Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bootcamp Tasmania

  • 14 days
  • 419 kilometers (260 miles) of bicycling
  • From 1000 meters (3280 feet) to sea level back up to 1000 meters and back to sea level again
  • 20 kilometers of sea kayaking in 25-35 knot winds

By the end of our Tassie holiday we were affectionately referring to it as bootcamp…

We spent 23 December to 7 January in Tasmania, Australia’s only island state, known for its mountains, World Heritage forests, ruggedness, and remoteness. We planned to spend the holiday cycling down the east coast but due to bushfires in the region we changed our plans to cycle a big loop around the more mountainous west.

We flew into Launceston in the north and met our friend Chris who had taken the twelve-hour ferry from Melbourne. From there we took a bus to Cradle Mountain so that we could save ourselves from some pretty vicious hills on the first couple days and use them for sea kayaking at the end. Cradle Mountain is the start of the very popular Overland Track, an 80 kilometer bushwalk south to Lake St. Clair. On our first days in Tasmania we experienced rain, snow and hail! It’s hard enough to pack for a cycle tour but with weather as variable as that of Tasmania, it’s particularly difficult. We did a really lovely hike on Christmas Day while getting snowed on…here I am at Dove Lake wondering what the cycling will be like in the coming days!

We put the tandem together at Cradle Mountain and peddled away a couple days later. After Cradle Mountain the weather was lovely and we only had one day with a bit of rain. We made our way to Strahan, a cozy little fishing village on the west coast steeped in convict history, and did a cruise up the Gordon River to see the famous Huon Pines and Sarah Island, one of the early and brutal penal settlements.

From there is was off to Queenstown, an odd little town that has the dubious distinction of being the only place in the world which treasures its lack of trees, caused by the noxious fumes of an earlier copper smelter. The starkly bare hills have for many years been a tourist drawcard, but to the locals' horror, the trees are now growing back! They’ve even gone so far as to deliberately poison any new seedlings. On the road sign entering the town, someone had written Mordor next to Queenstown, very appropriate. The climb out that town was one I’ll never forget. Incredibly steep and incredibly windy. The clerk at the grocery store made a big deal waving her hands back and forth to imitate the switchbacks and stressing how there used to be 99 curves but they took a couple out recently. Great. Still grueling.

We camped for some of the tour but stayed in cabins or hotels on days that were especially difficult so that we could treat ourselves to beds and hot showers. Here is the tarp tent that I made just before leaving for Australia which was used for the first time on this trip.

And here is photo of a great sunset over the mountains surrounding Lake Burbury, our camp for one evening.

We cycled an average of about 70 kilometers per day (43 miles) which was really pleasant as Tasmania is absolutely beautiful. It was, however, difficult in many parts with some really long climbs of up to ten kilometers. The tandem was fun to ride but made going up mountains challenging as we were carrying more weight than we expected. With both of us and all of our gear, we ended up being pretty heavy (approx 70kg/154lbs of bike + stuff). One item that we had been questioning the usefulness of is a drum brake on the bike which is heavy but turned out to be worth its weight in gold as there was always an exhilarating descent after those grueling climbs! Here is a photo of us at the top of Victoria Pass after one of them!

This was a tough day, climbing 900 meters in total!

And Brian and Chris with one of many awesome backdrops!

We spent New Years Eve in a caravan park in a little place called Wayatinah where we were sound asleep by 10pm. No late night partying when you cycle all day!

From there we headed south to Hobart where we spent two days kayaking in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel separating Bruny Island from the rest of Tassie.

It was a really lovely trip and I think we could definitely go back to Tasmania. You can still drink the water out of the streams! The roads were great for cycling with very little traffic even over the holiday season. Not much in the way of shoulders but we felt like we had the roads to ourselves most of the time anyway. And saw lots of other touring cyclists along with the way which is always nice. So while the cycling was tough at times, it was really very rewarding. As the stoker in the back I got to look around a lot and was particularly pleased to see echidnas (also known as spiny anteaters, they’re the only mammal that lays eggs besides the platypus) along the side of the road, hear the birds sing and the water trickle down little roadside falls. Pretty incredible.