Cycle to Return Point
Pedal south on the ‘coast road’, stopping to explore various beaches and headlands en route to Return Point, a great place for a cruisy picnic lunch. It’s also a place where we’ve seen wombats graze collegiately in daylight, in the manner of a herd of cows. Only on Maria.
On the way home, stop near Four Mile Beach to scan the white gums for rare and endangered forty-spotted pardalotes.
Climb Bishop and Clerk
The mountain’s said to be so named because it resembles a bishop wearing a mitre, with a lesser clergyman in tow. Up near the summit occur pockets of plant species more usually associated with Tasmania’s temperate rainforests.
Starting from the Darlington settlement, the walk – uphill all the way – at first follows island tracks and the clifftop above Fossil Bay before entering mixed native forest for a couple of kilometres. Towards the top it crisscrosses a dolerite scree field, and the final section includes some steep (but not too exposed) scrambling. The summit (620m) atop dolerite pillars is exposed, and periodically enveloped in cloud or mist. Views north extend to Schouten Island and Freycinet Peninsula.
Fossil Cliffs – meet the (Permian) parents
Maria’s 290–250 million-year-old fossil beds are said to be among the world’s best examples of Permian deposits. Near Cape Boullanger, the dark alternating beds of fossil-rich limestone and siltstone are more than 15m thick. The predominant rock star here is the thick-shelled clam Eurydesma, and other fossils include sea fans, various coral-like creatures, scallop shells and sea lilies. It’s a leisurely walk that also passes various bits of human history from the convict and later eras, including Maria’s cemetery, which includes burials dating back to 1825 and the 1847 gravesite of lesser Maori chief Hohepa Te Umuroa, who scored a legally dubious free trip to Tasmania from NZ for ‘rebellion’. After Te Umuroa’s death, the four Maori prisoners remaining at Darlington were returned to NZ. Elders of Te Umuroa’s tribe took his remains home and reburied him (on 8/8/1988) at Jerusalem, on the Whanganui River, North Island.
The island is renowned for the variety of geological ages on show, including the Triassic-era (ca 250–200 mya) sandstone at the Painted Cliffs. Sandstone’s hardly a rare material, but the Painted Cliffs are unusually beautifully eroded and patterned. The staining processes include groundwater percolating through the sandstone beds and leaving traces of iron oxides. The formation’s distinctive weathering patterns are caused both by wave action and sea spray crystalising into salt, the latter of which creates the honeycomb effect.