Island Apart Wombats and fairy penguins. Abandoned colonial-era prisons. Pungent eucalyptus forests. No, Tasmania isn’t another world – but it is the other side of this one, and looks every bit the part. Australia’s smallest state, “Tassie” is 150 miles south of the mainland and the last stop before Antarctica. The same isolation that prompted Britain to build penal colonies there is a boon for Maria Island National Park, a Southern-Hemisphere wonderland off the east coast that harbors a life-list 4-day trek.
The 36-mile hike heads from Chinaman’s Bay into the otherworldly outback. You’ll go inland to Haunted Bay’s majestic headlands, then beach-camp along the island’s slim-Jim isthmus and swim in a quiet, sheltered lagoon, possibly near dolphins. Pushing north to Shoal Bay, you’ll meander along five pristine beaches, walk through forests of white gum trees, and stand atop the windswept headlands of Point Lesueur before winding up in the former convict settlement of Darlington. Check out ancient sea creatures embedded in the Fossil Cliffs and aboriginal shell piles (called middens).
Wet and Wild
The 12- by 8-mile Maria is a Noah’s Ark for exotic austral wildlife like the Forester kangaroo, Bennett’s wallaby, and pademelon (think miniature kangaroo).
Qantas Airways (www.qantasusa.com) simplifies travel with its Aussie AirPass ($999; all prices USD), good for an L.A.-to-Sydney round-trip plus three domestic flights, including daily hops to Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. The Maria Island Ferry ($19.50 round-trip) in Triabunna, 1.5 hours north of Hobart, has daily departures from September through April. Snag permits at the island’s park office. In lieu of the $7.80-per-day fee, buy an 8-week, $23.50 holiday pass. While hiking, make primitive camps or take a designated site with limited facilities at Darlington, French’s Farm, and Encampment Cove.
Hike November through March, when daytime highs hover between 55° and 75°F. Thereafter, wet winter storms roll in off the Tasman Sea.
Schlep all the basic gear, including extra water containers and protection against the austral ozone hole. Stock up on smoked fish and world-class cheeses at Hobart’s Salamanca Market (Saturdays), and try Lark Distillery’s Tasmanian Bush Liqueur, made from native mountain pepperberries.
Fuel and Water
Buy stove fuel in Hobart. Water sources can be sketchy; beyond tourist facilities and a reliable stream at Darlington, options are limited to ephemeral creeks and a few rainwater cisterns.
Spend the last night in a bunkroom in the old Darlington penitentiary, complete with wood stove and hot shower ($17).
On day 3, tackle the 1,965-foot dolerite columns of Bishop and Clerk Mountain for 360-degree views of the mainland and craggy Freycinet Peninsula. The 3-mile trail turns into a steep scree scramble over the final 500 feet.
Park and Guide
Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service (www.parks.tas.gov.au/natparks/maria) has more info. Maria Island Walk (www.mariaislandwalk.com.au) charges $1,209 a head for its inclusive trek.