On December 3, 1642, a Dutch sailor named Abel Tasman planted the Dutch flag on an island and claimed it. Actually, it was the ship’s carpenter who planted the flag, after swimming to shore, because the sea was too rough to land a boat. Tasman named it Van Diemen’s land, after Antonio van Diemen, then Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, and so it temporarily became part of the the Dutch colonial empire. Never mind that people had been living there for generations, but that’s the way it was done back then. In 1856, the island was renamed Tasmania, honouring the first European explorer to set foot on the island.
Our landing in Tasmania was less dramatic. We took the night ferry from Melbourne, had a lovely dinner buffet, and after a good night’s sleep arrived in Devonport at 7 a.m. the following morning. It was raining, however.
We rode out to the light house to have a look and wait for shops to open. After buying the necessary staples, followed by a good breakfast to wait out the rain, we rode south on the Tasmanian Trail. Not having planned any particular route, it seemed the way to go for now.
The track is muddy from the recent rainfall, and the going is slow. We steadily climb through forest and farm land until we arrive at Sheffield.
The weather being what it is, unstable and cold, we take a room at the Sheffield Hotel upon a recommendation from Paul Lucas, a cyclist we met as we boarded the ferry. Paul and his wife live on the Mornington Peninsula. He’s long retired and, at 74, a fit gentleman and worthy of admiration for tackling the Tasmanian Trail, not the easiest bike ride on the planet. We hope to still be able to tackle such rides in 20 years when we’re his age. Later that evening, we dine with Paul at the town’s Chinese restaurant and retire for a night cap at the hotel bar before turning in for the night.
In the morning, we say our farewells to Paul and promise to meet again in Hobart as our timelines seem to align.
The weather is still cool but the sun shines and we’re eager to explore Tasmania as we ride south over hill and dale looking at the impressive Great Western Tiers rising up from the landscape. It’s beautiful cycling through forests as we climb up and over the Gog Range choosing to veer off the Tasmanian Trail to instead take a small road through Mole Creek and Chudleigh to Deloraine.
We toy with the idea of staying but the camp site is not great and we don’t want to spend another night in a hotel, so, we carry on, eventually landing at Hadspen on the outskirts of Tasmania’s second largest city, Launceston.
We are tired having cycled nearly 100 km and climbing over 1,000 metres in elevation. But showers and a big dinner make us feel better and we retire to the tent early for a rest.
The ride into Launceston is quick through some suburbs, where we buy more groceries, and ride down a long and fast winding road into the centre of the city. It’s a lovely town, but we don’t want to stay in yet another city.
We ride a rail trail part-way out of town and turn onto a secondary road through the Hollybank Forest Reserve to the quaint town of Lilydale. We have some lunch and hang around the town, not sure what to do. The pub offers a warm fire and a brief diversion. There is some accommodation in town and we ponder our options while waiting to see what the weather is going to do. It’s not been very stable and far from warm.
Eventually, we opt for the free camp site on the edge of town at Lilydale Falls. It’s a basic site but there are toilets, water and even free barbeques. We make camp and hike out to the falls. It’s a beautiful trail through the lush forest that’s just bursting into spring. There is new growth everywhere. Stuff is blooming and the fetid smell is a great assault on the olfactory senses.
There is a kookaburra hanging around our camp site. Besides being amazingly noisy, they are great hunters. I watch it for a while and it quietly sits on a branch looking down at its surroundings. It sees something, and with lightning speed dives from its perch into the underbrush and snaps up a small rodent or lizard. I can’t tell.
We have a very chill afternoon after only 45 km of cycling. The weather even makes a turn for the better and I run back to the town’s only grocery store to buy some sausages to add to our dinner, providing much-needed calories and protein, and wine to wash it down.
We decided to head for the north-east corner of Tasmania and are piecing together a route of small roads and trails as best as we can. From Lilydale, we continue on to Scottsdale where we take a break for lunch and to get a few more groceries. We meet a couple of other cyclists there: Henny, from Germany, and Marielle, from Sweden. Both are on solo adventures and we cycle together for a little while on the rail trail from Scottsdale to Tulendeena. No cars and a great track through the forest, two of our favourite things.
Henny and Marielle ride on but we stop in Branxholm where another free camp site is home for the night. There are hot showers, toilet facilities, and a pub across the road where we have dinner. What more could we ask for?
We continuously look for more off the beaten track routes to get to the coast and we find it in the C841, or Tebrakunna Road. It’s a gravel track that winds 40 km through a forest reserve, eventually leading us out to the coast at the Bay of Fires.
It’s a hot day. The gravel crunches under our tires. We see only a couple of cars the entire day. We keep hoping for a view of the coast but it never materializes. We push on over the mountains until the final descent to the coast. We can’t see the ocean but we can smell it. The air is heavy as clouds have been building all day. Just as we near the coast, thunder explodes and with it heavy rain. We scramble to put on rain gear. I seek shelter under a big pine and put on my jacket and pants while holding up the bike because there is nowhere to lean it and I don’t want to put it down. It’s not easy putting on pants while holding a heavy, loaded bike. Try it some time.
Jan is somewhere behind me and I hope she’s found some shelter from the assault from above. The rain eases to a drizzle and she comes riding down the road, and together we continue out to the blue ocean as the rain stops and the squall moves on.
We ride into a camp site that is quite full and for a moment it looks like we’re without a home for the night but then a small track emerges at the end of the road. A sign states “walk-in camping only” and that’s all the invitation we need.
Our bikes just fit through the gate and we emerge into a small clearing with a gorgeous beach and ocean view crowned by a magnificent rainbow. Life is full of beauty and we are thankful for this gorgeous spot we can call home for the night. Only one problem, we’re out of water and none is provided in the camp site.
There are several large rain catchment tanks behind the toilets but a fence prevents access. I consider scaling the fence but decide against it. Instead, I walk to the nearest camper and ask if there is water anywhere in the campground. They confirm there is none but they immediately give me a 10-litre container of water and tell me to use however much we need and to just return the container when we’re done with it. I gratefully accept it and walk back to our idyllic little spot. With enough water to make dinner and breakfast, we’re set for the night.
We continue to experience this kind of openness and generosity. It is so life-affirming and constantly validates my faith in humanity. It is really always these interactions with other people that make our journeys so rewarding.
We’ve ridden six days since arriving in Tasmania and decide to have an easy day. We ride to St. Helen’s and are stopped just north of town by a couple in a large Land Rover. The woman comes over to me and says: “This is going to sound weird but I’m a friend of Maryanne MacKinnon.”
She goes on to tell us that Maryanne messaged her to comment on a photo of a rainbow she posted on social media. We also posted a photo of said rainbow on our Instagram page. Maryanne thought we must be in the same area and told her friend to look out for us. Lo and behold, they pass us on the road, turn around, park and wait for us. It is a small world.
We chat for a few minutes with Rebecca and Will on the side of the road before going our separate ways. We continue to St. Helen’s to have breakfast and ride only a few more kilometres to Diana’s Basin, a lagoon south of St. Helen’s, to yet another free camp site. It’s a hot, sunny day and we need a day to relax.
The weather continues to improve and we’re thankful for it. There are no trails or track for us to follow so we have no choice but to ride the highway along the coast but thankfully there is very little traffic. The coastal scenery is easy on the eyes and there is enough variety in the landscape to keep it interesting.
A sign on the road points left to a hotel-brewery-distillery. It’s lunch time so we head down the hill and find the Iron House Brewery. It’s a resort kind of place with a pool and chalets overlooking the ocean. A gorgeous post and beam building houses the brewery, distillery and restaurant so we go in to see what’s on offer.
We do a beer tasting and order a plate of nachos, a lovely lunch diversion after which we continue on down the coast to Bicheno. We opt for the caravan park. It’s been a few days since our last shower and we also need to do laundry. These campgrounds usually have a kitchen so cooking is easier than using our little one-burner stove. We are clean. Our clothes are clean and we have a nice evening in the camp kitchen with a large extended family who are on a holiday together.
We are nearing one of the places that stood out on the map for us: the Freycinet Peninsula. It just looks like it would be beautiful, and it does not disappoint, despite the 30-kilometre out-and-back ride we have to do. Peninsulas are like that.
It’s a short ride from Bicheno. Only 45 kilometres. The weather is brilliant. Our camp spot is beautiful, right off the beach, and there is a resort down the beach that has a pub and restaurant. Life continues to treat us well. We go for a walk along the beach to have a beer at the resort and afterwards lounge on the beach, making dinner while watching the light change as the sun descends. There are only a few other people here. It’s magical. We decide to stay another day.
The morning is beautiful as I take my coffee down to the beach. Jan is still sleeping. The magic from the evening before is still there. It’s quiet but for the bird song and the gentle lapping of the water on the beach.
After breakfast, we ride up the road to the trail head to hike over the Hazards Mountain Range out to Wineglass Bay. The parking lot is a bit of a shocker with dozens of cars, campers and buses and loads of other people with the same idea as us. But most of them only hike out to the viewing platform and we continue on down the other side to the beach of the Wineglass Bay.
We continue our walk across the isthmus and along the east side of the peninsula back to the parking lot. That evening, we wander over to the resort and have dinner at the pub. The dining room looked inviting but the prices less so. The food at the pub comes from the same kitchen and is fabulous. It’s a lovely evening and we wander back to camp in the failing light. A great day off.
The next morning, we ride back to Coles bay and wait for our ride. The day before, I phoned the water taxi and asked if they would ferry us across the mouth of Moulting Lagoon to Bagot Point on the Dolphin Sands Peninsula. For $60 they said they would. Deal. It saves us having to ride 60 km. $1 per kilometre.
We arrive in Swansea at coffee time instead of after lunch and make it to Triabunna by late afternoon where we camp behind the hotel. It’s only a $2 donation to a local charity and we happily have a couple of beers while the rain pounds down outside. We move to the dining room and have dinner before retiring to our little tent pitched in the grass behind the hotel.
We consider taking a boat out to Maria Island but the weather has crapped out and it’s not very appealing to go there in the rain, so, we carry on south on the Welangta Road through the Sandspit River Forest Reserve.
It’s a hard ride over the mountains. The rain fizzles out but the humidity is high. It’s hot and we sweat buckets climbing over several mountains. Eventually, the road tilts down and we make our way to Dunalley. It’s only been a 60-kilometre ride but nearly 1,100 metres of elevation. We are pooped.
Again, we camp behind a hotel for a $2 donation, and we have a giant dinner in the pub. The pub food in Tasmania has been markedly better than that in Australia. The portions are fit for hungry cyclists who are in desperate needs of belts to hold up their pants at this point.
The weather remains unstable and we do another short day to Eaglehawk Neck where we can stay at a hostel-campsite-dive centre, one of the many different kinds of camping accommodation we keep finding. There is a group of people staying here who are diving off the coast. They do two dives a day and show us some of the photos of the neat creatures they see in what is really a completely different world.
We want to go to Port Arthur but don’t want to stay there. A campsite is far away from the historical site and a hotel is too expensive. So, we opt to ride there, leave the bikes loaded outside the museum and hope they are okay. Turns out they are.
Port Arthur was a penal colony from 1833 to 1877 for Britain’s worst offenders. Even boys as young as nine ended up there, although the boys were kept at a separate location at Point Puer, away from the general prison population. It was a dark chapter in this place’s history.
Port Arthur is also known for a more recent dark chapter. On April 28, 1996, a lone gunman killed 35 people and wounded 23 others at the site. The massacre moved the Australian government to implement strict gun control legislation. The cafe where the first murders took place doesn’t exist any longer. It’s remnants are now a place for quiet reflection and a memorial garden was established there.
The visit left me thinking about the pain and injury we humans inflict on one another. We have met so many good people on the road. It’s hard to comprehend all of the nasty things we have done to each other. From the death and displacement caused by colonization to an event of mass murder like that at Port Arthur, it’s hard to wrap one’s head around it all.
We get back on our bikes and ride the 10 km to White Sands Beach to camp for the night. The next day we complete the loop of the peninsula and camp again behind the Dunalley Hotel where, a couple of hours later, we again meet with Paul Lucas, who has completed the Tasmanian Trail and is now on his way to visit friends nearby. We have dinner together at the pub.
From Dunalley we make our way to Hobart via Lauderdale and an overnight with Helen, a woman Jan met a few decades ago when she travelled here. Helen is a friend of Mary and Harry, old friends of Jan’s from when she lived in Melbourne in 1986. Helen welcomed us into her home and we spent a great evening together.
In the morning, we ride the 20 km into Hobart. We had arranged accommodation there through Warm Showers and were warmly received by Freya and Graeme at their home in the Glebe, at the top of a brutal hill but it seemed fitting to end our cycling in Australia that way.
We spent a few days exploring Hobart, doing some bike maintenance and packing everything in preparation for our flight to New Zealand.
Tassie was a beautiful Coda to our three and a half month journey in Australia. We had one minor problem: we have overstayed our visa by nine days and are not sure what that will look like when we fly out. We’ll see.
One last selfie: