TASSIE’S EAST COAST – the full cycling story

RT at Devil's Corner

The view from Devil’s Corner. That’s Freycinet National Park in the background. I’ve ridden from there. Well, I say ‘ridden’ but I wheeled the bike up the steepest bit.

That long, sweeping descent comes only after you’ve slogged up to the top of the hill. Push into that gale for a day and it may eventually become a helpful tailwind. For every idiot driver who almost squeezes you off the road, there are many courteous ones who overtake slowly, giving you wobble room and a ‘good-on-yer-mate’ wave.

Cycling the wild east coast of Tasmania certainly brings its share of both challenges and joys.

I confess to being a little apprehensive when Oscar from Tasmanian Expeditions drops me off in Scottsdale, an hour’s drive east of Launceston. ‘The traffic should thin out once you pass Derby,’ he assures me. The bike he’s brought for me looks sturdy, with knobbly tyres that should grip any road. But riding any unfamiliar bike will be a bit unsteady at first, the wind is gusty and there are too many trucks speeding down the narrow highway for my liking.

Scottsdale

Gentleman, start your engine. The road at Scottsdale is downhill…for the first few hundred metres anyway.

This is a self-guided trip, so I tell myself I can take my time. It’s only (gulp!) 60km to Weldborough and I have most of the day to do it. I wait till Oscar has driven away before easing myself into the saddle.

I’m slow, with bulging panniers and slightly bulging backside. I wonder vaguely whether a logging truck will clean me up from behind. When the first few miss me by several metres, I realise the road is wide enough for both them and me. In most places.

A couple of hours pedaling over rolling hills bring me into ‘Trail of the Tin Dragon’ territory, where I can take a break. Branxholm and Derby are unprepossessing little villages, making the most of their history. A small museum in Derby tells me an interesting tale of the 19th century Tin Rush, with many Chinese miners spilling over from the goldfields of Victoria, briefly turning the area into a minor El Dorado.

From Derby the road winds up into forest of eucalyptus and myrtle. There are indeed fewer vehicles on the road here, so I can concentrate on legs and lungs. It’s a stiff, steady climb to the top of Billycock Hill. Tassie’s own Tour de France rider Richie Porte would find it a mere bump; for me, it’s an achievement to reach its mighty 394m summit.

Weldborough Forest

The road narrows, but the traffic mercifully thins out once I’m past the former tin-mining town of Derby. There’s a stiff climb into the forest at Weldborough. A lovely route, however.

Historic Weldborough Hotel is my first night stop. It boasts that it serves beer from every one of Tasmania’s microbreweries. While I start working my way through the stockpile, friendly host Mark prepares excellent Tasmanian salmon for my dinner. My legs are telling me I’ve earned it.

Next morning I’m off at the crack of dawn. Though my destination, St Helens, is only a few hours’ ride away, I want to have time for a 23km detour to St Columba’s Falls. It’s a good decision. I can take or leave most waterfalls (I feel the same about firework displays and cathedrals) but the road up through the Pyengana Valley is one of the best of the trip, the creek and forest surrounding the falls are magical, and the return journey is downhill – with a tailwind.

St Columba Falls

St Columba’s Falls, near Pyengana…well, 12kms from Pyengana, and uphill (of course!)

From St Helens the highway flattens out as it follows the coast southwards. Unfortunately what’s flat and straight for me is also flat and straight for motor traffic. Trucks sometimes flash past at disconcerting speed, leaving me buffeted by the vortex. I’m relieved to arrive in Bicheno, the most attractive town I’ve visited so far, and my self-contained cabin in Bicheno by the Bay Holiday Park is positively luxurious.

 

Red rocks of Bicheno

The red rocks of Bicheno.

With winds reaching gale force overnight, I consider bailing. I could sit out the storm for a day or I could put the bike in the trailer behind a local bus.

Luckily, by morning the wind has abated and I feel fine to ride on. Coles Bay Road branches off from the Tasman Highway; it’s less busy, with a wider shoulder for cycling. I have little trouble on the 26km stretch, and arrive with time and energy for a few hours’ walking.

Freycinet National Park is as beautiful as any in the country. Wineglass Bay is one of Australia’s most photographed beaches, for good reason. Its perfect shape, white sand and dark blue water are brilliant when viewed from the top of the Hazards Range.

A local dog-walker engages me in conversation. ‘Off to Swansea next eh? Ooh, I ride a bike myself, but I wouldn’t trust myself on Devil’s Corner…worst bit of the coast road, that is…’ So with white knuckles I steel myself for the next stage.

It is indeed a tough climb, with many a blind corner. I see no shame in dropping down to the second lowest gear, then the lowest, then…okay, getting off and wheeling the bike up the steep bit.

From Swansea it’s a doddle to roll on to Triabunna, gateway to the famed nature reserve and former penal colony of Maria Island. I deserve a couple of quiet nights, camping, hiking and occasionally pedaling – with not a logging truck to be seen.

Out of Triabunna

The view across the bay to Schouten Island, named by Abel Tasman after one of his Dutch East India Company sponsors.

Meanwhile, here’s a suggestion, dear Tasmanian roads authority people…

You have something very good here that could be truly wonderful. Some work on the cycling infrastructure could make the East Coast route one of the great rides, to rival New Zealand’s famous Otago Rail Trail and Europe’s classic routes. It could bring cycle tourists from around the world, just as the Overland Track attracts the world’s hikers to Cradle Mountain.

What is needed, though, is some improvement to the safety of the road. Widening the shoulder of the Tasman Highway by even a metre on some stretches would make a huge difference. Widen the shoulder by two metres, clear it of debris now and then and you’re entitled to call it a bike lane. Better still, how about developing the old convict road I’ve heard runs along the coast into a dedicated cycling/walking route?

Already the East Coast route is a great ride for fit, confident cyclists. I’ve survived it and I’ve earned some fun. I have 360km of bragging rights, impressive scenery photos to show family and friends, and I’m entitled to a couple more of those microbrewery beers, possibly in macroglasses.

Trip notes:

Getting there: Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin run regular flights into Launceston and out of Hobart from Sydney and Melbourne.

Cycling there:
Tasmanian Expeditions’ 8-day East Coast Self-Guided Cycle costs $1250. Includes bike hire with helmet and panniers, baggage transfer from Launceston to Hobart, all accommodation, boat trip to camp on Maria Island and bus from Triabunna to Hobart. Shorter and more extended versions of the trip are also offered. See tasmanianexpeditions.com.au or call 1300 666 856.

Richard Tulloch was the guest of Tourism Tasmania and Tasmanian Expeditions.

Other East Coast Adventures

If the fun on the bike still leaves you wanting more, there are many other outdoor adventures on offer in the area (none of them tested by this blogger – yet.)

1. Mountain bike trails: The hills around Derby have numerous off-road MTB trails of all degrees of difficulty. See ridebluederby.com.au

2. Game fishing: Most coastal towns offer fishing charters, but St Helens claims to be the state’s game fishing capital. Several tour companies operate from here. See rockycarosifishing.com or breamfishing.com.au

3. Penguin parade: A group of fairy penguins comes ashore to burrows in Bicheno each evening. See bichenopenguintours.com.au

4. Spot Tasmanian Devils: Since the facial tumour disease outbreak, devil numbers have dropped alarmingly. To learn more about them and watch them in action see devilsinthedark.com.au

5. Kayaking: Coles Bay is the starting point for sea kayak tours around the Freycinet Peninsula. See freycinetadventures.com.au

First published, Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age, January 2016.

8 Comments

Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Travel-Australia

8 responses to “TASSIE’S EAST COAST – the full cycling story

  1. Until the Tassies take up your suggestion on widening the road, I don’t think you would ever get me to cycle on the island. Too many trucks and drivers who look at cyclists as belonging to a different species. Kayaking on the other hand, no worry about trucks or anything but serious storms. We loved our overnight kayak trip out to Schouten Island.

    • To be fair to the truck drivers, John, I never felt anyone was being deliberately intimidating; it’s just that the road is sometimes narrow and a cyclist has be trusting. Unfortunately the wind made the sea too choppy for kayaking this time, but I’m sure it would be an excellent place for that.

  2. Love the picture of the view over Schouten Island, Richard. And of course those drivers are pushing you off the road. They’re driving on the wrong side!

  3. Loved reading about your exertions on that lovely island but until there’s a good, wide lane for the bicycles – most won’t bother. You’re right, of course, that it would be a brilliant move for tourism. Meanwhile, most bikers will find another lovely spot a little safer.

    • Thanks, s.t.o.w., though of course there are hard core riders who find cycleways too tame and enjoy the challenge of the open road. I guess I fall somewhere in between the wimps and the cowboys. There’s the option on this one to take a bike on the back of the car or camper van and just ride the lovely safe sections – around Freycinet Peninsula or on Maria Island, for instance.

  4. Jenny Thompson

    Dear Richard – saw it published in the SMH on Saturday. You are a hardy soul. I love Tassie and its inhabitants but the culture is a bit too much “dig it up, cut it down or dam it” for my liking. Hence I think the great cycleway idea might have some years to run before some enlightened soul sees the light. Happy New Year to you all. J x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s