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Maria Island National Park/Australia

Introducing Maria Island National Park

About 8km north of Orford is ragged, retro­grade Triabunna, a flat-grid fishing town with almost zero appeal. It’s the departure point for ferries to Maria Island National Park (pronounced ‘Ma-rye-ah’), a fact for which local businesses must be eternally grateful. Book and buy ferry tickets and national park passes at the Triabunna Visitor Information Centre (6257 4772; cnr Charles St & The Esplanade; 10am-4pm), which provides information on all things Maria: accommodation, walks, activities and fishing charters.

If you do need to sleep in Triabunna, Udda Backpackers (6257 3439; udda@southcom.com.au; 12 Spencer St, East Triabunna; dm/s/d $20/27/42) is a farmy hostel with singles and doubles in converted hydro-electric workers’ huts and dorms in an old farmhouse, with a ’70s-meets-’30s kitchen and chickens and sheep wandering around outside. To get here cross the bridge off Vicary St and keep left, following the signs. Cash only.

A few kilometres off shore, care-free, car-free Maria Island was declared a national park in 1972, and features some awesome scenery: forests, fern gullies, fossil-studded sandstone and limestone cliffs, and empty beaches. Convict and industrial ruins crop up unexpectedly. Bushwalkers and mountain bikers will readily exhaust themselves, bird-watchers will have plenty to look at, and snorkellers and divers are in for a treat. National park fees apply; island info is available at the Visitors Reception Area in the old Commissariat Store near the ferry pier.

From 1825 to 1832, Darlington was Tasmania’s second penal colony (the first was Sarah Island near Strahan). The remains of the convict village, including the Commissariat Store (1825), the Mill House (1846) and the Coffee Palace (1888), are well preserved and easy to explore. There are no shops on the island so BYO supplies (no, the Coffee Palace doesn’t serve coffee). Don’t miss walks to the top of Bishop & Clerk (four hours return), the Fossil Cliffs (two hours return) and Painted Cliffs (2½ hours return). Chant monastically in the old silos near the pier after dark.

The four-day Maria Island Walk (6227 8800; www.mariaislandwalk.com.au; per person $2150) is a guided walk of the island, with the emphasis on nature, history and minimal-impact walking. Trips run from October to April and include transfers from Hobart to the island, meals and accommodation (in beachfront tents and an historic Darlington house).

For independent visitors, camping (unpowered sites per adult/child/family $5/3/11) is permitted by the creek just east of Darlington (bookings not required). The rooms in the old Penitentiary (6257 1420; maria.island@parks.tas.gov.au; dm/6-bed unit per person $9/22) in Darlington have been converted into very basic, unpowered bunkhouses (bring gas lamps, utensils and cookers). The bunkhouses tend to overflow with school groups, so book well ahead. Hot showers available (gold coin donation).