Hiking Bishop and Clerk: Maria Island

Having arrived in Tasmania for Christmas our first destination was Maria Island, a beautiful island off the East Coast with no electricity, simple, rustic and off the grid. 

We had booked ourselves into the old penitentiary ($46.50 per room, bargain!) for the night as a base to explore the island, the highlight of which was definitely hiking Bishop and Clerk.

Hiking Bishop & Clerk: Maria Island from the ferry

Cat had wanted to hike this trail for a long time as it's been listed as one of the best day walks in Tasmania and you can see why. The trail meanders through bushland and grassy plains before hitting rocky scree and culminating in a breathtaking view from the summit.

It's not an easy hike, but it's well worth the effort.


Bishop and Clerk

Disclaimer: Apple Watch died on the way back. Whilst the elevation is correct, we estimated the total distance to be 13km.

We started the trail from the old penitentiary, wandering through bushland along an easy, flat gravel trail. Within a kilometre the gumtrees disappeared and you come out onto a  grassy plain with stunning views from the ridgeline.

From here the uphill hike started and barely lets up until you reach the summit.

Hiking Bishop & Clerk: Bishop and Clerk Trail Start

The trail soon follows the clifftop and you'll see a huge drop to the crashing waves below. It's not for those who suffer from vertigo, but if you are brave enough to peer over the edge you'll be rewarded with views of the electric blue water below. You'll also get your first glimpse of Bishop & Clerk, two huge rock formations.

The view was a great distraction and helpful in taking our minds off the continuous uphill toil. It wasn't overly steep, but it was a relentless incline that kept going until we were in the bushland.

Once here we were greeted by our first Maria Island native: an echidna! We'd only seen a couple of these animals in the wild, so it was a pleasant surprise to see one just shuffling around the path in front of us. 

Soon he got bored of us and ran back into the vegetation.

The flat path lures you into a false sense of security, but soon it's all uphill once more. Again, it's not too steep, but your legs get little respite from the gradient.

It's pleasant bushland and was a welcome shade from the midday sun. But soon we came to this view... 

Now I'm not a big fan of rock climbing, and I'm less of a fan of hiking on rocks. But there's no way of avoiding it, the last 1.5km to the summit of Bishop & Clerk is completely on rubble.

At the start the stone hopping isn't too bad; the path has been well trampled and a decent portion feels like a fairly stable footpath.

However, this soon changes as the path gets more loose and the small rocks are replaced by boulders to scramble.

Until this point the trail had been pleasant. Granted, it had all been uphill, but the track was in perfect condition and there were views all the way. I won't lie, this part of the trail is not fun.

Finding the path can be tricky as it disappears in certain section sections and you're continuously sliding around the loose rubble or having to scramble over boulders whilst climbing uphill.

At some points you have no choice but to go on all fours and find footholes in the rock. The effort is worth it though as you're greeted with a panoramic view of the west coast of Maria Island.

But you're still not at the summit and this is where your summit fever creeps in. The next part is genuinely more like rock climbing, with no clear cut steps and the rocks are very smooth, leaving them quite slippery.

This is definitely not a track to be walked in the rain. Even in dry weather it's not for the faint hearted as the drops are big and the wind feels particularly strong by the summit.

This is one of the many reasons why I love Australia though. In many parts of the world, these kinds of drops would be fenced off and banned; in Australia they build trails to them!

The final few steps to the summit are the biggest test. The rocks are flat and smooth, completely exposed to the elements, and have a nerve jangling 620m drop each side! The reward is huge though, you are greeted with a 360o view at the top from the vertigo inducing platform. I spent most my time up here on all fours, admiring the dramatic scene but fearing that if a gust of wind picked up I would be swept off the ledge.

The views are phenomenal and make the climb completely worthwhile, you can see for miles in all directions, including as far as Freycinet National Park over 100km up the coast. You can also get a glimpse of the east coast of the island, which we didn't manage to fit into this visit.

If you don't want to do the very last bit to the summit, it is still worth the hike as there is a large stable set of rocks below which still have a magnificent view. This was the place we chose to have our picnic and you wouldn't be missing out if you ended the hike here.

After 10 minutes of admiration mixed with being completely petrified (and I do like a cliff edge view), I made my way down. The climb down is possibly even worse as you can see where you'll fall with one wrong move. 

Returning downhill on the rocky scree was more challenging than going uphill as it feels easy to slip. We were a bit slower than most, but it will take the best part of an hour to get down the rubble section to the bush.

From here the hike back to the town was beautiful and a reminder that I should never moan about a standard trail again! Coming back in the afternoon light was glorious and as we passed the cliff edges we could see rainstorms passing us in the distance. In fact, it seemed to be raining everywhere but Maria Island!

We had planned our return perfectly as we made it back in time for the mass wombat gathering. We were told that we'd be guaranteed to see wombats in Maria Island and we weren't disappointed! Once we walked past the ridge we were greeted by fields of wombats who had come out in the cooler weather to feed.

Warning: a lot of wombats coming up....

They were everywhere and were also joined by kangaroos and pademelons. To see these endangered animals en masse was incredible and they were unphased by us coming fairly close with a camera. Once we got to 50 we stopped counting! Having recently visited Sleepy Burrows (a sanctuary to try and protect these beautiful endangered animals), it was heartening to see such a large, healthy population in one area. 

The Bishop and Clerk track is an epic adventure and we'd advise giving yourself plenty of time to do it. The sign says 3-5 hours, we took the full 5 hours due to the nature of navigating the difficult terrain. Sure footed people did walk it much quicker than us though. If you find rock scrambling and clambering over boulders difficult, we'd advise bringing a set of walking poles. 

The view from the summit is unsurpassable and we'd highly recommend making it a part of any trip to Maria Island.

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What's your favourite day walk in Australia? Would you be able to stomach the vertigo inducing view at the top? Let us know in the comments below.

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