Since we were travelling to Australia in May 2018, we looked for a few recommended bikepacking/touring routes down under. We initially looked at Attack of The Buns but since we were flying into Brisbane (Michelle’s family is from there) the logistics of this route were complicated and the time of the year was not the best. We then started looking Tasmanian Trail but we would need bikes with bigger tires and we were trying to avoid taking our bikes. Also, the recommended 10 days for the trail was a bit too long for the time we had in Australia. So, in the end we decided to cycle from Launceston down to Hobart, going North to South to try and avoid northerly head winds. From what we researched, we would have quiet tarmac roads, stunning scenery and a fairly chilly weather for our trip, but cycling trips never go completely according to plan…
We arrived in Launceston late Sunday evening and took a shuttle from the airport as there was no public transport at that time. On Monday morning, our bikes were dropped off to us at our hotel (a slight mix-up meant the panniers we rented were not there, but the couple who dropped off the bikes kindly loaned their own personal panniers to us, including a brand new set of Ortlieb Back-Roller Plus panniers that they had not yet used). We rented our bikes from Longhaul Tasmania. They drop the bikes to your hotel in Launceston and collect them from you in Hobart (or vice versa) and offer to send any extra luggage you have to your destination. The bikes were Vivente touring bikes. Unfortunately both bikes were too big for us, which is always a risk when renting bikes for longer tours. The bikes had steel frames, but in our opinion the 32mm Schwalbe Marathon tires were too narrow for the roads we would encounter. We set off and stopped at Amelia Espresso (ameliaespresso.com.au) for a quick coffee and simple breakfast. The coffee culture in Australia is very good and there are many places to get a decent coffee, and Amelia was clearly one of them. After a final stop at BCF to purchase some gas for our camp stove we were on our way.
The cycle out of Launceston was as expected when you are loaded up with gear, dodging traffic, and feeling desperate to get to calmer roads and better scenery. The first 18km we cycled along the main road out of Launceston towards Bridport. It felt like any other cycle tour along the road and we hoped that not too much of the tour would be like this. But then we came to a side road and took a slight detour away from the highway and our moods immediately picked up. In addition to a great section of downhill, the scenery was beautiful with small houses, big properties, little rivers and rolling hills, not to mention some beautiful autumn colours. We stopped to take a few pictures and load up on some enthusiasm before continuing on. Another 10kms and we arrived in Lilydale for lunch: a loaf of fresh bread and some cheese from the local corner store.
From here, the scenery was almost always stunning. We found some gravel roads as well as back roads through the countryside, and we had to keep ourselves from continually stopping to take pictures. The downside was that the route was way more hilly than we anticipated, and it felt like every time we made it up a hill there was another waiting for us. Add to that some headwind and we were really struggling towards the end of the day. As it started to get dark, we still had about 10km left to our first campsite and the wind was picking up. We were on a gravel road (hilly, of course) and realised that we would need to find the campsite in the dark, fighting increasingly strong headwind as we went. On the upside, we witnessed one of the most amazing sunsets we have ever seen, as the sun reddened on its decent behind the horizon. We also came across a huge herd of sheep running beside us through their paddock and who all, at the very same moment, stopped dead and looked at us all at once. Very children of the corn.
We eventually made it to the campsite and called the office as we arrived outside of their office hours (and in low season, so we were the only campers at the site). The owner was nice, gave us the combination to the toilet block and told us to leave the money for him when we left in the morning. By now the wind was incredibly strong, and we set up the tent right next to the toilet block in an attempt to shield ourselves as best we could from the wind. The hot shower at the end of this day was incredible.
[5 hours 51 min cycling, 73kms in total]
After our slightly slower pace on Day 1, we were a little unsure how we would manage a longer-than-planned Day 2, and what we knew would be a long steep climb right at the end. We started early and cycled down a two-lane highway with few cars for the first 20kms. There were some large trucks though, and although they tended to overtake us as they would a car (changing over to the other lane), they did not seem to slow down at all. We were pushing a little hard to make as much progress as we could, and we were shocked to realise we had made 44kms in less than 2 hours. Amazing what a little tailwind can do! We decided to keep going while the riding was good and stop for lunch at 55kms.
Just before we planned to stop for lunch, we turned down a long gravel road (Banca road). While the scenery was just incredible, our pace obviously slowed. We stopped on the side of the road and cooked lunch. After 61kms we eventually came onto a paved road again and cycled through the rolling hills of the countryside near Winnaleah. Strangely, the cows always stopped to watch us, or occasionally jotted next to the fence beside us as we cycled (presumably they thought we were bringing food).
We needed to fill up our water and stopped at Winnaleah and found only a small pub open. Chatting to the bar woman as she filled our water bottles, she found out we were headed to camp at the Weldeborough Hotel and asked us whether we were sure it was open. We had checked the website and we believed it was, but the woman called ahead and got no response on the phone. That gave us a little doubt, so we checked the website again before we left and it seemed to be open. So we continued.
At about 71kms we finally came to the base of the mountain we had been dreading. It was 12kms uphill, and we wound our way along the road up the mountain. I started to fantasise about the amazing pub meal I was going to order when we arrived. Something with hot fluffy potatoes, baked vegetables, gravy… It was my mantra as we struggled up each turn, stopping every 500m or so to let the muscles in our legs get some energy back. I started talking to Simão about pub food. How nice it would be to walk in to the warm restaurant, with friendly people and hearty food. You may have picked up where this story is headed…
We arrive and there was no sign of any life in the Weldeborough Hotel. “Maybe it opens later for dinner?”I say, hopefully, as we looked inside. We took our bikes around the back to the campsite and find a group of young teenage boys and their supervisors sitting around preparing to cook at their campsite. Watching us walking around, a man named Ross from Project Booyah came over and explained that we could camp anywhere but the pub was closed on Monday’s and Tuesday’s in the off-season. I think my face dropped to the ground, part disappointment and part exhaustion, as the image I had built of a warm pub meal vanished in my mind. We did have some food we could cook if needed, but Ross was so nice he welcomed us to join them as they taught the kids how to make camp pizzas. We tried not to eat as if we had not seen food in days, but the group was really nice and insisted we keep eating as the food would otherwise go to waste. Needless to say, we didn’t need convincing.
Ross asked about our tour and where we were headed. He asked if we had seen the weather report, as the forecast for the next days was not looking good and some extreme rain and wind was headed from the south east and would hit the coast in a day or two. We remained quite hopeful at this point, and thought anything could happen in a day or two and maybe the weather would not turn out as bad as was forecast. Ross was not as positive, but wished us well and we are sure the group thought of us a few days later…
The night was very cold and we were exhausted. After dinner, we thanked the group, showered, and went straight to bed. As I went to get into the tent I looked up at the sky and lost my breath. I have never seen such an amazing night sky, filled with so many stars, and so clear. If it wasn’t for the cold, it was maybe 0-1 degrees, I could have stayed looking into the stars for hours.
[6:30 hours cycling, 83kms cycled this day]
We thought the day would start with a small climb up the remainder of the mountain before some incredible (and what we felt was a very much deserved) downhill. Unfortunately, the climb was about another 5kms and we really struggled our way up to the top. When we made it, we took some pictures, rested and psyched ourselves for what we imagined would be about 30kms of downhill (in my head, that is what I felt we deserved), but was perhaps more like 13kms. Even though it was only 13kms, the downhill was incredible. We flew, and the whole way the scenery was unbelievably beautiful. Rolling green hills, bushland, and smooth clear roads.
Another of our slight miscalculations was our estimate of the distance between Weldeborough Hotel and the next small town (Scamander) where we would replenish our supplies. By the time we arrived we were starving. I was in charge of getting food from the supermarket (bad idea) and I felt like a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t decide what to get, or how much, or what to leave behind. I pulled myself together, got some supplies, and we added a loaf of bread from the bakery and stuffed ourselves with a meat pie before heading off again.
The second half of our day was cycling along the ocean. We stopped at a beach or two and took some pictures. If only it had been summer we would have jumped in the water. There were few houses along the coast, and the road quite low, so the view to our left was incredible. The other good thing about this part of the cycle was that the route was much flatter, well, not quite Berlin-flat, but flat enough that the locals described it as flat. It started to rain lightly as we made our way in the dusk to the campsite. We arrived as it was almost dark, to an unattended campsite right by the sea (Lagoon Camping Site, just before Chain of Lagoons). It had a basic chemical toilet and no shower or lights, but it was clean and we were one of only a few people at the site (the only tent, everyone else was in a camper). We quickly pitched our tent, ate something, and got ready for bed. I was exhausted by this point, and our butts hurt after cycling so many hills and sitting on a saddles that were a little too wide (another reason we would take our bikes for the next trip).
After cleaning my teeth, I came out of the bathroom and Simão yelled “what is that big animal that looks like a small fury pig!?”. I stopped where I was, in the dark with my headlamp on, wondering what animal he could have seen that would look like a small fury pig?? I heard something in the tree beside me and when I turned my headlamp caught the eyes of a possum. “Ahh, it’s just a possum!” (note, most Australians describe weird/strange animals to foreigners with this phrasing: “Oh, it is JUST a ____”). Simão thought it was such an ugly animal, though I mentioned that many tourists think they are kind of cute and try to feed them (note: do not feed the possums — keep reading). We went to bed and a couple of hours later we heard a heavy scratching at the base of our tent. We both woke up and whacked the tent to scare whatever it was away. Within seconds it was back scratching again, pulling at the tent. I looked at the base of the tent and saw the head of a possum poking through the vestibule and looking up at me (indeed, an ugly thing to see in the middle of the night). As if to say “I am not scared of you” it came in and started to scratch again at the side of the tent. We tried for about 10 minutes to scare it away, got out of the tent and chased it. It ran up a tree and just watched us (Simão said it just scratched its balls watching him until we went back inside the tent). I started to think we would need to have shifts protecting the tent. We figured it was smelling food (hence why people should not feed the possums!!!) but we had packed all our food in a dry bag that was lying beneath us, and all was packaged. I then noticed where the possum was scratching, and a loaf of bread we had wrapped up and sealed was now pulled close to the edge of the tent where the possum had made a hole (yes, in our tent) and had managed to open the packet and grab at some bread. Now aware of our small oversight, we tightly wrapped the bread and put it in yet another dry bag and lay it in the middle of us, and placed something against the hole in the tent. We waited. We heard the possum come sniffing around the edge of the tent, checking each corner for the smell of more food. Thankfully, it left us alone after this, but I think I dreamt of the possum for the rest of the night.
[8 hours cycling, 90kms cycled this day]
Today we started to get an impression of just how bad the weather would turn. We left the campsite aiming to get to Bicheno before the rain really hit. The rain was constant but not too bad for the first 5kms but it really started to pour down the last 10kms. We tried to see the fun side of it for as long as we could, and we were really thankful we had all our wet weather clothes. It wasn’t until the last 5km that the water started to wet the edges of our mid-layers.
We made it to Bicheno and went straight to the supermarket to get supplies and look for somewhere to warm up and get some food. Everyone was super friendly (except one lady in the local supermarket who I noticed glaring at me in my rain gear as I salivated over which cheese to buy) and often started a conversation with “Not really the best weather for cycling…”. This was kind of charming, up until the 10th person said it.
We found a restaurant called The Farm Shed near the supermarket (well, everything was near the supermarket, the town is not so big) and walked in soaking wet trying our best not to spread water everywhere. The staff were super nice, told us not to worry, to hang our clothes and come sit down at the big communal table in the centre of the shop. They turned the heaters on immediately to help us warm up and asked us about our trip. I think everyone could see our disappointment about the weather effectively ending our trip. We ate a bowl of warm soup, had a coffee, and dreaded the point at which we needed to leave again in the horrible weather to get to the motel.
We stayed at Wintersun Gardens Motel, a nice clean place with friendly owners who were also sympathetic to our situation. We turned on the heating, showered, and did our best to try and dry some of our clothes and shoes while we figured out just how bad our situation was. After obsessively checking the weather forecasts and looking at options to get down to Hobart in the days we had left, we realised with (major) disappointment that we would need to cut our trip short and take a bus down to Hobart. The weather had not yet hit its peak, with 100-200mm of rain and 60-80km headwinds expected along the entire south-east coast for the next day. Even if we waited a day and tried to cycle, we would have to skip Freycinet National Park and would end up being able to manage only ~30km of hard cycling for the next two days while seeing nothing. Catching a bus down to Hobart meant we could at least hire a car and find some campsites in national parks for the remainder of our trip.
[2 hours cycling, 31kms in total]
We woke in the morning still a little hopeful, but the constant rain overnight suggested to us what we already knew. News of flash-flooding in Hobart and the worst weather event in 58 years confirmed we would need to end our tour. We packed up, cycled in strong headwinds and rain to the bus stop and waited for the bus to take us to Hobart. While we waited in the tourist information shop the power went out and the two women at the shop were checking the status of the bus to see whether it would still travel to Hobart. Thankfully, the bus arrived (a minivan with a luggage trailer) and we started our ~ 3 hour drive down to Hobart. The driver, who was from Hobart, told us stories about the storm the night before, where had flooded, and how bad the countryside looked along the way. As we got closer to Hobart we saw whole fields completely underwater and rivers through the trees where there clearly had been none just days before. As much as we were disappointed about ending the trip early, we could see how futile the last days would have been had we continued. However, if we did have to cancel some of our trip, we were happy that it was the end, as the first days were truly amazing. We would (and plan to) cycle Tasmania again.
Length: 275km, ↗3415m, ↘3405m, download gpx