“Bastard rain” was the first thought when I woke up. It was going to be a long day and I was keen to get on the road by 8am but the rain was positively bouncing of the sea surface when I peered out of the window. Back to bed it is. When I woke up a couple of hours later I couldn’t believe my eyes. The sun shone so brightly I winced and retreated behind the blinds for my eyes to adjust to the light before having another look. No, I wasn’t hallucinating, it really was the most beautiful morning I have seen in a while.
I was really looking forward to riding the Stratham to Queenstown road which is known as 99 bends. No need to explain this one! By the time I had breakfast at a bakery it was already 10am and I knew I would have to keep going to get me to Strathgordon before the dark set in and the nocturnal animals took over the road.
The sun was still shining and I was feeling optimistic as I set off with my waterproofs in a bag. I was enjoying the warmth of the sun and the stunning views. The road did not disappoint, as I’ve already witnessed it on this island, they sure know how to build a bloody good road! Add 99 bends to it and it’s pretty close to a biker’s heaven. I continued to be impressed with the Tiger, surprisingly nimble in the corners and it seemed to have loved those bends as much as I have.
Queenstown appeared much too quickly, I was having so much fun and the sun was still warm and bright, the roads were dry and I didn’t really want to stop. I’ve been assured that the whole stretch of the road from Stratham to Hobart is the best in the world and I was eager to keep going. I stopped for fuel and had a quick ride around the two main streets admiring its architecture and empty streets and as it’s been the case for most of the trip, feeling like I’ve stumbled into a time warp and I’ve been transported some 50 years back.
The road out of Queenstown started climbing quite rapidly and, for the first time, I had quite a job of overtaking a couple of tourists with hired cars and no idea how to drive them. The road kept winding around the mountains with amazing views of the valleys, a stunning waterfall with nowhere to stop and a changing vegetation.
Thanks to Allan’s tip I spotted the sign for the Iron Blow and turned off for a look. The road took me about a kilometre around the mountain where I parked up at the site. There was a car park and a man-made walkway that took you over the edge of the cliff and over a lake that was an old mine now filled with water. The views stretched all the way to the sea, the water in the old mine was of emerald colour and it shone against the contrast of the copper mountains.
As I parked up an old man and his dog approached me and Pete started talking to me. He’s lived in the village below, Gormaston, all his life but his parents were Welsh. He was looking after Rocky, the dog, for a friend. A lovely chap that was happy to spend time telling me stories about the mine, showing me the paths where the horses accessed the mines, where he used to go swimming by suspending a rope from the back of his truck to get to the water and back out again, how he looks after the memorial in the village of the miners that lost their lives in the mines.
While we were chatting the winds picked up and the rain returned so I put my waterproofs back on. Pete was joking that skin is waterproof and I agree but when you still have hours on a motorbike that skin gets a bit cold. I think Pete would have happily stayed all day and chatted, and to be honest, so would I, but I had to get a move on. Plus Rocky was getting anxious as he wanted to go for a walk not stand around talking to some stranger even if that stranger did give him lots of fuss.
I continued on my route as the weather changed, the rain slowed down and stopped on occasion but the temperature plummeted to 6 degrees Celsius as I was riding towards Derwent Bridge. The road was high in the mountains, you could see the snow sitting on the peaks and I was so grateful for the heated grips on the Tiger. Luckily I had a sensible moment when packing for the trip and have actually thrown my winter gloves in the bag, too. Just as well as it was bloody freezing despite me wearing most of the clothes I had with me. I was going to Tassie for some summer riding but it was no warmer than Wales at the same time.
At Derwent Bridge I stopped for lunch and to warm up, chatted to another biker that was heading in the opposite direction to me just for fun. To be fair, if I lived there I’d be doing the same several times a month!
Less than a mile down the road from the cafe/fuel station was The Wall, a must see artwork. It is Australia’s most ambitious art project undertaken in recent years.
“Artist Greg Duncan is creating a stunning sculpture at Derwent Bridge in the heart of Tasmania. The Wall in the Wilderness is Greg Duncan’s commemoration of those who helped shape the past and present of Tasmania’s central highlands.”
“A work in progress, The Wall is being carved from three-metre high wooden panels. The carved panels will tell the history of the harsh Central Highlands region – beginning with the indigenous people, then to the pioneering timber harvesters, pastoralists, miners and Hydro workers.”
No photography was allowed but I have lifted these photos from their website to give you an idea of the project. I was in awe, the skill, the detail and the craftsmanship of this artwork is incredible and inspiring.
Back on the road towards Hamilton and whilst I was in the world of my own just admiring the surroundings I spotted a sign – Laughing Jack Lagoon. I turned right without thinking, I just loved the name so much I had to go and see it.
Then I realised it was a gravel track. As I was already on it and no room to turn around easily I just carried on. The track went past a house and then nothing but trees. At a small junction the sign directed me to the right again and down the hill parallel to some huge water pipes. I’ve guessed they carry water to the villages nearby from the lagoon. It was interesting to observe that the pipes were made of wood and some straps were still the original rope ones with modern metal ones replacing the ones that have failed.
Every now and then there was a leak and the water was spraying onto the road much as it does from a hole in a hosepipe and I had no choice but to ride through it. The road was nearing the lagoon but it wasn’t all that impressive at that point so I continued riding alongside it. The road turned away from the water and into the bushland. As it turned left I noticed it was going uphill and I said to myself: “there’s gonna be an animal crossing and force me to stop on a gravel hill and I’ll fall off!” I was stunned to see a wallaby at the side of the road, who looked at me and casually hopped across the road then stopped, turned and kept watching me. To my amazement I didn’t stall or fall off but kept riding cursing that it wasn’t flat for me to stop and take a photo but I doubt the wallaby would have waited for that!
I couldn’t believe it, what a wonderful encounter! I was smiling inside the helmet and then it has occurred to me that I am going deeper into the unknown with wild animals I know nothing about and no-one knows where I am! Gulp. Soon after I found a lay-by where I pulled over and stopped. The lagoon was nowhere to be seen and my phone and the sat nav were telling me I’m off road.
Back on the main road and heading to my destination I passed a couple of people waving me to slow down. The road was windy and as soon as I passed them I saw two cars smashed up into eachother in the right hand corner of a left hand bend. I am no expert but it looked to me like the car going uphill was pinned against the cliff and the car going downhill (and into the left hand bend) was on its side and pressed against the other car. It didn’t look good but there were already several people around and I would be of no help so I carried on.
More than 15 minutes must have passed when a police car with blues and twos came past me from the opposite direction. Probably the same amount of time passed before an ambulance passed me and another police car later on. It seemed a long time to me and it highlighted to me how remote some areas of the island are.
I carried on the road to just before Hamilton where I turned off to a side road towards Westerway. This was the last chance to fill up the tank with reasonable priced fuel. From there to Strathgordon there was only one road in and out with nothing on the way but forest, mountains, rivers and lakes. Incredible scenery with wonderful road and still dry weather.
It was very eerie riding through the forest areas that have been burnt by a fire a year or two ago. Huge eucalyptus tree trunks still standing tall and the tough trees are coming back to life. The usual silver trunks still black from the fires but small branches with new, bright green leaves starting to grow again. A new life springing out of the devastation caused by the fires. A beautiful reminder that things aren’t always what they seem. A seemingly dead tree trunk is still producing new life and rebuilding itself from the inside out.
Eventually I arrived to that night’s accommodation, passing a couple of cyclists struggling uphill and remember thinking they’re bonkers as they must have been on that road for hours and still had a way to go to the first settlement.
At the hotel I sat in the dining room overlooking the lake and enjoying the best pizza in the world. Or maybe I was tired and starving but it certainly tasted the best in the world, washed down by a couple of glasses of wine.