Friday 29 November 2019

Maria Island Walk, Day Three - Sandstone, snake, summit, singing, soap

With thanks to Maria Island Walk for this famil
After a cold night snuggled in my sleeping bag, curled gratefully around a hot water bottle and waking occasionally to the sound of heavy rain on the canvas overhead, it was a sheer delight today to unzip the door to a clearing sky and the smell of waffle batter from the kitchen. Yum!
We set off along yet another of Maria (Mar-I-a!) Island's many lovely white sandy beaches and then climbed up to one of the quarries where the convicts had sweated hewing sandstone, back in the mid-1800s. To be honest, we were all distracted from the grim history here by a generous sprinkling of wombats. Even better, a bit further along, one came trundling onto a bridge we were crossing and walked right up to us (short-sighted, remember). It was only when it was about six inches from Sharna's boot that it realised something was amiss, and scuttled away. 
Then, a bit further along, she stopped us again because what I would have taken for a stick, if I had even noticed it, was actually a tiger snake making its leisurely way across the road. Highly venomous, natch - but no stripes.
Next we walked along the top of a cliff, spotting Tasmanian devil pawprints on the track. They aren't native here, but were introduced in a kind of Ark scenario, because on the mainland their numbers have been dropping because of a horrible contagious facial tumour disease that eventually prevents them from eating. 
They're striking little animals, endemic to Tasmania, and rarely seen not snarling - but we didn't see them at all, since they're nocturnal. Danny said they would probably have been hanging around the camp's barbecue last night if we wanted to try to spot them - but, rain, see above.
The highlight of this morning's walk were the Painted Cliffs. It was a bit of a scramble getting down to them, but well worth it: pleasing curves of coloured sandstone sculpted by the wind and sea, delicate, ephemeral and precious. Beautiful!
The camping part of our trip is over now, and we stopped up on Magistrate's Point overlooking the little settlement of Darlington, tucked into a big blue bay with a jetty and, most notably, assorted penal colony buildings. The island was used to house, and profit from the labour of, convicts for only about seven years, but the buildings are so well preserved that it has World Heritage status. After they went, a colourful Italian entrepreneur called Diego Bernacchi made Maria Island his little empire, and we're staying in his house tonight.
First, though, we had a mountain to climb. After lunch, we set off across more wombat-nibbled grassy slopes to stop at cliff-top Skippy Ridge and gaze up at the spiky 599m peak of Bishop and Clerk - named by some imaginative, or drunk, explorer who thought that's what these dolerite columns looked like. Yes, dolerite. There was an abundance of geological talk today, thanks mainly to the ex-geology lecturer who is one of the guests, but he was easily avoided, for the most part. Certainly, there was lots to look at and enjoy, besides the rocks.
Blue sea, green gum tree forest, currawongs and wombats, the distant mainland, a rocky island... and the peak. We started up it, climbing up and up at first through the woods, and then over a long scree slope of biggish rocks that the Hobart Walking Club had helpfully arranged into a zigzag path with rough steps. Up, up, up, back into the trees, and then, finally, we emerged onto a tumble of huge boulders below the hexagonal dolerite columns (yes, ok, some of that geo-chat rubbed off on me).
It was a bit of a challenging scramble up to the very summit, but Danny was really encouraging and helpful, and only one of us chickened out. From the top, the view was terrific, even if the cloud had thickened a bit. 
The rocks were big and reassuringly flat, so I felt quite comfortable wandering around and peering down at the sheer drop on the other side - though Danny claimed I was giving him heart attacks.
Then we headed back down again and, just as with the Haunted Bay walk on Day One, the track just seemed to go on, and on, and on. I thought we would never get out of the trees. But we did, of course, and were rewarded by a close-up view of a big echidna (monotreme, like a platypus - egg-laying, milk-feeding mammal) burrowing its snout into the soil, and then lots of wombats, some with fat, furry joeys in their backwards-facing pouches (because of not filling them with soil when they're digging their burrows). There were also lots of cute pademelons (like a small wallaby) near the house plus Cape Barren geese, and native hens.
Back at the house - an 1888 wooden villa, elegantly furnished and, most importantly for us, equipped with beds and flushing toilets and hot showers with soap - we got comfortable by the fire in the living room, drinking excellent local wine, eating equally excellent local cheeses, and chatting before a lovely dinner of herb-crusted fish at a polished table under an antique lamp. The chat was relaxed, full of in-jokes (always a good sign) and the lemon dessert was sensational. 

Then we moved back into the living room where Sharna sat by the fire and sang sweetly and unself-consciously as she strummed a guitar, while Danny contorted himself into a series of impressive stretches on the floor. No-one was in a rush to go off to bed, but when we did, it was with real appreciation of the simple home comforts we'd gone without for two whole nights.

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