After a sneaky week cycling in New Zealand I followed up with a few days riding in Tasmania. My fourth time cycle touring the Apple Isle.
Shipping ports are magical places, under warm cloudless skies there is a palpable sense of anticipation. It’s peak season now, summer holidays and the decks are crowded with excited holidaymakers seeking a taste of the Tasmanian wilderness. Taking the daytime ferry crossing from Port Melbourne to Devonport is an excellent way to begin a cycling journey, no boxing up bikes and catching planes. I just roll on, roll off and go.
As a cyclist , I enjoyed the unique experience of arriving to embark then being ushered to the head of the queue past an inpatient line of motor homes, caravans and 4WD vehicles. As the only cyclist on board, I savour my small victory.
Ten hours is a long time to pour over maps drinking tea from paper cups and looking for Dolphins in the port side bow waves.
Finally, we enter the Mersey River to enthusiastic waves from locals along the foreshore. After collecting my portable stove gas bottle that had been quarantined for the duration of the crossing for ‘safety reasons‘, I’m off for a quick scout about town. There’s not a lot happening in East Devonport, but I know the Able Tasman Caravan Park is not far away and for $20, which seems to be the standard price for a man and his bicycle, I set up camp for the evening.
Up and away early next morning fully loaded, the extra weight on the bike feels familiar. I drop down a gear into the second chain ring building up a nice cadence, crossing Victoria Bridge I turn right and follow the scenic route out of town past Mersey Bluff before taking a section of the Bass Highway. Traffic is light, visibility good with a wide hard shoulder off to the left of the road. It’s a pleasant way to exit town rolling by farmland over a few picturesque creek and river crossings. Regrettably, the contorted bodies of native wildlife in various stages of decay are everywhere. I try to avoid running over their smashed putrid remains. For a while I keep a macabre count: 4 Pademelons, 3 possums, 2 Blue tongue lizards with other unidentifiable hapless creatures known only to God. Would it help, I think, if we placed crosses by the roadside saying ‘A wallaby died here’ as we do for people. Out here cars are the apex predator I’m in their world now keeping as far to the left as I can.
As soon as possible I exit the highway onto the scenic coastal road that runs beside the sea and a disused railway line, there’s no hard shoulder verge or bicycle lane however pictorial signs posted at intervals encourage drivers to ‘Share the road with cyclists ‘.
I enjoy some easy cycling through the small beachside towns of Ulverstone, Sulphur Creek, Penguin, then Heybridge before riding into the industrial port city of Burnie where I stop for my obligatory cup of tea. It’s early afternoon before I push on towards Somerset .
While theres never a good time to get a flat tyre, at least I was opposite a park, where I spent the next 45 minutes. No quick racing change. I unclip the panniers, upend the bike, take off the wheel and use all my strength to get the snug tight fitting Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tires off the rim put in a new tube and repack .
On the outskirts of Wynyard I take the steep opium poppy field covered slopes of the Cape View road where I’m immediately rewarded with sightings of White Bellied Sea Eagles and White Morph Grey Goshawks wheeling then perching in the towering stringybarks that line the Cliffs edge.
Cycling from Wynyard to Stanley was simply glorious if strenuous, pushing into a howling wet South Westerly. The coastal views around Rocky Cape, Goat island and Detention River, were reward for effort. I’m accompanied by pairs of Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos, their languid flight and melancholic call has a supernatural quality. I callback. The cockatoos come closer landing in a flowering wattle next to me when I stop in the rain at the top of a rise we eye each other from a few metres. Such majestic wild birds. As if by some predetermined signal I push off and the birds fly away, a little animal magnetism in Tasmania.
Pademelons, those inquisitive cute small kangaroo-like macropods, appear periodically by the roadside. Perhaps they are looking for they’re squashed friends. Instead they watch me as I cycle by. Passing through heavily wooded country I find an endangered Spotted Quoll by the edge of the road. It was dead but still warm, such a tragic waste.
Rolling into Stanley, The Nut, or Mumatrik as it was known by the local First Nations people , dominates the landscape. Settled by colonialists in 1826 as a fishing port, the village retains a rugged outpost feel that appeals to tourists. I found the monolithic Nut beautiful, imposing and somehow oppressive, overcome with a sense of foreboding: I slept in my tent with one eye open expecting the Nut to come crashing down in the night burying me and the town below. Perhaps the death of that Quoll affected me more that I care to admit.
Taking secondary roads back towards Devonport, I revisit towns I have cycled through on previous visits. Railton with its life like topiary figures, Westbury home to the worlds biggest cricket stumps and finally Deloraine where I camp by the banks of the aptly named Meander River to watch platypus go about their platypus business seemingly unperturbed by the close proximity of people.
After a a steep 10 kilometre climb out of Deloraine, I had a quick second breakfast at the Raspberry Farm Cafe, before taking back roads through Elizabeth Town, Kimberley, Railton and Latrobe. The road has no shoulder and little traffic however in rising heat and smoke haze, the pungent aroma of dead animals is a constant companion. It’s a hot challenging ride in hilly country past parched farms and pine plantations. I’m happy to take the tree covered River Road at Latrobe for the last 8 kilometres back into Devonport.
An auditable whoosh accompanies the shadow passing over my head as a large White Bellied Sea Eagle swoops low before landing obligingly on a tree branch a few metres away. I take a couple of photos then enjoy watching the bird for several minutes: preening, calling out then flying off in a flurry of feathers.
Cycle touring is it’s own reward and is full of unexpected surprises or chance encounters. I met Carla and Yella, Dutch touring cyclists taking 18 mths to cycle Australia. Celeste a young French Canadian adventurer on her first ever tour. Rosalind an older New Zealander who sold her house and car to fund her never ending cycling lifestyle. Steve, with whom I shared a campsite on the banks of the Meander River, is spending his retirement as he has his entire life, cycling. We form part of a wider international cycle touring community that share a love of cycling. an affinity with the open road and a faith in humanity born of experience.
So if you are self reliant, like challenging cycling in rugged country with lots of wildlife (dead and alive), then consider Tasmania as your next touring destination.