Tasmania! I’d heard so many people talk about it that I knew no trip to Australia could be complete without seeing it. I knew it would be a highlight of the trip… though as I queued up in the drizzle at Melbourne port, soaked after a relentlessly wet ride from Lorne, I didn’t really care what the riding would be like – as long as it was dry.
It’s a fair way from Melbourne to Devonport, Tasmania’s answer to Dover: just over 300 miles. That’s an overnight crossing on the Spirit of Tasmania – I’ve booked a cabin all to myself, which is just as well as I need to spread stuff out to dry. The boat’s smaller than the Pont Aven I’ve taken to Santander so many times, but just as comfortable. I settle in and get some sleep, gently rolled off by the motion of the waves.
Next morning I’m woken early by the ship’s PA and, before 7am, I’m shivering to a stop by the first café I come to off the boat. Everyone had told me it’d be colder in Tassie than on the mainland, but I hadn’t realised it would be this much chillier… A coffee and a fry-up – plus putting on my invaluable EDZ Inner Shell – sets me up for the ride ahead.
I’m going clockwise round Tasmania, with a day for each quarter of the island. I’m quite confident of my route, but the number of signs shouting “80kph on gravel roads” makes me a bit nervous: I know there are lots of (apparently high-quality) unpaved roads over here, but I’m determined to stick to the tarmac.
Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy a ride when you’re shivering. I do my best, but frankly I’m freezing for most of the morning. The riding is good, though: a little dull to Launceston, but then the roads roll more and start to rock. What astonishes me is how quiet they are. There’s next to nobody out here. As the sun climbs, I begin to enjoy myself a bit more and, by 11am, I’m loving it.
I’m taking a gentle arc round the north-east corner of the island, detouring up to the Bay of Fires, which is every bit as scenic as you’d hope with a name like that, though perhaps less dramatic (apparently the name comes from the number of Aboriginal fires spotted here by early sailors). I’ve structured the route to include the Elephant Pass, which several people have recommended – and though it’s good, I actually prefer the wider, more swooping St Mary’s Pass I take to reach it.
I break my journey at Bicheno, enjoying a gentle stroll by the sea to the blowhole, watching cockatoos and gulls square up to each other on the grass like the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story. Next morning I’m on my way early, heading for the Tasman peninsula and Port Arthur. I want to get there with plenty of time to explore the ($40 to get in) original penal colony. It’s still cold and I have to play waterproofs-on, waterproofs-off on the way to Sorrel, where I have an early lunch, chatting with Harley-Davidson Street 500 rider Solomon.
What takes me by surprise is just how good the riding is as I head down the peninsula to Port Arthur. It’s very scenic – cutting across farmland, through atmospheric forests of gums and bursting out to offer gorgeous sea views (Pirate Bay is especially spectacular). I detour to visit the Tasman Arch and the Devil’s Kitchen, then head over Eaglehawk Neck to the old prison settlement.
I love places like this. There’s so much to see and do (though I decide, despite the name, that I don’t have time for the ferry trip to the Isle of the Dead). Most of the buildings are ruined to some extent, but all are now preserved in a state that makes them well worth walking around. There is a lot of walking to do, too – it’s a huge site. I soak up three hours mooching around, helmet left in a locker in the visitor centre, which feels like an hour or two too little. Then head back to the bike and continue to Hobart – back up the peninsula and round, running into traffic for the first time on the approach to Tasmania’s capital.
Next morning I head off, looping back to take the road recommended by Solomon – Grasstree Hill. It’s fantastic: steep, twisty, a perfect hillclimb route… but I get the first specks of rain as I go up it. All day I’m dogged by showers as I head north. The riding gets better and better, even though – as the temperature is in single figures – I’m sticking to the main A10 once I get to Hamilton. I say “main” but there’s less traffic on this road than any stretch of England’s A10.
The riding is in a different league to the English A10, too. Twisting, turning, swooping – long straights and tight corners, it’s a road with everything apart from petrol stations. The one in the middle, at Derwent Bridge, has run out of 95RON when I get there and I reckon I have just enough to do the 86km (53 miles) to Queenstown so just carry on into the teeth of a persistent icy drizzle. The final descent to Queenstown is spectacular – corners spilling down the hill like champagne over a tower of glasses. If only the road wasn’t so cold, damp and polished…
My plan had been to spend a lazy morning in next day in Queenstown, taking the steam train out into the wilderness areas before heading on. When I get up, the sky is grey and a chill rain is lashing the town, so I press on. I’ll detour up to Cradle Mountain instead, I think… but as I reach the turn I’m wiping sleet from my visor, so adding elevation doesn’t sound like a good plan: I don’t want to ride into actual snow. Plan C is just sticking on the A10 through the Hellyer Gorge – which should be fantastic, but as the rain whips the road and bounces up, I find myself thinking “Hell No” as I tentatively tip into the tighter corners.
I reach the shore at Somerset and the sun comes out. It’s beautiful again. I stop and make a call, arranging to stop at the local Kawasaki dealer in Spreyton: the chain needs tightening but it felt like I was going to round out one of the pinch-bolts trying to force it with the underseat toolkit. For $15 they clean it up, get a proper Allan driver on it, do the best they can and point out that the chain’s had it. I know… but all it has to do now is get me five miles to the ferry and then back to Sydney.
I get to the ferry early and park beside a trio of bikes in the compact shelter. I get chatting with the other riders and go for a coffee with them. While we’re in the café, the rain catches up – hideous sideways slanting rain and huge gusts of wind. When we get back to the bikes we find it was strong enough to grab Mike’s BMW F800GS Adventure and push it off its too-upright sidestand… into my bike, denting the tank. I could weep: 18,000 miles, one deer and the bike’s still ready to scrub up as new – and now, within 24 hours of the end of the trip, it’s got a massive dent in the tank. And that’s how the adventure ends: not with a bang, but a whimper.
Next day I hammer it up the Hume freeway from Melbourne to Sydney. The following afternoon I drop the bike with the freight agents in Hornsby and take the train to the airport to get my Carnet stamped. And this evening I’ll be on a plane back to London. Ready to start a new and very different adventure, back in the real world…