Tour de Tasmania

You’re not really doing that alone are you?

That was the question I fielded most often during Christmas catch-ups pre-departure, and then in coffee shops and camp kitchens as I rode my way down down Tasmania’s east coast.

Two changes of lycra and a bike loaded with camping gear may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but with a work shutdown looming and no other plans, I made the call in late November to unite my solo backpacking experience with my love of a bike commute.

A good call it was: 12 days, 600km, and a few clumsy cleat-related injuries later, I’ve undoubtedly found my new favourite mode of adventure. More women really should try this stuff...

After a quick rebuild in the hostel, a sleepless (excited) night and an oversize breakfast, it was time to set off from the 'mean' streets of Launceston. Definitely got better at packing those panniers down as the trip wore on.

Day one involved 75km and a few hills heading towards Scottsdale. Slightly further than my typical Sydney commute (about 60km further!), and without any specific training. Brave or stupid: I'm not sure. I'm using clip-ins for the first time, and getting used to the bike's weight. I roll into Lilydale for lunch feeling pretty happy with myself. Pride cometh before a fall, as they say...
After carb loading on giant scones I take a Google-directed turn, and end up climbing steeply to the end of the road and onto a dirt path ominously named 'Snake Track'. Should I be taking this kind of bike on this kind of road? I'm not sure, but I've got no reception and I ain't going back. This stubbornness leads me to two rear flats and probably the only 'what if I get stuck here and no one finds me' moment of the trip. Eventually I fix the second flat and two farmers pass and offer me a lift back to the sealed road in their ute. I fill my belly with leftover Christmas cake (thanks Vargas!) and I'm good to go. Late summer sunset means there's still time to detour to a gorgeous lavender farm (above), and leave behind the pain of the detour. Lesson learnt: don't always trust Google maps!

As everyone knows, when you travel alone, you rarely end up on your own. In the camp at Scottsdale on day one I meet two Sydney boys, also riding solo. We form a group on Day 2, heading up the Weldborough pass through Derby. Its green and scenic, but the hills are hard. My competitive spirit keeps me going, albeit in granny gear. Without pride at stake, there may have been pushing involved. Lunch involves a giant steak sandwich, and subsequent heartburn when we realise there's more climbing to be done on the other side. What goes up must come down though, and at least there's a rush hurtling into the valley at the end of the day.

The Tasmanian self-guided cycling guide suggests we ride 110km on Day two. We run out of steam and decide to pitch tents in the cover of the pretty Pyengana Valley 80km in instead, enjoying award-winning cheddar and a pub-in-the-paddock where drinks go down way too easily. There's a cute little Rotary campground and cows all around. If you're down this way, I highly recommend the place.

Day three: We hit the coast around the gorgeous Bay of Fires. Pedalling becomes interspersed with stopping for freshly shucked oysters from the farm-door. The water is cold, but gees it feels good to put those legs in the sea. There's plenty of free-camping literally on the beach. Some people appear to have brought their whole lounge rooms, but everything we need seems to fit in the panniers just fine. Well played, Tasmania.Dawn is a good time to take photos (and get riding)...

I tactfully drop the boys on day four and head south towards Freycinet. Without even realising it, I've biked 100km in four hours. I'm getting better at this. Of course I bump into the boys again (mildly awkward!) but also meet three badass bike-touring women who've travelled all over the place together on their customised touring bikes. I confess to a crook tummy (sports gel-induced?) and they produce all manner of remedies from their panniers. The things you can carry when you have three bikes to spread the load...

As I'm learning, one of the most fun parts of bike touring is how much you can eat! We enjoy a huge New Year's bbq with plenty of Jansz. Can't say the Coles Bay pub offers much by way of NYE excitement, but this makes it easier to get up early and start 2016 with a hike to the Wineglass Bay lookout (above). By 9am we've already had second breakfast and pass the (hungover) boys packing up. Its a potentially long ride ahead, but we hedge our bets on a shortcut, ask nicely, and find a boat willing to take us and the bikes 50m across a channel. We save 40km of backtracking in highway headwinds, and share the road only with clouds of black cockatoos. A good start to 2016!

I farewell the girls and spend days 9 & 10 on the national park of Maria Island (pronounced as in Carey).  No cars, and no food for sale, so its stock up at the ferry terminal in Triabunna with everything I'll need for the next few days. I remember water, but not alcohol. It will be a clean start to the year. At least I still have the Aeropress.

 

This place is magic, and quickly becomes my favourite spot on the trip. Even better, I can set up camp and explore its dirt roads without the gear on the bike. Luxury! Having two wheels here feels like the ultimate freedom. There are roos and wombats everywhere, and (aside from the vicinity of the camp) very few people. I stop and spend 20 minutes with a meandering echnidna. At night the rangers run a yoga class under the stars: just what this cyclist's hamstrings needed!

Tasmanian devils hanging around the campsite: leave meat unattended at your own risk!

I do the famous Bishop and Clerk hike on the island's northern tip on the second afternoon after 30km of traversing the place's dirt roads on the bike. So much for rest day - I can't help myself. It feels strange to sit still when you're so used to moving. The hike's rocky scramble is fun but tricky; the view at the top worth it, but dizzying. I pass only one family returning on my way up. Its the first time I feel lonely, perhaps because I had to leave the bike at the trail head. It is weird when a bicycle has become the only company you need? Perhaps...

After Maria its onwards and South to Hobart. I bike part-way down the mainland, but hear stories of logging trucks and narrow, shoulder-less roads, so make the decision to put the bike on a bus for a couple of hours. Some guilt, but the ride is meant to be pleasurable after all. As I view the road from the safety bus window and see another couple pushing their bikes up a bad hill, I feel totally comfortable with this decision! 

After a night in a real bed in Hobart, I'm refreshed for the last leg of the ride. I planned a loop down to Bruny Island - site of cute Hobart weekenders, and delicious oysters and cheese. Pictured above: Get Shucked's Oyster Drive through. If you're in these parts, stop there. Ciders and oysters definitely beat those GI gels.
I may as well acknowledge the dorky flag while we're here. I picked it up mid-way to stick off the side of my right pannier, forcing cars to pass me that little further away. It did help me feel a bit safer when riding solo. It also pleased my Mum (hi Mum!)

Saw my first snake on Bruny. A tiger, I believe. Thankfully, no longer moving.

Slabs of Bruny island cheese, Tasmanian smoked salmon, and a bottle of Tasmanian pinot (plus a few compulsory greens). After many many nights of pasta/rice/tuna/pesto combinations, it was time to class it up. There was no way I could finish it, just as well a Japanese guy came along who'd been biking from Cairns. He was only too happy to take my leftovers off my hands.

The end of the road. After cycling Bruny, I planned to head overland to Cygnet. So pretty, everyone says. But you know what? I'm over it. Its 50km just to get back off Bruny, then another 30km over a ridge. Body feels OK, but mind is tired of pushing. No buses in this part of the world, but some creative thinking and polite phone calls bring a boat to the rescue again. After a night in a pub (real bed!), I finish the ride with a classy (non lycra-clad) lunch at Peppermint Bay restaurant in Woodbridge, and hitch a trip with the bike + the dorky flag back to Hobart on their equally classy catamaran with a bunch of day-tripping diners. 
12 days, 600km, (only) two flats, and at least 4 dozen oysters later, its time to hand over the bike for packing. MONA and Salamanca are great in the company of old friends, but I have to confess, I miss the bike!
Two weeks come to a bittersweet end, and I totally understand how people start off on these trips and just keep riding and riding. I finish covered in bruises (damn cleats!), but my legs feel stronger than they've ever been, and they've pedalled me further than I would have dreamed possible just a month ago.
The only question is where to go next, and who (if anyone) I should take with me...

 

Trip notes

Last but not least, a huge thanks to Steve and Beatrice Varga, good (and incredibly generous) friends with excellent cycling and camping equipment! 

 

By Alexandra Jones 




Beatrice Varga
Beatrice Varga

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