The Story Behind The Island’s Name:
I’m off to do some time – four weeks’ worth – in Van Diemen’s Land – and it won’t be a punishment! The island – someone clever called it “the land down under The Land Down Under” – was named Van Diemen’s Land in honour of the governor of the Dutch East Indies by the Dutch sailor Abel Tasman. He and his crew landed on the east coast in 1642.
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It was the British who set up the first colony – a convicts’ settlement – on the island in 1803; it was their second colony in Australia after the founding of Sydney in 1788.
Until 1853 Van Diemen’s Land – and especially the Tasman Peninsula – would serve as the ultimate banishment for convicts from Great Britain and Ireland. [I had no idea of the history behind a U2 song titled “Van Diemen’s land” on the Rattle and Hum album until I started reading up for this trip! Here is a Youtube clip of Edge singing it in performance back in the 1980s.]
Hold me now, oh hold me now
’til this hour has gone around
And I’m gone on the rising tide
For to face Van Diemen’s land
It’s a bitter pill I swallow here
To be rent from one so dear
We fought for justice and not for gain
But the magistrate sent me away
In 1854 its name was changed to Tasmania, thus honouring the Dutch sea-captain who first set European eyes on it. To no surprise, the indigenous people who were already there did not fare well at all. These days the island’s nickname is Tas or Tassie and it is one of Australia’s seven states, separated from the mainland by the 240-kilometer-wide Bass Strait.
Why Cycle Tasmania?
Maybe it has something to do with islands? My three-week Cuba trip in January of 2011 was followed by a great ride on New Zealand’s South Island in February 2013.
- The Roads of Cuba’s Oriente: The View From My Bicycle Saddle
- Bicycling New Zealand: Part 1 – The Logistics Of A 3-Week Trip On South Island
Sri Lanka was a planned early 2014 trip until I remembered the 30ºC + temperatures in Cuba! When an avid cycle touring friend returned from Sri Lanka and noted that the state of the roads and the traffic volume would make for a very unpleasant ride, I ended up joining a small group of fellow walkers instead. We spent a couple of weeks hiking the island’s hill country. (See here for the first of the Sri Lanka posts!) The few cyclists I saw did not make me think I wanted to be on the road with them!
Tasmania – another island and one of the world’s great bicycle touring destinations. I had not really considered it because of the 27 to 30 hours to get there. However, having done the flight to Christchurch, NZ , I figured Hobart wasn’t that much further. When my brother reminded me that it was still less than the 2000 kilometers and 36 hours it took us to drive from Toronto to Red Lake, Ontario for the start of a canoe trip, my mind was made up!
What Makes Tasmania A Great Cycling Destination:
Put the time to get there on one side of the scale; on the other side you find these points:
- stunning and varied scenery – from beaches to rainforests and mountains all packed into a area the size of Sri Lanka or Ireland or Iceland
- an excellent road system and little heavy-duty traffic and good secondary roads to choose from
- a low population – 515,000 in all, of which maybe 40% live in the Greater Hobart Area and 75,000 in Launceston at the north end of the island
- an excellent tourism infrastructure – motels, backpackers (i.e. youth hostels), many caravan parks and campgrounds.
- a temperate climate with low humidity
- March in the southern hemisphere is like our September; it is the tail end of summer with the students back in school
It’s easy to see why Tas gets the rave reviews it does from bicyclists who make the journey to get there!
Since Tasmania is a popular bike touring choice, it’s easy to find information on the net to help with planning. I’ve spent some time at the Bicycle Network Tasmania website and its many links to yet other sites. It is a very thorough site with everything you could want to plan your own route.
There are many trip reports out there. One I looked at was at the Travelling Two web site belonging to a Canadian couple (Friedel and Andrew) – the post is “Cycling Tasmania”. The Cycle Traveller’s blog has a post titled “Cycle touring Tasmania: the easily distracted way” which provided some useful tips and suggestions. Google “Tasmania bicyle tour” and you’ll find a dozen more that merit mention.
Renting The Bicycle in Hobart:
As I did for the N.Z. bike trip, I’ll leave my bike at home and rent one there. Given the $140. to get the boxed bike to the airport in Toronto and then back home, as well as the $200. ($100. each way) charged for oversized sports equipment, I was already looking at about $340. to take my own bike. Still a question mark is what sort of condition the bike would be in after five sets of baggage handlers were finished with it. I still remember going shopping in Vancouver for a new front wheel shortly after arrival from Toronto thanks to the damage the baggage guys did to my bike that time. Renting a bike in Hobart is the way to go!
I found my ride at longhaultasmania.com.au. I did consider the rental bikes at Green Island Tours but in the end felt more comfortable going with a true touring bicycle instead of a hybrid with its straight handle bars and more compact frame. The choice cost me an extra $200., to be expected since at a retail price of AUD 2000. the touring bike sells for perhaps double the price of the hybrid. You do get what you pay for!
For AUD $650. I have three and a half weeks’ use of a premium touring road bike, the Surly Long Haul Trucker. Included are the front and rear pannier racks, though I am not expecting the front racks to look exactly like the ones in the image below. It will be the first time I use a bike with 26″ wheels as opposed to the usual (for me) 700C. The consensus seems to be that, given the same number of spokes (usually 32 on a touring wheel), the smaller wheels are stronger. Not that I expect to be doing a lot of off-tarmac riding – Bruny Island may be the one section where I face major dirt road.
I will be bringing my own panniers – the two smaller front ones and the two rear ones – as well as a handlebar bag. I try to spread the weight out with a third in the front and the rest in the back. Amazingly, the weight of the bags alone is 4.6 kilograms (ten pounds)! My goal is to keep the total weight of the bags + contents down to about forty pounds.
- Day 01 (March 6) Hobart 50 km Richmond
- Day 02 Richmond 59km Orford
- Day 03 Orford 56km Swansea
- Day 04 Swansea 43km Bicheno
- Day 05 Bicheno 76km St Helens
- Day 06 St. Helens 98km Scottsdale
- Day 07 Scottsdale 67km Launceston
- Day 08 (March 13) Launceston 53km Beauty Point
- Day 09 Beauty Point 73km Ulverstone
- Day 10 Ulverstone 78km Cradle Mountain
- Day 11 Cradle Mountain hiking trails
- Day 12 Cradle Mtn 75km Rosebery
- Day 13 Rosebery 73km Stahan
- Day 14 Strahan rest day
- Day 15 (March 20) Strahan 41km Queenstown
- Day 16 Queenstown 85km Derwent Bridge
- Day 17 Derwent Br 51km Tarraleah
- Day 18 Tarraleah 53km Hamilton
- Day 19 Hamilton 80km Hobart
- Day 20 Hobart 65km Cygnet
- Day 21 Cygnet 80km Adventure Bay
- Day 22 (March 27) Advent Bay 83km Hobart
- Day 23 cycling to the top of Wellington Mountain from Hobart
Overall total: about 1400 km over 23 days
I have booked accommodation in Hobart for the first three nights as my body gets over the 16-hour time change and being in the air or in aiports for over a day. My tent, as well as a sleeping bag and Thermarest air pad, are coming along. My cook gear will be left behind; I’ll use the facilities in the backpackers’ kitchens instead.
I will make a concerted effort to keep it vegan. Along with the few food items I am bringing with me, local food markets and the occasional Indian or Thai restaurant will hopefully keep me fueled. At worst, I’ll lose a bit of weight – maybe as much as the 15 pounds I lost last September on our Trans-Cordillera Real trek in Bolivia!
The Spot Connect:
My Spot Connect, a gps tracking and communication device, is coming along for the ride. My brother and I have been using it for our northern Ontario canoe trips for the past five years and its SOS button is reassuring to have in case of emergencies. (Not that you’d ever want to use that button!) It also sends your location marker every ten minutes via satellite to a server, which then poses it on a website which the folks back home can monitor my where=abouts. Tasmania is hardly a wilderness canoe trip but the signals will start being recorded on March 6 as I head for the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary and Richmond on Day 1 of my Tour de Tasmanie.
Meanwhile, I’ll be watching out – especially on nights when I am tenting! – for a possible visit by these grumpy little “devils”!
Update: If only there were so many Tasmanian Devils that one or two would be peeking into my tent at a caravan park! The reality is that the species is on the verge of extinction thanks to a facial cancer that has reduced its number to about 10,000. I did see a couple at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.
Unfortunately, I saw far too many more – along with wallabies, padamelons, possum, and wombats – as roadkill on the roads I cycled. I remain unconvinced by the argument that this is a positive sign that the populations of these animals are healthy.
You can access the pix and maps of my actual bike trip beginning with these posts- they will take you up the scenic east coast to St. Helens.