The well-formed gravel roads around Darlington and the northern part of Maria Island make it ideal to explore Fossil Cliffs and Reservoir Circuit by bike (they can be rented on the island). Fossil Cliffs is also one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks, with the fossils being “one of the finest examples of its kind anywhere in the world”. Making an early start from the Darlington campground on our four day Maria Island stay, we ride down past the jetty and cement silos, and the Convict Barn, built in 1846.
The Fossil Cliffs Circuit road ascends very gently, as it crosses Cape Boullanger and passes the Maria Island airstrip. Once we reach the low cliffs on the opposite side of the cape, the summit of Bishop and Clerk comes into view, partly shrouded by clouds.
We dismount and walk down a short track that leads to the top of the cliffs, where there is some interpretative signage. This large rock shelf is where the limestone was quarried, and the remains of the tramline that connected the quarry to the cement works. From here there’s a rough and steep path down to the base of the cliffs.
As it’s low tide (we’ve been fortunate with tides here and at the Painted Cliffs… or maybe it’s good planning…) we can safely explore the thousands of shellfish fossils embedded in limestone. The Fossil Cliffs are considered one of the best examples of life 250 million years ago, with the sheer volume attributed to the cold conditions associated with the polar sea at the time.
The Fossil Cliffs Circuit continues along the top of the cliff-line…
…which is not a lot of fun. It’s uphill – and steep – up to the top of the Fossil Cliffs. I push my bike most of the way. I’m not feeling very fit!
Then it’s downhill again, to the junction of the track to Reservoir Dam. Just after the start of the Reservoir Circuit road are the ruins of the cement works, which were built around 1889.
The relatively flat road ends at Reservoir Dam, which was constructed by convicts during the first convict period (1825-1832) to supply the settlement of Darlington, and has been enlarged a few times since. It’s a tranquil spot, and would be an ideal destination for a picnic lunch or bird-watching at dusk or dawn.
The other half of the Reservoir Circuit is a narrow track (but suitable for bikes), which heads gently downhill back to Darlington.
0.0km Darlington campground 2.6km Fossil Cliffs 4.1km Start of Reservoir Circuit 5.4km Reservoir Dam 7.8km Darlington campground