Epic Journey: Tasmania
The moment is still; my movement is internal, as the tiny speaker in my phone sneaks into my consciousness pulling me from a land only known to myself. Its 2AM again and I have to go to work.
The following is a recollection of thoughts as I escape the chains of everyday life to experience a dream of my own, touring the Island of Tasmania on my 94’ Honda XR600 motorbike and Peter Daniels Pukas surfboard. The search for twisting pavement and clean lines is never easy, and so, the adventure ensues.
Prep was essential as it is before every ride. It’s essential to the trip that you makes sure all problems are addressed so that you maximize time spent exploring foreign landscapes instead of thumbing through old magazines in a greasy bike shop waiting room.
As I am one of the greatest procrastinators in the world I held off till the last night to change my oil, kick starter arm bearing, head light and sparkplugs. The art of working on a bike helps you understand your machine, and will make it easier to solve issues that pop up along the ride, trust me I’ve had a few. And if you’ve ventured further then your local coffee shop on your bike then I suspect you know what I’m talking about.
Living in the state of Victoria on the south east coast of Oz in a small town named Anglesea I began my journey. First with an hour ride into the colorful city of Melbourne to catch a considerable sized ferry to the island. Vehicles and bikes of all types filled the belly of the “ship”(just a heads up, do not refer to the Spirit of Tasmania as a boat… I was snubbed at and treated differently after that mistake).
The voyage from Melbourne to Devonport takes 11 hours and departs two times a day, of which I chose the overnight cruise with a cabin. As I laid my head down for the night the soft swell rolling through the Bass Strait gently rocked me to sleep as the Spirit carried me into my dream.
I awoke at 6am to join the rush of tourists funneling off the ship. Most of them stopped at the first café in site so I decided to skip breakfast and enjoy the empty roads to the east at dawn. Rolling hills scattered with paddocks and pine forests painted the landscape, fog lifted from passing rivers leading to the sea as the scent of a distant bush fire crept in. But beauty and death lay hand in hand as I start to wonder if there are any living animals left on the island. The road was littered with the lifeless shells of nocturnal creatures that once roamed free under the moonlight. The remnants of an unbalanced war.
I pushed through the morning in search of surf. With no luck at my first stop “Tam O Shanter” a banging left-hander when it’s on. I rode east to the small fishing town of St. Helens. I stopped in at the local surf shop to get an idea of what the surf was like at the moment and with the wind blowing in strong and swell being slightly east I was lucky enough to have found St. Helens point, the only spot on the northeast coast protected from the harsh northerly. The peninsula is littered with beach breaks leading to rocky reef breaks near the tip. I was able to find a few little lines at a break called Beer Barrel.
The session was half decent with a few small 3ft waves making their way through. Nothing beats an uncrowded wave and if this is what I am to expect of the surf in Tasi, sharing waves with maybe two other surfers, then sign me up.
Later that afternoon I rode south along the east coast, constantly looking for potential beaches to no avail as the onshore wind feeding a storm inland was ruining the moment.
I stopped in for a greasy burg and fries in the town of Bicheno where I began my first search for shelter. The cook at the burger joint told me of an abandoned hostel just up the road so I stuffed my food in my jacket and went to check it out. Paradise is all I can remember, as I set up my tent 30ft from the beach just in front of the old hostel shack-now a canvas for travelers to share their thoughts. At night I woke up periodically to the crash of waves and faint sounds of penguins nesting in the dunes.
When I awoke I walked two minutes to the main surf break in Bicheno. The session was short but sweet with a few decent rides. The swell was still small and produced only waste high waves at best. Clear cold water revealed the eerie feeling of bull Kelp that lay just below the surface. When tossed off my board and into the wash the Kelp felt like the car-washes my parents used to drive through when I was young, giving me a good scrub.
Back on the road the heat pumped in as the summer sun of Tasmania painted and penetrated my skin. I decided to dive into Great Oyster Bay for a little snack from the sea. Equipped with my Abalone knife I threw on my mask and snorkel and went searching through bull kelp and under rocks seven feet below the surface. To my luck there were countless molluscs making their home in the area. I found a sizable candidate to snack on as I relaxed on the rocks and dined on some sea treats with a fellow diver from Sydney.
The weather held out for the rest of the journey down the coast towards Orford. These roads were designed for touring; there wasn’t one kilometer of road that didn’t have a curve and I felt, that riding a bike had to be the best way to rip down these paved trails. South of Orford I decide to venture off the main highway and take the shortcut/scenic route on Weilangta road. Gravel roads take on a slower pace when loaded with gear but add to the element of adventure riding.
Next stop Shipstern bluff a world-renowned surf break, known for its intimidating size and prevalence of great whites, typically reserved only for the seasoned pros and willing local nutcases making a name for themselves. The search for the mythical break is an adventure on its own; it isn’t as clearly marked as you would think. Most will get to the break at Shipstrn by boat, as this is the most direct route. To reach it from land requires driving from Nubeena to the end of a gravel road in Stormlea, and hiking two hours down to the point. “Shippys” wasn’t going off at the time I arrived as it usually only starts working on a perfect 4m+ SW swell. Despite not catching the malevolent beast in action, the views from cape Raoul, a 30 minute hike from the end of the road, will make your eyes jump out of their sockets on any given day. And maybe the best part of getting to the end of the road is what lies there. A small $5/night campsite run by Andy, a local who has been building his log house there for the past 8 years. The hand built outhouse and sauna are regarded as the best in Tasmania, and are worth the trip just for a soak and a sit.
Leaving Shipstern bluff and the Tasman Peninsula I stumbled upon a surf break at Eaglehawk neck. From the road I could see it was going off, so I quickly turned in to get some much needed water time. The session was OK but the abrupt beach bank forming short pounding close outs quickly became uninteresting. Near the end of my session I started to feel a bit of an itch and I noticed a bit of a red muddy tinge in the water. Later I found out that there were large algal blooms in the area caused by warm water temps and moving currents that occur commonly at that time of year. The itch subsided after a few hours.
Leaving the Tasman Peninsula I moved west towards the capital city of Hobart. Crossing causeways that link land separated by bays was a dangerous affair. 150km/h winds were raging through the area, and riding out in the open with a surfboard strapped to the side of your bike makes for an intense white knuckling ride. Every time a big gust struck me from the side I would be tossed into the shoulder and forced to slow down and remerge into traffic. The wind storm was soon met with rain and as I found shelter in a pub downtown Hobart, I heard stories of roofs being blown off buildings and trees crushing cars on the highway, resonating the fragility of life.
From Hobart the road wandered south to Kettering, and then, with the help of a short ferry ride, led to Bruny Island. Bruny is a small island with a few cottages and cafes and a slow paced attitude, it’s a great place to escape from the rush of the city. To my luck the laid back feel of the island was only exaggerated by the storm that terrorized the mainland knocking out the electrical grid that fed the island, leaving everyone in the dark and the only gas station in Adventure Bay unable to get their pumps working. When something unplanned like this happens it only opens the window for unconventional opportunities.
I was planning on touring the island for the day and hitting a surf spot on the west side in the afternoon but the gas situation was putting a damper on my plans. As I stood in front of the gas station staring at the map trying to figure out how far I could make it on what fuel I had left I was suddenly approached by a towering bearded man in his 70s. He introduced himself as Tom, an ex rugby coach from Queensland and with a handshake that could melt iron into molten steal there was no denying it. We discussed my dilemma and tried to sort out a plan. Then he told me that he had a few liters of fuel in a spare can in his truck. Luckily I only needed about 7L to get on my way. I was thankful for his generosity but wanted to repay him somehow. Earlier we had been discussing Crayfish and Abalone so I told him I would find him some Abalone in the bay and bring it to him that afternoon.
I spent the day touring on the bike in dull weather for the most part. I had no luck searching for waves over in cloudy bay on the south west side of the island. The red algal blooms were enough of a deterrent, as it resembled blood washing up and down the shore, a “red tide”. I ventured back to Adventure bay on the east side and found a good spot to dunk under and find the Abalone I had promised Tom. There is something eerie about being in unknown water alone, especially when the only way in is by timing the surge and sliding down bull kelp into the cold bay. But once under the ocean the realization of the beauty in this mostly unseen world was calming. Large fish swam past and lingered looking curiously at my presence as I held my breath and pretended to blend in and be one of them. Crayfish hiding in the cracks of the ancient rocks proved too fast for my methods and the lack of sizeable abalone in the area left me empty handed as I pulled myself up on the kelp coated rocks and back onto land.
With no stash to bring back to my burly friend I decided to visit him and tell him of my misfortune instead. I found his caravan parked in a field close to the beach and told him the bad news. He didn’t seem to care much that I returned empty handed and was pleased to see that I had returned at all. So he invited me to share some stories over a few oysters and beer in the warm afternoon sun.
Due to Toms intriguing personality I lost track of time and ended up having to race across the island to make the last ferry back to mainland Tasi. Once back the sun was closer to the horizon then I had planned and I decided to spend the night in Hobart treating myself to a classy hotel for a decent rest and much needed shower.
Hobart gives the feel of an old maritime port town full of character and history with a youthful nightlife vibe. I toured the streets at night and the following morning, realizing something unsettling about these big cities. When I was traveling the countryside I would meet friendly strangers willing to converse and take me in for the night, but in the city the feeling of loneliness was a stark backwards reality.
Towering over Hobart, Mount Wellington is the main attraction for tourists and travelers alike. The winding hair pin turns barley clinging to the side of the mountain will get any bikers heart pumping. Match that with the views of the River Derwent, Bruny Island and the Tasman peninsula, on a clear day this is the place to be.
Northwest of Hobart and traveling further inland I find the entrance to one of the most thrilling roads I’ve ever been down. The whole of the Southwest coast of Tasi has been left undeveloped, empty, and wild. There is only one way to get into the heart of the southwest forest parks and that is the Gordon River road leading to the Gordon Dam. At the entrance to the road there is a small gas station where every biker stops in to fill up before making the 200km roundtrip. I came across a few sport bikes filling up after returning and I asked them about fuel at the other end as my tank will only get me 160km on a good day. The general consensus told me there was a good chance I could pick up some fuel 100 km down the road so I topped up my tank and started in. Within minutes I was racing into the mountainous forest at 100km/h peeling past giant ferns and towering pines 2000 years in the making. Leaning though every turn deeper and deeper, I never wanted this to end as every turn unveiled breathtaking untouched landscapes. The views towards the end of the road at the environmentally controversial Gordon Dam were shocking to say the least as I tried to calculate the amount of water now filling deep valleys that once fed the Gordon river.
After a solid three hours of having my mind blown I returned back to civilization and began the hunt for shelter. I quickly learned that the west coast of Tasi is fairly untouched and hard to reach as the main highway lingered inland into paddocks and rolling hills. I set my aim northwest and decided to get as far as I could before the sun disappeared. This didn’t last too long as there were no open fuel stations past 7pm on this part of the island, so I decided to settle in at the small farming town of Ouse and set up camp under a tree in the parking lot of a gas station.
Further north, I came across my first serious storm of the trip. Rain started to seep in shortly after leaving Ouse and it quickly turned into torrential down pours that didn’t let up until reaching Queenstown two and a half hours away. This stretch of road was incredible and I would have rather taken it on a sunny day to really enjoy it. It’s easy to feel lost and as though you are the only traveler in Tasmania. Even on the main highways as I passed through thick forest and down hairpin turns into river valleys. I was lucky enough to catch sight of a Sugar glider in flight just above me, (the arboreal marsupial sometimes referred to as a flying squirrel) a rare find in these parts.
As I inched closer to the mining and logging sector of Tasi the signs of human destruction and manipulation of land revealed themselves and were a stark contrast to the islands otherwise dense natural beauty.
When I finally reached Queenstown Soaked and chilled to the bone I went straight to a laundry mat to dry my gear. Around the corner and connected to the laundry mat was the Queenstown Motor Lodge, where I asked to speak with the owner and inquire about getting a hot shower. He was generous enough to let me take a hot shower in one of the rooms being cleaned at no charge. I was incredibly thankful and even the thought of a hot shower warmed my mood. There is something to be said about the mindset of these folks in small towns, the benevolence that poses them is unmatched.
This being my second last day on Tasi soil I had to search out a banger of a surf spot to send off the trip in proper fashion. West of Queenstown is Strahan, a small fishing port town in Macquarie Harbor the spill way for the Gordon River. On a good day you can find a few good breaks in the area but of course with my luck there was nothing but messy white wash littering the shoreline. I decided to try one last spot an hour north at Trial Harbor.
West of the town of Zeehan and 30 minutes down a gravel road into a desolate landscape of uncertainty lay the collection of shacks known as Trial Harbor. As I rounded the last turn down from the mountainside I was completely awestruck. Had I found it, is this real, were the thoughts racing through my mind. A perfect left, breaking off a shallow reef with only one surfer in the session. He had them all to himself. I watched for a bit from the road and snapped a few photos just in case it disappeared before I got down there.
I parked on the beach and started to get my gear out when I was suddenly struck with the feeling of a dagger piercing my heart. My board had a Toonie-sized dent in the base that had pushed through to the core. It must have happened when I laid the bike down on the board side while doing some off road exploring a few hours earlier. My first thought was “Great, I’ve made it to this perfect wave only to sit here and watch other people ride it, or risk ruining my board from water damage if I take it out”.
Across the gravel road from where I parked was a house and on he porch a man stood looking out watching the surf roll in. I walked over and called up to him. I asked if he had anything I could use to temporarily fix my board. Trevor was his name, a local Cray fisherman in his fifties living in Trial Harbor for the better part of 20 years. He told me to come around back. He rummaged through his gear and to our luck found silicon and waterproof Gorilla tape. We patched up the board and offered his front lawn as a spot to camp for the night. What luck, board repair, a campsite and a new friend, not to mention finding the most epic wave, and all within the time span of 30 minutes.
Needless to say I spent the rest of the afternoon riding waves I had yet to pit myself up against and the experience was timeless. In between getting tossed over the falls, getting caught inside way too many times, and draining my energy paddling around for that perfect position I was able to catch a few good rides. It was a true test to my backhand surfing as angry 8ft whitecaps chased me down with a purpose. Thankfully the bull kelp and shallow reef made for a soft impact when I was caught foolishly inside on the big sets and long breath holds weren’t necessary.
Trial Harbor will remain in memory as a surf paradise forever, and I hope it will stay that way, unpopulated and uncrowded for any surfer willing to take the trip. After a morning surf I packed up for the last time and headed back east to the north coast and back to the beginning where it all began in Devonport. Of course it wouldn’t truly be another day of riding in Tasmania without a few more hairpins and surreal landscapes as I snapped views of Cradle Mountain and followed the winding roads beside lake Barrington.
I rode my bike back onto the Spirit that took me to this dreamland and wrote a few last words to seal it into memory. Laying my head down in that ships cabin I heard the swell had picked up to 2m. Swaying side-to-side trying to hold my stomach down I could only imagine what this was doing to trial harbor, and what lucky traveler was out thrashing in its captivating beauty.
Currency: AUD $
Time To Go: December to February, Warm seas and sunny days Although the surf gets better in the winter months
Local Tip: No tipping needed! Take the scenic route, stay in small towns and get yourself lost.
What to Eat: Anything that comes from the sea, this is an island after all, oh and kangaroo.
Don’t Go Without: adapter for your phone charger, wet suit for antarctic currents, board repair kit, extra fuel if riding at night.