TAS day 30: Gunns Plains

January 25, 2016. 14km.

I fell asleep really early yesterday and slept for 12 hours or so. But that still had me awake a couple hours before the cafe and park opened at 10. No large animals tried to get my food last night, but I discovered that a swarm of ants had invaded this morning. I spent a while brushing them off (they hadn’t actually gotten inside most things) and washing out the pannier to get rid of the rest.

Once done dealing with the ants, I wandered around their ‘farm animal walk’ that has, among other things, an ostrich that wanted to to a dance. 

Ostrich dance, slightly out of focus.


Ostrich strutting.

Eventually the cafe opened and I got a nice warm muffin and cappuccino. I also got directions to the caves, and decided to try to make it for the 11am tour (it was 10:39). It was only about 7km, so I made it. Today the bushfire smoke seems to have invaded this valley, so it was rather thick air on the ride to the caves. It turned out I didn’t need to be in such a hurry since th tour was a bit delayed. The cave was nice. Less smoky, and nice and cool. The guide said that the caves do breathe in the smoke from bushfires (generally more in the afternoon) and that a lot of the soot on the formations that had been previously blamed on the old lighting systems was actually from fires (as evidenced by some of it being under layers of minerals and so much older).

I’m not great at taking pictures in dim light underground, but I tried.

I’ve definitely been in bigger caves, but this one was quite nice. There’s a running stream through the whole thing, which the guide said is actually relatively rare now in Australian caves as water had been pulled away for other things.

On the way back from the caves, the smoke was as bad or worse than before. Luckily I didn’t have to ride very far.

Smoke obscuring the hills.

I got back to the park just in time for the 1pm Devil feeding. I never saw a Tasmanian Devil in the wild, but now I have at least seen some living ones.

Yawn.


Mine! Mine!


Post meal bath.

The wildlife park isn’t huge, but it’s entertaining for an hour or so. I learned that the things people call kangaroos around here are actual Bennet’s Wallabies. Except for that one kangaroo I saw back in Narawntapu, which was bigger and an actual kangaroo. And apparently people often call the Pademelon a wallaby. It’s confusing.

The koala isn’t Tasmanian, but it’s closely related to wombats. It’s also lazy.

A lot of the nocturnal animals were hiding, though I could just glimpse the tails of some possums in their little sleeping nooks. They look so innocent during the day when they are sleeping instead of food stealing. 

I got another ice cream and coffee before the shop closed at 4, and am now relaxing and catching up on blog posts. It seems like much of the island is covered in smoke these days, so I suppose it’s a reasonable time to be leaving. But it will still be sad to go back to winter. My legs won’t mind the break though. I think there’s one more major hill on the way to Devonport, but I bet I can manage it th only 40km to do tomorrow.

TAS day 29: Cradle Mountain to Gunns Plains

January 24, 2016. 75km.

No animals woke me up trying to get to my food at night, but I was snacking on Pringles in the morning when this fellow started nonchalantly approaching. I took a picture before scaring him off. My salty snacks are all for me!

Salt and vinegar Pringles do smell good.

I woke up quit early, but didn’t get on the road until 10am or so. First it was too cold to want to leave the comfort of my sleeping bag, and then I stopped at the camp store for yogurt and an oatmeal bar for breakfast. By the time I did leave it was quit comfortable for biking with a light jacket.

Today’s ride was theoretically mostly downhill, but it didn’t feel that way. Partly my legs were feeling pretty tired from biking to Cradle Mountain and then hiking all day yesterday. Partly it was just that there were 1000m of climbing, some of it quite steep.

The standard Giro Tasmania bike routes all go from Cradle Mountain to Gowrie Park or Sheffield, but since I have an extra day to use up, I decided to head farther west to Gunns Plains. There isn’t much in the way of a town there, but there’s a wildlife park that is supposed to be one of the better places to see Tasmanian Devils, and a cave that’s supposed to be quite impressive. The wildlife park also has camping. Good enough for me. Besides, when I got to the turnoff toward Gowrie Park the entire valley was full of smoke. My whole at required more hills, but kept me out of the worst of it.

The scenery wasn’t all that impressive today. I’m getting back into the farmland of northern Tasmania. So back to brown fields and patches of green trees.

Still some mountain views, but the beginnings of farmland poking through.


Th fields of northern Tasmania

One thing I knew going in was that this route would have a steep bit where the road plunged into and then out of a narrow river valley. The way around was a lot longer and still had hills, so I figured I would manage. In the end I did, but it wasn’t the most fun I’ve had.

Very steep is right.

The road going down was extremely steep (the way out was a bit less so because they had room for some switchbacks). I had to have my breaks on pretty hard the whole way, and it felt a bit like I might fall over foward. Not really all that fun. Then, just across the bridge over the innocent looking little stream that was all that was left of whatever water made this valley in the first place I heard a very loud bang, and found that my back tire no longer had any air whatsoever. The rim of the wheel was really hot, and I hypothesize that all that braking caused enough heat to blow out my tube. Or something. Probably a good argument for disk brakes on my next touring bike. Luckily there was a large flat area by the steam to change the tire.

Can’t hold air in like this.

The way up the other side was slightly less steep, but still steep enough that I had to walk several hundred meters in spots. I figured it couldn’t go on for all that long, and it didn’t. Eventually it flattened out to just the normal Tasmanian sort of uphill. Then it was rolling farmland backed by mountains for a while. 

Farmland backed by mountains. Par for the course around here.

There was one more uphill for the day before got to coast down a nice long descent into the valley at Gunns Plains.

Gunns Plains. I guess there are a few sort of flat bits, but ‘plains’ seems optimistic.

I got to Wings Wildlife Park just before 4 (when the office closes) and the owner offered my a quiet shaded place to pitch my tent by the picnic shelter (closer to the facilities and not competing with the large vehicles and giant tents in the main camping area). I’m back in the land of no water, so bought a large bottle from the shop (I might be able to filter the untreated and rather orange water from the bathroom taps, but didn’t bother).

All in all, not the hardest day of riding, but far from the easiest. Tomorrow I’ll explore the caves and wildlife park, and the the next day I’ll bike th last 40km or so to Devonport. I have a motel reservation, and so will be able to relax, perhaps do laundry, and actual see what there is to see of Devonport (I never went into the actual town on the way in to Tasmania).

 

TAS day 28: Cradle Mountain

January 23, 2016. 0km by bike, maybe 20 or so on foot.

I had to chase a possum away from my food bag at 3am, but otherwise had an uneventful night. The possum was tame enough to be hard to scare off, of course. But once I did it didn’t come back. Maybe it just realized it couldn’t get at my food through my closed pannier. 

Today I spent hiking around Cradle Mountain. They are advising people not to go out more than two hours away, due to the bushfires in the vacinity. I spent a good deal more than two hours hiking, though, by stringing together a bunch of the paths. On the recommendation of the tourers I talked to last night, I went up to Marian’s Lookout, which was a scramble but definitely worth it. But it was grey and cloudy in the morning so I started with a loop around Dove Lake. I hoped that it would clear up to make a hike to something with ‘lookout’ in the name worth it. 

To get to the trails, there are a bunch of shuttle buses running the last 10km or so to the various trailheads. In theory, I suppose one could bike there, but I wouldn’t want to. Throw road is really narrow (I kept having to close myself eyes when the bus passed other vehicles at what seemed like far too fast a pace) and hilly. And the shuttles are free with park passes. 

It was hard to get a good shot, but this road was two way with largish shuttles going both ways. The shuttle drivers keep each other informed of their location via radio, so can avoid running into each other around blind turns. But the tourists in their own vehicles don’t have those radios. They encourage everyone to take the shuttles instead of driving and I can see why.

The Dove Lake loop is about 6km along paths and boardwalks. I learned later in the afternoon that one normally gets a good view of cradle mountain above the lake, but while I was there all I could see was clouds.

Cradle Mountain is behind those clouds to the right somewhere.


This is a very well used trail, and is correspondingly well constructed. Lots of boardwalk.


The clouds kept me from seeing the views of the mountains around the lake, but the was lots of smaller scale natural beauty.

At one point the path went through something called the ‘Ballroom Forest’, but I couldn’t really see why. There were two trees flanking the path that made it seem like going through a door, but that was about it.

When I got close to the end of the Dove Lake circuit, I turned off toward Marian’s Lookout by way of a few other lakes (and a small pond called Wombat Pool). It was still a bit drizzly, but the clouds seemed to be lifting so I had high hopes for some views. As I walked down the path, various lakes were visible at once in what seemed like layers.

Layers of lakes, and lifting cloud cover.


Some parts of these trails must have taken a lot of work to build.


I imagine someone scratched the while paint out of the ‘l’ on purpose.

I met a couple coming down from the lookout who recognized me and asked if I had been in Strahan (yes). They had seen my tent with a bike and were thoroughly impressed. Not long after than, just above Wombat Pool, the trail I was on joined the beginning of the Overland Track on the way up to the lookout. So I merged with all the people with large hiking packs, feeling pretty nimble with just my camelbak.

The glacial Crater Lake.

The trail goes past Crater Lake, and then climbs up some rather steep rocky slopes. In places there are chain railings to hold onto, but no real rock climbing or anything. Eventually I made it to the top. For the last 20 minute of the hike it had been alternating between rain and sunny blue skies every 5 minute or so, and it continued to do that while I was at the lookout.

Rain.


Sun (ish).


Dove Lake from above.


Smoke from bushfires, I think.


The non-Cradle Mountain direction.

The views from the lookout were great, and I stayed for quite a while. But I was starting to get hungry, so I eventually turned around and went back down. It was a lot easier going down than up. The path back to the other shuttle stop went along a stream that had a few waterfalls despite the low water level.

Not as grand as the mountain views, but still nice.

I got back to the visitors center just after the cafe’s kitchen closed, but still got a wrap and a cappuccino. Then I wandered back to the campground by way of the campground store. The giant camp kitchen comes with microwaves, so even without pots and pans I could have a hot dinner. Microwave noodles and sauce aren’t so bad when you add a can of corn to them. Someone had also lit a roaring fire in the kitchen’s large fireplace, so I enjoyed that while letting my devices charge and listening to a book. It was pretty chilly by the time I went to bed, just as it was getting dark.

TAS day 27: Rosebery to Cradle Mountain

January 22, 2016. 70km.

Today, as expected, was a hard day. But not impossible, and I made it without pushing the bike. Plus, there were nice views, and a number of fun downhill sections in addition to the climbing. So, on the whole, not too bad. And now I feel accomplished. 

I started out with breakfast at the Rosebery bakery. Three mini quiches, a piece of carrot cake, and a cappuccino. Yum.

Leaving Rosebery the clouds were hiding the top of the hills, but the road went definitively up.

The first part of the day was going up and then down a fairly large hill between Rosebery and Tullah. The uphill side was a reasonable grade, and I just chugged along for 5km. The only real stress was trying not to be just on the other side of a blind curve when a (rare) vehicle came up behind. It occurred to me that someone should develop little drones to follow behind bikes in these situations and warn drivers with glowing signs. At one point a large truck carrying some other piece of heavy equipment came down the hill the other way, with trucks preceding and following saying ‘large laid’. That’s basically what I’m thinking of.

Finally, I got to the top and got another 6 or so km of downhill. The biggest problem with all this up and down is that on the way up there is no wind and I end up dripping sweat, and then on the way down the 40-50kph wind does all that evaporative cooling and I get rather chilly. It’s still fun.

Time to go down.


Getting close to Tullah, the scenery got more rugged again.

Tullah itself is tiny, basically just a street with a store and post office and cafe. At the end of the road is the one hotel, which also has a cafe which I stopped at for second breakfast. Those hobbits on the next island over have the right idea, especially when on trips to mountains. The hotel and cafe have a nice view of the lake, and it seems like it might be a nice place to stay.

View from the cafe.

After Tullah, the road went up, though less constantly, for 20km or so before flattening out just a little. After a few more steep bits, I man it to the marked high point of the road.

High point number 1.

Of course, this wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been, since I shortly turned onto a different road to head toward Cradle Mountain.

The first sign I’ve seen listing Devonport. Makes me feel both accomplished and a little sad.

The road to Cradle Mountain went up in fits and starts some more. The landscape started to feel more like the highlands around Lake St Clair, except the grassy areas were a different color and texture (different grass, I suppose).

New grass.

 Unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy the rolling plains for very long before tackling the very steep climb over the Black Bluff Range. That road is steep! I had to stop a few times on the way up to catch my breath. Luckily there were nice views while mostly focused on breathing.

Part way up.


Black Bluff Range.

The top of the hill rewarded me with a high point sign that was actually true for me.

The real high point


Both directions had 10% grade signs, but I think they might have been underestimates.

The top of the horrible hill did give the first good views of Cradle Mountain.

The reason I biked up here is the park around that weird mountain over there. I hope it’s worth it.

And some pleasant flowers.

My bike took a break too.

The way down the hill was fairly terrifying, actually. I had the brakes on the whole way, but still got going faster than I liked. My speedometer said 91kph, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t accurate because it was doing funny things after that until I adjusted the magnet. The best (?) part was that near the bottom of the hill was a cow grid thing. I slowed down some, but mostly just had to hope my wheels would handle it (they did). There was another one later that I approached at a more reasonable speed.

I didn’t see a single cow.

I didn’t really trust my odometer to tell me how far I had to go since it had been acting up, but I really hoped I didn’t have any more real hills to tackle. It turned out that I didn’t, but even the normal small rolling ups and downs were a challenge by the end of the day. I was pretty happy to see the turnoff for the part and various accommodation options.

There were dramatic trees by the road to the park.

I found the campground without problem. I had made a reservation, just for peace of mind, and everything went smoothly. I got in around 4:30, and though the website allowed selecting an estimated arrival of 7pm, it looked like the office closed at 6 and people arriving later might be out of luck. Anyway, this campground it quite expensive ($40 for an unpowered site), but the sites are fairly isolated, and the kitchen and facilities are very nice. I suppose the cost is what you get in one of the biggest tourist areas in the state.

After setting up camp and showering, I walked a couple km down the road to the lodge for dinner at the tavern. The food wasn’t very good. I think I will snack on things from my stash and the camp store tomorrow. But I did get another preview of Cradle Mountain and a small waterfall.

Right outside the lodge.

The couple I met first at Richmond (then Mt Field). I got a day behind them when I spent two nights at Lake St Clair, though I did see their tent in Strahan. They spent today hiking and recommended a route that they say didn’t take too long (a few hours) but gave very nice views. Sounds good to me.

TAS day 26: Strahan to Rosebery

January 21, 2016. 77km.

Today was fairly uneventful. The first 18km were almost (gasp) flat. Then there was a small rise and the mountains appeared behind it, and it was back to the standard Tasmanian topography.  

There’s the part of Tasmania that’s still un-ironed.

There were a couple choices for distractions on today’s trip. The first was a museum in Zeehan. The other was a waterfall right before  Rosebery. The waterfall involved a big hill and a walk that might have taken a couple hours. Plus, it’s been so dry that waterfalls are somewhat less impressive than they might be. So I stopped in Zeehan. The town itself is a small mining town, still in existence but smaller than at its boom.

The West Coast Heritage Center is a sprawling museum with an impressive mineral collection. They also have historical photos, mining equipment, and a bunch of other odds and ends. The outdoor area has large equipment surrounding a collection of buildings like a blacksmith shop.

Blocks of various rocks from the school of mining that was here.


One of several rooms of fancier minerals.


A different sort of fossil.


I decided not to try to trade my bicycle for this one.


Or this one.


Mining cars.


I was protected from this Tasmanian Devil by glass. And the fact that it wasn’t alive.


There was a 3D map of northwestern Tasmania. I got a nice realistic view of the ranges I will be crossing.

The museum was a nice break for a couple hours. I probably could have spent more time there, but I wanted to get on the road. The rest of the biking was pleasant but not too remarkable. Nice forest, with hills in the background. I made it to Rosebery around 5pm. The town seems to be perched on the side of the hills without much in the way of a flatter spot. It just sort of pops out of the forest as you go around a corner. I found the caravan park, though it took a while to find the office person (though it was technically within the open hours) and I got a nice cheap campsite on a grassy shelf with a great view. The showers were free too. Definitely a campground I recommend.

View from my tent.

I briefly met a group of 4 lightly loaded tourers (they aren’t camping) who I had seen leaving Strahan this morning. I believe they are also making the long, steep ride up to Cradle Mountain tomorrow. I’m sure they will get there faster than me.