I decided to take a day off cycling to see Maria Island by boat. Maria Island is the oldest penal settlement in Tasmania and it’s also famous among geologists internationally. Plus it’s surrounded by hundreds of dolphins surging through and jumping out of the water! At least it was today for the lucky folks who joined Skipper Steve on the East Coast Cruises tour of the island.
It was a cold, wet day with strong winds. Perhaps not the best day for a boat tour, however the big waves created dramatic crashes of white water and spray as they impacted the jagged cliffs that form a fortress around many parts of the island.
Steve did a great job of skippering the boat, taking us right inside a large cave despite the high tide and rough conditions. He explained the island’s unique geology equally well. Stalagmites and stalactites are normally very fragile but here they’ve been hardened like cement by saltwater spray.
Steve pointed out a fault running down the middle of the island that sharply splits limestone on one side from granite on the other. In either case, though, the scenery is dramatic. The limestone bends and twists over itself and forms big caverns and ledges. The granite forms deep cracks and gets covered by a bright red lichen that looks almost like fire from afar.
Best of all, we got to see dolphins! Hundreds of them, swimming in every direction! It’s amazing how coordinated they are, jumping out of the water and diving back in like synchronized swimmers. Even Steve and the second mate, Kirsty, said they’d never seen so many all at once.
I also really enjoyed visiting the Darlington penal colony on the island. It had prisoners as early as 1825 before becoming a vineyard and huge cement plant in the 1880s (what a change!). At its peak it had hundreds of residents and several hotels. Now there are just ruins of the cement plant but many of the penal buildings are very well-preserved. You can even sleep inside the penitentiary (“your cell is ready, sir”).
I’ve really enjoyed the change of pace from cycling by spending a day aboard a boat and exploring the history of one of Tasmania’s most significant penal colonies. But I’m ready to get back on the bike tomorrow.
Up next, I get off the beaten track on Day 6 of my Tasmania Cycle Tour.