Bay is where Abel Tasman set his anchor in 1642 in Tasmania. Later, between 1772-1775, Captain James Cook also dropped anchor here. This bay was used to resupply water and food for the early explorers.
From our viewpoint above the beach near 43 Degrees we looked down at the shore. The rocky beach appeared to be ancient foundations made of chiseled stone. The unique formation is called Tessellated pavement formed from sandstone and other sedimentary rock. The pavement is naturally formed.
We wandered down the path to walk on the natural pavement that had me imagining ancient Greek mythology of gods and a summer home away from Mount Olympus once standing here, their stories washed away long ago. It was fascinating to observe the structured lines straighter than any paint job in Bolivia. These precise lines and bricks from nature were a wonder.
The Arch & Devil’s Kitchen
Tasmania’s east coast has multiple viewpoints all along the drive north. Many points offer short hikes to see the unique landscape that sometimes elicited a “Wow” from us and at other times silence as we took in the beauty of the Tasmanian east coast.
The Arch is a shoreline cliff whose base has been carved out by the sea creating an arch so high we could feel tingles as we looked down to the depths.
Further down Eagle Hawk neck toward Port Arthur is the devil’s kitchen. It is a small inlet between two cliffs where ocean waters enter and crash against the rock face creating echoes of deep thunder heard from our high vantage point.
Both the Arch and the devil’s kitchen are on the peninsula sharing the Port Arthur Penitentiary. Five of Australias eleven UNESCO World Heritage-listed convict sites are here in Tasmania, one of them is even referred to as the gates of hell. During the early 1800s, over 70,000 prisoners were sent to the Tasmanian penal colonies.
Maria island is a place where only park service vehicles are allowed. The boat service to this island only takes passengers. Many tourists will either rent bicycles on the island or hike to the sites. Only a few maintenance vehicles wander around making the island a peaceful quiet place. We like places with no cars such as Tortuguero and Little Corn Island.
We caught the first ferry over at 7:30 AM so that we could fit in a full day of hiking.
After disembarking from the ferry we walked to the Commissariat building which is now an information center where visitors can learn more about the island before hitting the trails.
The first known inhabitants of Maria island were the Puthikwilayti people, they were aboriginal people from the Oyster Bay tribe. Europeans arrived in 1789 and in 1825 things began to change drastically when the first convicts were sent to the island’s penal colony.
Since that time the island has been used for both agriculture and industry but has always had a special beauty about her. Even amid the deplorable working conditions in the penal colony, one convict was quoted as saying that this was the most beautiful place he had ever seen.
A sanctuary of abundant wildlife
In 1972 the entire Maria island was declared a national park. Not only is it a protected area it has also become an animal sanctuary. The Forester kangaroo, Cape Barren goose, and Tasmanian devils have been introduced to the island to help alleviate their struggling population elsewhere in Tasmania. Here they seem to thrive. The abundant wildlife on Maria island is a highlight. All but one of the bird species endemic to Tasmania can be found on this island.
The abundant wildlife was a highlight of the island for us. Standing still we could observe the wombats, kangaroo, and pademelons (looks like a small kangaroo) eating and carrying on as if we were not even there. We stopped to film one pademelon when suddenly I saw a little joey stick its face out of mamma’s pouch to see what was going on.
For the most part, the wombats ignored us, although on a few occasions one would catch our eye and stand there catatonic as if trying to portray a menacing stance. They were too cute to pull it off. Eventually, they would wander off leaving behind some square poo (yes, their poop are squares). Watching them waddle along it is crazy to think that these chubby creatures can run up to 43 mph. The fastest human runner was clocked at only a little over 42 mph. So don’t tick one off, he will catch you.
Our first hike led us up over the island’s westerly side to view cliffs filled with fossilized sea life. The cliffs are dramatic and beautiful from a distance, up close they are a wonder. Filled with distinct shell impressions many of them perfectly captured as if they were suddenly encapsulated before they could be broken down by the sea or decomposed with time. The grassy slopes leading up to the cliff were windy and cold, but solitary and peaceful.
We walked a short section of the Bishop and Clark trail that goes up along the cliffs and were rewarded with a stunning view. If you are an energetic hiker you could walk up to the summit and still have time to do the painted cliffs before the last ferry back at 5 PM.
The Darlington Probation Station is a penal colony on Maria island that dates back to the 1820s. Torture and horrible working conditions were common for the convicts. All these are so at odds with the island’s beauty.
Many of the penal colony buildings still stand. If visitors want to stay on the island overnight and don’t want to camp they can rent a bunk in the old prison for the night. Wandering through the square I thought about how life might have been here both for the convicts and later when the island became grassing land for businessmen.
An old coffee shop still stands. Inside are many artifacts and recordings from the past to give visitors an idea of what it might have been like. Upon entering the dining room an audio file automatically comes on instructing us to pull up a seat and join the dinner party. We sat, it was only the two of us, but voices from dinner parties in the past swirled around us giving us a feel for how it was on Marina island before she became a sanctuary.
“I had two pregnancies on this island,” a woman’s voice said. “It’s a beautiful place to be pregnant, but, oh, the doctor visits.” She went on to describe the journey over rough seas in a small boat with waves high enough to hide land from sight with each crest, then the long bus ride to see the doctor. She hated the required visits, but life on the island she loved.
As we headed towards the site of the painted cliffs I wondered if we had saved the best for last or if they would be a disappointment. Already I felt that the day had been worth the ferry ride, there is something special about this island. Not just the abundant wildlife and dramatic landscape, but also the clean air and feeling of peace that resides here.
Finally, we arrived at the beach where a sign pointed to the pained cliffs. We made our way out to the rocks to see this reportedly beautiful site. Another couple was standing on the rocks taking pictures of a big rock overhanging the waves with pretty white and copper colors. They looked disappointed and even a bit miffed. We waited for them to finish, they took pictures with their fancy cameras and walked away looking dejected.
We took a few pictures and then I headed out to the colored rock overhanging the waves. We needed to explore more.
Walking along a little ledge with waves gently lapping underneath and ducking under the ledge above me I maneuvered my way to the other side of the overhang. I quickly looked back and motioned for Trin to follow me.
There before me were the painted cliffs that did not disappoint. We timed our hike to the cliffs for the afternoon so that we could be there during low tide. This allowed us to navigate along the narrow edge without being doused in the frigid ocean waters.
We explored and took far too many pictures, then returned to the trail. Instead of heading back on the loop we went a little further to Point Lesueur. Here we navigated through a field of wombats out to the edge of the grassy point to look back at the cliffs.
The Tasmanian Devil
We reached the ranger station at about 4:30 PM to catch our 5 PM ride back to Lil’ Beaut. This gave us enough time to watch the video about Tasmania’s iconic devil. The population of the Tasmanian devils is rapidly diminishing due to facial cancer that spreads through their saliva. The tumors grow on their faces and in their mouths eventually making them unable to eat, locking their fate to starvation.
Conservation groups have been studying the disease but have not yet found a cure. In an effort to save the population, twenty-eight healthy devils were relocated to Maria island where they are isolated from the disease and have free space to increase their population.
Tasmanian devils’ greatest sense is smell. They have poor eyesight and the largest jaw strength compared-to-size of any animal. They look like cute little rodents until they yawn and confirm the fact that they could rip you apart. Their jaws are so powerful that they are able to eat an entire carcass, not just meat, but bones, fur, everything. They are known to eat half their body weight in food in one feeding.
This is an experiment of course because unlike the other animals relocated here, the devils are carnivores. But they primarily eat already carcasses so the conservation group is hoping that the devils will be a great addition to the wildlife population here.
The Ferry Home
We climbed aboard our ferry and settled into the comfortable seats for a quick, satisfying nap on our way home. We only had to drive one block from the marina to a free camping area. There we cooked dinner and closed up for the night feeling elated by our day on Maria Island.
Wineglass bay and hazard bay
There are 1,000 steps down to Wineglass Bay from the main viewpoint. Wineglass bay is a crescent bay with white sand and crystal clear waters. The trails are well maintained and the steps are a reasonable height (unlike the thigh-high steps up to Machu Picchu or in much of the hikes in the Andes mountain range).
A beautiful trail leads from Wineglass Bay to the other side of the island called Hazards Beach. On our way across the lowlands, we heard a sort of buzzing noise in the distance. We thought it was an engine, but as we drew closer individual sounds started to become louder and more distinct.
We realized this was not man-made machinery. It was an orchestra from the swamp. Frogs, birds, water weevils and others we could not define joined in the chorus filling the entire valley. We took a short detour from the trail that opens up to a swamp. We kept still and listened to the orchestra. Not one frog made an appearance yet the evidence of things not seen filled our ears. We were speechless, listening to the refrain of happiness coming from murky waters.
Hazards Beach, in my opinion, was just as beautiful as Wineglass Bay. We walked on the rock formation on the beach and came upon a seal resting lazily on the rocks. It spotted us but went quickly back to sleep in the sun unperturbed. We stopped to eat our lunch on the rocks while watching the clear water lap gently across the white sand.
Bay of Fires
Heading further north we looked forward to seeing our final bay on the east coast. Red lichen adorns the rocky shores in the Bay of Fires. The stark contrast in the color of fire gives this shoreline a distinct look. But unlike its name suggests this is not called the Bay of Fires because of the red lichen. It derives its name from actual fires.
In 1773 Captain Tobias Furneaux saw fires lining the bay as he approached in his ship. He then believed that the island had a dense population of Aboriginal people.
As I stood observing the strength of the ocean, hearing her roar I wondered about the myths and practices of the Aboriginal people. We know so little of their start on this land, much of their history is a mystery.
I wonder then what the first Europeans thought when they reached this land. What went through their minds as they lay there in the dark night and heard for the first time the screams of the Tasmanian devil. History tells us that they thought there were monsters or even the devil himself in the dense rain forest around them. Yet despite their fears, they kept exploring. I’m not justifying struggles here that followed between the indigenous Aboriginal people and the first Europeans, just pointing out the fact that fear did not hold them back from exploring new lands, and I ask myself how often fear stops me.
What fear will we face today to take that next opportunity?