Ben, on his first over-seas bicycle trip, started off in Ballarat north of Melbourne and after 3 weeks on the road by himself was happy to find some company. Our style’s differ slightly. He likes bitumen I like dirt-roads. This is probably because you can’t go fast on a dirt-road… He had not yet camped ‘out bush’ and really like’s his hot showers… He doesn’t mind rain, I don’t mind wind. My French isn’t good and neither is his English. That kept the conversation short. It usually goes a bit like this;
Me; “It’s a beautiful day!”
He; “Yes, it’s a beautiful windy day…”
He; “It’s a beautiful day!
On the 2nd night I discovered he is a terrific chef. This was a great discovery since after all these years on the road I still haven’t ventured past tuna & pasta. But with a minimum of kitchen essentials he managed to produce a magical 3-course meal… Not a clue how he did it.
One of the first missions was to find me a rain jacket. Unill now I’ve stubbornly refused to have one since; “This is Australia, it’s a hot and dry country, surely it doesn’t rain...” But just this year the 10-year drought decided to break and even though we only had 1 (very) wet day within the first 5 I figured it might come in useful further down the track.
You imagine my surprise when in the first 5 towns we passed non of the op-shops had any at all… We did however find some pretty plastic flowers I stuck to my helmet, a pair of shrek-ears Ben stuck to his, plastic wine-glasses and two pairs of matching pyjama’s that turned out to come in useful later on by keeping us warm and rather visible on the road….
At the end of a very wet day we arrived at a camping-area. There is a big difference between ‘caravan-parks’ ‘campgrounds’ and ‘camp-area’s’. Here there were some long drop-toilets but no other facilities nor fresh water. After riding around the boggy grounds we decided on a spot that seemed a little higher and build a magnificent camp, including dry-ish cooking area and water-collection point. Then we jumped in the sea while other campers looked on from inside their dry camper-vans with hot drinks and heaters… We were asked a few times the next morning if we were ‘those crazy bastards going for a swim…’
After a few leisurely days, getting used to the roads, the weather, the hills and each other we hit the remote north/west corner. Here the distances are slightly longer, the hills slightly steeper and the weather slightly worse. But in exchange you get the most amazing views over rugged hills, a lot less traffic then on any bitumen road and the chance to ask random people for directions to The End Of The World…
It’s also the place where Ben got his first taste of camping out bush, and not surprisingly he loved it. We managed to find beautiful spots along freezing cold rivers where the water had a strange red colour, nothing poisonous… well, no weird side-effect so far anyway… The colour came from tea-trees.
Often stopping to jump in rivers and after some serious steep ascents (had my back wheel skidding in places) we managed to get to the Savage river. I wanted to jump in the water but realised my bathers had jumped off my bike! I had them hanging to dry. Now if it was the top… going topless seems accepted. But bottomless…? I jumped up when I heard a car passing and stopped them with the request to look out for some purple bathers. And what’d ye know! About an hour later a little van pulled up and there they were, the car had found them, stopped this van and asked them to hand them back to me 🙂
At Corinna the road stopped (a ferry can take you to the other side if that’s where you’d wish to go). This was very lucky otherwise I would never have met Nick and Lisa, a very active, funny and friendly couple from the States who I nearly got fired. It was Nick I first asked if I could swim across the river. He didn’t know, no one had tried since he worked at Corinna. So after convincing a German guy it really was a very good idea and getting an escort in the form of Nick in a kayak with life jackets we swam across, and back.
Later Nick invited me to go for a sunset-Kayak trip, and this, being something else I hadn’t done before, sounded pretty good to me. So off we went down the river… and further down the river, past the furthest inland shipwreck in Australia at the mouth of the Savage river… and even a bit further down, where some wooden steps took us up to a rainforest cove were a waterfall comes dripping down and you’re surrounded by high rock walls. Nick had thought about bringing a burner so we could make a coffee and he showed me how to ‘shotgun’ a beer. apparently this is an American tradition but I was rather happy just drinking it.
The way back though, was something different. The sun had done its job and gone down and the full moon was rising at the other side. The wind had stopped and the river was now smooth as glass, no sounds but the paddles in the water while we peacefully glided through this silky evening. Absolutely magical!
Untill the sound of a speed-boat rudely interrupted and some male voices came shouting over the water…
We weren’t allowed to have the kayak’s out at night.. this was very dangerous… health & safety blah blah blah.
Never mind that Nick has been a kayak-instructor for years and we’re both pretty experienced in looking after ourselves, but no… the kayak’s where hoisted up the boat and so an abrupt end to this beautiful evening.
It was a cold, wet and windy day and I seemed to have lost my cycling-buddy. Usually Ben would wait for me every now and again since he’s a bit faster. But on this miserable day he raced ahead and due to our lack of communication I didn’t know untill I hit the small town of Zeehan where we found a room above the pub. It had a hot shower, dry beds and beer. An excellent combination.
It was here I first heard the devastating news of my friend Peter. And I stayed for four days.
I was lucky to find myself in a room in the central hotel, surrounded by strangers who cared. One evening a lady walked in and gave me a bag. It held a woolen beany, gloves, scarve a necklace and a little guide to Tasmania. Jeremy, the landlord, made sure I got food at regular intervals and always had a drink ready when I needed one. And by the time I was ready to move on I found that ‘someone’ had taken care of the room-bill.
I already noticed the hospitality of people here. Like when you get randomly handed an apple out of a moving vehicle, receive a piece of fresh fish from a fisherman or have people making me sandwiches on the side of the road. (thanks to all!)
And as I rode up the hairpin-bends out of Queenstown the sky started to clear and by the time I reached lake Bunbury the sun shone upon me and a little van pulled up and out jumped my friends from Corinna! Nick and Lisa had a few days off (they didn’t get fired) and were on their way to a mountain to walk up. But decided to camp the night with me 🙂 So we enjoyed a lovely evening of jumping in the lake (me) organizing the van (them) and drinking beer & sharing stories ( us)
The ride up into the highlands was a good climb It was not very steep. This surprised me a little, since everybody I’ve met kept telling me how terrible steep this road was… The only terrible thing was the traffic. It’s the only way across the middle of Tasmania. But even that wasn’t too bad. And everybody smiled and waved happily… or maybe they just laugh at me thinking; “Djeez another one of those crazy cyclist! Look at her suffer!… ”
But I loved it, and I wasn’t alone. Camping at Lake St-Clair I met another French guy and Tim, who rides around on a fold-up bike with very small wheels and spents about 6 months each year camping in Antarctica. We gathered our resources and under the pleasure of cooking together, comparing equipment and ideas we got a little visitor. Non of us knew what the creature was. it was however very friendly. So much so I found it going through my panniers in my tent later that night.
The Quoll is the 2nd largest carnivorous marsupial in Tasmania. The largest being the devil. But those I’ve only seen flat on the side of the road…
Them and wallaby’s and possums. A lot. One of the main-killers are the logging trucks. They go rather fast and don’t move for anything. Lucky I can hear them coming from miles away so I usually make sure I’m out of their way when they come thundering past. Specially on a dirt road.
But I’ve seen many alive too. Possums crawling in and over the bins behind the pub in Miena, where I pitched my tent and warmed myself by the open fire.
If you thought (like me) Australia in summer is hot, or at least warm, come to Tasmania. Here in the highlands it can (and will) snow… even in summer!
The main attraction here is fishing for trout. Since I’m not a keen fisher-woman I never understood the attraction, or fun, of fishing.
They promised to catch a big one the next day and we’d have it for dinner. Excellent plan, so I left my tent and rode the bike around the lake a bit, I tried going for a swim but even for me this water was seriously cold. I didn’t last long.
3 hours later we finished a gourmet-pizza lunch with her friends and I figured it was a little late to go anywhere. The fact that my head was a little heavy helped with the decision to just stay another day 🙂
I got to wear this real charming suit and on little ‘floaties’ we’d paddle onto the lake where I learned how to throw the line and (almost) caught a fish…
But it really was time to get moving. I flew down the Poitina road where I descended for about 20km enjoying the views and noticing the temperature going up while I was going down. And made my way to my relatives in Launceston where I was welcomed back after a year with a beautiful seafood BBQ.
My last day in Tasmania was not the easiest, it didn’t help I had a deadline. There was a ferry to catch. So I struggled up hills against the wind while trucks were trying to blow me off the road, or at least blow off my hat. The busiest stretch so far and when I reached the top of a hill about half way I was pleasantly surprised when out of the cold mist a gloriously warm and friendly coffee-shop (with real coffee!) doomed. I could almost hear the magical background music…
I warmed up for a good while before daring outside into the wind. Again.
I made it.
And now I’ve got a decennium to celebrate.
Because tomorrow it is 10 years ago I got on that plane to Ireland… And never looked back.