7 – 29 March 2015
This section covers Hobart to Devenport via the Tasmanian central highlands with a 200k detour to Gordon Dam. Ferry fares back to Melbourne went up day by day so I bought a ticket before I left Hobart – 29 March was the first reasonably priced ticket and left me ample time to get to Devenport, which was fine as I never know what happens along the way. It took 10 days including several rest and hiking days to get the 550k to Queenstown including a less interesting 200k detour to remote Gordon Dam. I stayed 3½ days in Queenstown waiting out the all-day rain and then headed up to Cradle Mountain to do another great dayhike before riding the last stretch to Devenport. All in all 800k making the Tasmanian total 2,050 and preliminary Australian total 4,050k.
Instead of commenting everything in timely order I have written some relevant topics however the pictures shown are mostly in line with the trip timeline.
Description of itinerary
After stocking up for weeks (more than 20 kilos of food) I left Hobart and headed north along the river and through the countryside to Mount Field. As hiking in the park didn’t work out I instead decided to do a 200k detour to remote Gordon Dam – constant rolling hills through the forest with few views; not that it made a big difference as it was mostly overcast with many showers. The dam wasn’t too impressive either so hindsight it was a waste of time and energy, but then again I had lots of time and needed to get back in shape after 3 weeks with little biking. Back on the highway I headed north up the mountains to Lake St Clair (Australia’s deepest lake) where I stayed a few days and did a great dayhike to Mt Rufus. I continued down the mountains to Queenstown where I ended up staying 3½ days waiting for the all day rain to finally stop – I spent my time in the library getting a lot of practicalities out of the way and had the most unpleasant camping experiences in Australia (c.f. below). All tourists do a loop to Strahan and Zeehan but the locals told me they were uninteresting tourists traps so I skipped it and continued north to Cradle Mountain where I spent 4½ days – 1½ days doing great hikes while the others where rest days waiting out the bad weather. Where the eastern part of Tasmania was the “bread basket” riding this part was the mountainous wilderness with few and far between towns. Unfortunately, the weather in this region lived up to its reputation of being mostly overcast/rainy but that just made me appreciate the few beautiful days so much more.
Road quality and drivers
My previous reflections of Tasmanian road quality and drivers didn’t change. The worst part was riding the 2*100k out to Gordon Dam and back where especially the many motorbikes behaved as if it was a racetrack – fairly dangerous for everybody with a bicyclist like me going slowly up the winding, narrow roads and motorbikes coming from behind with 100-120 k/h. I think most of them did the ride for the fun of the ride as the remoteness eliminated the risk of getting caught speeding.
As mentioned overcast/rainy is the norm in this region of Tasmania – and in general worse the higher the altitude (most places around 3 meters yearly downpour). The majority of days were like that though most showers were short and not too heavy – the exception being Queenstown were it rained all day the 3½ days I was there waiting it out. I’ve been lucky to have a few days with really nice weather both riding and doing day hikes to Mt Rufus and Cradle Mountain (though I did have to wait for it both places). At lower altitude, the temperature was 15-20C (59-68F) during the day and 5-10C (41-50F) at night while in the mountains it was 7-15C (45-59F) and 0-5C (32-40F), respectively. So for the first time in Australia I was in my sleeping bag instead of just using it as a duvet.
Riding north and west I’ve had strong headwinds except for the Gordon Dam detour that entailed surprisingly little wind – though partly because I was protected on the narrow forest road most of the way.
Before arriving in Tasmania I had hoped to do a couple of longer hikes (4-5 days) but unfortunately it never worked out. I thought it might be possible to leave most of my stuff somewhere e.g. at Fiona/Shane’s, Duncan/Cathy’s or some third place and then head out; however it turned out to be too complicated. Firstly, the long hikes are difficult to reach and requires own transport as there is no public transport - or alternatively a lot of time and patience trying to hitchhike. Secondly, I needed a big backpack and some good hiking boots – I had hoped to borrow some but the people I stayed with were not into hiking and renting was ridiculously expensive. Thirdly, the mostly bad weather made it less interesting – I don’t mind hiking in the rain but when it is 4 out of 5 days I prefer instead to day hikes on the good days. And so I settled for a couple of great day hikes and a number of shorter walks to water falls, etc.
A lot of people had recommended the 80k 4-5 days Overland Track but the more I learned about it the less appealing it seemed – besides the bad weather it was expensive (AUS 230), 70% boardwalk and complicated logistic as it was a one-way hike returning by the road around mountain. Instead I did 2 great day hikes, one in each end of the trail/mountain range.
While camping at the river nearby Mount Field I saw a platypus – an interesting creature looking like a mix of a beaver and a duck and way to fast to photograph. At Cradle Mountain I experienced a number of wombats – very cute and unlike the platypus easy to get pictures. I think I saw a roadkill Tasmanian Devil but I went by with 60 k/h so I’m not entirely sure. There were a number of chances to see them in sanctuaries but that and zoos I consider animal prisons, which is not for me. Besides that nothing material to add to the previous Tasmanian section.
Camping and people
On this part of the trip, I’ve been mostly in the wilderness so I seldom needed help finding camping spots as I could just pull off the road – the challenge was finding suitable spots especially around Queenstown where it rained all the time. Everything was flooded and the places I found I had trouble getting the pegs in the ground because they were old roads. On top of that, I constantly had to remove leaches and one evening I got two bee stings camping in some blackberry bushes. The little I was in the countryside I had the usual problem with everything being fenced and few houses but I was lucky to find somebody who invited me to camp on their land.
Surprisingly I met no other long-distance bicyclists on this stretch – I’m guessing the few there are avoid this mountainous area and stay on the flatter east coast.
Food, health and equipment
No change regarding food. The biggest challenge was the heavy load - I stocked up for weeks in Hobart and Queenstown as there were few supermarkets along the way (and they had poor selections and were very expensive). In this region water has been no problem – because of all the rain there was ample city water and when camping in the wilderness I’ve just taken it from creeks. It wasn’t always clean/clear but it has been no problem drinking it.
I was really happy to have replaced the old gears before riding the central highlands and mountains – it would have been impossible to ride the frequent steep hills in 2. gear because the 1. gear didn’t work. The first days after fixing it everything seemed perfect but then they began skidding worse than before and it took a two days of ongoing adjustments to get it fairly right – fortunately this was the flattish part around Hobart. For some reason I’m always challenged adjusting the gears right – and I haven’t found anybody who could teach me the way to fix it properly. It will be nice and highly appreciated the day it happens.
After 4-5 days navigating constant big rolling hills on the heavily loaded bike my left bad knee began troubling me a bit (see the overall section on health). It rarely happens anymore because of my riding experience and I knew to take a rest day to recuperate which worked. I felt it was about to return on my way to Cradle Mountain but despite being a long climb it was only 1½ days and because of the following days’ rain and therefore rest, the problem was gone before I did a big day hike.
It’s boring to keep mentioning it but I’m seriously concerned my tent zippers won’t make it all the way to Adelaide where my new tent awaits – I’ve used up all alternatives (up/down for each zipper, both entrances, etc.) and often I have to zip 5-10 times before they “catch”. It would be an understatement saying it would be a problem, not being able to close the zippers properly with the mosquitoes, spiders, snakes and other creep.