Alan Barker, Perth, WA
Most of the group arrived at the Penny Royal Hotel in Launceston on the afternoon of 8th March. We took a leisurely stroll up Cataract Gorge, one of Launceston’s premier tourist attractions. The weather was good, the walk was easy, and the group took the opportunity to get to know one another. The stragglers arrived later the same day and early next day we were collected by bus, where we met with Sarah, our guide and her assistant Rob, who doubled up as the bus driver. Gear was sorted out; sleeping bags, mattresses and rain jackets were assigned, and we were on our way to Bicheno, a coastal resort 176 kms south east of Launceston.
There was no peace for the wicked, and we were soon on our first real walk in the Douglas Apsley National Park, hiking along the side of a very picturesque gorge. Some of the party decided to walk back along the top, while the rest of us rock-hopped down the river bed—a very challenging procedure! It was hot and tiring day, so some of the party took the opportunity to strip (well not entirely, no Full Monty here), and go for a refreshing dip in one of the rock pools.
Day three saw us at Wine Glass Bay. This has been voted as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Not only did it provide good walking, but also another excellent opportunity for swimming. Sara and Rob produced a superb lunch, after which we crossed the isthmus and walked north along Hazard’s Beach to Lemana Lookout. This completed the activities for the day, except for a great dinner, prepared by our tireless guides and consumed by 16 hungry walkers.
After all this decadence, the proper camping was about to begin. Next morning our equipment was loaded aboard a trailer hitched on to the bus, and we headed for the Cape Tourville Lighthouse. It was a fairly steep climb up to the lighthouse, but the effort was well rewarded by spectacular views of Wine Glass Bay and the coast of Freycinet National Park. After replenishing our energy with lunch in picturesque Swansea, originally the old garrison town of Great Swanport, we headed south to Triabunna, to catch the ferry to Maria Island. There was a boat moored at the wharf, so we unloaded our huge pile of gear and prepared to stow it on board. It was at this point someone pointed out that the luggage compartment was full already—with cartons of beer!
Some of the party thought it was a fair exchange, but then our consternation was compounded when a bunch of about 25 school children also lined up, intent on boarding the same ferry. However all was well in the end, when a much larger vessel eventually came alongside and our party was successfully transported to Maria Island, complete with our camping gear. Our campsite consisted of a large open area, populated by Cape Barren geese, pademelons (small marsupials), wallabies and two school groups. Tents were pitched, food secured against the prowling wildlife and we settled down for our first night under canvas. We learnt quickly of the hazards of animal poo on the long walk to the loos in the dark.
Maria Island is steeped in history, and was once a penal colony. It is characterized by sheer cliffs tumbling into the sea and jagged rocky outcrops. The first European to sight Maria Island was Abel Tasman in December 1642. It was Tasman who, having named the main island after Anthony Van Diemen, the Governor-in-Chief of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia, named this small east coast island Maria, after the Governor-in-Chief's wife. The whole island is now a National Park.
Bright and early the following day we walked to the Fossil Cliffs, made up entirely of fossilised seashells deposited some 250 million years ago. For a number of years this material was extracted and converted into cement; an industry that fortunately ceased when the area was heritage listed. The limekilns are still in evidence, as are many other features on the island, such as the penitentiary buildings at the Darlington settlement and oast houses built during the days of hop growing in the area.
Half the group then tackled the climb to the summit of Bishop and Clerk Peak (599 m). This involved a trek of seven kilometres each way from the campsite and included scrambling up crumbling dolerite, a remnant of Jurassic era molten-rock intrusions forming a scree slope below the summit. The rest chose a more leisurely walk to the old, convict built reservoir, followed by afternoon tea at Darlington.
Darlington is the one ‘town’ on Maria Island and is a peculiar one by any standards. It lies near the northern tip of the island. Darlington is beautiful and historic and has many wonderful old buildings, but it has no permanent inhabitants other than a few park rangers. All the rest - up to several hundred during the summer holidays - are tourists who come and go.
Day six dawned and began with a real treat - cooked breakfast! Sarah and Rob did all the work, ably supervised by Mother Hen Gwen. Then it was boots on and away to Hopground Beach, where once again the warm weather and hiking encouraged some of us to plunge in to the crystal clear water. Unfortunately a sneaky photographer caught a couple of the swimmers running for cover in their underwear – typical paparazzi!
In the afternoon we took the fast route back to Darlington, where some of the group had a look through a series of rooms in the Coffee Palace. This is one of the many buildings on the island constructed in the 1880’s by Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi. If you go there, though, don’t expect coffee! Today it is an interpretive centre where you can take a virtual tour and relive the island’s history. Our supper that night was a black tie BBQ affair.
Next day it was time to pack up camp and transport the gear back to jetty in trolleys. After a rough but uneventful ferry crossing we arrived back in Triabunna and took the bus to Richmond. The temperature was 40 degrees, the air was laden with choking dust and we were unable to find a winery that wanted our custom.
Some of the party went to have a look at the Richmond Bridge, the oldest bridge in Australia still in use. It was built by convict labour in 1823 and is said to be haunted by the ghost of a vicious prison officer, George Grover, who was beaten to death by convict workers and thrown into the river during construction. The remainder of the group found their spirits elsewhere by downing a couple of cold beers in the local pub!
Finally we arrived at Hobart, where we had a farewell dinner and the next day we split up and went our various ways. All in all it was a great week of physical exercise, good walking, wonderful company and making new friends. The trip was very well organised by World Expeditions, and made all the better by our two excellent guides and cooks, Sarah and Rob.