Maria Island Cruise
We recently went on an East Coast Cruises day trip to Maria Island where we were treated to a day learning about the Tasmanian coastline, its geology, exploring Maria Island and its wildlife, and just having a great day. The cruise departs from Triabunna which is approximately one hour drive from The Beach Escape. There's plenty of parking at the marina, however make sure you park in an all day spot. Pack a hat, sunscreen, your bathers (if you are brave enough for a swim) and a warm jacket - everything else is provided for you (food, drinks, wind jacket, ginger tablets).
When planning your cruise, we recommend that you work out which cruise you would like to do and then check which days the cruise is available on (also note that the tour may change subject to the weather on a given day). We booked the Circumnavigation of Maria Island - the alternate Tour to Il des Phoques runs to seal island, exploring caves around the island, and both spend some time at the Darlington settlement on the island.
On the day of your tour, you board the boat at the marina at Triabunna. You can choose to sit on the top or bottom deck. The bottom deck is fully enclosed and hence warmer and protected from the sea spray - it also has roll up windows that are opened when needed to give you a better view. The top deck is completely at the mercy of the elements - i.e. wind and sea spray. We chose the top deck for what we think was the better viewing experience (and the weather was nice enough to allow it). While the boat is licensed for 30 passengers, they limit numbers to around 25. This ensures everyone has space to move around and experience different views.
After departing Triabunna, it is around a 15-20 minutes cruise to Maria Island. If you're lucky you might spot seals, dolphins or bird life on the way. We loved the willingness of the crew to detour if they spotted something that may be of interest to the passengers even if it isn't part of the official tour - for example as we cruised out of Triabunna a large salmon farm pen was being towed towards in, so the skipper pulled up right beside it so we could have a good look and proceeded to explain its purpose and how it worked.
We cruised out across the Mercury Passage past the settlement of Darlington and headed north. The coastline of Maria Island is a geologists dream come true. You will see many unique rock formations and geological wonders which are rarely seen in other parts of the world. These are both fascinating and visually spectacular. The crew are very knowlegeable and the boat has a speaker system for both levels. Everything you look at is explained in detail.
We cruised past the Fossil Cliffs - a large limestone formation which was once the bottom of the ocean. These sheer cliffs entomb many creatures, giving the area its name "Fossil Cliffs". As we continued the circumnavigation we then saw dolerite rocks formations with their vertical columns majestically rising from the sea. While this volcanic rock from the Jurassic period is found in other parts of the world, Tasmania has the most amount of exposed dolerite to be found anywhere in the world.
Further along the coastline we spotted open-air stalactites formed by calcite deposits from water running down the cliffs. It is uncommon to find these formations outside a cave, yet you will see them on many points along the coastline of Maria. We also saw granite boulders coloured orange by lichens, a sight commonly seen further north on the East Coast of Tasmania, particularly in the Bay of Fires. At some points you will also find a diversity of colours where tea tree oil has washed over the rocks and washed the lichen away.
We were certainly surprised by the diversity of rock types and formations you see on this cruise. Other types of formations you will see include folded metamorphic rock, folded into weird and wonderful shapes, and is often accompanied by a geological unconformity where a layer of sandstone sits on top. Then there was patterned sandstone with shades of white and orange, which you can see at the Painted Cliffs.
A few hours into the cruise we stopped in a calm bay with a few other vessels also moored protected from the swell and as an example of the knowledge of the crew they proceeded to tell us the history of some of the boats we were near - very interesting. We were offered drinks, and home cooked slice and cake and sat and enjoyed the great weather. We then cruised along the eastern side of the Isthmus (facing New Zealand) which is a sandy spit on Maria Island. With its white sand and emerald water it is a similar size and shape as Wine Glass Bay and probably just as spectacular. Around to the southern point of the island we came across a colony of seals. Some were lazing on the rocks whilst others swam around the boat.
The next stop was the western side of the Isthmus (facing Tasmania). There were a number of boats moored here taking advantage of the Easter break - some came across by boat and then camped on shore whilst others stayed on their boats - and what a spot to stay! This is where we had lunch, moored about 20 metres off the beach - and lunch totally blew us away! We were not expecting the selection and quality of the food provided - there was seasoned chicken, roast beef, ham, home made potato salad, green salad, rolls, a selection of Tasmanian cheeses, Tasmanian beer and wine - we wish we'd taken a photo to show you how good and for us unexpected it was!
We then landed at Darlington and spent several hours on land, including time with one of the crew members as a tour guide. We then wandered around and looked at the historical buildings, the wildlife (if you can call it wild) and explored the convict history of the island. Darlington was one of the first penal settlements in Tasmania and predates Port Arthur, with many of the original structures still in place. Darlington probation station is one of the 11 sites that make up the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage serial listing, and is described as the most intact example of a convict probation station.
There was only one thing left that could finish off an already wonderful day - an encounter with a pod of dolphins! We were lucky enough that these dolphins wanted to play, and spent 15 minutes darting around the boat, breaching out of the water and putting on a great show. We could not have asked for a better ending!
All up, this was a fantastic experience and excellent value for an 8 hour tour. We highly recommend it. You get to witness the geological marvel that is Maria Island, immerse yourself in its history and get treated to a gourmet lunch, snacks and drinks that showcase Tasmanian produce, with some home cooking thrown into the mix. The hosts are incredibly hospital, knowledgeable and approachable. Our kids really enjoyed the trip and had no problem lasting the duration of the trip.
We also have photos of our trip in our image gallery.