A Noah’s Ark for endangered birds and animals is the best way of describing Maria Island, which lies 15 minutes by ferry from Tasmania’s east coast. Animal lovers will be in heaven, especially now that the endangered Tasmanian devil has been released as a quarantine population, and is successfully breeding. All 12 endemic birds also reside here and wildlife is habituated to the point that it is easily seen during the day as well as at dawn and dusk. However Maria Island also has history by the bucket-load. It has a penal settlement that predates Port Arthur – Darlington – that was to close as early as 1950 – possibly it was just too beautiful to be a successful convict site – and is now a World Heritage Site. It also has remarkable Aboriginal history, having been home to the Tyreddeme band of the Oyster Bay tribe of Aborigines, who would be encountered by the early French Explorer, Nicholas Baudin.
The last person to try and turn Maria Island into a commercial success was Italian count, Diego Bernacchi, who had his sights set on creating the Australian Riviera here with silk mills and tourism development, a plan that after a period of glory days eventually went belly-up early in the 1930s, after which nature was allowed to run its course until the island was declared a national park in 1971. However the island’s present-day tourism venture, the much-awarded four day Maria Island Walk, has been a runaway success since its launch eight years ago. This is now the only way to explore the island and stay overnight, unless you are prepared to camp in the old penitentiary, for there is no other accommodation or infrastructure here whatsoever.