Wednesday, April 24, 2013

East Coast of Tasmania tour (Wednesday 27th March to Sunday 14th April 2013)

This trip was a 18-day tour of East Coast Tasmania in the off-season before I started another contract at work. The weather was great, temperatures not too cold and great for riding. Roads were pretty friendly and beaches and campsites we're for the most part comfortably empty of people!

Map for this ride

Wednesday 27th March

From Kensington we rode the few kilometers to Port Melbourne to catch the 7.30pm Spirit of Tasmania ferry from Port Melbourne. We were stuck in the queue of cars lining up to drive on, but eventually got redirected to the spot where they let you stow your bicycle.

This was the first time I'd caught the 'Spirit' with a bike. I always assumed they would let you leave your panniers on but the spot where they let you put your bike is a small area and you have to strap your bike up against a wall surrounded by hydraulics and things that look like they move around a bit. We had to carry our gear (in my case, six bags* of various sizes) with us up stairs and through the ship to our accommodation, which surprised me. At least they don't make us box the bikes I guess.

From our twin cabin with port hole we watched a fat, yellow, full moon rising above the Dandenongs as the lights of St Kilda and beyond started to go on.

We ate a "pile of different foods on a plate" dinner from the bain-marie restaurant on board and then walked around the ship a while. Apart from the level with the theatre, recliner seats and restaurants, the ship was a bit of a ghost-town and there weren't many lights switched on so it felt a bit desolate. 

The onboard cinema was showing Madagascar 3 for kids, and later on a bio-pic on the death of Osama staring Ben Affleck. Pass.

Once the ship was moving the PA system announced a storm front was arriving and that it was probably wise to stay off the outside deck, and to be careful walking around, as the ship will start experiencing some movement. 

From the deck I pressed the button on my SPOT device to check-in and you could already feel the front moving, trying to suck us off the boat. The SPOT system sent out an email to people I have on the list that said "Maree has set up camp for the night" at a lat/lon that was in the middle of Port Phillip Bay! 

The boat started rocking about the time we decided to go to sleep and the movement was a head-to-toe rocking rather than a laying-in-hammock-sway so was a bit weird but no ill effects. You could however, even with the door closed, hear the water sloshing about noisily in the en-suite toilet which was a bit disturbing.

Thursday 28th March (50 km)

The ship arrived at Devonport at 6am. We lugged our gear back to the bikes, packed them, and moved off the ship and through the tunnel that goes to the quarantine beagle. She found our panniers interesting but no food was found inside. The sun was yet to get up so we rode around to the nearest cafe and ate a first breakfast. Then we rode across to the main centre and to the pier where the moon could still be seen and it the sun had only just risen. We bought food supplies and then Simon caught up with a friend in town for breakfast. Second breakfast.

Finally time to hit the road at 10.30, we rode across to the east side of Devonport again, filled up our water bottles. We rode the 20 k via mostly quiet rural roads to Port Sorrell which is a tiny town with not much open. We ate some lunch at the park when it decided to rain on us. 

Port Sorrell

Then we rode south to Harford onto Frankford rd over the Rubicon River bridge before turning north onto Bakers Beach road which heads through rural and pine forest land, and is mostly sealed. About 30 km on from Port Sorell we reach Bakers Beach camp. The ranger station was still open when we got there. We paid the $30 each for national park passes and the $13 for campsite and headed out on the gravel another five kilometres to the further-most camping area with handy beach access.

The beach was empty and scenic although we did come across a dead penguin :(

Friday 29th March

Rode 25 km of gravel road Browns Creek Road  and Bowens Road to York Town, including a bitch of a hill to ride up around Asbestos Range. The gravel in parts is quite slippery and I found I'd be slipping while trying to pedal up a particularly steep part which is just plain annoying. 

The view near the top of the hill, through the foliage, was impressive but quite an ordeal to get to it. I tend to take my time on unsealed descents (not quite as much time as on the ascents, mind you) but Simon streaks ahead fearlessly. I just always seem to feel like the bike gets out of control and once that happens in reality you can't stop or correct it easily. This does make me cranky though because for all the uphill struggle I can't enjoy the freewheeling down, and I squeeze my brakes a little more than perhaps necessary.

Getting into York Town you find the blacktop again and we opted to head straight to Beauty Point instead of taking the side trip to Greens Beach. The sealed road is very skinny with no sealed shoulder and there was a more traffic than we'd seen so far. We stopped at Beauty Point for lunch, picking up deli items from the IGA and heading to the water front. The place was packed with people gathered to watch the start of some boat race we knew nothing about. Turned out to be the The Three Peaks yacht race with involves both sailing and  crazy amounts of running, finishing up at Hobart.

 After lunch we continued riding through Beaconsfield and turned onto the Batman Highway. Just before Sidmouth we followed Auld Kirk Road as the back way onto the Batman Bridge.

The scary Batmans Bridge (which has no shoulder and the pedestrian part has barricades you can't fit a touring bike through). The cross wind makes it pretty hairy but we managed to get across without any traffic on it, somehow.

After that we pulled into the park on the east side of the Tamar River just past the bridge. There are signs everywhere saying 'No overnight camping' but given it was Good Friday, I was tired, and we weren't going to put our tent up until dark we though we would get away with it.

As night fell we were cooking when a council guy drove up to us to say that the guys who collect the rubbish don't like people camping here but the pickers live here and as long as you don't leave a mess we were free to stay. The guy actually feeds the resident peacock and (wait for it) chickens, which seem to hang around the picnic table area.

The fruit pickers (harvest trail workers) weren't around that weekend because they were off enjoying Easter somewhere else on their time off, but most of the tents remained. It's a pretty spot next to the river.

Saturday 30th March

Setting off again around 10am, continuing along the Batman Highway we come across a gravel road that says "Trucks - No shortcuts" which means "Bike, shortcut!". We head down this rural access road and join up again with the East Tamar Hwy just near a bridge.

Continuing on we ride into a drizzle and headwind, past the Aluminium smelter into George Town in time for a downpour and some lunch. 

Riding north out of George Town along the waterside track, we opt out of riding to the Low Head lighthouse due to the headwind and rain. We turn onto North Road and Soldiers Settlement Road heading for the "holiday shack" village of Beechford. The ride there is along rural and forestry landscapes, with plenty of opportunity for blackberry picking, and with occasional views to the ocean. After a while the road turns to gravel but it was OK to ride on. 

When we arrived, around midday, it started raining heavily and we pushed on through the sand with our bikes to see what we could of the ocean and the beach in the rain - as it turns out, not much. We set our tent up behind the tennis court as it was kind of flat there, less likely to flood if it kept raining, and was somewhat sheltered from the constant wind. There were a few car-based campers staying in the area also - it was still Easter holidays. There is a toilet and picnic tables at the nearby day use only area but don't try to fill up your drink bottle with the tank water as its water mixed with pine-o-clean or something horrible for the purposes of toilet flushing only. As far as we could tell there is no general store here.

Sunday 31st March (100km)

Riding out of Beechford at sunrise as we had a lot of kilometres to cover, we ride through the Lefroy forest which has thoroughly burnt out sometime recently. Many trees seem to have died in the fire as it seemed like only about 10% of trees were sending out epicormic growth, the brilliant green new growth against the stark black trunks. All the trees we could see were burned from ground to crown. We were pretty sure it wasn't a controlled, prescription burn.

We rode the 50 km to Bridport and had a seafood and chips lunch by the water. It was a pretty spot, and there were people braving the cold water, if only for a short swim.

Bridport lunch spot

After lunch we continued our ride east another 50 km heading towards Gladstone, the road having turned to gravel we found a stealth camp before sundown at a hidden-away stack site on the side of the road and we're not disturbed by anyone.

Monday 1st April

Continuing on the gravel track its not long before Simon starts sheep rustling, with a rogue sheep running up the road in front of him, desperately trying to find an opening in the fence. Eventually the sheep moves over and lets us pass. We were a little worried we'd get into the next town with a sheep running in front.

Sheep rustlin'
Riding on the dirt through the pastoral land with a range framing the view, we make it into the tiny, sleepy Gladstone for second breakfast (for me egg and lettuce sandwich from the petrol station). We fill up water bottles and our 3 litre and 6 litre water bladders at the garage hose. Across the road from the garage there is a display with a video showing of the Musselroe wind farm that is under construction. Its a great video so if you're in the area check it out. We check the map to see if its possible to ride up to see it, but its a little too far out of our way. 

Pasture framed by mountain ranges

The road is gravel and heads through the lovely bushland of Mt William National Park. At times the track is very soft and you have to concentrate all the time to keep your bike upright, especially hard whenever it hits a drift of soft stuff. There is a steady stream of traffic going the other direction, of holidaymakers heading home after the Easter weekend, which is a great sign that we've timed this perfectly.

At around lunch time I am going down a gravel descent and one second later I am sprawled on the dirt road screaming "Ouch!". It all happened so quickly I didn't have any time to correct. My bike slipped out under me, the front wheel finding some soft stuff and I hit the ground hard with my right arm, tearing a hole in my right hand glove, and my knee, and gouging a deep hole in my elbow. The impact made my helmet fly off, and I tore a ligament or something in my right shoulder. Bleeding all over the road, doing my best impersonation of roadkill, I finally gather up the mettle to shuffle off to the side where it's less likely to get run over by a four-wheel drive coming over the rise. I'm failing in a bad way to disguise the pain with my foul language and whimpering. Once I finally stop shaking like a leaf, I get back on the bike, and we ride a little further up to a small clearing where we can assess the damage, pick the gravel out of my flesh and patch me up.

What is left of my elbow

We ride on, still on the gravel, me riding a lot slower on the gravel now due to my new-found gravel-shyness. My arm was aching a lot and there was a fair bit of climbing on dirt road to get through. We find camp at Policeman's Point which is at the northern end of the Bay of Fires. We didn't actually see any special orange rocks here, but the basic bush campsite (no facilities) is peaceful and free. We set up camp and then walk up the beach before cooking a meal and going to sleep.

The road into Policemans Point
Meeting the locals on the way to Policemans Point

Empty beach

Tuesday 2nd April

Policemans Point first light


After waking early to catch the Policeman's Point sunrise, we breakfast and pack up. We hit the gravel roads again and end up taking the wrong road (missing the turn off for The Gardens Rd), and to get onto the coast road again would mean MORE GRAVEL so instead we just ride into St Helens to eat something before the ride out to Binalong Bay (Bay of Fires southern end) and the campsite at Dora Point. The ride out of St Helens starts off with a beautiful flat ride around the coastline, then there's a hill to climb (blergh) and descend (yay) to get into Binalong Bay township and its beautiful white beach with crystal blue water and red-stained rocks.

After a rest in Binalong Bay we ride to Grants Point and then Dora Point where the actual campsite is (more gravel road).

Dora Point campsite is another free one with no facilities, but the beach is really nice and its a bushland setting.

Binnalong Bay

Grants Point

Wednesday 3rd April

We decide to have a rest day at Dora Point, which we spend visiting the beach, reading, listening to the radio, lounging in hammocks and sleeping in tents. Tough.

Thursday 4th April

We ride back into St Helens via Humbug Hill, have a shower at the facilities at St Helens foreshore ($2 hot shower) and then ride on to Lagoons Beach, which is a really nice ride along the coast, albeit with a few climbs and narrow bits.

The view of Binalong Bay (Bay of Fires) from Humbug Hill

Friday 5th April

Wake up for sunrise.

Lagoons Beach sunrise

After breakfast we ride about 30 km to Bicheno where we stop for lunch and then ride about 40 km to Coles Bay (Freycinet).

Bicheno lunch spot
Coles Bay
View to The Hazards, Freycinet from about 10 paces from our campsite
Sunset view from campsite
We go to sleep without the fly over the tent, under a dome of stars.

Saturday 6th April

We wake up with the birds and have breakfast, pack up and head off to the carpark for the walking tracks. If you're looking for the bike parking, its next to the toilet block which is right near the start of the walks where you sign in. The signs that mention bike parking aren't exactly helpful.

Walked up to the Wineglass Bay lookout and back.

Rode to Swanwick where we used a payphone to call the guy that runs pedestrians and cyclists across to water in a dingy, but turns out he doesn't do that anymore so we have to ride out the long way to Swansea (about 60 km).

We stopped in Swansea only long enough to fill up our water and kept riding on to Buxton Point freecamp, another 20 or so km. 

Sunday 7th April

We camped across the road from the offical free camp spot because it was full of car campers and people suck. Before sunrise we packed up our gear and headed over to the official camp spot to use the facilities and make porridge on the picnic table, while we watched the sun come up.

We ride the 35 km to Triabunna, and you guessed it, have a second breakfast, at the miserable takeaway joint. 

Then we ride down to the water to find out when the ferry to Maria Island is due to leave. 

The sign has two sets of ferry times for April so we're not 100% sure when it leaves. 

We think maybe a 10.30 am ferry so we rush off to the IGA to buy supplies and then find out there is no ferry. 

I ask at the information centre and they say there is one at 3pm and one at 3.30 pm, so we are stuck at the ghost-town Triabunna most of the day. 

Only one thing for it. Third breakfast. We head to the gallery cafe and eat some more.

After that we hang out at the esplanade for hours in the hot sunshine listening to bad radio and reading, while slowly baking. I was reading Ray Bradbury short stories, like The Pedestrian and The Murderer and A Sound of Thunder and Simon was been reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas on my recommendation.

At 3pm we get on the bigger ferry with one other couple. They charge $45 return each person with a bike to get across Mercury Passage to Maria Island, which the locals pronounce 'Mariah' Island. 

The boat seems to take 30 minutes before it even takes off, so we actually caught the 3.30pm ferry by mistake. We finally get over onto the island about 4pm and head off on the gravel and sand track to Frenchs Farm, about 11km from the jetty. We rode first to the Painted Cliffs to take some photos of that and also a couple of wombats we found. Then we kept riding on to Frenchs Farm campsite.

Riding to Frenchs Farm

Painted Cliffs, Maria Island
Wombat (not actually a cardboard cut out but a great job pretending)
Plenty of wildlife

Due to my shoulder injury, I couldn't hold the wheel straight in the sandy tracks with any real power or influence and certainly without a lot of pain, so the sand really a) slowed me down and b) shitted me off. We were racing the sunset also. 

We did eventually make it to camp before darkness, not before coming across a wombat among the bracken who thought if I just keep really still I'm invisible, another wombat who ran parallel to me on the road for about half a kilometre before he realised if he just runs off to the side he doesn't have to run away, and lots of Forester kangaroos, Bennett’s wallabies and pademelons doing things like continuing to eat grass after a brief look around to see whats all the noise about, to the more skittish ones bounding off at speed in a direction we hopped not to be into our wheels. There were also plenty of Cape Barren Geese about. 

Wombat ninja

There was no one else camped at Frenchs Farm. There is a pit toilet and a couple of "heritage" buildings from the way back 1930s when it was a sheep farm. There were wombats munching on grass that didn't mind getting their photo taken. The show from the last light put a fire in the sky above the campsite. 

Camp at Frenchs Farm, sunset fire

We put the tent up, cooked a meal (narrowly saving a green bag of food from a possum going shopping), and got into our sleeping bags with our panniers rolled up and secured, or so we thought. 

Not long after we had got to sleep I woke up to a scratching noise and we got up to find possums with their heads inside one of Simon's Ortliebs - the one with the food bag of course. They had eaten their way through the bottom of the pannier bag and also the bottom of the green bag inside it. 

There were now four large possum-head-sized holes in the pannier. The possums had eaten a bag of lentils and bag of dried apricots. Little bastards. We brought the bags inside the tent and went back to sleep after making idle threats about having possums for breakfast.

Map of Maria Island, source:

Monday 8th April

A fairly laid back day, riding between Frenchs Farm and Encampment Cove, and then back over to Darlington campsite where we paid our dues at the ranger station, wandered about the old buildings and made camp by lunch time, filling our time with eating and reading. We could have doing a bit of walking to the fossil cliffs today but we were fairly keen on having a rest day.

View from Encampment Cove

Tuesday 9th April

One of the old buildings on Maria Island

Caught the 10.30 am ferry back to Triabunna, this time with more passengers. After eating a snack, rode the seven kilometres to Orford for lunch and then on to Richmond, stopping every 20 km or so for a rest. There were plenty of hills to climb and some really fun albeit a little hairy descents to enjoy. 

My rear hub was making some horrible noises by now. It seems to be having trouble keeping grease it in so I will have to look into that, but while on the road the best I could do was put up with it grinding away and making clicking noises whenever I had the opportunity to freewheel. Climbing ascents is more difficult when you can hear horrible grinding noises to accompany each labored pedal stroke, I can tell you.

On the way we spotted an echidna on the side of the road.

We didn't get into Richmond until just before last light, we finally found the caravan park after some grumpy attempts to get out phones to work on answering that question. The caravan park luckily isn't too far out of town. I paid the $20 for tent site and we go to putting up the tent and cooking dinner. After that we had showers and washed our clothes in the laundry sink (much to the disgruntlement of the park owner - apparently we are supposed to pay to use the washing machines for our few items). 

Wednesday 10th April

We packed up early and rode back into the centre of town for breakfast. First we went to the bakery as the cafe wasn't open yet and ate a breakfast. Then we went to the cafe and ordered a large breakfast each (I had eggs royale which is sourdough bread, salmon and poached eggs with sauce). 

Richmond is a town full of 'historic' buildings which gives it an interesting feel.

We then made our way towards Hobart.

If we were better informed we would have ridden across to Granton and ridden all the way into town on the rail-trail bike path that is called the Intercity Cycleway. But we weren't. So we rode in the less bike-friendly way. We rode via some stupid hills and Risdonvale and then over the slightly scary Bowen Bridge. We did manage to find the intercity cycleway eventually, saving only about 5 km of highway riding for us.

Arrived Hobart city around lunch time so went to a shopping centre and ate some lunch.

After checking in at Montgomerys accommodation on Argyle street, we walked around the city for a bit and then went to The Squires Bounty at Salamanca for a few craft brews and some salt and pepper calamari.

Then we headed into North Hobart for dinner at Royal Thai and to watch Cloud Atlas at the 100 year old State Cinema

Thursday 11th April

Had a Veggie Big Breakfast at Dome before riding out to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) on the rail bike path. Spent about half the day walking around Mona before riding back. We stopped at Glenorchy for a cheap indian bain-marie lunch (Glenorchy is basically Frankston), and then continued riding on the excellent bike path back to Hobart city, albeit stopping at the Valhalla ice cream parlor opportunistically located on the bike path.

We had a fancy dinner of seafood at Mures Upper Deck at Franklin Wharf, watching the twilight turn to night overlooking the water. We ate heartily, including some melt in your mouth marinated octopus. I can still taste it.

Friday 12th April

We had breakfast at Machine Laundry Cafe at Salamanca which is basically a Brunswick cafe in Hobart, and has a laundromat in the cafe. The banana bread with butterscotch and cream dips is extremely delicious.

Then we walked around Battery Point and visited the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, followed by a late fish and chip lunch at the docks from one of the floating fish shops.

After some walking around the city, we visited Lark Distillery, sitting on the outdoor furniture on the grass that looks out over the docks and the ice skating rink at Mawson Point, in the late afternoon, playing fetch with the border collie that seems to come with the place.

We visit a yum cha place for dinner. Then we walked into North Hobart to see what night life there was. Not a lot, as it turns out.

Saturday 13th April

Checked out of the hotel, loaded our bikes and made a b-line to Harbour Lights Cafe for breakfast, including a Curried Scallop Pie (yum). Walked around Salamanca Market and then headed off on the rail bike path, heading for the Tasman Bridge. The pedestrian/bike path is fenced on this bridge and is quite narrow. We had to pass a cyclist on the way over and they basically had to lean on the fence to let us through. The speed limit on the bridge is 15 km/h and I don't think anyone ever has stuck to that on the downhill fun bit, although there are obstacles you have to slow down for if you're loaded up.

View of Tasman Bridge from Intercity cycleway

We were heading for Seven Mile Beach where we stayed overnight to make it easier to get to the airport in the morning. Once over the Tasman Bridge, we found the coastal trail that runs until about the Caltex at Howrah and then you have to get on the South Arm Hwy (has a bike path running parallel some of the way) to head to Lauderdale. Then we road North Arm road to head to Seven Mile Beach.
At Seven Mile Beach, we checked into a $70 cabin at the caravan park, for a quick getaway to the airport in the morning.

Sunday 14th April

Woke up early to watch sunrise on Seven Mile Beach. Walked to the Hobart Airport fence so that we could lay dawn while a plane flied over us before landing.


Fly over

We then rode the 10km to the airport via the back roads. We packed our bikes into the $15 bike boxes and payed for our excess baggage, and got on our plane back home.

At Melbourne airport we put our bikes back together and rode home via Gellibrand Hill and Moonee Ponds Creek.

Further reading

* Six bags: 4 panniers (2 rear, 2 front), rack bag with the tent in it, and my handlebag bag.