Five weeks ago we came back from our 2 ½ week tour of the east coast of Tasmania. Having never been to this part of the world before it was just amazing. Anybody that is bike touring in Australia should really try and fit a couple of weeks in to visit this island. Here is a bit of a recap of what we got up to.
This was our second tour and the first one where we were flying with our bikes. I was a wee bit apprehensive (see previous post) but I needn’t have worried. Our bike cartons didn’t even get weighed! Phew, because I was pretty sure that we were going to be over by about 5kgs.
Once we arrived in Hobart, on the Saturday, we found ourselves a nice air-conditioned, carpeted corner in the arrivals hall and Andrew proceeded to put the bikes back together. Getting air into the tires was a bit of a problem as our little hand held pump just couldn’t seem to get past 10PSI, but not to worry, because just outside was an Avis car rental, so we were able to use their air compressor. We then rode into Hobart to my sisters place where we spent Sunday stocking up the panniers with supplies and sightseeing.
On Monday we took a day tour to Port Arthur with Adventure Island Tours, to the historic convict site. A very sobering experience indeed. I’m always so disheartened that human being can come up with such cruelty towards their fellow man. The scenery was spectacular though and I finally had an opportunity to test my new camera, a Panasonix Lumix GX7 that I bought the month before.
Tuesday was a trip to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. This place is privately owned and another MUST! We spent the good part of the day there. There is a cycle track all the way there from the CBD so we rode our naked touring bikes there and back.
Wednesday was Departure Day. We slept in and didn’t get going till 11 am….. If we’d known what sort of ride we were in for we might have left a bit earlier. The ride to Richmond where we had lunch, was very pleasant (a family even gave us their left-over food as they were flying out the next day), but then the hills started. With panniers chock full, hot weather and legs that were still in holiday mode, the ride proved to be very tough and that day has been the hardest ride I have ever done. Andrew just seemed to switch on the after burners or something and would reach the summit way before me. I wasn’t worried because I just couldn’t see the sense in totally wrecking myself without knowing what’s up ahead. I had to walk up one hill, I just couldn’t keep enough momentum to stay upright because the hills were straight up and steep.
We weren’t the only ones struggling though. In Richmond we came upon a group of 8 young (student) riders and we ended up leap frogging them all the way up the coast to St Helens. We nicknamed them “the Peloton” and they all seemed to be having a really good time.
We stopped at a cherry farm and asked to refill our water as we were just guzzling it down. The guy looked at me and said “Ummm, yeah, how much though?”, I replied, “Only our drink bottles?” To which he agreed. Two hours later we stopped again, at a road house this time, for a snack and a refill. I went into the roadhouse and asked if there was a tap and the lady said “No.” I was really surprised at that. I know it’s not my “right” to be given water whenever I want, far from it, but a bit of decency perhaps? Anyway, we went on sans water and a few kms down the road Andrew spotted a lady on her porch peeling spuds. We pull in and ask for some water and she said yeah sure, races in and comes out with chilled, store bought, bottled water?!? Go figure. Anyway that restored our faith in humanity a little.
We finally arrived in Orford early evening having covered 86 kms. No caravan park, only a campground with no showers or toilets,. I’m a cycle tourer that unfortunately “needs” a shower at the end of the day. To crawl into a sleeping bag covered in road grime, sorry, can’t do it. So we decided to have a night in the local motel. BLISS! Andrew cooked a stew on the stove seeing as he was delegated official catering officer this trip because he grumbled about my cooking on our first tour.
Thursday we woke up with very heavy legs, so we decided on a nice beach walk to loosen things up. What a great way to start the day. We then packed up (it’s always super quick when you don’t need to pack up a tent), and headed off to Swansea. The first hill out of town certainly enhanced the jelly legs from the day before, but then…. we get to T junction and a lone cyclist is turning our way just as we went past. It was Lauren from Boulder in Colorado who was touring Tasmania solo. We chatted till the next town and decided that seeing as we had an easy days ride, only 43kms, we would stop and have a coffee with her. It was our very first meeting with another touring cyclist so we really enjoyed her company, swapping stories of our trips. The coffee was drunk far too soon and we parted ways. I wasn’t too worried because I just KNEW we would meet up again.
The ride to Swansea was quite spectacular as there were a few stretches of coastal road not unlike the great Ocean road in Victoria. Arrived no worries and checked into the local caravan park. Then a quick wander down the street for some hot chips and a few groceries followed by an early night.
Initially I wanted to spend a day on Maria Island for our rest day and it certainly would have been nice, but instead we rode 43 kms north to Bicheno on Friday where we had a rest day with my sister and her partner. The ride was inland with one small mountain range to go over. On the other side we were hit by quite strong coastal headwinds and those last 15 kilometres seemed to take forever. But we got there and checked into the local caravan park. A wander down the street and we decided that Pizza and Beer for our late lunch was in order, delish.
Bicheno was just lovely, a real quaint little fishing town with a strong whaling past. We woke up to a drizzle of rain which persisted for most of the day, but seeing as we weren’t going to be riding it didn’t really matter. We spent our rest day sightseeing and purchasing fresh fish from the wharf for dinner. It tasted so good we then had fish pretty much every time we were in a coastal town. We also visited the tourist bureau where we picked up a brochure on bike tours in Tasmania. It had a topographical map in it and once I saw that, with what was coming up ahead, I got myself into a right royal flap. I just wish I could un-see it, but no, the damage was done. After St Helens it had mountain ranges more than TWICE as high as our first day…… Panic and a healthy serve of self doubt set in real quick. How am I going to get over those mountains, what if I can’t make it, then what, do I have to walk all the way?
This of course, wasn’t helped at all the next day, Sunday, on our way to St Helens, by the Swiss cycling couple we stopped and chatted to on the side of the road. They had just come that way and said it was really hard going. Swiss people! All they have is mountains over there, and they thought it was hard too, I’m DOOOOMED!
I spent pretty much all day during the 74 kms to St Helens trying to psych myself up for the next few days riding. We had lunch at a brewery but managed, with a supreme will, to only have coffee and cake. If we’d started drinking beer we would have just stayed there and probably would sleep in the tent next to the Brewery. So onwards to St Helens! The ride was pretty much all coastal and certainly gave us a taste of what was to come on our second rest day visiting the bay of fires.
St Helens was another fishing town with an abundance of shops. The caravan park was bustling, the busiest we’d been in so far. It’s always nice to take a stroll and see everybody’s camp set ups I recon. I did my very first “Can I borrow a cup of brown sugar?” too. Even though we have over 242ltrs of storage capacity in all our panniers etc, it is still not practical to carry a kilo of sugar and a kilo of flour etc. So I’d filled up all these little containers with condiments and spices, but the sugar for the porridge was the first to go. So off to some friendly looking RV’ers and yep, no worries, how much would you like? Offered to pay of course, but no, that was not necessary.
Monday was BEACH DAY! We packed a picnic lunch, the swimmers & bikini, our towels and a 20km ride later arrived at a nice secluded little beach smack in the middle of the Bay of Fires. The day was overcast which meant the water didn’t seemed as blue as it is, but a fabulous day was had all the same! Andrew didn’t quite like to long ride as surely the beaches are all the same? Nope, I just liked the look of our little secluded beach and the weirdest thing, well after we came back, there was an advert in a magazine about Tasmania with a picture of OUR BEACH as the main photo!
The next day, Tuesday was THE DAY, yep, mountain day, 76kms of it…. With a heavy heart I set out, having looked at Google earth a million times to just check those mountains again and again. The hills started pretty much as soon as we left St Helens. Even though we’d had a rest day the legs were still pretty heavy. We climbed one range and then stopped at the road house in the valley behind it. Andrew went in to get a snack and came out. He’d had a nice chat to the owner and then pointed out a distant range, the tallest one. He said, ”See that, that’s what we have to go over.” Well, I nearly fainted…… Anyway, too late to pull out so off we went. 8 kms of up and up and more up. But then the weirdest thing, as hard as it was, I seemed to make peace with it and just put my bike in granny gear and just pedalled. Just like that, we made it to the top. Luckily the scenery was absolutely spectacular as we cycled through forests with huge tree ferns and so much green it hurt your eyes. Getting to the summit, well that was something else. We stopped and had lunch before the decent. Always nice, but I’m a bit of a scaredy cat and generally am on the brakes the whole way. The big trucks passing surely helped along with that fear and should have been a bit of a warning of what was to come at the bottom of the range. We turned a corner and BAM, headwinds, dirt road and countless trucks doing road works. Boy this was tough going, probably worse than the climb over the mountain.
We made it to Derby where there was a campground, but no showers, so we decided to go 10kms further to Branxholme and stayed there the night. We decided to treat ourselves to a night in the hotel, but unfortunately they were booked out, so we had to camp at the council run camp ground. It didn’t matter because the Ablution block was brand new with superb hot showers! We did go back to the hotel and had an amazing meal there that we both just seemed to inhale. Yes the ferocious cyclist hunger had well and truly set in by then.
Wednesday started out with some Repairs & Maintenance. One of my front pannier hooks had broken the day before. Poor Andrew carried it the last few Kms for me, but this meant I was unbalanced in the steering, quite tricky going down-hill, but not to worry. We had a spare with us so no problems there. Leaving town was an instant up-hill that didn’t really seem to abate for the whole day, another 55kms, heading east. A new challenge this time though, fully loaded logging trucks and milk trucks. Having them hoon past sure gets the heart racing, especially when there is traffic the other side and they seem so close you could reach out and touch them.
Lunch was at Scottsdale, a town, you guessed it, built on top of a massive hill. It was so steep getting to it that the last turn into the main street was just too much for me and I started to see stars. I got off and walked the last few meters to our lunch spot.
We climbed another big mountain range after lunch, but luckily there were plenty of switchbacks so the traffic wasn’t going too fast. At the top was a very scenic lookout. I chatted to a German lady and her daughter. They were in a bit of a state because one of the trucks had flicked a stone into their hire cars window and broken it. Poor buggers, they didn’t have any insurance. On we went and had the most magnificent decent through more forests, just beautiful into a valley with a river where our camp for the night was situated at Myrtle Park. The park was council run and a bit busy with holiday makers but seemed peaceful enough.
Thursday was a super easy 33km ride into Launceston that seemed to be all down hill and no more trucks! We rode all the way into the CBD kind of in awe that we had managed to get over all those mountains. What a buzz! We celebrated by checking into a motel for 2 nights, our first night in a ‘real’ bed for 7 days and then ventured down the street for some lunch and a bottle of bubbly to have with dinner.
Friday- another rest day celebrated with a tour of the Boag’s Brewery. Very interesting and the beer tasting at the end was great too. After our morning brewery tour we decided to go for a bit of a ride around town. We were most impressed with all the old buildings and the Botanical gardens. We had lunch at a pub and then ventured out to Cataract Gorge that is situated just minutes from the CBD. As we’re riding out Andrew goes “There’s Lauren!”. Sure enough, the universe lined up perfectly once again. If either of us had’ve been a minute faster or slower it wouldn’t have happened! So we had a nice roadside chat and decided to catch up for lunch in Melbourne in a few days time.
Saturday we left our motel behind us and started our trek north to Devonport via Exeter, where we were to catch the Spirit of Tasmania ferry back to the mainland in 2 days time. It was perhaps going to be a bit far to do in one day so we’d decided on splitting the ride. However, once we got going, we actually made pretty good time and so pushed on. The 92 kms was our longest ride on the tour, but seeing as it was also going to be the last day of riding we weren’t too fussed. We climbed one more mountain range but it didn’t seem to faze us too much, I guess we had built up some muscles at last. We had hoped to get a cabin for a couple of nights so we wouldn’t have to pack up a tent early Monday morning, but they were all fully booked, so we checked into a caravan park which was quite open and windy, but not too bad.
Sunday, another rest day, was spent exploring our surroundings by bike and also Australia day, our national day. The caravan park put on a bit of a BBQ for all the guests with free tastings of local produce and beers. Good fun.
Monday was a very early start, having to pack up camp and board the ferry. It was all very exciting and once on board we managed to get a nice window spot where we stayed pretty much for the whole 9 hour sailing. I got a bit queasy early on, but a few ginger biscuits and a ginger beer soon fixed that. We played cards and did a few laps of the decks and that was about it. The journey seemed to be very quick.
Once we arrived in Melbourne, we rode our bikes into the CBD where we’d booked into a luxurious 5 Star hotel to finish of our tour. The sauna after dinner eased some of the weary muscles and the bed was so soft we slept for nine hours straight.
The late check-out on Tuesday at 11am was just perfect, giving us plenty of time to dump our panniers at the railway station and meet up with Lauren for lunch on the banks of the Yarra river. It was really nice to chat and debrief and share our stories. I think we will keep in touch and I’m hoping our paths will cross again.
The 4.00pm train back to our home town came far too soon for my liking, but all good things must come to an end. Two hours later we arrived and had a 10km final ride home. It was stinking hot, 40+ but nice too, to be on the final leg of our 740 km trip.
Somebody asked me what the biggest challenge of this trip was. I couldn’t answer right away. Firstly, because it makes you dwell on the negative and I find that hard to do and secondly, I guess I don’t see Bike Touring as a “challenge”. It’s something that I love doing, full stop. Sure, there are days that are tougher than others, but not once, even during those impossible climbs, did I think “I want to quit, this is just too hard.” (If you want to know what my biggest challenge was you’ll have to wait until my next Blog entry….). I think it’s true that the very worst day on the bike is always so much better than the best day in the office!
So now it’s just a few over night trips here and there and then we will plan to ride the Great Ocean Road in September. Can’t wait!