Cycling East Coast Tasmania
It was the beginning of November of 2104, late spring in Australia where I was traveling at the time. I had heard a lot of good things about Tasmania, a beautiful island in the south of Australia not be missed. My friend Scott, now living in Brisbane, grew up in Tassie and was able to give me some guidance on when to go and what to see. With that in mind, I was able to book an eleven day cycling tour of the East Coast with Green Island Tours, starting in Launceston and ending in Hobart.
I had been staying in Adelaide enjoying the nearby wine regions when I booked the Tassie trip. We were to meet up in Launceston, so I flew down a day early to explore the city. The largest city in Tasmania, its population is only 106,000. “Quaint” is the word I’d use to describe it. Walking distance from the city, I found the Cataract Gorge Reserve where I spent a few hours exploring. Highlights included a suspension bridge, a funicular railway and the historic Duck Reach Power Station, a disused hydroelectric power plant that powered the city as early as the late nineteenth century.
I was a bit worried since I hadn’t been on a bike in several months and I didn’t want to be “that guy” that everyone has to wait for at the rest stops. I’ve been on a lot of cycling trips and size matters. With large groups, you have to worry less about keeping up with everyone since there’s almost always someone slower than you are. With small groups there’s more pressure to keep up but you also form a closer bond with your fellow cyclists. As it turned out, there were only four of us, plus our guide but we all seemed about the same level so it wasn’t a problem. We stayed pretty close together for most of the trip.
For the most part, the pace was relaxed and the terrain flat to rolling, with a few notable exceptions. The roads had very little traffic on them and even with no shoulder, it wasn’t really a problem. But near logging towns, you had to watch for the logging trucks: monstrous, dangerously-overloaded behemoths that speed down the highway and barely move out of your way.
Legerwood Carved Memorial Trees
The trip began with a winding road through dense forest. A few steep climbs were rewarded with exhilarating descents. We then made our way along the Tasman highway, where forests gave way to farmland with a brief stop at Legerwood to view the Legerwood Carved Memorial Trees: twenty five statues depict soldiers who died during World War I and were sculpted (carved out of the trees) in 1918. On the bikes again, we passed more farmland, including hop farms, for which Tasmania is famous.
Leaving the farmlands, we entered the rainforest with a quick stop to hike through the Myrtle Forest Walk. A refreshing jaunt through lush forest with streams and waterfalls. We also stopped to view the St. Columba Falls, the second highest waterfall in Tasmania.
The rest of the day was a long descent toward the coast and the town of St Helens, famed for fishing and oysters. Popular with tourists, it’s one of the fastest growing areas of Tasmania. The next day, day 5 of the trip, we spent a rest day here. It’s a beautiful, quiet town with lots to do, including the nearby Binalong Bay and the Bay of Fires. My only goal was to fuel up for the next day with a big pasta meal, a goal which I’m happy to report I achieved at Trimboli’s.
After leaving St Helens, we made our way inland, enjoying stunning coastal views and finally arriving at the East Coast Natureworld animal park. The biggest attractions were the kangaroos which run wild throughout the park and the Tasmania Devils, which are safely behind a barrier.
As a kid, my only familiarity with the Tasmanian Devil (and Tasmania, really) was from the Looney Tunes cartoon. I was saddened to learn that the Tasmanian Devil is now an endangered species. In 1996, Tasmanian devils were photographed in north-east Tasmania with what were apparently large tumors on their faces. This turned out to be Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), a fatal condition that is restricted to devils, characterized by cancers around the mouth and head. This has lead to a 90 per cent decline in devil sightings in north-east Tasmania, and a drop of 41 per cent across the State.
It was fascinating to see them in person. Devils have jaws of biting power as strong as a dog about 4 times their weight. They are vicious when they eat, hissing and growling at each other and can devour up to 40% of their body weight in half an hour. Since they need to consume about 15% of their body weight per day to live, even a huge meal will only keep them fed for 2 or 3 days. They eat any meat that is available, includes birds, fish, moths and tadpoles, frogs and reptiles, and other mammals.
They also eat carrion. The most visible symptom of the decline in population is the presence of road kill. Devils typically drag dead animals off the highway in the middle of the night and into the bush to eat it, which keeps the carcasses out of sight. But with the declining population, we saw a lot of road kill. We joked that until we visited the animal park, the only animals we saw were dead by the side of the road.
Another highlight of our tour was an afternoon spent in historic Richmond, a beautiful town with a few shops and pubs as well as Richmond’s most famous landmark, the Richmond Bridge. The oldest bridge still in use in Australia, it was built by convicts from the nearby Port Arthur Penal Colony from 1823 to 1825. After visiting the bridge, we stopped in for a pint at Ashmore on Bridge Street. In the pub, I joked with one of my fellow cyclists, an Aussie, about the bridge. “Of course it was built by convicts. Your whole country was built by convicts.” To which he replied, “Yeah, well your country was built by slaves.” Touché, my friend.
Back on the bikes for a bit we passed through the small town of Weldborough and then came to what the guide referred to as “the best downhill run that we know of anywhere.” Unfortunately, the wind was so intense we couldn’t fully enjoy it. Still exhilarating though. Then it was on to Coles Bay and a nice hike up to Wineglass Bay Lookout. (Although it’s hard to tell from the picture, the bay is the shape of a wine glass.) Continuing on past rolling hills we passed several beautiful vineyards. It was tempting to stop for a nice glass of local Pinot Noir but we kept on until we made it to the township of Eaglehawk Neck where we stayed for the night.
Tasman National Park
Day nine of the tour was a rest day in Eaglehawk Neck, a popular vacation spot. From here we explored Port Arthur then booked a boat cruise out of Tasman National Park past Remarkable Cave, Tasman Arch, Devil’s Kitchen and the Blowhole. Seals were easy to spot, lounging on the rocks and playing in the water and a pod of dolphins was also visible.
Port Arthur Penal Settlement
Port Arthur is officially Tasmania’s top tourist attraction. A World Heritage site consisting of eleven remnant penal sites originally built within the British Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries along the coastline. From 1833 through 1853, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia.
Port Arthur was also the scene of Australia’s worst mass murder: The Port Arthur Massacre. In April 1996, Martin Bryant, a 28-year-old from New Town, a suburb of Hobart, killed 35 people and wounded 23. He received 35 life sentences with no possibility of parole. The incident remains one of the deadliest shootings worldwide committed by a single person. It led to the National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996, which restricts the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles and similar weapons and introduced uniform firearms licensing.
On a plane recently, I overheard an Aussie talking about the latest mass shooting in America (I can’t remember which one, there are so many). “Man, they just live with that shit. Can you believe it?” Yup. It’s true. In America, we “just live with” more guns and gun deaths than any other developed country in the world.
We made it! After nine days of cycling, we finally made it to Hobart. The capital and most populous city of Tasmania. Also a former penal colony, today with over 1 million visitors a year, it’s better known for culture (notably The Museum of Old and New Art), outdoor sports and tourism. The skyline is dominated by the nearby 4,170 foot (271 metre) Mount Wellington, a popular destination for hikers.
Accessible only by boat from Hobart, The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is the largest privately funded museum in Australia. Founded in 2001 by Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh, he describes the museum as a “subversive adult Disneyland.” It contains over 400 works from his private collection.
After a relaxing day in Hobart, we went our separate ways. One couple back to the main island of Australia, another back to the UK. As for me, I’m off to Brisbane then on to Cairns and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.