Hold on to your seats, this looks like being another biggy!
By the time I was up on Tuesday morning in Hobart, Gail had already gone to work. I had been bell ringing the previous night too and all the lights were out by the time I arrived back, so it meant I left without saying thank you in person for the wonderful hospitality I had received. That’s poor etiquette on my part, something I am not happy about and I shall try to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Fabio, another couch surfer from Italy had arrived the previous evening and saw me off as I headed down the very steep hill, a hill he assured me was far less steep than the one that is claimed to be the worlds steepest in Dunedin on New Zealand’s south island. I was heading for the Tasman Bridge but as I approached it I was flagged down by two people on foot who told me how to get to the cycle path. I chatted to them for a while, they were there with plans for the improved cycle path over the bridge, which I pointed out needed better sign posting. I soon found out why it was being improved, it was probably the narrowest cycle path I have ever ridden on, with plenty of obstacles, one of which I stopped at as I wasn’t sure I could get through without hitting the sides. I passed another cyclist heading the other way, we both had to stop to squeeze past. Back on the highway I was climbing a steepish hill. Where on earth had that come from, it had been a flat road at the weekend when we had driven along it in the car! Around Cambridge I saw a number of cyclists, one rode with me to Richmond telling me it was a weekly meet that they had at a vineyard. Richmond is a tourist trap, a single street full of gift shops and cafes, oh, and a nice old bridge and church. It had been a detour but I guess I was glad to have seen it. After Sorell I was heading down a road that only went to the Tasman Peninsula and Port Arthur, so it came as a real shock at just how busy it was. Where was all the traffic going to? It was too busy to be enjoyable, but just after the village of Copping I saw a cyclist heading the other way, so we stopped for a chat, she was Christine from Germany. An hour stood at the edge of the busy main road quickly slipped by and as I was only going a few more kilometres before looking for somewhere to camp I suggested we camped together and then we could continue talking. So we headed back in the direction of Sorell and made our way down the gravel road towards Orford that would bypass that busy road and soon found a spot in the woods to camp the night. It turned out that Christine is a serious hiker and has hiked 3 times from Mexico to Canada, including the well know Appalachian Trail. She had decided to give cycling a go, was finding it tough and had the impression we are an unsociable bunch.
At breakfast I changed my plans, I decided to head up the east coast with Christine and have company for a few days. It’s the route I had planned to take anyway, it just meant that I would miss out on the trip to Port Arthur at the end of the peninsular, but at least would save me backtracking the 60 odd kilometres, something I never like doing anyway. Christine told me she hated gravel roads and walked up the steeper hills, so with that in mind I told her to set off before me as I wasn’t ready, most of the day was to be on a hilly gravel road. I left about 30 minutes later and despite a couple of junctions with poor signposting it was easy to follow her as I just followed her tyres tracks made even easier as they are the same tyres as mine. I caught up as she went very slowly down a hill, a in-built precaution having fallen off in pea-gravel on just the second hour of her first day of cycling, not a good start. We stopped to take walk around a tiny little rainforest amongst the planted forest, but the thing that impressed me most was the massive stacked, interlocking tree trunks that were supporting the wooden bridge. We had just cycled over it, but being covered in gravel it was completely disguised, I hadn‘t even realised that I hade been over a bridge. Once going again we were heading up a steep hill and Christine was off and walking. I was soon to discover that she is a feminist and if I was going to get up all the hills with all my gear on a fully loaded bike, then she was too as she is travelling ultra-light, carrying just 2 rear panniers compared to my total of seven bags. It was the only time I saw her walk up a hill. It was good to have a bit of company whilst cycling for a change, the first company since I left Clement back in Malaysia about 6 months ago, but after waiting for 15 minutes having descended down to tarmac and the village of Orford I was beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea after all. Thankfully it was the last long section of gravel we rode together, though far from the last time I heard the phrase “I hate gravel roads”. We stopped in Triabunna where we met another couple of cyclists. I had seen just one cyclist on the west coast, but here on the east coast they were coming thick and fast. They were two Germans and recognised me by my bike, we had talked to each other at the ferry terminal in Melbourne when I bought my ticket. We sat around a talked for a couple of hours, time enough to eat half of the huge Boston Bun I had just bought. I would have eaten the lot, but felt a bit embarrassed as being such a pig in front of other people. We managed to cover another 30k before finding a nice little spot to camp, then cooked up sausages and ended the evening enjoying the still, clear evening and a wonderful view of the stars. Talking of stars, I struggled for so long to locate the Southern Cross, something I had wanted to see as it is on the Australian flag. To be honest amongst all the other stars it’s pretty insignificant and actually on its side at this time of year, so hardly surprising it took me so long to find, yet now I know where it is, it seems so obvious and seems to stand out amongst all the other stars. It’s funny how a trained eye can work for you.
The following morning we arrived in Swansea and stopped at a bakery where Christine showed her ability to eat more than me and not even feel guilty about it, she is making a good cycling partner. Then we turned right and rode the full length of Nine Mile Beach, but it might as well have been Nine Inch Beach as you don’t get to see any of it. At the far end we had an appointment with a ferry man, a guy who you can ring up and will take cyclists across the 100m entrance of a lagoon. Two days later I was getting very pissed off with hearing “Don’t Pay the Ferryman” being whistled from behind me, my fault for mentioning it in the first place I guess. Christine had a romantic view of being punted across in the little wooden boat, but my vision had been a bit more realistic and much closer to reality as a small metal boat came speeding across pulling up on the beach. We were met with “Quick, socks off, front bags off, wheel the bike in backwards, QUICKLY, lift the front of the bike, LIFT THE FRONT, quick next one, right get in, I have left the trailer on the slipway, HURRY, there is no time to hang round!” all said in a strong Aussie accent at break neck speed so that Christine could hardly understand a word. Once safely beached on the other side he calmed a little and slowed down just enough to tell us the local details such as free camp sites etc. It was another hot day, we sat in the shade and had lunch looking out over Coles Bay (photo) before the walk up to the lookout over Wineglass Bay. There were dozens of people making the pilgrimage to what is in my opinion just another overrated Australian attraction. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really nice, but I saw plenty of beaches and similar views in Indonesia, and they were all for free, this one cost $11, or at least should have done. Still, we backtracked and cycled alongside the lagoon with a nice tailwind, really easy going, though we struggled to find anywhere decent to camp. I rode for a short way with an Italian guy and I then realised that I had also met him whilst buying me ferry ticket to get over here. Once we eventually found somewhere suitable to camp, the day took a rapid turn downhill. First of all it started to rain, it rained just long enough to soak us while we set up the tents, then one of the zips broke on my tent and to cap it all the fuel pump of my stove broke again, exactly the same problem as I had last time. It is safe to say that I wasn’t best pleased, especially as the rest of the evening was spent unsuccessfully trying to do a botched repair of it.
As we approached Bicheno we saw cyclists coming the other way, it’s a bit of a daily ritual now, but I realised the woman at the front was from the UK long before we exchanged any words, who else would be wearing a Marmite cycling jersey? They were from up north, from Durham and Carol told us of the pink cycling jacket she had lost 40k back. We told her we would look for it and leave it at a Backpackers in Launceston if we found it. As we departed Christine asked “Are they from England? I couldn’t understand a word they said”. A few kilometres past Bicheno we called in at Nature world, a sort of Wildlife Park. It came highly recommended, but if this is highly recommended I dread to think what the rest of them are like. To be honest, the animals are well kept, it’s just that there weren’t that many and most are enclosed in ugly green fences, the Cotswold Wildlife Park would beat it hands down, but at least I got to see Tasmanian Devils and a baby kangaroo with its head sticking out of its mother’s pouch. The kangaroos roam free, are very tame, and can be fed by hand. As the first one came bouncing across at break neck speed my only thought was “I hope this thing knows how to stop!” The afternoon was spent slogging into a head wind, not a lot of fun, so we were really thankful to find a campsite beside a lagoon in the very first place we looked. Christine goes through a strange ritual of testing out the camping area by lying on it first, this results in her getting covered in dirt. She then uses some of my stuff, such as the Swiss army knife, because her ultra lightweight stuff is crap, and it then also gets handed back filthy. She has single handedly shattered my illusion that all Germans are way to clean for their own good.
By the following morning the wind had thankfully died down, good timing, now it was just the hilly terrain of the day that would make us knackered. As we approached St Helens I stopped to pick up a pink cycling jacket, it was about 50k further north than we were told, but there can’t be that many pink cycling jackets littering the countryside of Tasmania, surely. We stopped to buy food and a bottle of wine and I was surprised to find that we both like sweet white wines and both being tight fisted we bought the cheapest. We do have some things in common other than sweet white wines, for example we both like stealth, or wild camping rather than using campsites, but it has become increasingly obvious as time goes on that we have very different backgrounds and almost all of our views about almost everything are totally the opposite to each other, but it does make for some interesting conversations. Evenings around a broken camp stove slip by very quickly. After a bit more climbing and a nice drop down to Pyengana we stopped for lunch. I am back on a cold food diet where everything tastes remarkably similar and strangely enough of petrol. A climb up to 600m lay just ahead of us, Christine asked me to wait at the top, something I would have done anyway, I always do. I stopped early in the climb to takes some photos and she passed me, but I knew I would soon catch her up, or at least thought I would. We were up to 500m before I eventually caught her up. I was getting a little suspicious about what was going on and she soon admitted it was once again the feminist that was making her determined to stay ahead of me. We arrived at the top together, but over the next few days hearing her tell everybody how she beat me to the top was becoming almost as tiresome as “Don’t Pay the Ferryman”, but at least I now know how to make her go faster up hill, though making her go faster downhill will be a bit more of a challenge. On a long decent I was soon way ahead of her so I hid down a track, waited for her to pass then shot past her again, I hoped being left twice on one descent might bring out that competitive streak in her but it didn’t, it just makes her say “You have a death wish” more often. We stopped at Weldborough to collect water for the night, it’s almost impossible to find a tap anywhere that doesn’t say “This water is NOT fit for drinking” but beggars can’t be choosers. As we descended further I found a track that looked suitable to head down to find a camping spot. As I waited for my cycling companion to crawl slowly down the hill a van came out of the track containing two weird looking characters covered in tattoos and an ugly and vicious looking dog with spikes around its dog collar, I decided it was best to look elsewhere. We soon found an ideal little spot in woodland at the end of a track. The wine went down very well, it didn’t even taste of petrol!
Another hilly day followed, the first stop being in the quaint little town of Derby. Tasmania has so many place names stolen from Britain, though here they pronounce them as the sound, so Derby is pronounced with an ’e’ rather than the ’a’ sound that we use and Launceston is pronounced…..well….Launceston rather than Launston. I filled a water bottle from a tap outside of the little store, it looked remarkably brown, so I went inside and asked if it was ok, “Yeah, it runs straight down off the hills so it might have a bit of wallaby shit in it, but it’s ok to drink” I was told. The wind was really picking up, lunch was taken on a picnic table where everything had to be weighted down. More hills followed, it was tough going. We met another cyclist coming the other way, Sophie from Adelaide who kindly invited us to stay with her if we make it that far. We camped just over the crest of another climb, down a little used track, not the first one we had tried mind, the other track we tried had failed to produce a descent camping spot, had been on gravel and was very steep, so half of the team wasn’t best pleased, the other half was hardly getting excited about it either, though thankfully it wasn’t my idea to go and look down it. The camping has easily settled into a nice routine, we both know what is required. First of all it has to out of earshot of the road as the half of the team that wasn’t best pleased about the hilly gravel track is also not best pleased if we can hear the faintest sound from a road. It also has to be extremely unlikely that anybody will ’stumble’ upon us. Once the spot is found I take the largest spot as I have the bigger tent, then Christine wanders around lying in dirt until she is covered in muck and has found a spot she likes. This is my chance to get my own back for “Don’t Pay the Ferryman” as I keep yelling out “Oi, you have forgotten to put your tent up!” Once the tents are up the kitchen and dining room are set up in between the tents and the initial comments of “What the hell are you carrying that sheet thing around for” are now replaced by “This sheet is brilliant, I am going to have to get one”, so the groundsheet is now know as the dining room. Then we sit around and discuss our totally different views on life until we can at least both agree that the mosquitoes are way too much of a nuisance to warrant sitting outside any longer, then we go our separate ways with calls from Little Miss Fussy shouting out “If you ever snore you are dead”.
I had a bad nights sleep, in fact I didn’t sleep much at all. I rather got the impression that I had over dosed on wallaby shit. I felt ill, not so ill that I wouldn’t be able to cycle, but I knew I would be in for a tough day, though thankfully it was going to be a shorter days riding anyway. By 06:30 I wasn’t feeling too bad, though I could already hear footsteps around the other tent, a bit odd I thought as I am always up first. “John” came a call from a little distressed voice “Are you ok, it’s just that I have got a terrible dose of the trots”. Hmm, it would seem that we have bother overdosed on the wallaby shit then. We were both ok to make a move but what I really didn’t want is what I got, a start of a long descent in only 10 degrees….brrr! First stop was Lilydale falls. I am sure they are impressive after a little rain, but right now they were not really worth the effort, so we didn’t even bother with the upper falls. After 25k and just outside Launceston we stopped in the sun to warm up. In the end we nattered away from almost 2 hours, by which time I was too hot. Back on the road I was soon cold again, the jacket was on and off repeatedly. I did little in Launceston, I really didn’t feel up to it, but I did check out the old umbrella shop, though it can hardly call itself that anymore and there is far more gifty tourist tat than there are umbrellas. Ironically it was pouring with rain and it was shut! (Actually that is a bit of a lie, but it was shut, and there must be times when it is both raining and shut). We headed out of Launceston on the banks of the river Tamar, we were heading for the home of Scott, Rosemary and their family. I had met them whilst camping at Hamilton near Hobart and they had invited me to stay if I was passing by. I gave them a call the previous day but when I said I wouldn’t staying the night as I was now cycling with a companion, Scott said “That’s no problem, we have plenty of spare beds”. Christine didn’t want to cycle on the busy highway out of Launceston, it was full of rush our traffic. There was a cycle track that took a bit of finding, now it was my turn to moan as cycle tracks are my pet hate as you never really know where you are going to end up. Ok, so we couldn’t really get lost so long as we kept the river to our right and the main road to the left, but given those simple parameters it was still remarkably difficult to follow. Christine was hearing me cursing for the first time “You really don’t like cycle tracks do you?” she said, though a few minutes later as we were heading back in the direction we had come from but on the dual-carriageway looking for somewhere to cross it, she was soon agreeing with me. It was a slog into the wind, I wasn’t feeling strong and I wasn’t enjoying it one little bit, I really just wanted to be there. At last we arrived at Legana and turned off the road, we were now heading down a lane full of very smart looking suburban houses, then at the end of them we turned down a gravel track for a kilometre to a large pair of wrought iron gates and into a very large garden with an equally large house and a view over the river Tamar to die for, wow! We soon found out the full meaning of the comment “…we have plenty of spare beds” as we shown around and given a choice of any of the 6 spare bedrooms we liked. Scott and Rosemary have 4 children and a house with 11 bedrooms, that big enough for their 3 horses, 2 dogs and a cat to have a bedroom each! We had a wonderful evening with a fantastic full moon reflecting in the river down the hill. Scott and Rosemary have also been keen walkers and have walked some of the same tails that Christine has. The only downside of the evening was hearing about the terrible bush fires that have been burning and causing such death and havoc in Victoria and NSW. Politicians were in parliament clearly very distressed as they talked about the fires, many of which have been started by arsonists. Their distress seemed genuine to me and it made me think that we never see such emotions on the faces of our politicians at home. I was rather pleased to be seeing such emotion on what I would have assumed to be hardened faces, it made them seem real, down to earth, caring human beings.
The following morning we both had a lie in, partially due to the beds being so comfortable, but also because we wanted to stay out of the way as it was the children’s first day back to school after the summer holidays and they were all going to new schools. Once they were away we got up and helped ourselves to breakfast, and whilst we ate Rosemary returned from the school run. Once again it was hard to leave, they are such a nice family, Scott and Rosemary so welcoming and so easy to talk to and the children so well behaved and easy going with strangers around. We were both so glad to have spent the night with them all. Christine and I went our separate ways, Christine back to Hobart to collect her hiking kit she has left stored there and me to Devonport to catch the overnight ferry of Melbourne, thankfully I bought a ticket the day before whilst in Launceston, apparently the last one available without having to spend a fortune on a cabin. The split is only temporary as Christine has decided she likes cycling with me and has asked if she can cycle to Adelaide with me before heading off to another hike in Victoria and then on to Japan, so it looks as though I have another 10 days of her moaning whenever she can see a gravel road in the distance! She’s a really nice person though. I took Scott’s advice and travelled along the road to Exeter and enjoyed the beautiful views over the Tamar (photo), then took Rosemary’s advice and went via Latrobe in the hope of seeing a Platypus, though sadly I didn’t, though it was worth a go. I arrived at the port in perfect timing where I met the only other cyclist going on the sailing. He was Will and the owner of the most highly decorated bike I have seen. He is from Newcastle just north of Sydney and the first cyclist that I have met who is cycling the whole way around Australia. He had been going a year to the day so I wished him Happy Birthday. As I admired his bike I asked “What’s that?”, he replied “It’s a telescopic didgeridoo, it really useful for cycling”. Now that’s not a phrase you hear every day! We sat together in the lounge and Will was soon introducing me to people he had met, all of whom had been to the Rainbow Gathering, a sort of hippy event, so they were all colourful characters, all really friendly and all interesting to talk to. One of them Elliot was really interesting, he worked on a farm in Victoria and as a hiking guide in Tasmania and has walked the popular Overland Track 16 times and wants to do it on a unicycle. I was invited to work and stay on his farm for a while, something I would really love to do, but it is the wrong direction for me and my time here in Australia is sadly running out. I was tired and went up to claim my reclining seat for what I expected to be a long night.
I was restless all night but was really surprised to look at my watch and see that it was already 05:30, I must have slept reasonably well. Once we were off the ship the never ending list of hospitality leads was continuing as Will said “There is a cyclist who has invited me to breakfast, I have to give him a ring, and I will ask if you can come along too”. To be honest I really didn’t want to, I was looking forward to a bit of time and space on my own, I have been in company and sociable for almost a week now, I don’t want to over do it. I was disappointed to hear that I would be made welcome and felt somewhat down as we cycled along hoping we wouldn’t be able to find the house, but Mike had walked out to meet us. I got off the bike and walked and talked to Mike and within a couple of minutes I was glad to be there, I instantly took a like to him, once again things on this trip continue to fall so nicely into place. Mike had to leave for work at 9am, but still took the time to make us a breakfast of coffee, toast and an omelette, I have fancied an omelette for so long, it was wonderful. Mike has travelled extensive by bike too, there was so much to talk about, I was in very good company. Mike had to go, but he invited us back to dinner on Friday night, something I look forward to, and before we left he told us that if we needed anything doing to the bikes we could always use his workshop. I made my way to the hostel, the same one as I stayed in on my last visit. Arriving in familiar surroundings is like arriving home. I checked in, unfortunately Sylvia left for Tassie at the weekend, I was hoping to be able to catch up with her.
So what did I make of Tasmania? Well, to be honest I was somewhat disappointed with it, sure I could have spent a lot more time there and seen far more of the sights, but the real problem was that I had such high expectations of the place. So many people had told me how wonderful it is and that it is just like New Zealand, but to me it falls well short. Having said that I still enjoyed being there, the surroundings, the people, and I am glad I have made the effort to come here as now I know for myself exactly what it is like. The west and east of the island are so totally different and that made the cycling varied and interesting. It is somewhere I never expected to visit, so it has been a nice and welcome bonus.
So I have a few more days in Melbourne, I have one or two things to do, some sightseeing and a couple of other people I would like to meet whilst I am here. I am sure I am in for a good time and I probably will leave reluctantly.