Maria Island is a special place with something for everyone - historic ruins, sweeping bays, rugged cliffs and mountains, and remarkable wildlife. Whether you’re here for hours or days, you can choose the kind of stay that suits you and let Maria work its spell.
The story of Maria Island is dominated by the sea: from the rise and fall of the sea that created the island and left a legacy of creatures fossilised in its cliffs, to the history of its human occupation.
As you cross to the island you follow in the wake of Aboriginal tribes, who for thousands of years made regular canoe crossings to the island they knew as wukaluwikiwayna.
The present name dates from 1642, when Abel Tasman sighted the island from sea and named it in honour of Maria Van Diemen, the wife of the governor of Batavia. In 1802 a French expedition led by Captain Baudin explored and charted the island extensively. The English settlement of Van Diemen's Land a year later was hastened by this interest shown by the French.
Sealing gangs began operating in Oyster Bay as early as 1805. Whalers came in the 1820s and 1830s and set up temporary camps during the winter months.
By 1825 Maria had become a penal settlement. Just as quickly, convicts were making their escape across the water. One unlucky group drifted across the channel on a raft only to walk ashore into the arms of two lost police constables! The island was soon infamous for the number of escapes and was known among convicts as a place of ease. By 1832 the convict settlement was abandoned in favour of Port Arthur.
From 1842 Maria was used as a convict probation station, but by 1850 this mainly agricultural station was also abandoned. However, this was not the end of settlement here. Maria Island's potential for wine and silk production, fruit-growing and tourist development captured the imagination of Italian entrepreneur, Diego Bernacchi, who secured a long term lease of the island in 1884 and set up a cement works to utilise the island's limestone deposits.
At various times since the 1830s and following the closure of the cement works in 1930, Maria Island was home to a small farming and fishing community. Farmhouses, shearing sheds and pens, and old fences remain as evidence of the era of the island's history.
The first moves were made towards forming a fauna reserve on Maria Island in the early 1960s and several species considered to be under threat, such as Cape Barren geese, forester kangaroos and Flinders Island wombats, were imported to the island.
Maria Island was officially declared a national park in 1971.
World Heritage Listing of Darlington Probation Station
The significance of the convict probation era at Darlington was recognised in 2010 by World Heritage Listing as part of the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property.
Darlington is the most representative and intact example of a probation station in Australia. Its 14 convict buildings and ruins are preserved in a layout that reflects the key features of the probation system in Van Diemen's Land. The site has remained relatively unchanged since the convict era.
More information on the Tasmanian World Heritage sites that are part of the Australian Convict Listing can be found on the Heritage Tasmania website.