A Circular Tour of Tasmania
A circular tour around Tasmania based on the Giro route.
View Exton to Devenport in a larger map
Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more benefficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.
The ferry public address system woke us at 5.45am to get ready for the boat docking at 6.30am. It was still dark so it was reflective jackets and lights to get out of the ferry terminal and down the road to a motel offering cheap breakfast. As we ate, the only other cyclist who had been on the ferry came in and joined us. His name was Claude and he lived in Bagdad, near Hobart. He was returning from a solo trip round the wineries of Victoria. Surprisingly he still seemed to be able to walk in a straight line.
By the time breakfast was finished it was light but the weather was overcast and dull. The motel receptionist advised us to cycle up River Road to Latrobe and it was a scenic, quiet road along the banks of the Mersey River. From there we headed along the B13 to Railton "town of topiary". They had several impressive modern topiary sculptures, grown by training the growing climber through chicken wire formers.
Gowrie Park used to be an important town where the construction workers for the hydro electric power scheme lived, but now there is little here except the camp-site. The tent had only been pitched for about 30 minutes when it started raining. For four hours it poured and it could not soak into the ground fast enough so the groundsheet had water coming up through it as if it had lost its waterproofing.
In a lull between downpours Steve went and booked a cabin and then had to move all the gear and take down the tent to dry it out in the large recreation room, which happened to have a large log fire.
The rest of the cabins were all occupied by a group of men on an industrial diving course which uses the deep waters of the nearby reservoir. They had an evening meal arrangement at the camp-site restaurant so we asked if we could have the same menu, two delicious home-made courses for $25 each.
The next day we begged a lift back to Devonport to buy a new groundsheet and also a couple of new waterproof jackets as it looks like there will be a lot of rain over the next month. In the evening we chatted to a Canadian couple in a camper van, touring Tasmania and who had just returned from Cradle mountain because the weather up there had been so bad. They were having a one year sabbatical from their jobs to travel the World.
Except for a 2km steep descent to the Cethna dam, the whole of today’s ride was uphill.
After a brief rest we continued up the hill in the pouring rain. There was lush rainforest at first and as we got higher the forest became sparser, with ancient myrtle trees covered in mosses and lichens. Higher still, there were pine and gum trees. At one point there was a dip in the road where we reached 55kph as we passed a police radar speed check. A notice at the side of the road said in huge capitals: F*** OFF PRIVATE PROPERTY. Nice people. Really welcoming.
We pushed on hoping for a break in the rain but by 2.30pm we were so hungry that we stopped to eat our sandwiches in the rain, sheltering under a fairly ineffective tree from the wind and the drizzle. As we were already damp we then got very cold and had to get going again to warm up.
The camp-site at Cradle Mountain had camp-sites for $29 or an "alpine hut" (2 benches with thin mattresses in a shed) for $40 so we opted for the latter. Included in the price was a battery lantern. As we were unpacking our gear Steve looked down and was horrified to see a leech having a feast on his ankle. Karen quickly applied some salt and the beast was dispatched. There was a fabulous camp kitchen with a huge blazing log fire. We cooked up a chicken curry and sat all evening in front of the fire.
During the night it rained heavily again and we were kept awake by the noise of the water falling on the tin roof. The rain continued for most of the day so we donned our waterproofs and walked to the Cradle Mountain Chateau where there was an exhibition photographs of Australia and Antarctica. There were some stunning pictures, especially the Tasmania ones. Part of the exhibition was the sad story of the Tasmania Tiger. This marsupial looked like a dog, was a carnivore but had a tail like a kangaroo. Because it attacked the farm animals imported by the early settlers it was feared and hated and hunted to extinction by 1930’s.
There was a free shuttle bus from the camp-site up to Dove Lake.
It is a lively, friendly place where everyone seems to want to stop and chat. In the evening we decided to try the local restaurant. From outside it did not look very promising, no customers, bare tables and chairs and a very ordinary take-away menu. When we said we wanted to eat there they produced an amazing menu with oysters and chateaubriand, but we decided on the "Mexican night" menu which was delicious. Steve, in jest, asked for a sticky toffee pudding for afters and in a trice was served with a home-made one.
On the table next to ours was a group of locals enjoying their meal. We got talking to them and the senior man on the table was the deputy mayor. He recommended going to the mining museum at Zeehan.
The Giro Tasmania route suggested a side trip to the Montezuma Falls, about 6km along a tarmac road to Williamsford and then 5km along an old railway track to the waterfall. What it failed to mention was that the 6km on tarmac was all uphill, followed by a steep rough descent on an unsurfaced road just to get to the car park at the start of the old tramway. At this point we decided that we couldn’t carry our gear any further so we hid it in the undergrowth.
The old tramway track was rough and wet following the recent heavy rain but it was lovely riding through the rainforest with its myrtles and tree ferns.
The Tasmania ride was an easier ride today with gentler ups and downs. The sun shone but the wind was still a cold southerly. For the first time we noticed the trees beginning to show their autumn colours and the rose hips and hawthorn berries in the hedgerows, a reminder that we were now into our third season in the southern hemisphere. The road kill here was mainly pademelons, a small type of wallaby, and possums.
From the brow of the final hill there were views down to the southern ocean with waves breaking onto the sandy coast. The road dropped down through conifer plantations to Strahan. This was once an important port for wood and ore export but it is now a Tasmania tourist hotspot, selling cruises up the Gordon River and trips on the steam railway to Queenstown. It was tempting to do the Gordon River cruise but several people that we talked to who had done it thought that it was over-priced.
Queenstown provided a welcome warm cafe for coffee and beefburgers. We shopped for food to last us three days as it was 175km to the next shop. The weather forecast was for more rain so we booked into the Wilderness Backpackers at Derwent Bridge for the following night.
Out of Queenstown the road climbs up Gormley hill through the stark, treeless Tasmania landscape. Once over the hill it drops into a more fertile, wooded valley and is fairly flat all the way to Lake Burberry, a hydroelectric reservoir. The camp site here was cheap at $5 but there were no showers and the barbecues had been vandalised.
Steve had noticed a problem with his back wheel on the way up the hill out of Queenstown and found that the tyre was bulging because of a split and had to be replaced with the spare one. It was disappointing after only approximately 3,500km since fitting the new one at Golden Bay.
The second climb of the day was described as steep and long so we were dreading it. In fact it was much easier than we anticipated. There was hardly any traffic and the gradient was fairly gentle. It climbed up to King William Saddle which marks the east/west divide of Tasmania. During the day the wind had moved around to north-westerly and blew us up the last hill and into Derwent Bridge.
The backpackers was attached to the hotel and we had to go into the bar to check-in. This necessitated having a beer. We chatted to Richard, who had just completed a three day walk from Cradle Mountain. We later joined him and another couple of walkers, Helen and Andrew for a meal in the restaurant.
To end the day there was a steep 3km descent to Wayatinah and our already damp clothing and the bitter cold wind almost froze us. As we rode onto the camp site a couple in a caravan with their two young sons greeted us. Within a few minutes they had made us a hot cup of tea and invited us to share their evening meal.
It was still pouring with rain so we pitched the tent underneath a plastic awning at the side of an unoccupied caravan. Our tea was fresh and smoked fish, all caught by Craig and his two sons Harrison and James and cooked by Sarah. The family were spending a year travelling around Australia in their caravan. Their facebook page The Travelling Smiths documents their travels.
It was a good decision. The wind was often behind us and except for two short hills the next 43km was flat or downhill. At one point Steve achieved 66kph. As we descended the temperature increased and we rode through wide open pastures with dry brown grass and a few pine trees.
The camp site at New Norfolk was at the side of the River Derwent and very busy, with a lot of tents. After a long ride we felt the need to eat out out and found a good restaurant called Quince where we blew a couple of days budget on a nice meal and a bottle of wine.
The next day we strolled around the colourful Salamanca market full of crafts, clothes and food stalls.
That night we decided to camp at Richmond, north of Hobart. There was a group of young East Asians camping there who were working at one of the local vineyards, harvesting the grapes. They were from Taiwan, south Korea and Japan and all spoke very good English and we enjoyed chatting with them in the evening as we ate our meal.
Whilst some of the art was quite main stream, other pieces were very risque. Many would find them shocking or even offensive. He seemed to like buying up art that other galleries had shunned. We spent a really interesting 2-3 hours there and would recommend it highly. The best thing was it was all free.
This was our last night at the camp site and we took the chance to get a team photo with Maggie, Gir, Wendy, Kiwi and the rest. Over dinner the cap on one of Steve’s teeth came off and despite using our emergency dental kit it wouldn’t stay on. We needed to find a dentist.
We rose to dense morning fog and the air was cool, but despite this we managed a relatively dry pack. Initially we followed the valley north out of Richmond and over hills to join the main A3. This road passes through beautiful forest and farmland but is narrow, winding, has no hard shoulder and climbs three significant hills with descriptive names, Bust-Me-Gall and Break-Me-Neck.
It also had log trucks, lots of them. They are all driven by testosterone fuelled men who drive faster than any other vehicle on the road. The trucks are so wide that on these narrow roads they have to drive with one wheel practically in the ditch. This makes it a bit dicey for us poor cyclists. They don’t like to pull out to pass and if they do the back end swings alarmingly in front of you as they pull in. They even intimidate the car drivers, pulling out to overtake and practically forcing them off the road. They have an instantly recognisable engine noise and as soon as you hear one approaching from behind you start looking for a place of safety, if necessary leaping into the ditch. And they don’t just pass you once, they spend all day driving back and forth between the forest and the mill.
Just before lunch Steve’s back tyre suddenly deflated. Once again it was a "pinch" puncture on the inside of the tube where it lies on the rim. He mended it and after another 500m there was a picnic area where we stopped for lunch. Ten minutes after setting off again it blew again. After applying another patch he was re-inflating it and it did the same again! Eventually we managed to get going with a new tube and low pressure.
For about 8km before Orford the A3 runs along the Prosser River gorge. Here the road is even narrower, running between a rocky cliff edge and a crash barrier above the fast flowing river. There is hardly room for two vehicles to pass let alone a hard shoulder. Incredibly we managed to get through the whole length without encountering a single log truck.
We camped at Triabunna and had planned to go on the ferry to Maria Island national park but at $35 each and extra for the bikes we just couldn’t afford it.
Today the sky was cloudless and the sun was warm. We continued along the A3 but once we passed the wood-pulp factory there were no log trucks passing us. Karen had a puncture early on, caused by a splinter of glass in her tyre. The road undulated through farmland, mostly grass pasture.
After 35km it dropped down to the coast again at Mayfield and we ate lunch on the beach. From there the road hugged the Tasmania coast all the way to Swansea, a pretty seaside town with some historic buildings and harbour.
Our route notes suggested a side-trip to the Freycinet Peninsular along Seven mile Beach from where we could book a ferry ride in a small dinghy to Cole Bay. This sounded quite exciting but when we rang the ferry man he told us the ferry service had ended.
Instead we had to ride around on the main road adding about 30km to our journey. The road was flat and the wind light for the first 20km which meant rapid progress. Then there was a slow 10km climb and with the increase in elevation came an equal one in the wind speed, head on of course. Arriving at the junction there had to be a conference, 14km straight on to Bicheno into the headwind or sharp right and 30km to Coles Bay with a back wind. We chose the second and had a flat ride with the wind helping.
On the way Steve spotted an echidna in the undergrowth. Karen grabbed the camera, determined to get a photo and slithered down the steep bank in pursuit. The echidna, keen on self preservation, buried itself in the dry leaves at the base of a tree trunk. We sat down quietly nearby and ate our lunch waiting for it to emerge, but it refused to budge so the photo is just of its rear.
Coles Bay is in a stunning location on the Freycinet Peninsular. The bay is edged with yellow rocks covered with red lichens and on the far side of the bay are the pink granite Hazard mountains.
Arriving at Bicheno we rode down to the harbour and found a sunny and sheltered seat to eat lunch. As we ate we discussed whether to continue further up the coast and camp at one of the beaches. Suddenly there were black clouds at the north end of the bay and within 5 minutes the rain reached us so we camped at Bicheno.
The Tasmania rain and wind prevented us from getting much sleep. Having packed the wet tent we put on our full rain gear and set off for "the best cycle ride in Australia" according to the author of the Tasmania Giro tour.
Well today it wasn’t. Low clouds blocked the views and strong cold southerly winds buffeted us constantly although most of the time they were at our tails. It wouldn’t be true to say it poured with rain all day, it did slow to a drizzle at least twice. We just put our heads down and turned the pedals, the rain pouring down our faces and dripping off our noses.
About 25km from St Helens we met a couple of cycle tourists battling towards us into the head wind and we were glad we were going north. At Scamander, the first town for 58km, we had to stop to get warm. We were both soaked to the skin despite our waterproofs and sat and steamed while eating fish and chips and drinking mugs of hot coffee. A local lady told us that the weather would get worse and that we shouldn’t try to ride any further but catch the bus to Launceston.
Arriving at last in St Helens we found the nearest backpackers and went to book in. reception wasn’t open until 4pm but another guest let us in to shelter. We got an en-suite double room with a BATH and filled it to the brim with boiling hot water to thaw out. There was no heating in the hostel so the wet gear just got spread around the bathroom to dry.
The next morning the rain was still pouring down so we decided to stay put, get Steve an appointment at the dentist to fix his broken cap, and book a ticket on the bus to Launceston the following day.
Steve’s appointment was at 2pm and by then the rain was even more intense. By 3pm the main road had disappeared under 6inches of water, the hostel was like an island in a lake of water and the Tasmania fire-brigade had arrived to start pumping the water out of the flooded building opposite. Steve meanwhile had had to have his tooth root extracted and then wade back through a foot of water along the street. The hostel owner was getting very anxious as the flood was expected to get worse at high tide, due in 3 hours.
Luckily the rain abated soon after and the water level quickly receded. Our wet gear wasn’t drying so we asked for an electric heater which speeded things up.
This part of the ride was by bus. As you can see from the profile above, it would makes sense to take two days over this section.
We had booked a couch surf in Exton, about 10km east of Deloraine, and Rob and Deb, our hosts would not be home from work until 4.30pm so we spent an hour on the internet at Westbury library. Rob’s house was on the top of hill above Exton, overlooking the Western Tiers which looked beautiful in the evening sun as we rode up to the house.
Rob cooked us egg and bacon for breakfast before he went to work. It was another clear cold morning and there was only a short section of riding along the busy A1 before we could turn off along a minor road through farmland towards Railton, where we were on our first day, and back down the Mersey river valley to Devonport.
Getting back onto the ferry in Devonport was more complicated than the departure from Melbourne. All foot passengers had their luggage searched before boarding, and then had to walk through a metal detector (but the bags were not x-rayed) We’re not sure if the car drivers were subject to this also but it all seemed a bit pointless, it was just passing from one state of Australia to another.
The food was good and the crossing calm and we arrived in Melbourne refreshed and ready for the next leg of our journey.