Friday, January 7, 2011

Tassie's Wild West

I had one expectation about this blog and that was to give daily, or almost daily, updates about my bike ride. However, upon eventually writing my first entry after arriving in Australia I decided that quality of content was a better idea than quantity of updates. My laziness and the lack of reliable wi-fi also contributed to this decision. Frequent updates would just cause you, the reader, to be bored. There is nothing special about telling your what I had for breakfast (unless it's Tim Tam's and Nutella) or how sore my butt is (it isn't surprisingly).

I indicated that I would be going to Phillip Island in my last post. I spent three days in Cowes, relaxing, taking photos, and coming to the realization that I hate being just another tourist. Phillip Island has some amazing coastal landscapes and unique wildlife. On Phillip Island, these attractions are almost entirely protected and controlled by Phillip Island Nature Parks, an organization created by the Victoria government. I do understand that this is an organization created to conserve all of Victoria's beautiful wilderness and wildlife and that, in some areas, they allow tourists to see these attractions for a price in order to finance said conservation. Fine. However, I think the vision of conservation and protection is lost when you build a gigantic concrete grandstand in the middle of a penguin habitat and charge people outrageous prices (in my opinion, even for Australia; $21.20 to $74.50) to sit on those concrete benches to see those penguins. In case you were wondering, I chose to not go see the Penguin Parade. I didn't think it would be a very genuine experience. At least that's my rationalization. I didn't go to the Koala Conservation Centre either. Animals in captivity just depress me. I did go to The Nobbies. This is an area of the island where seals can be seen resting on rocks along the coast. It is also free of charge to access. That excited me! I armed myself with my telephoto lens equipped camera, but didn't see any seals. I guess it may have been the wrong time of the day. I was scanning the coastline from the boardwalks in the middle of the afternoon. I didn't leave completely disappointed. I did see some truly stunning coastal landscapes and a very active gull nesting ground.

Coast, rugged

The Nobbies

Nesting Gull

Never wanting to retrace my steps, or tire tracks, I decided to do a sort of semi-circumnavigation of the island. This detour brought me past the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit. I reluctantly paid the tourist admission price of around $14. This allowed me access to an area overlooking the circuit and to the motor sport museum. Here is the view of the track that was totally void of any fast moving, fuel burning, very loud objects:
Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit

I was alone in the museum which had various vintage cars, motorcycles, suits, and photos on display. As an amateur photographer, I really enjoyed these photos taken at the Phillip Island circuit in years past:
Blindfold Race
Moto GP fireball

Those were my highlights from my ride around Phillip Island. Hardly enough activity to bother writing a postcard about, but I did go for a very pleasant bike ride the day. I should say my ride was mostly pleasant. On my way from the Nobbies to the GP Circuit I was repeatedly dive bombed by a magpie who I must have given a dirty look. Anyways it took a few pecks at my helmet and then we parted ways.

The following morning I left Cowes on a small ferry to Stony Point en route to Melbourne. A fairly violent storm started as I boarded the ferry and by the time I arrived to Stony Point the wind was very strong and it was raining heavily. I decided, like when I left Sydney, that I did not want to fight suburb traffic in the pouring rain. So I waited for the train that would take me from Stony Point to within a few blocks of the Melbourne City Centre hostel. No problems... until the train stopped at Mordialloc station and the conductor instructed everyone to get off because there was track maintenance ahead. There were buses available as alternate transport, but they did not allow bicycles. I was only about 15 km's from the city and the rain had stopped at this point, so no big deal. I rode the very bike-friendly Beach Rd. all the way into the city. Except for another short but violent storm and getting lost in the city for about an hour, I reached the hostel safe and sound. Overall, that was an easy day and I was excited to be back in a big city!

Even before arriving at the hostel, I knew I already liked Melbourne. First and foremost: Melbourne is very bike friendly! Almost every street has a bike lane, or is wide enough to accommodate cyclists, and motorists are generally courteous to cyclists and pedestrians. Sydney has a very very long way to go in this department. Politicians are flying off their bikes all over Sydney. Who knows how many other completely ridiculous bike crash stories go unreported!

Here are a few shots from my days in Melbourne:

End of Flinders Station and the Eureka Tower:
Old and nice. Nice and new. ... and 88 stories.
Melbourne has some truly fabulous and very diverse architecture!

Gourmet feast with Pat and Cath who were visiting from Sydney:
Ridiculously delicious lunch at Movida!
I think I may have developed a upper-class addiction to steak tartare.

Just a sample of the hundreds of amazing murals throughout Melbourne!
Alley graffiti - Melbourne
There are murals all over the city and there is very little graffiti on them. Artist respect!

Sidewalk break dancing:
Melbourne Breakdance freak out!

It was no Dirty Vegas video, but still cool to stumble upon some poppin' and lockin'

Cool cafe on Degraves and Alex, a friend of Pat and Cath's
Alex wanted to have coffee at a place that matched his shirt. Mission accomplished.

Lots of great looking restaurants, cafes, shops in here. I can't wait to go back!

Some cyclist by the Yarra River in Southbank:
I went for a pedal in Melbourne.
"Epic" photo

Inside the Royal Exhibition Building:
Inside the Royal Exhibition Building - Melbourne

Melbourne from 88 floors up in the Eureka Tower:
Melbourne City at Sunset

It's a very very pretty city!:
Melbourne City at night

Bye bye Melbourne! Off to Tassie!
Off to Tassie!

I was sad to leave Melbourne after only spending three nights there, but I knew I would be back so I was able to hold back my tears. I had already booked my ferry ride to Tasmania. The popular choice for taking the Spirit of Tasmania is to take it at night. You are transported to your destination and since the sailing takes 9 to 11 hours, you get a night's accommodation while you're at it. Unfortunately when I made my booking sometime around the 17th or 18th of December, the next available night sailing was on January 5th, so I went with the day sailing. I had a quick ride from the Melbourne City Central YHA (great facility btw!) to Station Pier. It was difficult to get lost. Only a few blocks after leaving the hostel, all I had to do was ride towards the big red and white ship. No getting lost this time. I rode past the lineup of hundreds of cars, trucks and RV's and was one of the first people on board. Sneaky, I know. I wanted to make sure I had my choice of bunks in the shared birth I was in. However, that wasn't necessary because once the ship left port no one else had come into the room. I had it to myself! My 9 hour day sailing to Devonport was mostly uneventful, so I will describe it in one sentence:
Picked bottom bunk, had shower, walked around, found out the wi-fi was not working, got bored, had a nap, woke up to the sound of the captain's voice announcing strong winds, felt green about 30 seconds after getting out of bed, always held handrail en route to the bar, got a rum & coke, sat in a chair out on the deck and eavesdropped on an elderly man with a posh London accent (hmmyes, quite, you see, etc) who was telling and a young German backpacker how the Spirit of Tasmania was a ferry between Italy and Greece prior to it's current service and that it used to travel much faster (32 knots instead of 27), felt my forehead starting to burn, went back to the bar to get a beer chaser, wandered around the ship only because I wanted to sit down somewhere inside but there was child-puke everywhere due to the swaying ship, went back out on deck to get some fresh air because I was starting to feel green again from the combination of ship movement and kid-puke, went and had another nap, got up, got a couple more drinks at the bar before it closed, watched some TV, packed up my bag, went down to where my bike was and rode off the ship into East Devonport.

I didn't have to ride far once in Devonport. Only about 200 metres actually. I rolled into the courtyard of Hawley's Gingerbread House a few minutes after leaving the ship. This is a great heritage house converted into a restaurant downstairs (which was excellent) and a backpackers accommodation upstairs. The evening I arrived the hostel was sold out. My not-having-to-share-a-room luck would continue at Hawley's. I was 'upgraded' to a single room with a double bed! However, I wasn't sure why I was asked if I was claustrophobic before I accepted the room.

Hawley's Gingerbread House, East Devonport:
Hawley's Ginger Bread House

My 'upgraded' room:
The Dungeon
A small space with enough room for my bags and a whole in the wall with a bed. In all honesty, I really appreciated having a room on my own. I am an EXTREMELY light sleeper.

I spent three nights in Devonport. It was great to relax and just hang out some more. In three days I took a few photos around the town, saw the new Tron movie, and... that's about it. Although I enjoy relaxing, I had spent a few days in both Cowes and Melbourne doing the same. I was starting to feel lethargic and just lazy. I was glad to hit the road on Boxing Day. My first day in Tassie would be a fairly big day since I decided to head straight for Cradle Mountain. In hindsight I didn't make the best route selection. Instead of taking the most direct route via Wilmot, I took the route that would take me by Promise Land and the Tasmanian Crack Pot for lunch. My lunch was delightful, but the ride after was not. I spent the rest of my afternoon still climbing. It was some of the longest, most lung-burning, leg-shredding, spirit-shattering climbing of my life. I had bonked with about 25km's left before getting to Cradle Mountain. I spent my time crossing Middlesex Plains either in my granny gear or pushing my bike. For a little while I felt totally crushed. I thought all my days off had turned me into a soft, chicken legged nancy.

My spirits were lifted when the turn-off to Cradle Mountain appeared. The pedals felt lighter and I danced on my pedals up the last few km's to the Cradle Mountain Discovery Centre. I got giddy when I checked-in and I was told I would have a bunk room to myself for the night. Three nights in a row! Praise Jeebus! Once settled in I had a massive dinner consisting of chicken vindaloo, rice, corn, more rice, four eggs and a huge bottle of Coke. I then proceeded to pass out the moment my head hit my pillow and slept for 13 solid hours.

In the morning I woke up to something I wasn't surprised to see at Cradle Mountain but didn't expect: SNOW!
A White Christmas. Belated.

I was glad I had decided to take the day off riding to take a short hike around Dove Lake. The tarmac in most of Australia get very slick when it is wet not to mention snow-covered! The shuttle for the 7km ride from the visitor centre to the Dove Lake parking lot was free, but I elected to ride my bike there since there was at least on hundred asian tourists waiting for the shuttle ahead of me. The ride wasn't the most pleasant but I was glad I only had to ride 14kms that day. Snow and wind would continue throughout the day.

The clouds did occasionally lift and unveiled an amazing landscape!

Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake
Old Boathouse on Dove Lake

... and some pretty unique sights considering the season:
Summer Snowman

I hit the road just after 6 AM the morning I left Cradle Mountain because I hadn't slept a wink the night before. My empty dorm room had been filled that night. Two of the three guys staying in my room had me worried as soon as I saw them. One was around 60 and the other at least 75. I knew it, they were going to snore up a storm. They didn't disappoint. I tried everything: ear plugs, IPod, pillow wrapped around head. I stayed awake the entire night. They never stopped. I finally just got tired of listening to it and went and hung out in the kitchen with my packed panniers and waited for the sun to come up.

Starting that early in the morning does have its advantages. I saw one car in my first two hours of riding and I also saw about half a dozen kangaroos. The lack of traffic and wildlife sightings were great but the downhill profile of the first half of my day was what I was most excited about. It took me just over two hours to ride the nearly 60 km's from Cradle Mountain to Tullah.

I would have made it to Tullah in less than two hours had I not come across a fellow cyclist heading in the opposite direction. He was sitting on the curb of a creek bridge as I flew by him at about 60 km/h at the end of a long downhill stretch. I figured it would be nice to exchange stories of one weary, solo cyclist to another. Once I finally got slowed down and turned around, I approached him and gave him a very Canadian greeting: "How ya doin'? His replied with some quiet grumbling and a shrug of the shoulders. He was still looking at the ground. I took a closer look at him and this man was L.L.S. If you have first aid training you may know what this means. My next question to him was: "Are you okay?" After searching for an answer for a few moments he replied with a simple: "No." Naturally, I continued: "What's wrong?" He explained that he was very tired and that he felt very weak. After confirming the obvious I offered him my bottle of Powerade which he chugged down completely as fast as he could squeeze it out of the nozzle. I asked if he had any food and, after more thought, he said he had some bread left and that was it. I offered him a granola bar and to share my dried apricots. In between him inhaling my food he continued to explain that he was planning to stay the previous night in Tullah, but that the only accommodation listed in town has since closed down. Having arrived in Tullah in the late evening he reluctantly spent the night on the side of the road laying his head on his backpack. This man had no tent, sleeping bag, and only a shell jacket and pants to keep him warm. I thought to myself that this man was very likely to be in much worse condition than he appeared to be. Since I had been up all night and had wondered outside, I knew that the temperature had dipped down to near freezing overnight. Why didn't he hitch a ride?! Why in the hell didn't he bring proper gear!?!? I was often told that I was crazy for cycling Tassie's western route, but at least I was prepared. I thought this man had a few loose screws. Both in his brain and on his bike! Even though the rear tire on his department store hybrid had blown out and was patched, and that he was probably hypothermic, he insisted to carry on cycling despite me explaining that he had 60 km's of uphill riding left to reach Cradle Mountain. Feeling concerned, I advised him that if he gets stuck like the did the night prior that there is no shame in hitching a ride to the next stop even if he has to abandon his bike in the ditch. The German man told me he felt much better after eating most of food supply and that he would carry on cycling. I wished him good luck and we continued on our way.

I didn't mind giving away most of my snacks to this man. Bike karma is a very powerful force. All unprepared-out-of-shape-German man drama aside, he did offer some good beta regarding Strahan (pronounced "Strawn" in 'Stralian). I was on the fence about going to this coastal tourist town. After he explained that the cheapest accommodation that he found was $300 a night I decided on the spot that I would skip Strahan and head straight for the mining town of Queenstown.

I checked into another hotel/pub for the night in Queenstown. I had a stellar burger at local grill (I forgot to write down its name), stocked up on snacks at the grocery store and headed back to the hotel for a few beers at the pub. I wanted to sit at the bar and have a couple of pints and watch TV to kill time. However, I also knew that this wasn't some hoity-toity tourist restaurant. This was one of the many hotel/pub/gaming rooms in a mining industry town. I thought I may meet some... interesting characters. Boy did I ever.

Two sips into my first beer an elderly man sat next to me. He was scrawny, gaunt and hunched over but still had a spring in his step and a sharp tongue. We chatted for some time while we both quickly drank our first beers. I told him about my bicycle trip, he expressed how he thought I was 'mad' for touring on a 'pushie'. He informed me that he was born in the now ghost town of Gormanston which is just up the road from Queenstown. During our chit-chat another man who walked into the pub and sat down at the bar went relatively unnoticed until he put money into the juke box and started playing Metallica and AC/DC. This annoyed me because the bartender immediately muted the TV as soon as the music started and the old man was annoyed, well, for obvious reasons. After a few tracks had played, the man came around to the end of the bar where I and a few other men were sitting. He wanted to show off the photo of himself with a headless shark carcass that he claimed to have caught that was taken with his phone. After the other men had smiled a nodded he came and showed me the photo. Upon his entrance into my personal space I had a made a discovered an interesting fact regarding his disposition; he was completely tanked. If there was a more realistic version of Popeye than this man was it. He was big, tall, had the arms of a longshoreman and had a disfigured and scared face. All he was missing was a pipe and a can of spinach. He introduced himself as Butler. Butler showed me the tattoo of his own name on his arm. I guess this was to confirm that this was indeed his name. Feeling slightly intimidated and not wanting to interact with him, I mumbled something like: "Very nice" and looked back at the muted TV.

Butler returned to his seat and after a few quick sips of his mixed drink he started ranting proudly to all the others at the bar about how well he can navigate Tassie's West Coast, how he knows all the good spots for catching crawfish on Tassie's West Coast, how great fishing on Tassie's West Coast is. This drunken ramble was abruptly stopped by the old man sitting next to me. "Fuck the West Coast!", he shouted to Butler at the other end of the bar. The large, intimidating, and drunken Butler replied after long glare at the old man: "I beg your pardon." Putting his bottle of Boag's (beer) down onto the bar, the old man shouted without hesitation: "Fuck Tassie's West Coast!" Trying not to laugh, grin, smile or even make eye contact with anyone, I began to fear not only for the old man's safety, but also for mine. I thought to myself: it was around 7 PM and there was already going to be a bar fight in a pub in Queenstown. Luckily, for all parties involved, this would be the most heated part of their discussion. Both men went on about how they were born in the area and their families had been there for generations. They were only a few steps away from me when they shook hands after the old man’s steak dinner had arrived at the bar. Butler then immediately came over to me and asked me where I was from. I answered that I was from Canada and continued to answer questions about what I was doing in Australia and so on. He seemed genuinely impressed about my trip. Butler’s excitement level piqued when he found out I am an amateur photographer. “You wanna get some great pictures mate?”, he asked, to which I replied that I always do. Butler continued: “Well I can get to the REAL, WILD West Tassie!” He grabbed a bar napkin and a pen and began to sketch out the areas of the coast where he would take me... on his fishing boat! While I continued to smile and nod Butler explained: “You can come out with my buddy Ivan and I and spend a few days at the cabin. It has satellite TV, a hot shower, I’ll feed ya... I’m not gay or anything like that alright!...” Butler’s eyes were scanning the room. “Yeah, we could even go catch some crawfish if the weather is alright.” Butler gave me his phone number and told me to give him a ring early in the morning so he could come meet me and pick me up and my bike and all my gear and he could head out right away.

At first I expressed interest in Butler’s proposal. This would be an experience much more exciting than the ho-hum tourist attractions. It would be a real adventure into the unknown. However, that unknown was: Who is Butler? Does he really have a boat and a cabin out in the wild on the west coast of Tasmania? If I go, will I ever come back? Will I become the bait for crawfish and shark fishing? Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately in regards to my life expectancy, I decided to carry on riding the next morning. My excuse was that I had made plans to be in Hobart for New Years. This was partially true. I wanted to be in Hobart for new years, but had no plans whatsoever.

If you leave Queenstown heading east you will have to travel what is known as “99 Bend Road”. This was a fantastic bit of road even cycling up it! A big climb is always painful to some degree, but that pain seems to be compounded when it begins so early in a ride. The road winds out of Queenstown and flattens out just beyond the ghost town of Gormanston.

99 Bend Road

My first break was well timed the morning I left Queenstown for Lake St. Claire. I pulled over at Nelson Falls. This was just a couple of km’s beyond the sign displaying that I had entered a World Heritage Area. Both my map and my Lonely Planet book informed me that it was a 20 minute walk to and from the falls. Knowing that those times are always allow for tourist-pace walking (if you live in a big city and have ever tried to pass a tourist while walking on the sidewalk you know exactly what I mean) I decided to take my camera and tripod and go have a look. Although they may lack the scale of Niagara they are located in a stunning temperate rainforest. It felt like I was back home in Vancouver.

Nelson Falls

My arrival to Lake St Claire was nothing exciting at all. I checked into the backpacker accommodation there... eventually. Every single staff member I dealt with at the visitor’s centre was a new hire. I needed a shower badly and my stomach was growling, but I maintained my composure and suppressed my temptation to jump over the counter and do everything myself. The showers that were available to me were coin operated. Suddenly I didn’t need to shower quite so badly and I wanted do my part to save fresh water. Instead I enjoyed a nice relaxing baby wipe rub down.

I left Lake St. Claire early in the morning because I wanted to get a good breakfast in me at the Hungry Wombat in Darwent Bridge. A heaping plate of eggs, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, home fries, baked beans and toast later I was on my way. My planned destination was the small town of Ouse, but I had mentally prepared myself to pedal past it. Lonely Planet had described the only affordable accommodation in Ouse as "rough as guts". Upon arriving in Ouse and having a burger to keep the calorie count up I discovered that the hotel/pub was boarded up. I kept pedalling past it and headed for Hamilton.

Once in Hamilton I checked myself into the Hamilton in. Yet another hotel/pub in a heritage building, where I was expecting to be given a room, told what time checkout was and that would be the end of any interaction. But this place was truly exceptional, at least for me. The owner, John, offered me a discounted 'contractor' rate and some pretty genuine and candid conversation regarding his business, life, etc. For once I wasn't just a number, but an actual person. Attentive and caring innkeepers do exist! That can mean a lot to someone who has been travelling alone for a month!

That's it for this update. The west of Tassie wasn't as wild as it could have potentially been, but I feel satisfied. I still saw some truly amazing landscapes and had some of the biggest riding challenges from my ride in Australia so far. Although I did make it to Hobart for New Year's, I will write about it in my next post because this one is reaching novel-like length. Until the next time, don't bonk.


  1. Nice job feeding the stubborn German!

  2. Wow, that was longer than Jonas 13:3. I don't even know if the bible has such a verse, but I bet this was a better read!

  3. Dig your tour and pictures. But I disagree with you that daily writeups of your riding would lack content or be boring for a reader. The quality of the roads, the weather, the climbs and ascents, the animals, the shops you stopped at for food, the lack of places to stop for food, the hunger, the thirst, the saddle sores, the fatigue, your hatred or love for getting on the bike that day, where you camped or found a room, how the bike performed or didn't, etc.