Report from Maria Island Trip


Twenty explorers crossed the Mercury Passage on Saturday, March 3, consisting of three St Ayles Skiff crews, a sailing boat duo, two manning the safety boat and a one-woman Mirage sea kayaker. The adventurers aimed to navigate and explore the scenic coastline of the southern, less well-known section of Maria Island, a landmark with an interesting history.

Maria Island was first sighted by Abel Tasman in 1642 and was named after the wife of the Governor-General Van Dieman of Batavia. Over a hundred years later the French explorers, followed by the English, navigated the area and noted the presence of Aboriginal communities. These communities later disappeared. The Aboriginal name for Maria is Toarra Marra Mona after three island hills that add to the interesting geography.

By the second decade of the nineteenth century, a penal settlement at Darlington was established with convict-built infrastructure. Once transportation decreased and eventually ceased, the island began an industrial period through the energy of Diego Bernacchi. Agriculture, wine, silk, fruit, vegetable and cement production until 1930 were amongst many of the industries tried and eventually abandoned.

Cleared land was then managed by farmers until leases ended in the 1960s and the island transitioned into an animal sanctuary. Over this period kangaroos, wombats and Cape Barron Geese were introduced. The State Government assumed control and Maria Island National Park evolved by the 1970s, with a resident Ranger.

In March 2018, after a 20-plus kilometre crossing from East Shelley Beach to Encampment Cove, Huon Valley explorers sighted and camped at the sheltered beach offered near Chinamans Bay on Day 1. A short walk to Point Leseur gave an insight into the harsh history of the probation station with its solitary confinement cell ruins. There were also homestead ruins to show another story to life on Maria. Day 2 saw the crossing of Shoal Bay, past a solitary penguin to the Isthmus, with a short walk and plunge into the gentle wave, crystal-clear waters of Riedle Bay. The return journey on Day 3 offered a few more opportunities – dolphin escorts for the sailors, fishing for the safety boat and a delightful stopover at “Little Spring Beach” with an easy sandy arrival for rowers and paddlers. A final rendezvous at the mothership Maya with the hospitality of cups of tea and the camaraderie of a rousing “three cheers” saw the twenty explorers return together after sharing an experience that will not be forgotten.

Jane Johnson