Crayfish behind kelp curtains, secret local stories and bikes that power uphill past slow-grazing wombats. This is how Tasmanian E-bike Adventures do Maria Island.
Maria Island’s history fascinates me. One fellow in particular, eccentric Italian Diego Bernacchi, believed the island off Tasmania’s east coast could be the ‘Riviera of Australia.’ It was the 1880s and most thought he was a touch over ambitious and nutty. This didn’t stop him from developing a coffee palace, resort hotel, vineyard, silk farm and a cement works using the island’s limestone.
With a good dose of charisma, Bernacchi convinced others of his vision. Soon there were 250 calling Maria home. I’ve always wanted to learn more about the intriguing merchant. Little did I know I’d be spending the day pedalling with founder of Tasmanian E-bikes Adventure, Ben Rea, who grew up in a home built by pioneering Bernacchi. Oh, and the house was built on Maria then transported across Mercury Passage to Orford. Seemingly, nothing was too challenging back in those days.
Fast forward to 2019, and Ben is tapping into eight generations of Tasmanian East Coast connection to share Maria in a way that reveals new layers. As a local who has frequented the island much, I met a very different island with Ben on his new full-day 25 kilometre guided experience. I left with a new connection. A new bond. A new appreciation for this island national park.
OUR E-BIKE ADVENTURE
Ben’s enthusiasm is palpable as we sip coffee on the ferry’s top deck, making our 25-minute commute from Triabunna. Coming into dock with a wetsuit stuffed in my backpack and a German electric bike being wheeled onto the jetty below, I know we’re in for an intrepid day.
In a matter of metres, heads down navigating our new ‘turbo button’ for effortless hill climbing, a welcome wombat appears. With Maria’s signature blonder coat, the local barely raises a head to give a nod to our fancy bikes. We pedal on, bound for our first stop at Four Mile Creek for homemade brownies and plump local cherries.
The beauty of being on two electric wheels is that we swiftly pass the bulk of visitors on foot. We ride through a changing landscape so enchanting it’s no surprise some convicts chose to commit petty crimes just to be stationed here. One of the jail’s most celebrated inmates, William Smith O’Brien, described it "as one of the loveliest spots formed by the hand of nature."
We pull up quietly surrounded by tall flowering gums. Ben knows his bird calls and is looking for a Swift parrot. The adventure guide specialised in Experiential Education during his Bachelor of Outdoor Education and Nature Tourism and has criss-crossed the world on expeditions ranging from back-country skiing and sea kayaking through Canada and the Pacific before returning home to Tasmania to create a school-based marine adventure learning program. He knows his stuff in the great outdoors.
Ben doesn’t just spill rehearsed lines. A day out is equal parts education, play and genuine love of land. He picks up a piece of plastic sheeting waste and tucks it into his pack without pausing his current tale – leading us to the foundations of Bernacchi’s house on Maria that became his boyhood home. The man loves the place. We follow him into the scrub where concrete foundations remain of a house that once looked out to Mount Maria, and today out to a sprawling green Orford garden.
We pedal on to Encampment Cove for lunch beneath a shady Sheoak. It’s easy to imagine how early island inhabitants once shared open air dining under similar branches. We feast on lamb, local cheeses, crusty bread and generous lashings of family-recipe relish.
“We still need to get your heads underwater,” announces Ben, pulling me from an after-lunch daze on our picnic blanket. He’s lulled me into a contemplative moment; hours don’t seem enough. Days could be lost to this magical island – swept up in its indigenous stories, tales of prisoners helping the magistrate’s wife to brew beer and hypnotic sapphire bays. For us though, it’s back on the bike seats.
A quick left and we’re led down to a petite sign-less bay. We’re into our flippers with childlike speed and in moments the cool Maria waters swirl about our ankles. He’s gentle on us, offering words of encouragement as our snorkel-wrapped faces meet the chilled surface. Then we’re off, drifting into our own sensory feast. Kelp wraps a silky welcome around my hand as a vibrant underwater scene beams through my goggles. Silence is broken only by a muffled squeak of excitement from my travel buddy as she peers through a ’kelp curtain’ into the living room of two happy crays. It’s as if they know they’re hanging out in a marine reserve. They’re relaxed, just ebbing and flowing in their fish-tank clear waters.
In a style reflective of the cruisy crays, Ben mentions the bay was a favourite of his late fathers, pointing out a reef where his ashes were scattered. The ties are close in these parts. For us passers through, it’s back into turbo mode as skies start to darken on the home stretch. We have one more natural spectacle to absorb. The Painted Cliffs offer a rewind button set in sandstone. They roll us back 260 million years. It’s difficult to fathom time – entrancing layers that bring us to a standstill without words.
With rain pattering onto our helmets, (a welcome feel as wildfires sweep our landscape) we arrive back at the jetty for a Willie Smith’s cider and just one more brownie. I imagine it’s not on the tour menu, but next we’re standing in Ben’s childhood home. His mother greets us with a salty coastal smile that confirms she’s walked the floorboards of Bernacchi’s home since she was three years old. Cradling a cup of tea I look down expecting to see 4pm on the clock, but it’s near 7pm.
To lose yourself in time to Maria is the finest form of loss – an island gift.
Get in touch with Ben to find out about private and customised tours. A season opening Saturday Maria adventure is running through 2019 for the special price of $495 per person.
Tailored Maria Adventures are available through the week days and weekends - Ben will custom one just right for you and your group. Tours generally depart Triabunna on the Maria Island Ferry at 9am, and return on the 3:30pm or 5pm ferry from Darlington, Maria Island. Check out the Bangor Adventure too.
Ferry trip from Triabunna to Maria Island
Access to Maria Island National Park (park fees included)
e-Bike helmet and MTB instruction
Guided story telling
Tasmanian gourmet bicycle picnic catering
Post ride reward refreshments Tasmanian cider and craft beers
State of the art German HaiBike electric pedal assisted mountain bikes
Transfers from Hobart can be arranged
Flights to Maria Island with Par Avion Scenic Flights
Book with Ben here or call 0438 072 453 to chat to Ben about your next adventure on wheels.
Words: Alice Hansen
Images: Julie Melrose and Ross Giblin
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