Tasmania is a gem … Clare was right! It’s a simply stunning island to cycle around.
As David, our B&B host in Launceston said … “your first few days in the North East will take you through some of the most spectacular scenery on the island. No … some of the most spectacular scenery in Australia. After that it just gets better and better!”
He was not wrong.
The ever changing cinematic view from our handlebars has been both varied and delightful.
We rolled off the ferry in Devonport at 6am on a misty Friday morning and were relieved to find a bakery serving coffee and huge Aussie croissants. Three hours later and slightly over-caffeinated we decided we couldn’t put off climbing onto our bikes any longer.
Within a few minutes we were out into big open farmland and wide horizons, the road gently undulating as we headed towards the hills in the distance.
As most of the heavy traffic takes the highway through the centre of the island, there were very few trucks (hooray!). Some even slowed down a little to pass us.
These roads are for locals and for tourists, which means lots of caravans and motorhomes. It’s ideal motorcycling country and there are large groups of bikers touring the island, all zooming past with a throaty roar and a cheery wave.
The road then took us down the Tamar valley to Launceston through the heart of Tasmanian wine country, famous for its Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
At Scottsdale we picked up the old North East Railway, now a cycling trail that winds its way gently up to Billycock Hill, 342m above sea level. Sweeping bends never exceed 2.8%, the maximum gradient for a steam train, as the trail climbs through a beautiful eucalyptus forest.
Later that same day we climbed again to Weldborough. This time more steeply through rich, verdant rain forest thick with tree ferns and knarled, ancient trees.
After a wet but fun evening with a group of bikers in the Weldborough Tavern, we descended through cattle country until we reached the coast at St Helens. From there it was mile after mile of beautiful coast road, climbing across granite headlands, then cruising down to deserted white sand beaches, each lapped by a gin-clear sea.
Small fishing communities break up this part of the coast offering, a good choice of places to stay. But it’s a coast that will forever stay sea-salted and under-developed as it’s protected by a crystal clear, but very cold, sea.
After a week and 400km of pedalling, we reached the jewel in the crown … the unspoilt peninsula of Freycinet National Park at Coles Bay. Here, we were lucky enough to find a camping spot at Richardson’s beach (so popular in the school holidays that they’re allocated by a ballot), where we threw off our sweaty cycling gear, ran down some private steps to a picture perfect oval beach and plunged into the water.
Then gasped … and quickly ran back out again!
The cycling has been quite challenging. Anyone who says the East Coast of Tasmania is flat is not telling the whole story!
The land folds itself down to the sea, creating all those pretty bays and headlands but this means that the roads either roll up or roll down. Each small hill enhances the view. But it also means a four hour ride feels a bit like four hours of interval training.
Not all our camping sites have been as pleasant as Richardson’s beach. At Weldborough it rained hard all night. Then in Swansea we came into much closer contact with nature than we’d bargained for.
We camped in a field under a lonely tree and returned from our harbour-side fish supper to find a brushtail possum hanging upside and feasting on it’s lower branches, just inches from our tent. It stayed there munching for several hours … and was not a quiet eater.
During the night we noticed a spattering noise, like the sound of gentle rain. This was confusing as it was a dry clear night … but, in the morning our tent was covered in water droplets. We thought it must be dew and left the tent to dry out in the sun.
Just as we noticed that the droplets were hardening into a kind of resin, the wasps arrived. Ten … twenty … forty … all greedily feasting on these lumps of nectar that now covered the entire tent.
Was it sap from the tree?
No … it turns out the tree was infested by aphids and this was honeydew … the sugary, sticky liquid that aphids excrete as they chew the leaves.
To wasps it is the milk of paradise and they were having a party!
We’re not sure whether Samuel Coleridge was referring to wasps or not in his famous poem, Kubla Khan, but it feels like he might have been …
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
Their flashing eyes, their floating hair!
Weave a circle round them thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For they on honeydew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge (slightly modified)
We didn’t stop to weave any circles. We just stuffed the tent in its bag and pedalled out of there as fast as we could.
When we got the tent out the next day, to soak away the honeydew in warm water, half a dozen wasps fell out. All alive, they were now miles from home but they had such a satisfied expression on their faces … we knew that they didn’t care.
Clare and Andy