Tasmanian Traverse

Tasmanian Traverse

February 19, 2019

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m no Sarah Hammond. Even if I do own the same shorts. Rumour has it, she goes without chamois.

That’s not a risk I’m willing to take as I set out riding long, gravelly days down the centre of Tasmania.

It’s now three years since I set out on my first bike tour. I had all the (borrowed) gear, and very little idea of what lay ahead. It brought me so much joy I’ve scarcely taken a break since that hasn’t involved a bike strapped with camping gear. With each trip I get a little more brazen on the terrain I'm willing to navigate. What follows is a photo journal and some musings from my latest journey.

This journey started in Melbourne, with a visit to Curve HQ. There I picked up Kevin, my green, drop-barred steed.

Kevin, (almost) fully loaded with an eclectic mix of borrowed bags. After I took this photo (and in a last minute packing panic) I upsized the tail bag. 11/10 would do again.

Touring without a rack for ten days meant going lean. This was a holiday and not some Race to the Rock though; the tent, stove, Aeropress, kindle, journal and Christmas cake all still made it in. Once loaded, Kevin and I headed to the Spirit of Tasmania to make the overnight trip from Melbourne to Devonport. After a port side breakfast, it was there I started the Tasmanian Trail.

The trail markers are cute... when you notice them
The Trail is not a way to see Tasmania’s tourist sites. No classic vistas from famous national parks, but not much traffic either. It’s a multi-use (bikes, horses, hikers) pathway run by volunteers traversing private and forestry lands through a series of small towns from Devonport to Dover; a genuine ‘journey, not the destination’ thing.

The trail can be ridden both ways. I followed the book and headed South. Following trail markers (somewhat tricky) and the beeping directions of a borrowed bike computer (recommended), I navigated out past poppy fields and onto gravel roads towards Sheffield.
Snake territory
A quick stop in La Trobe to pick up a pressure bandage must’ve sent them message I was coming - on a section of rail trail shortly after, a tiger snake slithered across the path not two metres ahead. Heart in throat, all that stood between me and lunch was multiple paddocks of overgrown grass. I rode fast, and boisterously. No further snakes were sighted for the rest of the trip.

Post-scallop pie, on the tail of my trail companions
In a Sheffield bakery I met my first other trail goers. A father and son riding unloaded mountain bikes with support from the ladies of the family in their 4WD. We cut a bargain, they took my trail key for some upcoming gates, and I gained a lift for my sleeping gear to the campsite. Win. The whole family turned out to be excellent campsite company - generous with their cask wine, and their tube patching advice.


At the end of Day 1, I also met another solo rider. Dan’s burgundy Rapha and Omafiets-branded voile straps suggested we’d been shopping at the same places. Turned out he lived a few blocks from me in Sydney. We provided each other sporadic trail company, sharing a new year’s bottle of Jameson’s as we pedalled our way south.

That moment when you find your bike doppelgänger in a random Tasmanian campground

My ride ended with a big descent into the Gog Ranges and a river swim at the 70km mark. The serene-sounding riverside camp ground was actually packed with trail bikers (see the miniature one doing hot laps in the above picture) and their country music soundtrack. 'Straya.


 Squint and you'll see the trail marker. Guess it will be a wet start then!

Day 2 started with a river crossing, and ended with a slow but steady climb up the Cluan Tiers. It was sweaty work in the midday heat, but as I sat in granny gear, stopping periodically to much jelly dinosaurs and scoff Hydralyte, that ‘alone in nature’ zen came over me. I’d committed to myself not to use music on this trip to be more present in nature, which made it easier to hear the scratching sounds of roadside echidnas.


Pleased to say echidna sightings greatly outnumbered snake encounters by the end of the trip

At the top, the trail spits you out into recently cleared forest; a harsh reminder of the human imprint on Earth. Eerie as it was, I stopped to take some snaps, satisfied with my climb. What came next was a steep and overgrown descent that spat me out into the sleepy town of Bracknell. A pub pit-stop brought a conversation with the only other patron - a man who’d lived there for over 70 years. The pub pizza is apparently good, but I headed to another river camp to devour some local smoked salmon I’d acquired along the way.

Peak hour, Bracknell Main Street

Day 3 was the big hill of Poatina. I’d heard about this: there are two ways up. I don’t always follow advice, but was happy to accept the guidebook’s recommendation that loaded bikes weren’t great on the off-road option. The road was challenge enough - 1000m up over 20km of switchbacks with a false summit that went on and on. Many swigs of hydrolyte and copious jelly dinosaurs later I arrived in alpine territory and Arthur’s Lake campsite.

Not much here - no phone reception and no shop, but a cheeky round of the caravan park did turn up friendly Tony, a retired Queensland cop who brought out his album of trout catches and a very cold, very satisfying beer

Sunrise at Arthur's Lake. Tony had a whole album of these shots too that he sells to raise money for rural firefighters. Legend.

Day 4 was New Years Eve. With a slight dose of impending NYE fomo, I set out with Dan across the barren landscape of Tasmania’s central plateau. We got to Miena too early, but hung around for a pub lunch, knowing it was our best shot at decent food for a while. With bellies full of trout and venison we continued, stowing a bottle of Jamesons in a tail bag with a loose plan to ride until we found somewhere suitable to ring in the new year.

Skies for days after pub lunch in Miena

After a stop in an unremarkable Bronte Park, we made a final 20km push to Dee Lagoon down pretty dirt roads in the Victoria Valley - not even any Tasmanians I spoke to seemed to know of the place. Aside from a couple of oldies using the boat ramp at 10pm (more fisherman!) we had the place to ourselves for New Year’s eve.

New Years' Eve in a million star hotel with a long-johns dress-code

2019 brought us back to phone reception, and landscapes transitioning through ferny forests, to bare pastures out the back of Ouse. After a giant parmie at the only place open (another pub), dark clouds hung over the town. The forecast said sun, but it soon became apparent the clouds were coming from behind hills on the other side of town, right where the trail led. Bushfires! After the ladies at the petrol station confirmed this, we diverted to a (hilly) road option towards Westerway, town of berry farms and kitsch (but welcome) AirBnbs for a real-bed reprieve.
Little did I know that this was to be the start of a terrible bushfire season in Tasmania

What was meant to be rest day was thwarted by weather gods. With hot days forecast ahead, it was better to keep moving now over the Wellington Pass. Another solid climb lay ahead: part pleasant forest, part 4WD mud-ruts, part puddle-hopping to the top. I won’t lie, there was hike-a-bike, but I was grateful to be doing this in summer and not the snow that sometimes covers the place. 

Some of Wellington pass is super pretty. Some is not.

When the descent finally came, it was steep, loose and rocky. Dan’s fat tyres finally paid off, but Kevin and I enjoyed it for the most part if I kept my wheels rolling and my head up. With only one (now patched) tube in reserve and not a single town stocking them on the trail (please learn from my mistake!) there were a few sharp patches where I strolled rather than risking my third pinch flat. Call me soft, but this seemed a better option than getting stranded in the bush 11km from the nearest town.

Kevin, speckled in adventure dust 

Day 6 ended in Judbury. What it lacks in shops (there are none) it makes up in character. The campground is also the picnic area, and the cricket pitch for the local club. It’s a sweet place on the river Huon, with ample bikepacker washing opportunities from a small pontoon. The friendly conversations I had with town-proud locals here is what cycle touring is all about.

Riverside pontoon of my dirty bike packer dreams


The groundskeeper Ian has a sweet dog called Rupert, and may let you charge your devices in the cricket sheds if you ask nicely

On Day 7, I diverted from the guidebook, trading sweaty hills to Geeveston for a road through Huonville to Cygnet. Logging into Warm Showers (Couch Surfing for bike tourers) I procured an offer to camp on a family farm just out of town. The afternoon brought apricot-picking and a beach trip, while over dinner their nine year old recounted proudly how the whole family had recently ridden the Munda Biddi on their own bikes. The family goal is to ride 1000km together a year. Inspiring stuff!

Cygnet: town of sea-changers with enviable orchards

My final day took me over a hill and back full circle to the place where I finished my first tour three years ago - Peppermint Bay in Woodbridge, on the eastern side of the peninsula. I’d continue to recommend it as a sweet way to avoid busy highways to Hobart, filling yourself with cider and oysters at the restaurant before hitching a ride back to town on their lunch time boat cruise. This is meant to be a holiday, after all.


8 days and 480km later, I’m again filled with a sense of deep satisfaction - in my little legs, my evolving riding ability (hello enjoyable steep rocky descents!) and my trusty, now-very-muddy companion Kevin. I toured solo, but I rarely felt alone. I saw parts of Tasmania most tourists never clap eyes on, and head back to Sydney with a satisfyingly tired body and a rested mind. 2019: bring it on.

Extra resources:

  • The Tasmanian Trail website for downloadable guidebook, gpx file and route changes - note that in January 2019 there have been serious bushfires impacting the trail. If you plan to ride, the website provides essential updates for route diversions and a function to register that you're on the trail in case of evacuations. They also offer a trail key for a small fee - probably not needed, but a nice way to support the voluntary trail keepers
  • Bikepacking.com's write up on the Tasmanian Trail
  • GPX file of the standard trail below (note, does not include my Poatina alternative, nor my Peppermint Bay finish)

About the author: Ali is a public health lawyer, currently using bikepacking as the ultimate form of procrastination from a PhD in food policy. She has a passion for getting more women on bikes in nature. You can follow her adventures on instagram @alikjones

 



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