A day of food and wine

We were up at dawn, literally, to ride around Mt William NP. It’s only a small park but it (like lots of Tassie) has a large wildlife population. We rode the 20km loop through the park alongside mobs of Forester kangaroos and Bennetts wallabies (do wallabies live in mobs?). There was a real danger of having them hop right into us! Apparently the park is also good for spotting wombats, echidnas and even Tasmanian devils – but we only saw the hoppies.

I set a new record for earliest lunch by returning to camp starving! By 9am I’d eaten lunch! My previous earliest lunch was on the Tour d’Afrique when the lunch truck appeared at 10.30am, albeit after 70-odd km of riding. I think it’s my cold making me eat as I was famished yesterday too.

The plan for today was shaped by the fact I’m still sick – we decided a leisurely drive and winery touring was in order! Again, we were driving over almost identical terrain to our cycling trip – in fact most of today was re-tracing the day from hell, which Leonie and I still don’t talk about. Of course it was much easier in the car! And we took the opportunity to visit two places we were too exhausted to bother with sat time.

Legerwood is a tiny town (no shops) that is home to wood carvings. Many people had told us to visit these, but wood carvings don’t generally float my boat. However Guy was driving. Turns out to have been the right thing to do on an Anzac Day! Legerwood used to have an avenue of honour – about 9 or 10 trees, one planted for each man from the area who didn’t return from war. In about 2004 the trees had gotten so huge and old that they needed to be cut down before they fell down. So now, each old stump bears a chainsaw carving of the person and some depiction of his life. It’s the stories that make these trees special, not the carvings themselves.

Pretty soon I was hungry for second lunch so a stop in Scottsdale was in order. Scottsdale was another place on the day from hell that we didn’t stop at. Turns out is quite pretty. We had a tasty snack for (second) lunch and, now we were properly back in phone range, concocted a plan for the afternoon.

A quick check of the LP and we were booked in for dinner at Stillwater, a restaurant in Launceston that I’ve been keen to try for a while, we had a bed booked at cheaper than advertised rates, and a plan for wineries to visit in the afternoon.

We had a beautiful drive through the Tamar Valley to Delamere, Bay of Fires and Josef Chromy wineries. Bay of Fires was truly outstanding. But they had sold out of their (award-winning) pinot noir so it was all up to me to do the tasting and choosing. We lashed out on a couple of bottles of Arras sparkling – a wine they’re famous for and the best Australian champagne I’ve tasted – as well as some Riesling and Pinot Gris. Guy was already a fan of Josef Chromy from last trip, so it was kind of a pilgrimage for him. Another dozen bottles into the car. Josef Chromy was also the setting for third lunch. Since dinner wasn’t until 8.30 we required an afternoon snack of Tasmanian cheeses on their deck.

Somehow, we hadn’t eaten too much to order the tasting menu at Stillwater. And thank goodness. This ranks as the best meal I’ve eaten – knocking off Vue de Monde from top spot! Six tasting serves of rabbit, yellowish sashimi, carpaccio of beef, spring bay scallops, trout, venison, plus dessert. Yum!

Notable food & wine moments: Bruny Island cheeses – The Saint and 1792, Arras sparkling, Milton Pinot Gris, Moore Hill Riesling, Josef Chromy Zdar Pinot Noir, Apsley Gorge Pinot Noir. Plus the Stillwater menu of course!

Down but not out

I woke up this morning with cold. Truth be known I was awake a good portion of the night with it too. I blame a combination of cold windy day yesterday with wet feet, low immunity after recent bout of flu and Guy, just because.

First order of the day became a trip back down to St Helens to get some cold and flu meds. With that sorted I felt better, but not well enough for any more mountain bike excitement. (The other mtb delights of Weldborough will have to wait for another trip). Instead, we drove into the dramatic St Columba Falls and took the 20min walk to the base (viewing platform closed due to flood washout). Afterwards we couldn’t not stop at Pyengana Dairy for lunch since it was right there! Their Ploughmans Lunch was just what the doctor ordered.

After lunch our attempt to visit the Anchor Stampers (old tin mining stampers) was foiled by more washouts, this time of the whole track in. So we ended up just meandering our way north to Mt William NP. This is almost as far north as you can get on mainland Tasmania. We’re camped at a lovely site under she-oaks. There’s a breeze, but we have a campfire going, Guy is cooling wine in a wet sock, and we’ve got the makings of golden syrup dumplings for dessert. The only way life could be better is if I didn’t have a cold (and it was warmer, and I had 3G, and we brought chairs.) LOL, we don’t need those things since we do have wine glasses!

Notable food and wine moments: Ploghmans Lunch at Pyengana, golden syrup dumplings, Louis Riesling Schoenburger.

The Blue Tier Descent

Our mountain biking morning turned into a mountain biking day! We had an epic ride from Weldborough Pass up to the Blue Tier and back down into Weldborough.

The owner of the hotel, Marty, kindly ran us up to the pass to avoid the initial climb out of Weldborough. It had been windy at the hotel, but up at the pass it was blowing an absolute gale. Luckily it was coming from behind for the first ten kms up to the Blue Tier itself. It was a fantastic ride up a dirt road, currently closed to cars due to the heavy rain. The road was shrouded by ferns, with snatches of stunning view out over the ranges towards St Helens.

We rode through Lottah, an old tin mining town, and on to Poimena, another old tin town that is now the start point for walks and rides in the Blue Tier State Forest. There used to be a town of a few hundred people here back in the tin mining hey day, but now all that’s left is a clearing and an information board showing the old street plan. I’m always astounded by how quickly and comprehensively nature can reclaim abandoned towns. It was blowing a gale up here too so we didn’t hang around too long.

The ride back down, The Blue Tier Descent, was sodden! For those who’ve walked in Tassie, think of those muddy bogholes that you find on walking tracks. Now imagine carrying or pushing a bike through them! It wasn’t long until our feet were soaked (cycling shoes have holes in the bottom where the cleats attach meaning wet socks as soon as water touches the sole). We felt guilty for being here, even though it’s a designated mountain bike trail, as we could see what damage we were doing to the environment. Our consolation was that there probably aren’t enough riders to be a problem – you couldn’t have a trail like this in Victoria as the crowds of visitors would destroy it.

In case you haven’t guessed already, Tassie, like the rest of Australia, has had a stack of rain recently. So as well as the mudholes, the tracks have suffered enormously from erosion. This made parts of the downhill totally unrideable since the track had practically become a creek! It was extremely tough going and many sections were unrideable (not to mention the sections that were unrideable for me because I’m only your casual mountain biker)! All this mud and erosion, not to mention creek crossings and trees across the track, made for extremely slow going and our expected 3 hour ride to be back in time for lunch turned into a 6 hour back in time for dinner outing. Boy were we glad when we finally popped out of the forest and into the pastures of Weldborough, muddy and hungry!

We spent the rest of the day in front of the fire in the hotel talking with a couple of Swiss mountain bikers that we’d met riding up the impossible downhill, and waiting until 6pm when we could order dinner! By 7.30 we were well and truly tuckered out. Not even the lure of talking to two cycle tourers who’d just slogged up the hill from Bridport could keep us up. By 8pm we were tucked up in the tent and asleep!

Notable food and wine moments: Few and far between today, although a piece of homemade brownie after the ride is definitely worth mentioning.

4 days in 3 hours

That’s how quickly we covered 4 days of cycling effort today! It was a bit of an aimless day that turned out to contain a few gems. A sleep in and a late start set the tone for the day that ended up mostly being a leisurely drive in gorgeous sunny (if brisk) weather.

On leaving we immediately began to pass closed wineries. Being Good Friday we expected quite a lot of this. Milton (the excellent wine from last night) – closed, Coombend – closed. But suddenly joy! A flurry of wine tasting resulted in two bottles of riesling in the bag and a near miss on an $80 pinot noir!

We took a detour up to Douglas Apsley NP. We’d skipped this last trip as the thought of an extra 15k on an already long day had been too much. Boy were we wrong! A lovely route up a very gently sloping valley to a hidden waterhole would have been just the ticket on a hot day! Today was too cold too swim (actually, anyone who knows me well will know that it’s never too cold for a swim for me, it was just that we hadn’t done anything to work up a sweat) but I did assemble the mtb for a quick 7km back down the valley. Glorious.

Lunch today was a disappointment. We went to Ironhouse Brewery, another missed opportunity last time, but it turned out to have only average food and to be full of families. Not our scene.

We really enjoyed driving up the long climb to the Weldborough Pass. That was a long ride last time that I have no urge to repeat. Since we were here there’s been some more big rains and we passed a number of sections of road that had been washed out.

The Weldborough Hotel was as welcome a sight as last time. It’s such a lovely setting. This time it’s teeming with people here for the walking, mountain biking, motorcycling. We’ve got a good tip on where to ride tomorrow and are spending the evening drinking local Tassie brews.

Notable food and wine moments: Bulmers Cider.

A sense of de ja vu

Awoke this morning with a sense of de ja vu as we stayed last night in the Swansea Backpackers. Yes, Swansea. We ended up driving Devonport to Hobart to Swansea yesterday, which is kind of a three quarter loop of the state in a day! But we ticked off two must-dos for the trip in the first day – MONA and The Banc restaurant.

We didn’t take the main highway down to Hobart as there is a much more lovely route over the Central Plateau. This route skirts along the edge of the Great Lake and touches the edge of the Wilderness World Heritage Area before descending through farming valleys into the northern outskirts of Hobart. It’s a truly gorgeous drive. Yesterday the first part of it was shrouded in cloud, but that only made it more atmospheric (and instilled a plan to pop back to it on our last day to ride some of it).

After a little bushwalking expedition (during which Guy teased me about being dressed for the gallery instead of the bush) we arrived at MONA (for which I was perfectly attired) just in time for lunch. MONA didn’t disappoint. It is a great mix of art and was very enjoyable. We spent about three hours poking around everything. To my surprise my favourite piece was an audio visual of people singing Madonna songs a cappella. Guy’s favourite is too hard to describe well – a giant metal head on it’s side with strobing action inside it. Neither of us liked the gastrointestinal machine though!

It was poring rain as we left MONA. And since we’d discovered that most of the Coal River Valley wineries (and indeed most of Tasmania I think) were going to be closed on Good Friday we made a last minute change of plan. Two quick phone calls and we were set. We could go all the way to Swansea in time for dinner at The Banc.

This meant that we retraced three full days of our cycling trip in just two hours! Slightly depressing. But it also meant that we’d be a day ahead of ourselves (hopefully time to revisit the Great Lake at the end now).

The Banc was as good as we’d anticipated. And we’d been anticipating since last trip when we’d come through Swansea on a Tuesday night – the only night that The Banc is closed.

Today we’re planning to end up at Weldborough Hotel to spend a couple of days exploring the Blue Tier and mountain biking. And I’m sure we’ll find a couple of adventures to have today. No reception up there so will be out of touch for a few days.

Notable food and wine moments: Milton Pinot Noir, Milton Riesling, Kelvedon Estate Sav Blanc (repeat performance from last trip), Yellowfin Tuna with seaweed, ginger, coriander and soy sauce, Anvers walnut praline chocolates.

Devonport 6.31am

Waiting to disembark.

Can’t complain about the service on the Spirit of Tasmania. Absolutely everyone we interacted with was fantastic – from checkout chicks to tourist office lady to cleaners. The food however, was abysmal. Will definitely plan a repeat of last trip’s gourmet Tassie picnic for the return journey!

Unfinished and another start

We’re off on another quick trip on Wednesday. Six days around Tasmania, with mountain bikes in tow this time. Looking back before we leave reveals another trip blog not quite finished. There is definitely a recurring theme in my blogging life. (Truth be known, it’s not just my blogging life – I’m a firm believer in the 80/20 rule).
But does it matter I wonder?

The East Coast to the Big Smoke

Day 5 Swansea – Coles Bay

So it seems that a small town closes early. We managed to miss dinner in town by getting out there too late – not a thing was open after 8pm. So we ended up making up a scratch dinner from what we had left in the panniers. Luckily we had enough and it wasn’t too shabby in the end. To compensate, this morning we treated ourselves to a slap-up breakfast at the bakery adjoining the backpackers.

We had an 18km ride out to the end of Nine Mile Beach, a lovely ride through endless beah shacks hidden in bushland. We ended up just across the water from Swanick, near Coles Bay. An old guy, Kirk, and his wife run a dinghy ferry service especially for cyclists from the end of the spit the few hundred metres across the river mouth to Swanwick. Saves us around 50km of riding into Freycinet NP. He was a bit of a grumpy sort who made us manhandle our bikes ASAP into the boat, but we were greeted on the other side by his wife who had brought us maps of Coles Bay and a towel to dry our feet! They’ve been running the ferry for 23 years and it will be a sad day when they stop.

As expected, the camping in the national park was all taken (a ballot system applies until mid February), but we could camp in the backpackers overflow area. This turned out to be a tiny patch of grass tucked into the bush between Richardson’s Beach and the day use carpark. Whilst not that appealing at first, it turned out to be a lovely quiet spot. We quickly set up our tents and ate some lunch on the rocks at the beach, before spending the afternoon walking to Wineglass Bay. There was a freezing wind blowing which made even me resist going into the blue waters for a dip. however, Leonie and I popped in for a swim back at the campsite. It was cold but fantastic!

To top of the day we walked the length of Richardson’s Beach to have dinner on the deck at Freycinet Lodge. Delish and a great way to end the day.

Notable food & wine moments: Beer battered flathead and chips, Trevalla on caprese salad, Cheese platter of local walnuts, Ashgrove Pepperberry cheese and King Island Roaring 40s Blue, Apple and Macadamia Nut crumble. Home made wagon wheel from Swansea Bakery.
Kelvedon Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (we rode past this winery yesterday), Chartley Estate Pinot Gris 2010 (from the Tamar Valley and my favourite so far).

Day 6 Coles Bay – Bicheno

We had some sunny breaks early on today, but the weather was again windy and cold. Although we haven’t had too much actual rain this trip, the weather up the east coast hasn’t been warm yet. Today was only a short ride into Bicheno, as the next camping option was free camping at a wild beach, and in this weather that wasn’t actually very appealing!

Most of the ride was through gently undulating forest and farmland, just too far inland to see the sea most of the time, but no matter. We stopped briefly at the Freycinet Marine Farm, but it was too early for eating oysters – we’d only just had breakfast. We arrived in Bicheno by lunchtime and set up in the funny old caravan park behind the takeaway shop. It seemed to be mostly patronised by old folks who arrived and just sat outside their vans, but it was a nice spot. A quick lunch at the bakery was followed by three hours of walking and rock-hopping around the waterfront. Bicheno has a marine reserve just offshore, and although it was way too cold to get in and snorkel (also not sunny enough fo good visibility, otherwise I would have been persuaded regardless of the temperature) we could see a multitude of different-coloured starfish just by peering into the pools. Very impressive.

At the blowhole, we met an old local who happily regaled us with tales of tourists swept off the rocks because they stood too close. Guy stood too close but wasn’t swept off. He also told us that Bicheno is the home of Jan Cameron (Kathmandu founder and one of Austrlia’s richest women) who bought up half the Tamar Valley in order to stop Gunns using it for logging.

We were too tired to stay up late enough to watch the little penguins come in along the track near the blowhole, we ended the day early with drinks at the local providore and then a somewhat disappointing dinner at the old aquarium. Now you can only eat seafood there, not look at it.

Notable food & wine moments: 42 degrees South Pinot Grigio, The Bends (Swansea) Riesling. Ashgrove Havarti cheese.

Day 7 Bicheno – St Helens

Today was our first, but not our last, long day. It wasn’t too hard though as again the terrain was gently undulating with no big hills, mostly farmland, with the last 30 or so kms right along the seaside. Very like the great ocean road, only on a smaller scale and with much less traffic. This part of the coast saw lots of flooding in January (at the same time as the QLD floods) and as we approached Scamander lots of washed out creeks and evidence of recently repaired road bore testament to this. We’d considered stopping at Scamander for the night, but it wasn’t very inspiring so we decided to push on. Although we stopped off for a swim at Wrinklers Beach first. It was cold but refreshing and the water is still crystal clear even straight after the breakers roll in.

We arrived in St Helens by about 3 o’clock. Since we were planning on staying two nights here, we booked a little cottage, which was lovely but turned out to be at the top of a large hill. We rode up it once and vowed not to ride up it again, only to walk up it.

Having a lounge room was a novelty, so we made good use of it by lying about drinking beer and wine, eating cheese, and watching TV news before venturing out to find dinner. Even though it was Friday night, the town was dead. Although there was a local music place that fired up later, too late for tired cyclists. We ended up at the local pizza shop for a passable dinner.

Notable food & wine moments: King Island Ash Blue cheese, Ashgrove Lavender cheese. Josef Chromy 2010 Sauvignon Blanc.

Day 8 St Helens

Today was our rest day in preparation for the big hills to follow. We spent the morning wandering around town – coffee at the groovy breakfast place, sussing out the monthly market (your usual small town bric-a-brac plus local vegies), reading the papers in the sun. Guy and I shared a crayfish for lunch at the ‘Salty Seas’ seafood wholesaler. I’d been desperate for a crayfish all up the east coast and now was my last chance, it was delicious. Before we knew it, the morning was over and we had to rush to get back in time for our 1 o’clock pick up for our Bay of Fires tour.

Bay of Fires was named by LP as one of the top destinations in the world, and apparently also by National Geographic magazine as the world’s (Australia’s??) second-best beach (first-best was Whitehaven Beach). We’d toyed with the idea of riding up to the Bay of Fires, but it’s quite a long way, involves gravel road, and there’s no facilities up there, plus we just didn’t have the time. But we didn’t want to compromise by just visiting Binalong Bay, the pretend Bay of Fires. So we booked a half day 4wd tour with Johnno.

Johnno was an odd character. Hard to tell how old he was, we guessed he could be as young as 40, but he looked like he could have been 60. Most importantly, he had a 4wd and could get us up beyond Anson Bay on the little-used 4wd tracks in behind the beaches. I was quite surprised to find that the majority of land up here is not national or state park. Most of the land behind the beaches is privately owned – farmland or little clusters of shacks side-by-side with expensive holiday houses (although not so expensive really, good investment opportunity here). The actual Bay of Fires is located in Mt William NP, and there are plenty of beachside camping areas in pockets of state forest, but the overall impression is of farmland. (And on the farmland were some of the tastiest-looking Black Angus cattle I’ve ever seen. I’ve never thought of cows as tasty-looking before, but these were plump and shiny and all rump!)

So the real Bay of Fires starts at Ansons Bay and continues north to Eddystone Point, the easterly-most point in Tasmania (or maybe St Helens point is, they both claim it). It got its name from Tobias Furneaux who sailed past in 1773 and could see hundreds of aboriginal camp fires burning the whole length of it. The orange-lichen-covered rocks reflected the flickering firelight, and he christened it the Bay of Fires. The actual bay is only a small section of the coast, but the orange rocks and white sands continue for miles and miles, extending as far south as Binalong Bay. (The orange rocks are in fact found down in Freycinet NP, up through Flinders Island and as far as Wilson’s prom). The white sands and the clear, clear waters are what make Bay of Fires extra special. Of course, Leonie and I couldn’t resist a swim even though it was still cold and windy. We jumped in at Bailey’s Rocks, right near the Bay of Fires resort. We’d love to come back and camp up here in some sunny weather.

Johnno had told us about the local seafood, including huge, sweet, Georges Bay oysters, so on the way back we stopped in at the wharf and picked some up for dinner. They went perfectly with our home-cooked scallops and trumpeter.

Notable food & wine moments: Fresh cooked crayfish, Pan-fried Tasmanian scallops with garlic and chilli, pan-fried stripey trumpeter, Georges Bay oysters. Ninth Island 2010 Pinot Grigio.

Day 9 St Helens – Weldborough

If Friday was a big ride, then this was bigger. We’d been dreading it the whole trip. Not such a long day, but 600m of climbing up to Weldborough Pass. The climbing started straight out of town, athough the first 30km wasn’t too steep as we followed the river valley up to Pyengana. Here we stopped for an early lunch at the Pyengana Cheese Factory. As well as cheese-tasting (which we did with gusto) they’ve got a beautiful cafe set up in a paddock overlooking the valley. We basked in the sun here for an hour or so, putting off the inevitable climb. We also took the opportunity to weigh our bikes on their giant set of scales. Guy – 46kg, Fe – 42kg, Leonie – 38kg. Wow, no wonder the hills are hard work.

After lunch it was all up, up, up. Fantastic scenery, but too hot and tired and legs working hard to appreciate it fully. Guy reached the pass a full 50 minutes before Leonie and I did! I did notice an echidna snuffling along the side of the road and had the energy to jump off my bike and try to pick him up to see his cute face (Johnno had picked one up yesterday) however I only managed to spike my fingertips on his spines! The echidnas here are bigger than in Victoria, and have much more fur amidst all their spines.

We also managed to take note as we passed through the Goshen Scenic Pastures, which Leonie and I declared to be the Goshen Very Scenic Pastures. Amazingly beautiful grazing land high up in the hills.

We arrived at the Weldborough Hotel around 3pm. A lovely old pub in a tiny town, it’s been recently taken over by a young couple who are doing it up. They are proud to be the only pub in Tassie where you can sample all Tasmania’s micro-brewed beers. We collapsed into it’s courtyard with beers before we’d even put our tents up – a rarity for us. We tried the Ironhouse Pale Ale and Hazards Amber Ale, both breweries which we’d passed on our travels and both declared delicious.

Notable food and wine moments: Pyengana cheese!

Day 10 Weldborough – Bridport

Well, this was supposed to be the easy day, all downhill to Bridport on the coast. But it turned out to have as much climbing as yesterday, and to be nearly twice the distance. The only redeeming feature was a stop at Derby early on. We visited the Tin Mine Centre to watch a film about the history of the town. It was a fantastically designed movie using still photos and animation. Mum had seen it a few weeks earlier and she was right to highly recommend it. Also in Derby we met a group of 9 road cyclists en route from Bridport to St Helens – a big day, albeit without panniers. They were incredulous at the weight of our bikes and gear, and we earned big respect from the MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra) from Sydney.

It was a long hard slog from Derby all the way to Bridport. Hills, vicious headwind, logging trucks, horror! We could have stopped in Scottsdale, but it was so uninviting that we elected to ride the final 20km to get the hell out of there. We arrived in Bridport at 6pm – by far our latest arrival. The day was redeemed by a refreshing swim in Bass Strait, followed by a fantastic meal at the local hotel. Plus, we arrived to late and left too early to be able to pay for our foreshore camping (we were only steps from the beach).

Notable food & wine moments: Seafood linguini, Moores Hill Riesling 2007

Day 11 Bridport – George Town

If yesterday was hell, today was heaven. How two days can be so different amazes me. The rolling hills and gorgeous scenery were just what the doctor ordered. Plus, we were finally entering the Tamar Valley wine region. Our first stop of the day was at Pipers Brook Winery. We sipped and sampled, ate a leisurely first lunch and generally enjoyed ourselves for an hour or so. The helpful staff also directed us to the back entrance on our way out to avoid having to revisit their hilly, but scenic, front entrance.

We reached George Town fairly early, leaving us plenty of time to explore the historic areas of Low Head, an old pilot station and lighthouse at the mouth of the Tamar River. And, there was time for a quick swim in the river, probably our last swim of the trip.

Notable food & wine moments: King Island blue cheese, prosciutto and riesling-poached pear at Pipers Brook.

Day 12 George Town – Legana

Logging trucks, logging trucks, logging trucks. We’d seen quite a few over the last two days, but today was by far the worst. Logging trucks seem to come and go to and from every direction in Tasmania. Just when Guy would announce a pattern to them, there’d be an exception to the rule. However an awful lot of them go to Bell Bay, and we were on the main East Tamar Hwy to Bell Bay for 20kms this morning. And when we finally turned off it, the last 6kms or so to the Batman Bridge across the Tamar were even worse as there was no verge to ride on. We had to get right off the road when the logging trucks came past. Tassie could do cycle-tourers a favour and get a ferry running from George Town to Beauty Point again to avoid having to ride this section.
(There are two redeeming features of the logging trucks in my mind: if they pass really close you get sucked along for a bit in their wake and save a pedal-stroke or two; plus they do smell all fresh-cut-woody and nice).

I was worried that Guy and I had lost all cycle-touring credibility with Leonie by riding that bit of road but the afternoon made up for it. On the west of the Tamar there are small back roads that run right along the edge of the river. Most traffic takes the West Tamar Hwy, these roads only have the odd tourist and local traffic. They are lined with holiday houses, vineyards and river views. Much improvement. Along here we stopped at Rosevears Tavern for a spot of lunch, before cutting back up to the highway for a km or two to get to our destination – Legana.

Legana is really an outer suburb of Launceston, but it has a lovely caravan park and is the home of a winery that we just couldn’t not visit – Velo Wines. We tasted some wine there and had a case sent home. Our thirteenth bottle to the dozen we took cold to have with our pre-dinner snacks of local olives and pate. Legana also had a great gourmet butcher, so we stocked up on sausages and steak and had a BBQ for dinner.

For tomorrow we are plotting a day in the big smoke – Launceston. Boags Brewery, Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery and the Tasmanian Design Centre are all on our list. Plus maybe even a movie!

Notable food & wine moments: Velo Riesling 2010, Kayena Pinot Gris, Tasmanian Black Angus rump steak.

From Hobart to Swansea

Day 1 Melbourne – Richmond

We spent an hour and a half assembling bikes at sleepy Hobart airport. By the time we’d finished and had a bite to eat it was 3.30 before we left. Just as well it was only a short 20km undulating ride into Richmond. Our first stop was the local IGA for important provisions (mostly food), followed closely by the campground. This trip isn’t going to be all cooking on campstoves, more about eating and drinking local food where possible, so after working out how to pitch Leonie’s tent we headed back into town for dinner at the Richmond Arms.

Notable food & wine moments: Pork cutlet with vegies, local trevalla, roast beef. Bream Creek Riesling, 42 Degrees South Sav Blanc.

Day 2 Richmond – Maria Island

An early start today as we wanted to make the Maria Island ferry from Triabunna by 4pm. Our first full day of cycling involved two largish hills and 60km of riding and we were unsure how long it would take. Turned out that we made it to Triabunna by 2pm. After the obligatory stop at Richmond bridge, the first decision of the day was which road to take. There won’t be a choice for a lot of our ride, but today we could take a sealed road, or a more direct but unsealed road. I lobbied for shorter and unselaed and won. Luckily for me it was well made and a beautiful ride, otherwise I would have been flat out of credit in the route-choosing dept!

The two big hills were over in time for an early lunch. And we happened upon the perfect lunch spot – The Tasmanian Bushland Garden just near Buckland. It’s a community-built garden on 20ha of bush. Lovely landscaped gardens with lots of native plants all labelled, an old quarry that’s slowly being transformed and has a waterfall on a sensor switch that turns on as you enter, plus picnic tables for passing cyclists!

After lunch it was mainly downhill into Orford. The last 6km along the Prosser river were stunning. The road winds right alongside the river, with no spare room on either side. Opposite we could see the remains of the old convict road that used to run all the way to Hobart. We made a quick stop in Orford for a drink and met a dog called Mildred. Mildred was a 3-month-old miniature daschund being held on a lead by a girl so small she couldn’t keep control of the tiny thing.

Sleepy Triabunna provided us with groceries for our next two days (Maria Island has no shops) and a couple of bottles of wine. For some reason I’d been starving all day, despite a big breakfast, two bana stops and and early lunch. So a snack at Triabunna’s fish van on the wharf was the order of the day. There was a moment of worry when it appeared that the ferry had gone at 1pm today, but all turned out well in the end as it was an additional sailing. The threatening black clouds dissipated as we made the 40min ferry ride out to the island. Maria Island is an old convict settlement, although it’s nowhere near as depressing as Port Arthur. Maybe that’s because it also has a history of farming, wine-making and as a cement factory! It became a national park in the late 60s. Now the old penitentiary is used for accommodation and the island is a natural habitat for cape barren geese, forester kangaroos, pademelons and wombats. There’s also a quarantined devil population, and Leonie says she saw an emu. But I was the one with glasses on and it looked like a goose to me.

Notable food & wine moments: Local scallops, flake and trevalla, plus home made potato cakes from the Triabunna Fish Van. No restaurants on Maria Island, so pasta with mushrooms, capsicum & salami. NZ pinot gris (nothing local cold in the bottle shop), Ninth Island Pinot Noir.

Day 3 Maria Island

Bit of a sleep in until 7.30 today! It’s a gloomy day, not really beach weather, so this morning we took a walk up one of the peaks on the island – Bishop & Clerk. It was a spectacular walk along the cliff tops and then winding up and up to finish up a rock scree slope to a peak of dolerite columns. The other side of the columns dropped 700m almost straight down to the sea. Whilst we snacked on top the cloud moved in and remained there for the rest of the day, so we were lucky with the timing. After lunch back down at the campsite in Darlington we took part in the day’s ranger activity – learning about shorebirds and in particular the hooded plover. A stroll around the old buildings in the afternoon topped off the day. Dinner in front of the open fire in the picnic shelter as rain pitter-pattered on the roof.

Notable food & wine moments: None :-(

Day 4 Maria Island – Swansea

I was determined to get a snorkel in at Maria Island, despite being warned of icebergs in the water. No way was I carrying that snorkel and mask and not using it! So around 8.30 when there was a break in the clouds that I could kid myself was warmer, I headed off to the jetty. Neither Guy nor Leonie were interested in joining me! And they had the right idea – the water was so cold that I could hardly breathe! And the water under the jetty wasn’t clear enough without the sunlight to see much anyway. But I was glad I did it!

The ferry departed at 10.30 and by noon we had the bikes unloaded, sea-water rinsed off and panniers loaded up. Just for a short hop up to the bakery for lunch.

We cycled 50kms in the afternoon to get to Swansea. We started off in sunshine and finished in the pouring rain! The ride was as beautiful as I’d expected – undulating farmland most of the way and then along a winding road close to the sea. If it had been hot I’d have been jumping into the sea at every beach I saw! We stopped off at the Spiky Bridge – a convict-era bridge with stones sticking up along it’s top and just as the rain began we arrived at Kate’s Berry Farm. An icon, it’s been running for 21 years. We feasted on berry pie, milkshakes and coffee and then stocked up on chocolates before we left. Unfortunately we’ve still too many hills to ride to justify buying their delicious but heavy jars of jam!

Unfortunately the rain showed no sign of letting up, so we rode the last few kms into Swansea in the pouring rain!! We got drenched. Time for a night indoors. At the swish Swansea Backpackers the manager greeted three dripping cyclists without batting an eye – turns out she’s a cycle tourer herself.

Notable food & wine moments: Mingleberry and Apple Pie. At the time of writing we’re about to head out and sample the local produce at The Ugly Duck Out, therefore update on dinner to follow.

Tasmania-bound

We’re Tasmania bound in only two days!
As yet, I’ve not done much cycle-touring in Australia. Guy and I had a short jaunt around Central Victoria over Easter 2010. It was on peaceful, quiet backroads, in areas that have been flooded in recent days. Tasmania will be a whole nother kettle of fish though – there aren’t many backroads, just the highway most of the way.

We’re flying into Hobart on Saturday, assembling the bikes at the airport and cycling off up the east coast via Maria Island and Freycinet NP to the Bay of Fires. From there we head inland across to the Tamar Valley for some wine touring, before pedalling onto the boat at Devonport to arrive home two weeks later. There’ll be no bike paths, no shoulder on many of the roads, and lots of hills. Hopefully there will also be sunshine, snorkelling, seafood and tailwinds.

Also different this trip is that we’re not alone. My cycling-buddy Leonie is joining us. In fact, the whole premise of this trip is to celebrate her and my significant-birthdays. I expect a party of three will be a whole different dynamic – a good one!

Stay tuned for updates from the road.