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.