Tales of TASMANIA
Bikepacking loop around Tasmania
The day was dawning,I had been riding for about an hour already and had finally reached the top of that last hill before Queenstown. Up there the scenery was so remarkable I was totally bewitched. The tarmac was humid, the descent was steep, the curve sharp and I was going too fast. I hit the brakes, both wheels drifted on about 10 meters before I thought it was time to eject myself before hitting the safety barrier between a long steep drop and the road.
Somehow my bicycle looked fine except from a few scratches on the right brake lever and I had some minor cuts on my right hand. After a nervous giggle I jumped back on my bike and slowly rode down the windy steep road to Queenstown. As I reached a flat part entering the town I realized that my rear derailleur was not shifting. I was now approximately 200km away from the closest bike shop and about to ride through Tasmania’s most mountainous region with no way of changing gears. Challenge accepted! As if I had any alternative.
Riders: Thomas Calcagno
Distance: about 1720km
Duration: 13 days of touring
Gear: TRESHOMBRES the PIRATE
Wheels: TRESHOMBRES 5.0
Shifting Group: Shimano 105
Bike Bags: Blackburn OUTPOST FRAME BAG LARGE, Topeak TOPLOADER, Topeak BACKLOADER 15l, 2x Mammut chalk bags
I Arrival and recognition
As the plane approached the Tasmanian coast I started analysing the terrain to have an idea of what to expect during that journey. It didn’t look as hilly as I thought it would be, but that is only because flying from Sydney and sitting on the left side of the aircraft I could only see the island’s East Coast.
The first things I did as I landed in Hobart in the early afternoon was to assemble my bicycle at the airport, cycle to the city center to fill up my water bottles, find a bike store to put more air in my tires and purchase a gas bottle from a camping store. The friendly owner from Ken Self Cycle Center reminded me about all the dangers of travelling in Australia: snakes, spiders, wildlife on the road from dusk to dawn, angry drivers, windy roads etc.I have been travelling around Australia for 2 years now so I am used to most of these things but I assume that a reminder can't harm. By that time I had ticked all the boxes of my To Do’s and it was the moment to set off as time was ticking on and I still had 80km to ride before the first free camp I was hoping to reach that day.
I arrived at the Bethune Park campground a couple of hours before the sun had set. I pitched my tent at the top of the hill, facing towards the lake, started a small campfire to cook my dinner and enjoyed the view and serenity of the place. That was it, I realised that my journey had really started and this was going to be my daily routine for the next 2 weeks. I had a good feeling about this adventure!
II Kicking it off..
That first morning I woke up really early as I wanted to see the sun rise behind the lake. It was unfortunately too cloudy. I made a small fire to prepare an espresso with my percolator and started packing up my stuff as I couldn’t wait to leave. The next campsite I wanted to reach was 166 km away and I was not sure how my unprepared body would react to the abundance of climbs I would have to face that day. One of the other campers came to let me know I could use his gas stove. That was really nice of him, I had one too but I really prefer the authenticity of using fire when I have the opportunity. I declined his kind offer explaining to him why. I could see on his face that he did not expect that answer from me. He left confused.
166 km later that day I arrived at Lake Burbury. I still had some energy left as if the magnificence of the landscapes had been continuously powering my body batteries during the day; however the spot was too nice not to stop at and appreciate. As I was preparing dinner, 2 belgian bikepackers came to socialise with me. It was my first exchange with people travelling by bike but in a different way. Their vision is to take their time. Ride slowly, between 30 to 60 km a day, sometimes less and stay somewhere for a few days or weeks if they feel like it. One of them did not seem to understand my approach to bike touring which he only judged on the “race” appearance of my bike. I personally get bored if I don’t keep up to a certain pace. I like to feel the wind on my skin, feel that my body is exercising and to soak in the views from my seat. It has a lot to do with the time spent in the saddle. We all have our own way of doing things and should just respect each other by fully appreciating what we are experiencing.
When to go
January and February are the warmer months.
It gets really cold and wet the rest of the year. Even though I toured during the first 2 weeks of February
I was still cold every morning until the sun would come out and I had a couple of rainy days..
Make sure you plan your trip outside the school holidays.
There’s already a lot of tourists and not enough secondary road,
so constantly avoid the heavy traffic on narrow roads (especially on the East Cost).
It is so easy to camp for free in Tasmania!
Even if you don't find an official free camping spot you will find a place to pitch your tent and no one will care.
All the free camps have toilets but not necessarily water.
III Ups and downs.. And ups again
During my second day I was told by a woman I met in a cafe on the way that the sunset over the lake at Cradle Mountain was something unique and I should not miss it. That is why I left camp on day 3 before the sun had risen, was so motivated and crashed just before hitting my first stop of the day, Queenstown. I left this small town fully packed with snacks, topped up water bottle, and had temporarily fixed my bike. Well I had just set it into a polyvalent gear for all the ascents and descents I would face that day. I knew that one of those zip ties I always carry in my bum bag would come in handy at some point! Even though I had a bit less than 150 km left, the highest elevation in a day and one gear I still had in mind to reach Cradle Mountain in time to witness the sunset.
No surprise, that day felt like hell on earth. I would never see the end of the road. Cradle Mountain never seemed to feel close enough and I was too proud to get off the bike and push it up the hills. I knew that once I reached the endpoint all that pain would just vanish. That idea kept me going. In a way, I mainly came for the mountains so I couldn’t complain. I got what I came for. I just didn't expect to go through the process on a single speed (actually double speed as I still had the choice between 2 gears in the front).
When I finally reached the National Park it was as I feared it would be; some sort of “Disneyland” place with billboards advertising tours, resorts, some shuttle buses driving tourists around. The lake was still another 10km from the entrance. 10 long kilometers.
That women was right, the rays of the sun would illuminate the mountain in such a magical way. It was a stunning moment. I sat there for 2 hours until the sun set while preparing myself some food using my camp stove and starring at what I had around me.I could not even point my phone towards what I was witnessing. After such a long struggle to get there it was just a moment I wanted to fully appreciate as it was and keep for myself because a photo would not do justice to that unique rewarding show.
I left the lake on the next day at 4.30am. It was pitch black, the stars and the moon were shining bright, the thick vegetation was partly covered by fog. The scene was surreal. That experience was definitely more intense and unique than the sunset. Just imagine riding through that scenery on an empty narrow and windy road while spotting a few wallabies, wombats and other small animals on the side of the road. That atmosphere was unique.
IV Sunshine during storm
It is only on day 5 that I got to to Launceston. I originally did not want to go there, as I prefered to use some remote roads all the way to the East Coast but I had to get my bicycle fixed. I needed gears. My next spot was Jacob’s Ladder at Ben Lomond National Park. It is the Island’s second highest point!
I left my bike at a local store for a few hours, the time for them to fix the few issues accumulated along the way. Once my bicycle was ready, the shop assistant told me about a Memorial Hall on the way to the National Park where I could camp for the night. I found that place right on time as that day I was not into it and it was around 7pm already anyway. Even though my bike was working well again all that time spent in Launceston kind of took my stoke away and the weather was grey and windy. At first I thought I would pitch my tent behind the building but I then noticed that there was a smaller building which was not locked and had a fire place. Bingo!
I gathered some wood, a lot of wood since was hoping to keep that fire going the entire night and began lighting a fire and preparing some food for dinner. Good old rice and mackerel in tomato sauce. While eating and enjoying watching the fire as my unique entertainment I started to hear thunder. Soon enough it started to pore down with rain. That brought an immediate smile to my face. First day of heavy rain and I had a sturdy shelter with a fireplace. I just couldn't have dreamed of better timing!
But things got even better, that sixth morning I got woken up by the daylight. I jumped out of ‘bed’ straight away and went outside to check the weather. Almost no clouds, a blue and bright sky! I ate a can of baked beans, made myself an espresso and set off towards the National Park. It was just around the corner and it started with a hill. Of course, that hill never stopped going up but somehow I just felt it was the perfect grade to warm up before hitting Jacob’s Ladder. It was a long and slow ascent and it really gave me the time to witness how the flora would change as I got higher and higher. From green to grey. After a little while I could finally see the steep snake - like road I wanted to ride up so badly. I decided to hide most of my gear down at the start among the rocks. I had forgotten how light and agile my bike felt when naked. The pain I imagined from that ascent was just pure pleasure!
The roads I found the best to ride were:
“A1” between Derwent Bridge and Lake Burbury.Magnificent mountainous and forested sceneries.
“Elephant Pass Road” between Saint Mary and Chain of Lagoons.
Almost perfect road surface, nice sceneries, nice curves..
“Channel Highway” from Kettering (Bruny Island Ferry) to Gordon.
Beautiful countryside, and an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls.
If want to avoid the busy main roads you should be prepared for corrugation,
steep ascents and descents, potholes and gravel.
They are abundant! You will find so many of them providing you with clean and operational gas BBQs, toilets and picnic tables.
Most of them will be sheltered and have a water tap.
Sometimes even some power points like at Port Arthur’s Visitor Center and at Bicheno.
Later that day I reached a famous free camp spot on the East Coast “Lagoons Beach”.That feeling of ascending one of Tasmania's highest points in the morning and to finish the day with a sunset at the beautiful beach of Chain of Lagoons was just beyond words!
The next morning after making myself a cup of espresso I realised that I was running out of water. For some reasons I thought that some water would be available on site. I was wrong and I was forced to move on. Next stop: Freycinet National Park.
I had less than 100 km to go, so I knew I could really take my time that day. I stopped to eat lunch and to buy some snacks in Bicheno. There I bumped into a nice couple who had been adversely horned at by an angry truck driver because they had waited for a couple minutes for a clear and straight road to overtake me.
That evening as usual I made it to the camp spot a couple of hours before the sun set. Hard to say something against the beauty of the Freycinet area. Once again I went to bed with the common happy feeling that I had spent another ripper of a day!
7th morning. For this one the plan was to go watch the sun rise from the infamous Wine Glass bay. At the start of the walk I met an Australian woman who had trouble paying her National Park pass. There is nothing much I could do for here as the device was apparently failing to work. “If you don't pay you will get caught here in Australia!” she told me. She still left to start the walk to the lookout without fulfilling her payment. I also started to walk, fast, as I wanted to be by myself up there. The weather was cloudy, the sun was not to be seen. Nevertheless I really enjoyed the beauty and the tranquility offered by the lookout’s location. A peaceful way to start the day. As I walked back down and reached the car - park I saw some Rangers, one of them holding that little device to issue fines. That woman’s walk probably ended up being way more expensive than she thought, I really hope she enjoyed the walk and the view!
I rode around the peninsula for a couple of hours, went for an almond latte to refill my phone and power bank and then decided I would hit the road again. There was so much more to see still and I didn't enjoy the sight of all these billboards promoting resorts and activities anyway.
If you are planning a bike tour in Tasmania I hope that you are not too sensitive.
Each day on the road you will see some dead animals. You will even smell them before seeing them.
Most of them are wallabies,wombats, possums …
At first it’s a bit hard to ride by them but then after a while you will sadly get used to it.
I also saw more deadly snakes in those 2 weeks than I did in 2 years on Australia’s mainland.
I never felt threatened though. If you don’t go and bother them there is no reason why they would attack you.
Food and Water
West/Inland: it was almost impossible to find fruit and vegetables.
There are not many supermarkets, mainly IGAs which are a bit pricey and don’t offer much choice
(fruit & veggies there just don’t look appealing).
There are a few “restaurants” on the way, usually not much choice and unhealthy food.
North (Deloraine/Launceston area): more options to feed yourself and many berry farms!
East Coast: touristic so easy to fuel up. Sometimes of course a bit overpriced.
South East (below Hobart); the best area I rode through when it comes to healthy and fresh products
(if you go to Bruny Island pack enough food for your stay though as there is not much out there)
Concerning water you will find taps everywhere.
Most of the time there will be a warning sign ‘Boil before drinking”.
That is just to get them out of trouble. I drank tap water everyday, a lot of it and I never felt bad.
The next day, I had not yet reached the Tasman Peninsula but I knew it would be too touristic for me. The traffic going in that direction was probably the worst I had experienced since I had been on the Island but I still wanted to see that part of the world through my own eyes. “CamperMate” did not mention any free camps and for some reason I did not have a very positive feeling about finding a nice spot to spend the night. I continued exploring further south after reaching Arthur Point, saw a beach from the top of a hill and as I rode closer to it I noticed a “no through road” parallel to it. I decided to follow it and try my luck. I passed a couple of houses and sort of car cemeteries and towards the end of it a little walking track brought me straight to the beach. There was no one around, I decided to walk a couple hundred meters away from that track to be sure I would be out of sight. That was it, I had the spot I dreamed of. An entire beach for myself, some green and gold hills in the background, the sound of the waves and an abundance of dried wood to make a fire to cook. It's hard to spend a bad day in Tasmania isn't it?!
Day 10, I was only roughly 100km from Hobart where I was meant to catch my flight 6 days later. I had basically completed my tour. That meant I had heaps of time to explore some parts I had not planned before. I arrived in Hobart the next morning and good news, it was Sunday which means market day. I had a delicious breakfast and one of the people I bought some food from told me I should not miss the South East region. First stage was to reach Kettering to catch a quick ferry to go to Bruny Island. An Island off the Island. Which is itself off the Island. That island was truly mind blowing. Not sure what it was but it had something unique, a different atmosphere. I visited the whole northern part the first day, slept at the Neck campground and and the next day I challenged myself to ride all the roads of the Southern part of the island. I will never forget 2 things about that day. First I saw an albinos wallaby. After 2 years in Australia I had not even heard of them! Secondly I really struggled through some not - thin-sized-tires-friendly tracks, steep gravel uphill sections and a lot of kilometers to get to the lighthouse. By the time I got there the weather had switched from blue sky to heavily clouded sky. As I walked the short track to the lighthouse it started raining and there was nothing to be seen from that lookout anymore.. I went back to my bike, got my rain gear out and started pedalling back. I hadn’t even ridden 2 km when it stopped raining and Most of the clouds had disappeared. That situation made me laugh. I got rid of my rain gear and pedalled my way back to the ferry.
That same day I reached Gordon, a tiny town on the coast south of Hobart. The towns and areas I had ridden through that late afternoon reminded me of the countryside from back home in Western Europe. There was a lot of self service stands to buy fruit and vegetables straight from the producers. For me that area was the one that stood out the most from what I had seen so far in Tassie.
That night I went to bed after another simple but nice dinner cooked on the fire, while listening to the water and looking at the peaceful scenery. I got used to that routine and was enjoying it to the fullest. But there was something special about that night. The next day would be my last stage of the trip. I decided I would finish the trip by riding up Mount Wellington. One last demanding but rewarding challenge.
While enjoying my celebration dinner after that 2 week trip around Tasmania I could not stop thinking about how good it feels to go on adventures like that. I felt I had done the right thing to feel mentally and physically well. We all have different reasons which push us to travel and our own way of doing so. We should just go for it, do what we think is good for us, the way we think suits us the best and there is no reason why things will go wrong. We learn the hard way anyway.
1. Hobart Airport - Bethune Park: 102km/1100m
2. Bethune Park - Burbury Lake: 166km/3000m
3. Burbury Lake - Cradle Mountain: 150km/3600m
4. Cradle Mt - Bracknell River camp: 147km/2341m
5. Bracknell River Camp - North Esk (Ben Lomond): 70km/900m
6. North Esk - Chain of Lagoons: 151km/2800m
7. Chain of Lagoons - Coles Bay: 84km/1000m
8. Coles Bay - Mayfield Bay: 110km/1400m
9. Mayfield Bay - Cap Raoul: 140km/1100m
10. Cap Raoul - Sorrell: 130km/2100m
11. Sorrell - The Neck (Bruny Island): 125km/2900m
12. The Neck (Bruny Island) - Gordon: 230km/2665m
13. Gordon - Hobart: 115km/2435m
Daily Average: 130km/2170m