The Beautiful Flora of Tasmania

There are few places in the world that can boast the biological diversity we have in Tasmania. Once a part of the supercontinent of Gondwana, after its breakup our island state was lucky enough to maintain a similar climate for the past 70-odd million years, which means we have many “living fossil” species thriving in various ideal habitats. Tasmania’s complex terrain, diverse geology, its proximity to the mainland of Australia and yet its relative isolation as an island, all combine to give us a native flora that is staggering in both its diversity and its beauty. It is possible to stand in a rainforest that has species almost unchanged from when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and then, after less than an hour’s drive, be looking out through a dry eucalypt forest, one of the most recently evolved and fire adapted ecosystems on the planet.

The best way to appreciate Tasmania’s flora is by heading out for a hike in one of our beautiful National Parks. There you can lose yourself for hours in nature and find yourself constantly surprised by what you discover. The best time of year for wildflowers is November to mid-January, depending on the year, the location, and what you are hoping to find.

Pigface on the beach at Maria Island

Tasmanian Flora

As an introduction to Tasmanian flora, let’s start in the Tasmanian mountains and work our way down to sea level, pausing to admire seven distinctive Tasmanian plants along the way.

Richea scoparia. Scoparia.

One of the most spectacular wildflowers when in bloom, this low spikey shrub is ubiquitous with the Tasmanian High Country. Growing over the 900m elevation mark, this hardy plant thrives in our harsh winters. Forming extremely dense thickets, its short spikey leaves pierce clothing (and skin!) easily, creating a love/hate relationship with many bushwalkers. It makes up for this with a spectacular display of flowers in December and January. Flower spikes up to 12cm tall burst into bloom, the colours ranging from white to orange to pink and red. The petals completely enclose the stamens, and the plant relies on skinks (small lizards) and currawongs (a bird in the crow family) to chew through the petals and so cross-pollinate. There are few more spectacular displays than a huge swathe of scoparia in flower beside an alpine tarn, surrounded by dolerite mountains. Best place to see: Walls of Jerusalem National Park.

Isophysis tasmanica. Tasmanian Purplestar.

This beautiful and rarely-seen plant grows on mountainsides in the south and west. Growing in low alpine heathlands, the large purple flower is striking, made more so because it grows so remotely it is rarely seen by anyone other than dedicated bushwalkers. Best place to see: Southwest National Park.

Telopea truncata. Tasmanian Waratah.

This beautiful red flower is endemic to our island state and is much smaller and more fragile-looking than those found on the mainland. It flowers in November-December, and the flowers produce so much nectar it often literally overflows from the petals. It is a valuable food source for many birds, as well as the adorable pygmy possum. Best place to see: Cradle Mountain Lake St Clare National Park.

Pink Tasmanian Waratah plant

Eucryphia lucida. Leatherwood.

This beautiful rainforest tree is the source of our famous leatherwood honey. Flowering January-February, the large white flowers can be so dense the tree appears to be covered in blooms, the forest floor carpeted in fallen petals. The leatherwood is a great example of our unique Gondwanan heritage, as its closest relative grows in South America, another clue that these two continents were once joined together. Growing in cool temperate rainforest, this tree thrives in undisturbed valleys with high rainfall. Best place to see: Mt Field National Park, Hartz Mountain National Park.

Richea dracophylla. Dragonheath.

This beautifully-named plant grows in low alpine forests, particularly the cloudforests on the Tasman Peninsula and Maria Island. Remarkable for its long palm-like leaves, it erupts into flower from November until January, startling creamy white flower heads with reddish brown bracts pushing up from the crown of the plant. Best place to see: Tasman Peninsula National Park.

Orchids, e.g. Dipdium roseum. Pink Hyacinth Orchid.

There is nothing quite as thrilling, botanically speaking, as hunting for and then finding orchids. With habitat ranging from rainforest to coastal, the largest diversity of orchids are found in our dry sclerophyll forests along the East Coast. Orchids are so exciting because for most of the year, they are almost invisible. It is only when they flower that we notice them, and even then, they can be tiny and difficult to see. One of the largest, most vibrant and easy to spot is the Pink Hyacinth Orchid, flowering through December and January. Growing up to 90cm tall, the bright pink blooms stand out from the forest floor. Best place to see: Maria Island National Park.

 People walking in Tasmanian Blue Gum forests

Eucalyptus globulus. Tasmanian Blue Gum.

Not only is this gum our State Floral Emblem, it is also one of our most impressive eucalypts and has the largest and sweetest smelling flowers of our native gums. Growing up to 60m high and with a habitat ranging from sea-level to around 500m, the blue gum has large dropping leaves and a beautifully coloured and streaked bark. Highly prized for its quality timber and sold under the name “Tasmanian Oak,” many of the original blue gum forests have been felled, but the pockets that remain provide vital habitat for birds, particularly the Swift Parrot, as the flowers of the mature trees have a greater nutritional value than younger plantation trees. Maria Island has some of the biggest stands of old growth blue gum forest in Tasmania. Flowering in pockets from October until January, coastal blue gum forests provide spectacular walking. Best place to see: Maria Island National Park.

 

The guides on The Maria Island Walk are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about Tasmanian flora. For more information about a four day guided walk, contact The Maria Island Walk on 03 6234 2999 or book online.

 

 

The Maria Island Walk Wins Gold at the Australian Tourism Awards

The Maria Island Walk was judged the nation’s top Ecotourism operation at the 2019 Australian Tourism Awards in Canberra in March.

Owner Ian Johnstone said that it was an honour to have won the award, which came as our fifth time winning gold at a national level at these awards. The award follows a successful year for the walk, which also featured in Tourism Australia’s ‘Philausophy’ campaign and was named in Flight Centre’s ‘WOW List’ of their top 50 must-have global travel experiences for 2020.

The walk, which is in its 17th year of operation, is the ultimate in authentic, cultural, small group tourism and it is easy to understand why it is regarded amongst Australia’s top experiences.

We are honoured and want to say a big thank you for your continuous support.

To find out more about The Maria Island Walk, call us on 03 62342999 or book online.

 

 

 

 

Maria Island’s Painted Cliffs & Fossil Cliffs

Tasmania’s coastline is rugged and spectacular, and there are few places to better appreciate this than Maria Island. With unique and fascinating geology, Maria Island is a top destination for the geologist, whether professional or amateur. But not all of us are fascinated by rocks and the almost incomprehensible spans of time that went into making them. Fortunately for us, we do not have to be geologists to appreciate grandeur and be dwarfed by scale; sensations no visitor to Maria Island’s cliffs can escape.

The Painted Cliffs

Just a short half hour amble from Darlington, these picturesque sandstone cliffs are streaked and patterned with iron oxide layers, giving them a fascinating painted appearance. Requiring a low tide and calm seas for access, the tidal pools surrounding them make for excellent snorkelling. Viewed during midday, the cliffs are beautiful and intriguing, but come fully into their own on a sunny afternoon when the evening light strikes the pale sandstone, warming it to rich buttery golden colours and creating a photographer’s paradise.

The Painted Cliffs are made up of Triassic sandstone, when large rivers deposited deep layers of sand across broad flood plains some 200-250 million years ago. This sand was then compressed over time to form the soft rock we see today. The iron oxide patterning was deposited much more recently, within the last 10 million years, when Tasmania was experiencing a monsoonal climate. Extreme rainfall events leached out iron from the dolerite rocks above the sandstone, seeping into the softer rock through natural weaknesses in its layering. This very wet time was then followed by periods of extreme dryness, which drew the water back to the surface, leaving the iron oxide behind to be eroded and exposed by rising sea levels to reveal the patterns we see today.

The Painted Cliffs at Maria Island

The Fossil Cliffs

Perhaps the most visually striking place on the Island, no visit to Maria is complete without walking up to Skipping Ridge and the Fossil Cliffs. Towering over 100m in places and plunging straight into the ocean, cresting that final rise and looking out across the ocean never fails to make the heart skip and the breath catch. Exposed by weathering and erosion, and then a convenient platform cut out by an industrious limestone quarrier in the 1920s, the Fossil Cliffs provide some of the most prolific and best-preserved fossils you will see in Tasmania, if not in the world. Even for someone who is not particularly fascinated by geology or fossils in general, it is impossible to not be struck by wonder when walking over a whole cliff entirely made up of ancient shells.

During the early Permian, some 300 million years ago, when Tasmania was still a part of the supercontinent of Gondwana, an Ice Age developed, with ice sheets and glaciers forming over much of what is now Tasmania, levelling out mountains and gouging deep fjord-like valleys. Shallow seas penetrated far inland across much of Australia, and layers of mudstone and siltstone began to accumulate. In this cold shallow sea, marine life flourished, in particular bivalve molluscs, the most common and well known being trigonia shells. As these animals lived and died, their shells built up and compressed into the limestone layers we see today. In amongst the limestone and fossils, it is possible to see many drop stones, usually rounded and smooth from being tumbled and eroded by flowing water and ice. These are rocks older than the limestone, carried here by glaciers and icebergs and then dropped onto the shallow seafloor as the ice melted, being incorporated into the seabed and grown over by the bivalves.

The Fossil Cliffs played a major role in Maria Island’s much more recent human history, as it was the limestone here that brought Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi back to the island in the early 1920s to open up one of the most sophisticated industrial cement works in the southern hemisphere. Although short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful, it briefly transformed the island into a bustling centre of industry, and also cut out vast areas of the cliffs, making viewing the fossils much easier for contemporary visitors. A combination of poor quality limestone, the abundance of super-hard drop stones that kept damaging crushing machines, remoteness, poor anchorage, and ultimately the Great Depression all led to the collapse of the cement works, but it has left a legacy that continues to fascinate visitors to this day.

The Fossil Cliffs at Maria Island

How to Get There

Take a four day guided Maria Island Walk to visit and learn more about these fascinating geological features. Contact The Maria Island Walk on 03 6234 2999 for more information or book online.

 

 

The Maria Island Walk Featured in ‘8 of Tasmania’s Best Hikes’

Tasmania is the ultimate hiking playground. Australian Traveller have shared their list of 8 of Tasmania’s best hikes, and The Maria Island Walk features.

“If you appreciate tranquility, Maria Island ticks all the right boxes”

Australian Traveller say “Pristine Maria Island, located off Tasmania’s east coast, is a place of historic ruins, rugged cliffs and mountains, breathtaking bays and wide beaches. It’s also home to a plethora of wildlife including wombats, Tasmanian devils, wallabies, eastern grey kangaroos, a number of unique birds and dolphins, whales and seals.

Hikers will spend their days walking this spectacular wilderness and their nights dining on three-course candlelit dinners accompanied by local wines and beer. There’s also an option to book a porter to transfer luggage between camps.”

You can read the rest of their article here.

To find out more about The Maria Island Walk, call us on 03 62342999 or book online.

 

 

 

Our Tasmanian Food Trail

Tasmania is synonymous with food. Renowned for its fresh seasonal produce, gourmet cuisine and fine wine, there is no better way to take in this delicious fare than a self-drive exploration of our island state, stopping to sample different areas’ offerings, discovering hidden gems and taking in our breath-taking landscapes along the way. Summer is the best time to feast on our seasonal produce, with different fruits coming into their own as the season progresses. December and early January is the best time of year for berries, with cherries ripening hot on their heels through January, apricots coming on towards the end of January and February, the grapes begin to be picked in March, and then the apple harvest starts in April and continues through May.

There are some hot-spots of gastronomic delight, and below is a ten-day itinerary to take in some of the best food the state has to offer.

Cheese and bread from the Bruny Island Cheese Co

A Ten Day Tasmanian Food Trail

Days 1-3: The Huon Valley and Bruny Island

Starting in Hobart, head south down to Huonville. With some lovely accommodation options, the Huon Valley is renowned for its apples. If in season, be sure to stop off and buy some fresh, crispy apples from one of the many roadside stalls. No visit down south would be complete without a visit to Willie Smith’s Cider Shed and Apple Museum, as well as the beautiful building that houses Frank’s Cider and Café. From Huonville, head south-east to Cygnet, stopping for a well-earned treat at the Red Velvet Lounge and to soak up the folksy vibes of this lovely little town. Continue on through the pretty villages of Woodbridge and Kettering and then board the short 20min ferry to Bruny Island. This lovely island is famous for its cheese, oysters and chocolates, as well as its spectacular beaches and epic coastlines. Be sure to stop off at the Bruny Island Cheese and Brewing Co, as well as pausing to sample some oysters. After an overnight stop on the island, head back to Hobart. No visit to Hobart would be complete with browsing through the bustling Salamanca Market, held every Saturday by the waterfront. Or, for a more authentic experience, visit the Farmers Market, held in the CBD every Sunday. There you will find local seasonal produce and the best gourmet products the state has to offer, all crowded together on one bustling street.

Days 4-6: The Derwent Valley

Follow the Derwent River West out of Hobart to New Norfolk, pausing to grab some fresh cherries from The Cherry Hut at Granton. New Norfolk is the guardian of one of Tasmania’s best gourmet secrets, the Agrarian Kitchen. Housed in beautifully restored historic buildings and boasting more raving reviews than many much more ostentatious establishments, the Agrarian Kitchen prides itself on ethical, locally sourced food prepared simply and presented beautifully. With warm friendly service and great wine, this is one stop not to be missed. Continuing up the picturesque river, stop off at the Westerway Raspberry Farm for some delicious Tasmanian ice-cream and fresh berries. There you can amble through the berry canes and pick as much as you can carry. There are fewer more pleasant ways to pass a sunny afternoon than in the raspberry and blackberry rows by the banks of the Tyenna River. After visiting Mt Field National Park, continue up to the historic town of Hamilton, where Jackson’s Emporium offers a delightful selection of curios and tasty food. Stop off at Two Metre Tall Brewery for an afternoon of pizza and beer.

Agrarian Kitchen and Eatery dining room

Days 7-8: Coal River Valley

This area, only half an hour from Hobart, boasts a plethora of wineries and the excellent eateries attached to them. Stay a night in historic Richmond and spend a few days driving leisurely from vineyard to vineyard. Some of the stand-outs are Frogmore Creek, Every Man and His Dog, and Puddleduck. Richmond also offers a market every Saturday which is well worth exploring, as well as having an array of cafes and an excellent bakery.

Days 9-10: The East Coast

A delightful combination of spectacular scenery and excellent wineries await the gastronomic adventurer along the East Coast. Passing first Maria Island, where visitors can enjoy the four day guided Maria Island Walk which showcases much of the state’s produce as well as local wines, continue north towards Freycinet. Some of the showcase vineyards along the way include Gala Estate, Milton (which produces some lovely dessert wines), and Devil’s Corner. Kate’s Berry Farm just before Swansea offers delicious food and sweet treats. Stop off at Freycinet National Park for some glorious scenery and several restaurants in Coles Bay. For a real treat, stay a night or two at Saffire Freycinet, one of Australia’s premier luxury experiences, and dive headfirst into the best Tasmania has to offer. Leaving Freycinet behind, continue North towards St Helens. Ironhouse Brewery, just before St Helens, is a must stop.

Tapas and wine at the Milton Vineyard

This itinerary is just a taster of the culinary delights Tasmania has to offer. With more and more restaurants, cafes, distilleries and farm-gate ventures starting up every year, it is hard to imagine a better place to embark on a gastronomic adventure against the backdrop of pristine wilderness and fertile farmland.

If you’re looking for an experience where everything is taken care of for you, including all of the transportation and accommodation, take a four day guided Maria Island Walk. Our guides prepare restaurant quality meals using local produce and each evening serve a 3 course, candlelit dinner under the stars complimented by award winning Tasmanian wines. Contact 03 6234 2999 for more information or book online.

 

 

Why Hiking Should Be Your New Years Resolution

The end of the year is looming. And not just the end of any year; the end of a DECADE. It seems a bit momentous, and with that feeling comes a vague sensation that perhaps WE should be doing something momentous. The start of a new year can be the perfect time to start creating new habits, building positive changes into our lives, optimizing what we choose to fill our time with to feel more fulfilled, more at peace. But with that positive incentive to change comes a whole heap of pressure. Let’s be honest, no one needs any more pressure, especially not at this time of year, when the pressure to be positive can sometimes be overwhelming. There can often be an element of desperation in the New Year’s resolutions we make to ourselves, and if we start slipping out of them by February, it’s all too easy to start thinking that horrible word about ourselves: failure.

Before we go any further, let’s just make a promise right now. Let’s promise to be kind to ourselves.

Great! So, we’re being kind to ourselves, and yet that urge to make a positive change and embrace a new decade is still there, a hopeful little stirring that maybe things could get better, that maybe WE could get better. So what are we going to do about it?

We’re going to go hiking!

That’s right: hiking. Could there be a better New Year’s resolution? It’s hard to imagine so! There are so many benefits we can get from hiking, it’s literally impossible to list them all, but here’s a select few to get you inspired.

BENEFITS OF HIKING

1. Hiking is accessible. There are few activities that can rival hiking for accessibility. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or live with a disability, there are hikes to suit your needs and leave you feeling challenged and satisfied. Fifteen minutes or fifteen days, there are hikes that take you through forests or city spaces, mountains or along beaches. If you are just starting out, there are a plethora of short, easy hikes to suit everyone, and as you grow in confidence and ability, your options continue to expand. If you have the good fortune to live in or come to visit Tasmania you are in for a treat because we have some of the best hiking in the world.
2. Hiking is the best way to explore an area. Traveling slowly through the landscape you are in, even if it is only for an hour, is the best way to get to know fresh scenery, experience new culture, and discover things you simply wouldn’t notice if you were traveling in a car.
3. Hiking is simple. All you need are some shoes (optional on beaches!), a sunhat and a sense of adventure. And here’s a secret: that sense of adventure? It grows on every hike.
4. Hiking slows you down. Moving at walking pace is such a natural thing for humans to do, but our lives today run at the speed of internal combustion engines. There is no better way to reassure your reptilian brain that everything is okay than to go for a walk. The longer the better.

We all know that our lifestyles in the West are far from natural, and we are not doing what we have evolved to do. The closest we can come, today, to experience the life our ancestors lived, is to go hiking. With the constant motion of walking, the easy camaraderie of the people we choose to go hiking with, enjoying simple food outdoors, tilting our faces up to the beauty of the weather, sleeping outdoors without the bright lights of technology and the sounds of the city, the slight discomfort of physical challenge and then the feeling of achievement after pushing through it…. If you let it, all these things combine to create a sense of quietness in the mind. It’s these psychological benefits of hiking, that come from being physically active and mentally engaged in the landscape around us, that has more and more people lacing up their boots and heading out on the trail.

 

GETTING STARTED

Starting anything can be daunting. Making changes can be difficult. But the great thing about hiking is that anyone can take it up, and it won’t be long before you start to see differences in yourself, in how you move and how you think. As your confidence in day hikes increases, you may find yourself drawn to the idea of a multi-day hike. Heading out into wild, remote and beautiful landscapes for days on end is a beautiful idea, but it can be intimidating if you have never ventured out before.

This is where a guided multi-day walk such as the Maria Island Walk comes into its own. With catering, planning, safety and accommodation taken care of, you can head out into the wilderness knowing that you will be safe and comfortable, thereby removing so many anxieties and letting you simply experience. It can be a great way to see if multi-day hiking is for you, or if you already know that it is, guided hikes are a great way of connecting more deeply with a place through the knowledge of your guides and the provision of enough creature comforts so that your focus is not on how cold or hungry you are, but rather on the place you are walking through.

 

We all know we’re stressed. We all know we’re doing something not quite right: working too much, worrying too much, living in the future instead of in the present. Our day to day lives can make it impossible to escape these feelings. Sometimes, we have to make the effort to set aside some time to simply be, and setting out on a hike can be just that: a little piece of motion and quietness in our busy lives. It’s hard to imagine a better gift to give yourself this decade.