For my second trip to Tasmania, I had one single goal in mind – visit Maria Island. This trip crept up on me so I really didn’t have too much time to research and plan all aspects of my 10 day trip as I normally would, but for one single day I had high expectations and that was because I was finally going to experience the rugged beauty of Maria.
I was in Tasmania 2 years ago. In a jam-packed itinerary, aimed at experiencing the most of this tiny island state as possible in a week. I think I succeeded in getting a taste of what each region was about and it gave me some favourite spots to come back to. During that trip, as we took the turn inland from the east coast, my husband and I had already made our plan to return as soon as we could to explore more of that incredible coastline.
Fast forward to today, and that is exactly the trip we were on. And first up was my biggest oversight from 2 years ago, Maria Island.
From everything I had seen online, from the countless Instagram posts I have marvelled at, I knew that this was a playground for nature lovers. Epic cliffs, giant mountain peaks, crystal clear water and white sandy beaches with more wildlife than you could count. All wrapped up with a convict history making it a very interesting destination. I could not wait to experience her beauty for myself.
There is just one thing I didn’t plan. Rain. Maria Island has one of the lowest annual rainfalls in Tasmania, and as luck would have it, it was of course miserable and rainy the day we went. One of the reasons I wanted to write this post is to cover the information that I could not find anywhere online and that is, what is Maria Island really like in the rain? Is it worth going? What can you do? Is there shelter?
Well hopefully after reading this post you will have a better idea of what it is like visiting Maria Island, no matter the weather. But be warned, this is a mammoth post. I have written everything I learned from my visit and I will tell you exactly what my experience was like. Also just to note, the majority of my photos show sunshine – basically we had every weather condition possible during the day and the moments of sun was the only time I was able to get my camera out!
How to get to Maria Island
For an east coast adventure, you are best to fly into Hobart. Coming from Brisbane, Jetstar runs direct flights daily both to and from Hobart. Outside of these flights, you will need to stop over in Melbourne. Both cost and time wise it worked out much better to grab the direct flight. At only a 2.5 hour flight from Brisbane, it is really much closer than we think and the 6.35 am departure time gets you in Hobart mid-morning, ready to explore.
From the airport you are going to want to hire a car. There really is no other way to do it unless you want to be paying for expensive tours. There are so many car hire companies to choose from, so make sure you shop around to get the best deal.
Maria Island is located off the coast of Triabunna, a small fishing village along the Tasman Highway just over an hour from Hobart. The drive is pretty straight forward, from the airport you get on the highway and just keep on driving. You know you are close when you drive through Orford and for the first time lay eyes on the spectacular aqua coloured water at Raspins beach.
I chose to stay 2 nights in Triabunna so I could have the full day exploring the island without having to worry about travel on the day. Orford is a popular place to stay as well being only 10 km from Triabunna.
With the exception of the rangers, there are no cars on Maria Island, so park at the wharf and jump on the ferry making sure you have on good walking shoes. Tickets are $50 per person return and include the national park pass. You can purchase your ferry tickets online through Encounter Maria Island.
What is Maria Island REALLY like in the rain?
Let me paint you a situational picture. The day we arrived in Triabunna it was beautiful, warm, sunny and calm. The perfect weather day. The forecast however told us that this would not last, and they were very correct.
Overnight wind gusts picked up keeping us awake as literally the wind blew in my slightly open window above my bed and blew the covers off me. Cannot make that up, it was strong wind.
So I started to worry obviously. That is when I discovered the lack on information online about Maria Island in the rain. All I could see is that the ferry would operate and no they would not refund the tickets we purchased online because it was raining. The only way we would not be going to Maria Island was if the swell was too big making the ocean too rough to safely pass. With the wind, this certainly seemed a possibility.
Getting to the information centre in Triabunna, ready to check in for our 9am ferry, the ladies behind the desk didn’t seem worried. They mentioned the strong wind was due to come in at about 3pm (this is the wind we had warning about being around 100 km//h) but if they were going to cancel our 5pm return ferry they would let us know via phone (so long as you had Telstra coverage as that is all that is on the island), but we should still plan on being over there the whole day. With this weather however, I was not so sure.
We got on the boat, the upper deck being closed due to the rain, and found our seats. I have a history of getting motion sick but I am usually ok on big boats like this. But…I usually sit outside with the fresh air. The ferry ride to Maria Island takes 30 minutes. About halfway through when we hit the open water and the boat rolled and rose and fell with the swell, things got dicey. My husband, the fisherman with loads of open water boat experience tells me it wasn’t that rough. I beg to differ, and while I kept my eye firmly on the horizon through the rain and the smashing waves across the window, nothing could stop me from being sick. The worst.
Maybe I should have taken the travel sickness tablets… that is my advice. For anything other than calm waters if you are prone to an uneasy stomach, don’t forget to take the tablets.
So after docking on the island, still being thrown about by the wind and the waves we departed the boat in more rain that we left. The first building you reach is the information centre. We all piled in and the Ranger met us to have a quick chat about what to expect on the island when the weather is like this. I don’t think it is normal for the ranger to give such a good introduction to everyone on arrival, I think he just felt sorry for us!
Basically his tips were simple, for the adventurous there were two walks that would be suitable in this weather, painted cliffs and fossil cliffs – the big mountain ones would not be smart. When rainy, the history of the island is a good place to start and there is an abundance of this on hand in Darlington, the little convict village about 500 m from the information building. But one thing we were guaranteed, despite the horrible weather, was that we would have an encounter with some of Maria Island’s wildlife. Well I guess that would be something!
The campground mess hall had a fire going, not that it was too cold, just really wet. But it seemed a good place to ease my still churning stomach, sulk at my day being ruined by rain, and decide whether we should just give up and go home. We had also planned to hire bikes to cruise around the island, but the mud (and wind) made that a terrible plan and we managed to get a refund. On a sunny day, bikes would be awesome and I will visit again to explore the island this way!
Basically, Maria Island is pretty miserable in the rain. There are a few places to stay dry but you will get wet. With the appropriate gear for wet weather though, you will be fine and if you can get past the rain, then it really is beautiful. Walking around I couldn’t help pick up on Ireland vibes. Not that I have been there, but the landscape made me think of photos with rough grey seas crashing onto rocky cliffs and green and brown sparse hills and gigantic trees. Pretty but wet.
After about 30 minutes of me sulking about not even going to get any good photographs, we had a plan. Take the 2 pm ferry instead of the 5 pm so that we would be gone by the time the strong winds came (I did not want another rough ferry ride) and try and push through the weather to see the painted cliffs, one of the main reasons I wanted to visit the island in the first place. Which brings me to the next question I couldn’t find any information on…
Can you visit the Painted Cliffs when it’s not low tide?
Read anything about the Painted Cliffs on Maria Island and it will tell you that they are best visited at low tide. But it doesn’t really tell you what happens if you can’t get there then. Is it still worth the walk?
On this day, low tide was at 3.50 pm. With the wind expected to increase I not only wanted to be off the island by then, but also strong wind + cliffs = bad idea in my head… So rather than miss out all together, we decided to go anyway and take a chance.
We talked to another ranger and she suggested we take the Oast Track inland to the Painted Cliffs and return via the coastal track to make it a circuit. Also the tree cover along the Oast Track would make it maybe a little better in the rain and the walk itself was pretty enough that alone, it would be worth our time.
The track was muddy and slippery and wasn’t exactly enjoyable until we walked down into this green woodland forest that looked like something from a kids show and I expected little bunnies to come hopping out. Until I realised that this was Australia and bunnies were introduced pests… But then a family of pademelons greeted us and we watched the little one hide from the rain under the shelter of a bush.
By the time we reached the painted cliffs, something amazing happened. The sky turned blue and the rain stopped! My camera was out and around my neck so incredibly fast.
What happens at the painted cliffs at low tide is that you can walk around the beach and actually walk along the face of the cliffs getting close to the unique sandstone colourings that give the cliffs their name. This is the view that you see in photos most of the time.
With a high tide, you reach the top of the beach and see a little bit of the cliffs sticking out, but you cannot go around – it is quite simply too dangerous with the waves crashing against the rocks.
Not ready to give up, we walked up the hill on the left of the path to the top of the cliffs. From here you can scramble over the rocks and actually walk along the top of the painted cliffs. Do this safely, be very aware of the waves and do not walk on wet rocks. From the rain there was some very very slippery yellow sandstone mud. This is not the place you want to slip and fall.
Looking down from the tops of the painted cliffs we could still see the intricacies of the sandstone that has been carved by the wind and the waves and the delicate patterns that have formed. I am in love with some of these photos because they show another perspective of this amazing natural area that isn’t always showcased.
Walking further down a bush track we came to another vantage point that let us look down the rugged coast line. The sky got brighter and the water started to show us its incredible colours. Even if it was still raining I can imagine that you see an angry side of nature – the type of weather that actually creates the landscape in front of you. But I am not going to lie, I was giddy with excitement that we got some blue sky and I could take a million photos.
The walk back to Darlington along the coastal track was beautiful. The wind started to pick up and this time it had a chill to it. More weather was on its way – the sunny break had just been a momentary time of relief.
What should I wear for a rainy day on Maria Island?
I think the right gear is so important to making sure you have an enjoyable time. Being wet is not fun, and it can quite easily ruin any experience. The journey from wet to cold is quick so you need to keep that in mind and do everything you can to stay dry even in rainy conditions.
The first and key thing you need? A good quality light water and wind proof jacket. Mine is from The North Face and it is brilliant. It can be pulled tight around my hips, it is elastic around my wrists and the neck does right up and has a hood, keeping me completely dry with little way for the wind or water to penetrate, and as a bonus is really comfortable. Jarryd has a jacket from Kathmandu and it is just as good, slightly heavier but keeps him just as dry.
The second is boots. Again mine are hiking boots from The North Face (they had a really good sale the first time I came to Tasmania) and are perfect for these kind of conditions. Rocks and mud love these boots and I found myself feeling so stable walking around, not to mention warm and dry which is absolutely necessary. No matter what the weather, a good pair of walking shoes or boots is going to be a great investment. And trust me they will come in handy exploring in Tasmania.
Also it is important to dress with layers. The weather was crazy unpredictable. I had on a singlet and a light long sleeve jumper, then my coat. At one point when the sun was out I was down to my singlet. That didn’t last long though as a cold front came on bringing more rain and cold winds. It is important to mention it is March so not the month you would expect the cold. Just be ready for it, but be also ready for sun.
Wear sunscreen. Yes it’s raining, yes it’s overcast but just remember what your mother taught you. I did not, and I got a little sunburnt on my face. Just always wear sunscreen outside.
What I wish I had – waterproof pants. These are next on my list of things to buy. Just to slip on a pair of waterproof pants over my tights would have made the morning much better. My tights just absorbed the water which can make you instantly cold and uncomfortable. If you are travelling around Tasmania, I definitely recommend getting a pair as they would have been amazing when I visited Cradle Mountain as well.
Don’t forget to protect your gear. I travel with a Pacsafe backpack which is not advertised to be waterproof but due to the weave to make it cut proof, turns out it is. With thousands of dollars worth of camera gear in there, I wish I also had a rain coat for my backpack just to be safe (going to pick one up soon) but I was lucky that the contents of my bag stayed perfectly dry. This is not a cheap bag so I was happy it looked after my gear for me.
What wildlife can I expect to encounter on Maria Island?
Now that the boring/useful information is out of the way, here is what you came for – the animals!
There are so many animals and birds around the island, it makes a great spot to have an encounter with some in the wild. They are not bothered by people, so you can feel free getting up close to them but as always do not touch and definitely do not feed them.
As it is an island, Maria is also used as a refuge and different species have been introduced to repopulate in the wild. An example of this is the Tasmanian Devil which currently has a population of about 100 on Maria Island. As they are nocturnal it is quite unlikely to see one during the day, but you never know your chances!
The other introduced species is the Cape Barren Goose. You will see these everywhere, and they are huge. Once the second rarest goose in the world, they are everywhere you go and are very interesting to look at with a fluro yellow and black beak.
Be ready to see an abundance of Tasmanian pademelons. These cute little wallabies are all around and Tasmania is the only place you can find them. They startle easy but be gentle and you will be able to have a close encounter.
What we wanted most of all to see however, was a wombat. These are probably the coolest Australian animals and all throughout our walks along the island we were on wombat patrol. It paid off when we found one chilling along the edge of the cliff on the way back from painted cliffs. He was very content to have us come up close, not really bothered by us at all. It was amazing to be so close and to just spend time watching and photographing.
Back in Darlington, this little guy ran straight past. Not bothered at all by people, this young wombat again let us come up close, and at one point ran directly towards me, stopping to smell my boot before running off again to look for more food. I couldn’t believe it, such a close encounter with a wombat – my day was completely made.
That is why the third wombat was a such a treat! Amazing blonde colouring with the crisp white sandy beach in the background. I totally forgot about how the day started as I felt so happy inside to have got to hang out with three beautiful wombats.
This is why you come to Maria Island.
The landscape is incredible. The animals are beautiful. The ocean is unforgiving. I can’t tell you the emotion I went through on this day, but all I can say is that if you wake up to the worst weather, still go. You never know what will happen, or what experience you will come back with.
Be flexible, listen to the environment and the people around you, and you can turn even the most horrible day into one full of happiness and adventure.
I am pleased to say, sitting out on the top deck on the ferry ride back to Triabunna, I was completely fine, and the day ended on a high. I don’t regret my decision to take the earlier ferry. I felt we made the most of what we were given and I am much happier to have gotten back home on a high rather than take a gamble with the weather.
With some fresh seafood for dinner from The Fish Van at the ferry terminal in Triabunna, it turned out to be a pretty good day trip to Maria Island, even in the rain!
Have you been to Tasmania? What is your favourite animal encounter? Let me know in the comments!