TAS day 25: Strahan

January 20, 2016. 0km.

Today I woke up to rain. I’ve been lucky that so far most of the sparse rain I’ve encountered has shown up at times I’m not trying to bike or set up or break down camp. I did get a little damp walking down the shore to the cruise ship terminal, but not soaked. I booked fancy seats on the boat, so I got a nice comfortable seat by the window on the upper deck, complete with free drinks and food all day. The grey day didn’t bother me once I was settled into the cozy cabin, and it cleared up before the first stop. 

A grey day from my cozy cruise cabin.


The upper deck was about half full, but everyone was in the window seats so not in my picture.

The cruise started out by heading out to the mouth of Macquarie Harbour. I braved the very windy and cold top outside deck to take some photos, before retreating back inside to more coffee.

The roaring fourties were roaring.


Cute little island.

The commentary on the boat was much better than on the train yesterday. They talked about the history of shipping in Strahan (stopped when they would have had to widen the harbor mouth to allow large ships), and about how Tasmania has the second best of lots of things (this is the second largest harbor in Australia, the eucalyptus at Mt Field is the second tallest tree, the Huon Pine is the second oldest tree (they claimed), probably a few more I’m forgetting).

They do a lot of farming of Atlantic salmon in Tasmania, despite not being in the Atlantic.


From a tiny tent in the rain to being served champagne in a boat.

We then headed into the Gordon River, and slowed down to reduce wake (it also made for better forest viewing). The river was very peaceful, with rainforest on the banks. There were occasional smaller boats in the river. I was a little jealous of the kayakers, though only a little since I was enjoying being lazy. 

The Gordon River

The Gordon River is apparently very deep, which I suppose is what lets largish cruise ships wander around in it. The guide said that it also means there are very few water birds.

Another river user.

The guides pointed out a gnarled Huon Pine on the shore, and everyone rushed over to take pictures.

People taking pictures of a tree.

Eventually we stopped at a rain forest boardwalk. This rainforest was mossier than the rainforest I’ve seen so far.

This rainforest felt more like a rainforest than anything else so far.


This is a 2000+ year old dead Huon Pine with a bunch of other things now growing on it.


The boardwalk.


I like taking pictures of the tops of trees.


An 80 year old Huon Pine.


Whitey Wood, only found around here.


The boat.

On the way back down the river we got a tasty buffet lunch. I ate lots of vegetables! At one point there was what I think was the small bushfire that’s supposed to be burning around here. This is the sort of fire people around here seem to mostly ignore. 

Smoke!

An hour later, by the time I was quite comfortably full, we stopped at Sarah Island, a convict punishment station that preceded Port Arthur. It was a lot smaller than Port Arthur, without as many ruins, but it wasn’t as touristy and the guide was better.

Convict ruins.


The ruins of the solitary confinement cells. The cells were 6′ by 4′ by 6′ tall. Not much bigger than my tent.

I enjoyed the last leg of the cruise drinking cappuccino and eating a cookie and listening to Harry Potter music on YouTube (since it’s been stuck in my head yesterday).

By the time we got off the boat it was downright sunny.

Leaving Sarah Island, the clouds were almost gone.


A beach back in Strahan.

I spent the afternoon perusing the Huon Pine themed shops of Strahan.

Sawing Huon Pine.

Tomorrow is the first of a couple days of lots and lots of climbing to get over the last set of mountains for the trip. I’m not really looking forward to the climbing, but at least the last couple days into Devonport should be enjoyable. The hills of western Tasmania are long term investments – days of climbing buy days of descending later on. With higher frequency hills all the time just to keep things interesting.

 

TAS day 24: Queenstown to Strahan

January 19, 2016. 42km.

Today started with wandering a few blocks through town to the rail station to get on the tourist railroad for a half day trip. The train actually goes between Queenstown and Strahan in the full day trips, so doing half of that gave me a preview of where I rode later in the day. The railroad doesn’t take quit the same route as the road, but it’s the same general direction.  

Queenstown’s tourist train station.


Across the street is the grandest of the hotels. The town used to be a lot bigger, I believe.

The train itself uses old steam engines, and I paid a pit extra for the car on the back with a balcony on the end. The train goes up some rather step bits using cogs and a third rail up the middle of the tracks. It was initially built for all the mining operations to get things to Strahan for shipping. Eventually they switched to shipping from Burnie instead because thy couldn’t get big enough ships into the harbor at Strahan. 

The railway went along a river gorge, with a number of little bridges like this.

The most dramatic part of the trip gave nice views of the river down below.


At our turning around point we got to watch the all day train from Strahan go over this bridge.


Then we got to watch a couple people turn the engine around and hook it up to what used to be the back of the train (our balcony didn’t have such nice views on the way back, though we got to see the engine up close).

Overall, the train ride was a nice way to spend a few hours sitting down and seeing things, but the commentary wasn’t great. I’m defintiely glad I did a half day rather than full day trip.

I got back to Queenstown around 2pm and headed out again, this time via bike with all my stuff. 

Queenstown’s creeks seem to be trying to emulate the color of these nice orange flowers.

There was a medium sized hill to get out of Queenstown. The annoying part was occasional trucks going by, so I was glad to turn off toward Strahan at the top.

Scrubby landscape with mountain views

The road undulated along for a while through scrubby land. There was a point near Strahan where I think the road was actually flat for maybe 200 meters. The fact that I noticed that says something about this island. But before I got there I had to go up for a while into the rain forest that the train had gone through earlier.

At least I got another nice view at the top.

For the last half of the ride, I got a lot of downhill. There were definitely still uphill bits, but a lot of them were short enough that I could get nearly to the top with momentum from the last downhill. Those are the best kind of hills. Somewhere in there I got bits of the Harry Potter movie soundtrack stuck in my head. I guess biking down hills is a bit like riding broomsticks. Though I don’t think broomsticks run out of momentum 50 feet from the top of hills and slow down to a crawl.

I stopped at the grocery store on the way into Strahan to restock on nut mixes and peanut butter and then headed to the campground. It’s not bad for a commercial campground, even though I ended up with a site right by the road. Tomorrow I’m booked on the Gordon River Cruise, which is supposed to be very good. I liked the last cruise I did so I have high hopes. I also hope that in the couple days I’m here they will get th cradle mountain bushfire under control. The park is open now, but the fire is still going. I think they are putting a lot of effort into controlling this particular fire as Cradle Mountain is one of the state’s top tourist destinations.

TAS day 23: Lake St Clair to Queenstown

January 18, 2016. 93km.

See today’s route here.

Today was, I think, the best day of bicycling so far. The west half of Tasmania is far from flat, but the scenery is amazing. Most of the ride today was in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, with no stores or settlement after Derwent Bridge (right at the beginning). As with the last couple days, there were very very few cars, and the people driving the few cars were mostly really friendly. Lots of people waving, almost all passing politely. 

After a tasty breakfast at the park cafe (I don’t even want to think about just how much money they got from me on food the last couple days) I biked the 5km gently downhill back to Derwent Bridge and the main road. I stopped at the small shop to grab a couple things, and overheard the cashier telling another customer that they had evacuated cradle mountain (‘4 hours from here’) due to a bushfire. It will take me a good deal more than 4 hours to get there, but that’s something I’ll need to keep an eye on. 

Buttongrass, eucalyptus, and jagged dolerite peaks for the first part of the day.

The first part of the day was gently undulating along through buttongrass and eucalyptus, with rugged peaks in the distance all around. It’s hard to really do the drama of the landscape justice with my photography skills. It’s really quite amazing. Not long into the day, there was a viewpoint pull off with a sign describing the various stops and hikes along the highway. I ended up stopping at all of the open ones (the last, a waterfall was closed for upgrades to path and toilets) and they were all worth it. This was one day I was glad to be going clockwise around the island. Though there was substantial climbing (over 1000 meters according to the internet), the overall trend was downhill and that made it all that much easier to enjoy the scenery and find the time for the short hikes at the various stops.

An informative sign with a preview for the day.

 

Along the highway I started to notice quite a lot of beehives. I learned later that during this time of year the only thing flowering in the forests here is the leatherwood tree, and all the bees get trucked in to make leatherwood honey.

There were dozens of clusters of hives along the road today. Leatherwood honey is serious business, I guess.

The first of the day’s side trips was a short walk to the Franklin River. It was a nice jaunt, but probably the least impressive of the three stops. I did appreciate seeing more water though. After the east coast, it’s nice to not have everything feel so dry.

The trail was peaceful and easy.


This river was pretty clearly on the low side, but still – water!


This forest did have a bit of color.

After this short walk it was onwards toward the Frenchman’s Cap walking trail. Frenchman’s Cap is the rather distinctive mountain visible through much of today that is white and sticks up like… a cap, I guess.

Frenchman’s Cap is in the middle there.

Apparently hiking to the top of the Cap is a multi day affair that involves 5km of slogging through swamp with knee (sometimes thigh) deep mud. Doesn’t sound like fun to me, but I suppose it’s an accomplishment. For us wimps, the first 10 minutes of the trail gets you to a swing bridge over the river which is rather fun to cross.

This bridge feels quite safe, but is rather bouncy.

The last hiking stop of the day was also the longest and most dramatic. There is a 20 minute hike up a rather steep path, but in the end you get a panaramic view around the whole area. The day was clear, and the views were breathtaking.

I couldn’t really capture the views in photos, but I tried.

The viewing platform even had a cute rocky crevice garden in the center.

After absorbing the views I wandered back down the trail snacking on TamTams and got back on the bike.

The trusty steed, waiting while I went sightseeing.


There was a new kind of wild flower around here. Don’t know what it was, but it was cute and pink.

Just as I was starting to get frustrated with how much uphill I had to do on a nominally downhill day, I got the long sweeping descent out of the highlands and down into the relative lowlands of the Lake Burbury area. Down in the valley it got rather dramatically smoky from some combination of all the various bushfires (none too close) and the wind. Apparently Hobart was pretty smoky today too. Though I didn’t bike thorough an actual fire, I did go through an area that had clearly had a fire not too terribly long ago. It was pretty spooky, actually.

It looks a bit like winter, in a way.

The smoke got heavier as I approached Lake Burbury. There’s a cheap camping area at the lake, but I gather it doesn’t supply drinking water (I could have probably filtered lake water) and I wanted to push on to Queenstown so that I could do the tourist railroad the next morning. Besides, the lake area was too smoky for my tastes. Biking over the bridge across the lake was extremely dramatic, though, with burnt areas and smoke and the lake itself. Unfortunately there wasn’t a safe place to stop for picture taking.

It was only a dozen or so km more to Queenstown but there was a doozy of a hill (I knew it was coming, but after 80km of riding it was a hard one). Coming up over the hill to Queenstown the scenery changed dramatically. The town is a mining town – gold, then copper and some silver. All the smelting that went on apparently killed all the vegetation, and then without the trees all the soil eroded. So the hills around Queenstown are bare rock and minerals. The colors are quite pretty, if you ignore the fact they were caused by poison, basically.

Some bits of vegetation are apparently starting to recover, but it’s slow.


The day ended with a nice long downhill on that road there into Queenstown.

Queenstown itself is a cute town, even though it’s still an active mining town. And I certainly wouldn’t want to drink out of the creeks flowing around here (most have a  sign saying not to, anyway). I got a motel room for the night, and ate dinner for the grocery store since I had been eating at the park restaurant for the last few days for every meal. 

 

 

TAS day 22: Lake St Clair

January 17, 2016. 0km.

Today I set out to explore Lake St Clair. I started out with a leisurely morning and a huge breakfast of pancakes and bacon at the cafe. The walk over gave me a new view of the lake, as it was fairly foggy even after 9.  

Fun fact: Lake St Clair is Australia’s deepest lake, at 160m deep.

After breakfast I filled up my water bottle and set out to do the Shadow Lake Circuit, advertised as a 4 to 5 hour loop. Turned out to be the right length, as I was pretty happy to be back at the visitors center by the end, but made it without incident. The first part of the walk was through nice forest, with some large trees cut after having fallen over the path.

I decided to add a short loop to the walk to visit platypus bay. There was a platypus blind, but unfortunately I saw no animals.

There were no platypuses here.

I’m enjoying being around fresh water. There were even streams with substantial water burbling along.

The trail was well maintained with boardwalks over a lot of areas that are probably swampy at times.

These nice boardwalk sections alternated with relatively steep rocky bits, and dirt track. There were a number of interesting tree relics.

I was starting to wear down a bit by the time I got to Shadow Lake, the nominal point of the trail. I could have continued up a mountain, or on to another lake, but I really didn’t feel like it. Instead I enjoyed Shadow Lake for a little while and headed back on the original loop. Being by lakes like this made me think of camping in the Adirondacks, despite the eucalyptus trees.

I was less into picture taking on the way back as I was getting tired, but I did find an echidna rights by the trail who wasn’t shy and kept digging for food while I took photos.

The trail did have a bit more variety on the way back, I think.

The visitors center said that button grass swamps show up when the glaciers failed to deposit enough well drained material to support trees.

By the time I got back I was eager for more water and some rest so after I rehydrated I got a coffee from the cafe and sat relaxing for a while listening to an audiobook. I wasn’t hungry for lunch due to the giant breakfast, so I wandered over to the lake and spent a couple hours continuing to listen to the book, and occasionally researching the next few days when the internet showed up. I might try to get to Queenstown tomorrow, and then maybe do a half day tourist railroad thingy the day after.

Eventually I wandered back to the cafe (they are probably starting to recognize me) for fish and chips for dinner. Then ambled back along the lake to the campground. More industrious campers were cooking their own meals. I might have done that if there were any places to buy actual groceries here (there are grills her like in most Tasmanian campgrounds). Oh well, I’m resigned to paying other people to cook for me. The walk must have been a bit of an effort, because this is the first non-biking day when I actually felt that I needed a shower at the end of it. 

The lake was a bit foggy on the way back to the campground. A nice peaceful full circle for the day.

 

Unfortunately, back at the campground a pretty rowdy group of young people had just finished the overland track (multi day hiking trail from Cradle Mountain) and were being loudly rambunctious until rather late. I fell asleep anyway.

TAS day 21: Wayatinah to Lake St Clair

January 16, 2016. 58km.

See today’s route here.

Today was a shorter day than expected, mostly because the tip from the campground owner saved 11km and at least several hundred meters of climbing. Even so, the climbing before the shortcut was certainly enough. The hill was one of the steeper I’ve encountered and went on for 13km, with what felt like a dozen false summits. I stopped half way up to take pictures of wild flowers and catch my breath. 

I saw somewhere online that though there are more hills in the west, they tend to be more shaded with better scenery. The ocean is gone, replaced by lakes and rivers. The lack of ocean reduces the drama a bit, but I think I agree that this scenery is better. At least it is greener.

When I finally got to the top of the hill, I went along the gently undulating ridge top for a while. The was a canal along the road for a while that really looked like it was flowing quickly uphill. I imagine it was just an illusion. Or maybe it’s that water flows uphill in the southern hemisphere. Later, this canal joined a larger one going toward Terraleah. I believe this whole area is focused on hydroelectric. 

The illusion doesn’t really hold in the photo.

Eventually I did find the turnoff onto C601, otherwise known as ‘Fourteen Mile Road’ (why that unit, I have no idea). The road turned out to be far from the worst dirt road I’ve ridden on, though also not the best. At least is was mostly ‘flat’, where flat means the Tasmanian version of the word – all the hills were small enough that I could see the top from the bottom. 

Fourteen Mile Road

The first half of the road was through forest, mostly pine plantations. Eventually the forest gave way to fields, with periodic views down over the river valley that I chose not to visit.

Climbing hills earns views sometime

The last few km of the shortcut were more populated, with a scattering of farmhouses. The road was bumpy enough that I was happy to find the pavement again. I was also happy that the shortcut appeared to have bypassed all of the significant climbing for the day. The morning’s hill and bumpy dirt road did a number of my legs though, and by 40km I was feeling like I was about done. Luckily I only had another 18 or so to to, and they weren’t hard. The scenery was actually quite pleasant.

The color of the grass and the shape of the trees made these periodic fields seem almost like fantasy illustrations.

Just past the turnoff for Lake St Clair national park, I stopped to take a picture of another very common road sign around here. There are a few variations, but I find this one most amusing since the kangaroos here are about 2.5 feet tall.

I’m pretty sure this is not actually the fate of vehicles that cause the all too frequent road kill in this area.

I made it to Lake St Clair and checked in to the (privately run) campground. It’s rather expensive ($25 per night) but it is in a nice place. In general, I think that the actual national park campgrounds have been my favorite so far, but this isn’t too bad, and at least there aren’t lots of large campers everywhere. There is also a restaurant where I can spend lots of money on food that isn’t canned tuna or peanut butter on rice cakes.

I think the mountains to the left might be the Walls of Jerusalem park, which is far enough off the road I probably won’t get closer.

This is the southern end of the same park as Cradle Mountain, which is supposed to be one of the highlights of the north west. It’s also one of the high points of the trip in a more literal sense, with about two days of climbing to look forward to on the way there. But I’ll be going around the long way by way of Strahan, so I won’t get there until the last few days of the trip. 

It seems that this whole part of the country is a bunch of parks and conservation areas. This is quite nice, and is probably part of the reason there aren’t that many cars out here. The east coast might be easier in terms of topography, but so far the west is much easier in terms of traffic and the resulting mental wellbeing and relaxation. For anyone trying to be self sufficient for food, there are definitely a lot fewer shops and such. But it turns out people set up cafes and restaurants at all the places with people traveling through, so with a bit of extra money I’ve eaten quite well.

I’ve planned out the last two weeks of the trip, and it seems to work out that I will be doing two days on and one day off for the remainder. The plan was to take a day here in Lake St Clair if it seemed worth exploring tomorrow by foot. There do seem to be a number of appealing footpaths, so I think I will do so. The only thing missing is reliable cell reception, but it’s not so bad to be a bit more removed from the internet for a little while.