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FRIDAY 5/9/14 to MONDAY 8/9/14

The Plan

As Matthew had 12 days leave we wanted to use some of that time to visit various huts in the Central Highlands that, to date, we had not done. Therefore, in order to better prepare ourselves for carrying full packs over four or five days, we decided to spend a few days with relatively easy walking on Maria Island.  The plan was to take two days to walk to Robeys Farm and two days to walk back to Darlington, stopping on on the first and third nights at either Frenchs Farm or Encampment Cove.

Tony WattonMap of Route on Maria IslandMatthew Watton


Day 1 - Friday 5/9/14 - Darlington Jetty to Frenchs Farm (11kms)

The ferry ride from Triabunna to Darlington was very smooth in perfect, sunny conditions. Immediately on reaching Darlington at 11.45am we started along the beach, south to Frenchs Farm.

Once back on the road at the end of the beach we expected at any moment to be passed by some of the camping cyclists we had seen on the ferry. However, it was probably an hour before we were passed by two cyclists, a male and a female, both of whom had backpacks. We assumed they would be staying at the Encampment Cove hut, with its sleeping platforms, so we decided our camp for the night would be in tents at Frenchs Farm.

Being relatively unaccustomed to 24kgs packs, we needed a few rest stops along the road and were very pleased when we saw first the open green paddocks, then the woolshed and finally the farmhouse. There was plenty of wildlife along the way, including many wombats, wallabies, pademelons and some Cape Barren geese near Darlington.

We set up our tents - mine a 1995 Macpac Minaret 2-person tent and Matthew's an ultra-light Sea to Summit Specialist Duo single-skin, 2-person tent weighing under 700gms. It looked very flimsy and this was the first time it had been used on a walking trip.

Matthew's TentTents at Robeys Farm

Once we had changed out of our walking gear, we made ourselves a cup of tea, accompanied by Vita-Weat biscuits, cheese and Vegemite. As we relaxed during the afternoon Matthew saw and pointed out a wombat with a baby in its rear-facing pouch, with a paw out of the pouch, as its mother wandered along munching on the short grass.

Wombat with Baby in PouchWombat with Baby in Pouch

Later in the afternoon Matthew wandered along a cleared track towards an open paddock and, on his return, mentioned that he had seen two large car-camping types of tents among the trees, about 400m away. When we both returned later we saw, near the tents, a solar panel that was connected to a 12-volt car battery. We supposed it was possibly a base for researchers using infra-red camera equipment for Tasmanian devil monitoring. Maybe a fanciful theory.

Tents & Solar Panels at Frenchs FarmDaffodils at Frenchs Farm

Dinner was a cup of soup followed by a chicken salad roll/salad sandwich that we had bought in Orford on the way to Triabunna. Later we relaxed in the house, sitting on real wooden chairs at the table, listening to the radio and reading through the log book.

We were in our tents at about 7.30pm, glad to be back on Maria Island, prepared for a long night in cold conditions.

Day 2 - Saturday 6/9/14 - Frenchs Farm to Robeys Farm (8.5kms)

Well, what a night! I had seriously underestimated just how cold the previous night was to have been. I had packed my 2-seasons Paddy Pallin synthetic sleeping bag, expecting at that time mild night conditions My silk liner did not compensate for the lack of a thermal liner so I resorted to extra clothing, including my walking shirt, in an effort to combat the cold, not entirely satisfactorily.

Matthew also experienced problems, but of a different kind. To his credit he had brought his 4-seasons down sleeping bag so was reasonably cosy. However, his single-skin tent (or tent substitute as he called it) produced so much condensation that a pool of water had formed in the tent. Also, if he happened to touch the side wall of the tent water tended to pool beneath that spot. Eventually, at about 4.00am, he decided to spend a few hours inside the house.

When we eventually woke it was wonderful to have a cup of hot tea while I thawed out, standing on the sunlit back deck of the house. Next came our breakfast, consisting of instant porridge with added raisins (mistake not to have brought sultanas) and a spoonful of condensed milk.

As we wandered around we saw a wombat with its head down and legs tucked up underneath it. Apart from a flick of its ears, it remained motionless as we passed. We wondered if it was sick or old or just resting in the warmth of the sun.

'Sleeping' Wombat

We packed up our still-wet tents and gear and set out on our walk to Robeys Farm, where we had previously stayed in early September 2011, almost exactly three years earlier.

There were quite a few rest breaks as we walked along the reverse-C-shaped beach bordering Shoal Bay, stretching ahead of us for about 7kms.

We walked almost to the end of the beach before we headed up into a relatively clear opening through the forest towards the track/road.

About 3kms before we reached Robeys Farm Matthew saw the tail of a Tasmanian devil as it scurried away into the scrub. I heard it but did not see it.

The removed bridge at Robeys Creek had been cleaned up a bit, but we could not understand why no attempt had been made by the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) to reinstate the bridge, especially as, from time to time, working bees under PWS control are conducted at the farmhouse.

We were relieved when we reached the farmhouse and once again it felt as though we had stepped back in time in the peaceful historic surroundings.

During our previous visit to Robeys Farm in 2011 (Second Visit to Maria Island) we were concerned that there was no access to the front verandah of the house. In order to get up onto the verandah it was necessary to grab hold of the upright support posts that were not securely fixed in place. Therefore, to make access a bit safer and to protect the structure to some extent, Matthew and I fetched 16 heavy slabs of the ex-bridge structure from the creek, about 250m away, one at a time, and constructed a free-standing set of rough steps up to the verandah. When we arrived at the house this time we noted that our steps had been replaced by a set of wooden steps, similar in style to those that existed in Mr and Mrs Robey's era.

House Steps at Robeys Farm

Matthew decided to head back down to the beach for a cooling dip in the bay, while I wandered around the house and just relaxed.

Later in the afternoon we had a cup of soup and some cheese and biscuits. We needed to move progressively further up the hill behind the house as the sun was rapidly disappearing behind the trees so that we stayed in what remained of the sun's warmth.

As darkness approached we set up a couple of candles on half-bricks on the verandah while we ate our dinners of Continental pasta, salmon and cashew nuts, followed by a cup of hot chocolate.

After our previous experiences of a cold night in our tents Matthew suggested it might be a good idea to fill our drink bottles with boiling water and put them in our sleeping bags to aid in keeping warm for at least a few hours overnight. This proved to be of enormous benefit and, for me at least, made the difference between a very uncomfortable night and what turned out to be very cosy indeed.

However, for Matthew it was not such a positive experience in his tent. In the morning he discovered a pool of condensation in a corner of his tent near his feet, despite having the flaps of his tent partly open.

Day 3 - Sunday 7/9/14 - Robeys Farm to Encampment Cove (10.5kms)

A very cold start to the day. A cup of tea, taken up the hill to catch the first rays of the sun as it peeped over the eastern trees, made all the difference to how we felt. We were true sun-worshippers!

Our breakfast of porridge and raisins was followed by a leisurely pack-up of our gear. We had waited for the sun to dry out our tents but impatience led to them being packed wet again.

Before we left Robeys Matthew suggested a quick walk up through the bush in a direct line towards Haunted Bay. Imagine our surprise when Matthew noticed a tape on a tree, followed by others in the direction we wanted to go. We followed the tapes through open forest for about 20 minutes and became convinced that the route would eventually lead to a direct track to Haunted Bay. We will return to complete this adventure. If we are correct, this would complete a very interesting circuit on South Maria.

We were on the move towards Encampment Cove by about 10.30am. We stayed on the road until Matthew spotted some unusual buildings off to the east, through the scrub. Being pretty sure it was one of the Maria Island Walks' sites we left our packs at the Haunted Bay Track junction at the neck and walked along that track for a short distance. Sure enough, hidden away on the inland side of the track was the accommodation complex. We had a quick look and were very impressed with the obvious quality and care that had been invested in the development. While in general I am not in favour of man-made structures in National Park areas, this was very thoughtfully done and would give people a taste of the natural environment, who might otherwise not be able to travel the way Matthew and I (and many others) do.

Maria Island Walks Riedle Bay

We made our way back to our packs, turned off the track and started walking along the 5kms of Shoal Bay beach, with several rest breaks on the way. As we went we made a detour across McRaes Isthmus to wonder at the beauty of unspoilt, pristine Riedle Bay.

Riedle Bay Beach North & Mt MariaRiedle Bay Beach South

Plodding along the beach we found a whelk shell that appeared to be different from all the others we had passed. On closer inspection we saw a set of red legs that closed the entrance to the shell. It was a red hermit crab, with no chance of getting its shell back into the water before the tide returned to save it. I suppose it could have abandoned its home and taken its chances in getting back to the sea. In the heat of the day the crab, in all likelihood, would not have survived so I picked it up and threw it out into deep water. Matthew said I should have taken a photo. Oh well, I didn't.

A shaded area up off the beach under a she-oak beckoned for a cheese and biscuits snack, then we continued on our long beach trek.

Being low tide, we easily crossed the creek mouth at the northern end of the beach, then took the track that led us up to the Encampment Cove hut.

The broken steps up to the hut door had been replaced with a sturdy ramp and the handrail had been painted white. There were other changes that were not as welcome however. PWS had determined that it was only an emergency shelter - no overnight accommodation, no candles in the hut, no fuel stoves in the hut. All this despite there being perfectly adequate sleeping platforms and a bench for cooking in the hut. We presumed that in the height of summer the hut might be overwhelmed with potential occupants. No other obvious reason came to mind.

Encampment Cove

Encampment Cove is one of the few places where controlled fires are permitted so we lit a fire in the fireplace behind the hut after cooking our pasta, salmon and cashew nuts. A very pleasant dinner then a cup of hot chocolate.

During the evening Matthew suddenly turned to me and said "Happy Father's Day!" Until that time neither of us had even the remotest idea that it was Father's Day. He did the washing up for both of us. [In fairness, he had given me a card before we left his home on Friday 5/9.]

As dusk turned to darkness two inquisitive Cape Barren geese and two nosey brushtail possums came very close - presumably in search of food, but none from us. One possum approached Matthew so close he was able to touch (pat?) it. After being shooed away one returned and sat upright on a large rock only a metre away from us. I'm sure it considered itself to be the dominant animal in our group of three.

Bold Brushtail Possum

9.00pm approached and the fire died down. We climbed into our sleeping bags for a very comfortable night's sleep.      

Day 4 - Monday 8/9/14 - Encampment Cove to Darlington (13kms)

Another cool start to the day. I made a cup of tea for both of us, which we took to a sunny patch to bask in the early morning sun's warming rays. Then it was our standard breakfast of instant porridge and raisins. Although we weren't rushing we were packed and on our way before 10.00am for the half-day walk back to catch the afternoon ferry from Darlington.

On the way back along the road, apart from some rest breaks, we detoured up a slight incline away from the road where a large clump of daffodils was in bloom. It seemed clear to us that this was a former house site but we had no idea whose property it might have been many years ago. There was an old chaff cutter quietly rusting away beneath a huge pine tree.

Daffodils at Old House SiteChaff Cutter at Old House SiteOld House FoundationsHere Comes Matthew

When we reached a grassy track near the Four Mile Creek Road we followed it away from the shoreline for a few hundred metres, in anticipation of spotting the Maria Island Walks development. We failed, mainly because we should have looked on the beach side of the main road instead!

We began to see more day tourists as we drew closer to Darlington. A short walk to Painted Cliffs and this was the first time I had seen this particularly remarkable rock formation. I was fascinated by the honeycomb strata, the likes of which I had never seen before.

Painted CliffsPainted CliffsPainted Cliffs StrataPainted Cliffs Strata

Our first destination on reaching Darlington was the picnic shelter, close to the showers. We took it in turns to enjoy a hot shower and then changed into more comfortable clothes and sandals.

To say we were disappointed with the state of the picnic shelter tables and BBQ cook-tops would be a monumental understatement. They were totally filthy, with animal droppings on all tables and many seats. There was a sign indicating that the BBQs should be cleaned with the scraper and paper towels provided; but there were no paper towels.

For what might be a focal point for local, interstate and international visitors, this is totally unacceptable and a very poor advertisement for what should be part of a very enjoyable experience.

Maybe PWS could look at how this area could be kept clean and tidy in future, especially as Tasmania in general, and Maria Island in particular, is supposed to be promoting itself as a desirable tourist destination.

In contrast to the picnic shelter, we thoroughly enjoyed our hot showers and, refreshed and clean, we made our way along to the Commisariat Building to await the arrival of our ferry transport back to Triabunna.

Thank you to Matthew for being great company and a considerate son.


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