The wine, the walk and the wonders of Maria Island, Tasmania

By Bruce Holmes on August 04, 2015
A four-day walk around Tasmania's Maria Island uncovers exotic wildlife, fresh wine and geological formations such as the Painted Cliffs.Photo by: Bruce Holmes

Story highlights

  • Maria Island, Tasmania is an eclectic mix of heritage sites and exciting wildlife
  • The ruins of Oast House, built in 1845 by convicts, are a must-visit for beer fans
  • Maria Island is home to Cape Barren Geese, some of the world’s rarest geese

Day 1

Our boat brings us from mainland Tasmania through the waters of Mercury Passage to Shoal Bay and before long we’re going ashore at a sandy beach that’s isolated and serene.

This is Maria Island and we’re here for four-day walk, to sample wines and explore the island’s fascinating history and nature.

Wandering the beach, yellow-tailed black cockatoos fly overhead, while at our feet the guide indicates footprints of the Tasmanian Devil, a native Australian marsupial.

After lunch at camp, our group walk south to Haunted Bay, where Devonian era rocks with lichen-induced orange and black colouring make for a dramatic seascape. There was a whaling station here in the 19th century.

The Casuarina Beach Camp is home for the night and it’s more luxurious than simply pitching a tent. Designed to be eco-friendly, the two-person huts do have canvas roofs and sleeping bags but the sleeper is supported by a wooden base and mattress.

Boardwalks and composting toilets save the environment. The kitchen and dining hut has ample room for a large table to encourage camaraderie.

Here the two guides amaze us, producing a restaurant quality meal of bruschetta, Tasmanian scallops with saffron risotto and summer pudding with fresh berries and King Island cream.

Cool climate Tasmanian wines accompany each gourmet evening meal, starting tonight with the Cape Bernier Chardonnay. An interesting wine, a Gold Medal winner at the 2014 Tasmanian Wine Show, it has a complex bouquet, crisp acidity and smooth feel.

Then we enjoy the Springvale “Melrose” Pinot Noir, a bright, fresh and easy to drink wine with a dark cherry color.

Day 2

At French’s Farm we encounter a wombat, a native Australian marsupial. Maria Island. Photo by: Bruce Holmes

Hobart’s alco-history

The Alcohol History walking tour begins at the Henry Jones Art Hotel, once a cold store where Jones hoarded the whole of Tasmania’s crop of hops to clinch a deal.

‘Tasting stops’ are at Gasworks Cellar Door, showcasing Tasmania’s different wine-producing regions, the Lark whiskey distillery outlet and Dickens Cider House

History stories abound, including one about the corrupt colonial customs officials having their ill-gotten liquor sold for them at the Customs House Hotel.

Hobart Walking Tours

We begin the second with a swim in nearby Riedle Bay.

Breakfast is cereal followed by scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and sourdough toast. A lunch box of smoked chicken salad is ready to pack.

Walking along five beaches today is a highlight, with some people swimming at them all. A visit to French’s Farm, named after the family who grazed sheep there, finds that the only one grazing today is a native wombat, the herbivorous creature with rodent-like teeth and strong claws.

Other interesting spots include the ruined convict site at Port Lesueur and red colored stone at Bloodstone Point, which we leave untouched in deference to its cultural significance for indigenous people.

Returning to the coast we meet some Cape Barren Geese. One of the world’s rarest geese, they have grey plumage and black spots and were named after the island in Bass Strait where Europeans first sighted them.

Later we hike into White Gums camp, designed in a similar fashion to the Casuarina Beach one and situated in another secluded bush setting.

Tonight’s wines are both from Bream Creek on Tasmania’s east coast, one of the state’s oldest vineyards, planted in 1973.

Their Chardonnay is a golden color, with aromas of stone fruit and cashews and with French oak noticeable on the palate. The pinot noir has a bouquet of bright cherry fruit. The wines scored 94 and 93 points respectively in Australian Wine Showcase Magazine.

Enjoying the wine, cameraderie among new friends is evident before we reach the main course of grilled quail, duck and kangaroo sausages and lamb cutlets with spiced couscous.

Day 3

The colonial era Bernacchi House in Darlington is our accommodation for the third night of the walk. Photo by: Bruce Holmes

It’s easy walking on the morning of the third day, along an access road leading to the Triassic sandstone formation known as the Painted Cliffs. Groundwater has percolated down leaving beautiful colors, while crystals of sea salt have weathered the rock like honeycomb.

Further on, ruins of the convict-built Oast House, a kiln for drying hops to make beer, survive from 1845.

Before lunch we arrive at Bernacchi House in Darlington and swap regular packs for small ones to make the afternoon hike easier, ascending the mountain peak known as the Bishop and Clerk.

A forest path opens onto a field of scree, fallen rock that makes the going more challenging. Reaching the top, there’s a sense of achievement, but the spectacular views have disappeared, shrouded in low cloud.

Back at Bernacchi House those who climbed the peak have stories to tell, but others have experienced hot showers already, our first on the walk.

The colonial house has been lovingly restored and has a large dining table, making conversation easy.

Roasted pumpkin and pine nut salad is followed by herb crusted Huon Atlantic salmon and a lemon tart dessert.

Our first wine is Pinot Gris from the boutique Milton vineyard on the Freycinet Coast. It exhibits a pale coppery hue, has plenty of fruit sweetness in the mouth and a fresh acid finish.

Next is the Gala Estate Pinot Noir, made in a lighter style with subtle oak and good persistence on the palate.

Day 4

Inside the convict barn is farm machinery from a time long past. Darlington, Maria Island. Photo by: Bruce Holmes

Getting there

Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Qantas fly to Hobart from Sydney and Melbourne.

The Maria Island Walk (ex Hobart, Tasmania)

The wines:
Cape Bernier Chardonnay
Springvale “Melrose” Pinot Noir
Bream Creek Chardonnay and Bream Creek Pinot Noir
Milton Pinot Gris
Gala Estate Pinot Noir
42°S Sparkling

On the morning of the last day we’re free to roam Darlington. Some head out to the Fossil Cliffs, where a former limestone quarry allows an insight into creatures immortalised in stone.

I spend the time examining the World Heritage listed convict settlement, its structures well preserved. In the second convict phase Darlington operated as a probation station from 1842-1850.

There are officers’ quarters, the penitentiary building and more. By the dock, the Commissariat Store is the island’s oldest building and on the hillside stands a convict-built barn.

Further along the hill is the Religious Instructor’s Quarters, a ruin with a view. Perhaps an incongruous spot to uncork the 42°S Sparkling wine from Frogmore Creek?

A blend of 90 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Noir from their Campania vineyard, it has aromas of toasty brioche and delicate citrus, crisp flavors of apples and a lengthy creamy structure.

It’s a perfect accompaniment to our farewell lunch of homemade rolls with ham, brie and chutney.

And the name? 42 degrees South is Tasmania’s latitude, which after four wonderful days we are loath to leave.

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)


Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.