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The Tasmanian Trail

Tasmanian Trail Map
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‘t Was the week before Christmas when we took the bicycles out of storage, and decided to start the Tasmanian Trail. The Tasmanian trail is a trail put together for horse/bike riders and crosses Tasmania from North to South via country roads, forests, mountain ranges, old stock routes etc. The ride is described in a guidebook which covers each of the 15 overnight legs in great detail. At the end of each 30-70km day it tells you where to camp, or suggests alternative accommodation..

With the guide book in hand, describing blow-by-blow which way to go complete with maps, we first headed for the bike stores in Launceston hoping to pick up two pairs of panniers in the pre-Xmas-sales.

Several shops later we had the equipment together, complete with a front bag for both bikes, a trip-computer and some spare parts. The bike shop we showed our loaden bikes to was most useless in recommending spares. Shortly after hitting the trail I realised a spare pair of brake pads would be handy, as well as a spare tire, and perhaps padded bicycle shorts for the ‘man-in-the-boat’ and the ‘lollies-in-the-sac’! The bike computer we had purchased died in the first four days, and the front pannier frame broke within a week – but had it welded together in Ouse, a small country town on New Year’s Eve!

Anyway, we drove the car to the start: The Devonport Spirit of Tasmania ferry terminal, where most tourists enter Tasmania. Parked the car in a small car park and headed off late in the afternoon.

Leg One was an easy leg, one designed for us to learn to follow the special route markers and signs that are stuck on telegraph poles, trees and other places where a turn is made. The first town we came across, Latrobe, we were advised to obtain a key from the milk-bar. This key opens many gates along the way, allowing entry into private property and other restricted areas. By chance the Latrobe Annual Christmas Parade was about to start, so we sat down with chips and burgers and waited for the great event.

Full of Christmas cheer we continued on our way. The first designated campsite along a nearby river was only 5km away. On the way I flagged down a local policeman to advise him of us leaving our car in nearby Devonport for 2-3 weeks. He kindly took down all the details incl. emergency contacts in case there was a problem, and he would make sure an eye was held on the car!

The first campground - Farrel Park - had ‘No Camping’ signs posted, but we took the liberty. It was a very basic campground, no toilet facilities (‘bury-your-own’), water in the river and no picnic tables of course. We spotted platypus swimming in the river the next morning, and after a hearty porridge we left on our first full day. Katherine was getting used to changing gears at this stage, and started understanding which gears to use where.

Second stop was Sheffield, the famous town of many murals. At this point we were getting used to opening gates, crossing paddocks and the odd unexpected event. One gate we opened had a warning on it which read: Shooting Range, DO NOT ENTER. Of course it had the Tasmanian Trail arrow on the gate indicating we had to enter this property. The fact cows were grazing on it made us believe there was no danger of stray bullets, so we entered the field only to be greeted and followed by huge and curious bulls and cows!

Another odd spot was the Sykes Sanctuary on the way, on the abandoned railway track which we followed. The Sanctuary had the weirdest collection of ‘Memorials’, none of which I could explain, not even with my maths/philosophy background!

The suggested campground was on a paddock next to the Sheffield cricket ground. With a game in progress and a vandalised registration book (there are regular registration books en-route) we rejected this campsite and choose to go to the Sheffield campground with which we were familiar. Black sky encouraged us to splash out and get an on-site caravan for the night. It rained lots, so the investment into a roof for the night was a wise one!

Thanks to the Kentish Lions Club we had a fancy campsite for the third night. Complete with a shack with beds, a long drop toilet and a fireplace with firewood. The water tank was pretty gross, complete with mozzie larvae twitching in it and looking like tea. We filtered it even before boiling it. The nearby river we had to cross in the morning would have been a healthier source for water, but we were too exhausted to get to the out of sight bank, which was only 100m. away.

Crossing the river was fun, just about dragged us down! The recent rain had dumped more then we had anticipated! Climbing up the banks on the other side was even tougher, taking two of us per bike to get it up. If we thought this was tough… it was only the start of the day! Complete with some getting lost, climbing over many downed trees, up steep tracks, flat tires, huge ant bite (you know the ones that you like to take a photo of as they look so impressive). I believe it was an Inchman… Anyway, that bite was very painful and was itchy for many days!

When we finally hit a main road we ignored the markers and rode to the nearest town, Deloraine, for a pub! We went to our favourite pub there and enjoyed beer and steak, a haircut and a good well-deserved bed! The beauty of Tasmania is that you are never far away from anything!

The following morning we backtracked and continued on the trail like only purists would – others would take the short-cut to catch the trail a little further on! We took a few more wrong turns but eventually ended up at the paddock they called campsite 4. It was meant to be improved in 1999 by the boys from the Ashley Detention Centre, but it was very neglected. Christmas Eve was in this paddock without water. The book advised that if you had horses they could drink at a nearby creek. That creek it turned out had an electric fence in front of it. The only way to access the water was by negotiating some dangerous remains of a bridge which included balancing on an old beam for 2 meters to the other side with thorny bushes. The drop was perhaps 2 meters and the water was not attractive. Lots of cow dung too, but we had to get water. Thank goodness for the high-tech filter we carried!

Christmas Pudding in Custard was for desert! Next morning we only found one flat tire for Xmas. It was due to a thorn from the paddock. We were keen to move on to greener pastures! When we ended the day at the Bracknell Pub in the afternoon we found all of Bracknell closed for Christmas. An update on the Internet mentioned a waterhole and good campsite but we had not consulted this resource before we left! Instead of hassling the residents we decided to push on to Poatina.

There was a strong gale blowing in roughly the right direction, this section was on sealed country roads and Poatina was on the start of a huge ascent that we were dreading. Getting to Poatina seemed to make sense to us as it allowed us to get a head start on the 1000m. vertical ascent. From Bracknell we would have had to cycle about 35 kms to get to the start of that climb.

Poatina was also closed for Christmas, but residents were very kind to get us to the house of the hotel manager who let us in. We had the run of the hotel for the night and hit the sack nice and early after an improvised meal cooked in the guest microwave oven. We did not attend the town’s Christmas party despite being invited, we were stuffed!

Boxing day started with one more flat tire. We had to get supplies and the Poatina shop did not open till 11am. So eventually we headed up the Western Tiers via the highway (designated bike-detour) at around 1130am. We rode/walked up for about 4 hours and were exhausted at the top where the real trail - the actual trail up was not suitable for bikes - joined the alternate cycle route. We found a flat spot a safe distance from the road, right there with water and out of view and set up the tent without delay…. Even the next day we stayed here as we were comfortable and needed a designated day of rest. I slept just about that entire day as the wind blew hard around the tree tops, and threatening clouds indicating nasty conditions on the plateau where the trail continued.

The skies cleared as we took off after our rest-day. With relief we finally got off the highway back into HEC (Hydro Electric Corporation) country and along a flume. Flumes are concrete channels that take water from lake to lake and on to the hydro power plants. Typically these run downhill and the going is smooth!

It was followed by harder sections on barely recognisable tracks taking us right through the bush and eventually came out on the Lakes Highway – a dirt road with fast moving 4WD with boats behind them. This road is above the tree-line, and the wind was blowing in a favourable direction!

In Miena (Katherine called it Mania, but the correct pronunciation was My-eena) we ran into fellow travellers. They had seen our names in some of the registration spots and thought we had dropped out as we had not registered in the Bracknell book. Here we hooked up with a Sydney all-girls team; Shireen and Olga. It turned out they went our pace too and we stuck together for the next few days. In Miena I consumed a giant rump steak, which lived up to its name, providing enough protein for a week or so!

Next stop was Bronte Park on the plateau still, and from there on it was allegedly downhill for a few days. But downhill on bikes is deceiving, the actual downhill bits are covered in minutes, and the little in-between up bits still take a lot of sweat and pain! The descent into the Derwent Valley was full of good downhill bits and some good water crossings. Katherine had mountain bike riding down to a fine art thanks to tips from the girls, and flew along the trails. Katherine looked very professional in her new cycle-shorts which she scored from Shireen who took pity on her!

New Year’s Eve found us in the township of Ouse where we booked a room in the pub. Nothing much was happening that night, and our eyelids did not stay up past 10pm. The following morning, January 1, we were at it again at the ungodly time of 9am! The girls team found a luxury hideout in Ellendale called Platypus Lodge, and we camped in the BBQ area nearby, adjoining the fire station, complete with tables, toilet and water. Who needs a shower anyway (Shireen?)!

On the next leg, from which we spotted Mount Wellington, the key would not fit all the locks and we had to hoist our bikes over big gates, barbed wires and in some places we had to cross some thistle fields, paddocks with hidden obstacles like holes and rocks. Thanks to good suspension and superior MTB skills we were able to comfortably fly over most of it!

We ended up on a most lousy stretch of dirt road which had an impossible surface on it, making cycling virtually impossible. Worse still, it took us around the town where we had our next camp, and we could have followed the road in for the last 2km. had we known! Instead us purists followed the trail around, leading through more fields with bulls and sheep, before descending onto the local school where the designated campground was. The caretaker there was most friendly, even offering us to come past for beer and potatoes!

The last leg we had with Olga and Shireen was the next leg into New Norfolk, from where they were cycling into Hobart and flying home. The route took us up the Black Hills range, about 600 vertical meters, and then straight down. The last 6 kilometers were obviously the best!

Katherine and I were still determined to continue the last three tough days, but a rest day in New Norfolk was in order! We all booked into a caravan at the local council caravan park, raided the supermarket and frequented the pub.

Eventually we had to leave on our dreaded leg up the Wellington Range. We had been warned about how tough it was by locals. We left around 930am and got lost after Lachlan when the route markers disappeared and the road names were inconsistent with the directions. We were going up and down steep dirt roads, going to and fro, and eventually lost enthusiasm at around noon.

Here we decided that we were pretty well cooked by now, after more than two weeks on the bikes. K had a sore body, I had indigestion, had run out of my medication, and our arthritis pills…. And other old people excuses… We thought ourselves pretty tough and resilient to cycle into the nearest MacDonalds (Bridgewater suburb of Hobart) where the bus stopped on its way back to Devonport. At 7pm after a 4 bus-ride we were back at our car! Isn’t Tasmania great with the small distances? We will go and do the last legs in the near future!

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Supplementary note on food!

Our days were centred on small food events. First was coffee, followed by muesli or porridge or a combination. We would hit the trail between 9 and 10am and stop for a muesli bar an hour or two into the ride. Lunch would be past 1pm, and was some kind of bread with cheese, butter, salami or occasionally a bought roll from the odd town (Deloraine, Sheffield…) if we had a night in civilisation.

After lunch I allowed myself to nibble on lollies….

By 4pm we really wanted to set up the tent, have a hot drink, stock cube or a lotsa-noodle soup. We’d mellow out till at least 6pm before cooking tea – in order to postpone premature collapsing into deep comas.

Most our dinners were ‘Surprise’. Mostly Noodle Surprise, but other times it was Rice Surprise! ‘Surprise’ is the brand of freeze dried peas/corn that we would mix in the noodle/rice dishes with generally a packet of tuna, salmon or diced salami!

As it wouldn’t get dark till 930pm we could read in the tent and drop off before dark on most nights.

Our fruit came from the muesli and some dried fruit. Fresh fruit was bought in the odd towns.


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