Riding in Tasmania

Riding in Tasmania

If you’re going to rent a motorbike, you’re best throwing it to the ground on day one, get that over with then relax and carry on.

When I was booking my motorbike for the Tasmanian tour in December 2019, I opted for the smaller and lighter Triumph Tiger 800 instead of the GS 1200. My reasoning was that if/when I drop it I’ll be able to pick it up. And of course, it happened. I’ve learned that gravel is your friend until it isn’t. I was just getting used to the bike and the roads on the island, around an hour’s ride time since my lunch break. The roads were incredible, smooth tarmac, sweeping bends, amazing scenery with the Tasman Sea to the right and rugged mountain landscape to my left and hardly any traffic. I was starting to relax into the bike which was quite a bit different to my Ducati Supersport S at home not to mention higher up which meant I was on my tiptoes when stopped. I soon learnt that the Tiger actually quite likes the bends and we were starting to really get on.

The roads are mesmerising. You just want to keep going as each bend opens up another stunning view but I also wanted to take lots of photos and so I stopped as much as I could. I noticed the roads, whilst really well maintained with no potholes and a good tarmac, have no hard shoulder. They literally stop dead at the edge and drop into a gravel side. I didn’t think about it much until I turned off to my right into a layby overlooking the sea. My butt cheeks contracted, and my heartbeat increased as I realised, I was on a gravel surface. Very slowly I stopped the bike by the edge and positioned it for a photo. All went well and I felt quite pleased with myself, took photos and jumped back on the bike to continue on my route.

As I attempted to join the road, a combination of an early start (I was up at 4 am), not being familiar with the bike and the excitement of the trip, caused me to lay the bike sideways. I didn’t have enough power to get on the tarmac which was slightly raised, so the bike just fell to my right side. I stood there for a few seconds deciding what to do, realising that if I am going to wait for help, I could be there for hours, so I gathered all my strength and lifted the bike up. Phew. What a start to the trip!

The road weaved along the east coast of Tassie with incredible views and angry looking sky although it hadn’t rained on that day. I opted for a 5-day tour which I later realised, was just not enough, but it was all I had the time for. My route was roughly planned with enough riding to get to the next destination on a full tank of fuel and plenty of time to stop and explore.

Still getting my head around kilometres I wanted to make sure I got to Bicheno, my first night’s accommodation, in the daylight. Tassie’s animals are mostly nocturnal and I didn’t fancy having a close encounter with a native animal crossing the road, never mind on the first night.

I just had to stop at Devil’s Corner Cellar Door for a view and a coffee for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the name was intriguing and secondly, they are an award-winning winery. My second encounter with the gravel path went reasonably well, I probably looked more confident than I felt! I’ve missed a trick, I know. Had I purchased some wine and it was in my panniers I would have been protective of the wine and wouldn’t even think about the gravel!

The route continued to Coles Bay where the winds were starting to pick up and the sky and the sea were getting angrier. It was just a quick pit stop for a look and a photo. I was getting cold and was keen to get to Bicheno for a warm shower.

December is the start of the Australian summer, but it seemed that it didn’t get the memo and was a bit late arriving. I had been warned that Tassie’s weather is a lot like Britain and to be prepared for anything. Of course, I ignored that advice, after all, I was going to be riding in the sun and heat. However, I had decided to take my mid-warmth jacket and not the lightest summer one I have. I actually wished I had my winter jacket with me.

And just to teach me a lesson, day 2 started with the rain. I knew my waterproofs were starting to fail before I set off and I packed them with the intention of getting a new set if needed. I  hadn’t seen any shops yet!

Regardless, I jumped on the Tiger with the anticipation of a new adventure and set off further up the east coast to the world-famous Bay of Fires. The distinct boulders with splashes of orange colour around the bay are striking against the sandy beaches and the blue, blue sea. The sky was still dark, but the rain has stopped.

The night’s accommodation was in Launceston, and I turned inland observing the vista changing rapidly into a more forested area with the road weaving through the vegetation, the smell of the damp forest ground reminding me of my home (Slovenia). When I travel solo, I prefer not to have accommodation pre-booked and find places to stay on the day but I was told there aren’t many places in Tasmania and without being willing to camp, pre-booking is essential.

After an hour of a cold and slightly damp ride I stopped at a dairy farm for a cup of hot soup to warm up. The road from Pyengana to Legerwood weaved past the Waratah Creek Forest Reserve and it started elevating until I met the low hanging clouds when I reached the top of Mount Paris Dam Road. There weren’t any big views, but I was enjoying the roads. There was an eerie feeling about and I didn’t want to stop for long.

Arriving at Legerwood I very nearly fell off the bike as I turned the corner, noticed the tree carvings along the road then at the last minute decided to park by the old train station at the back. I just made the turn.

Standing under the trees makes you feel very humble. They are work of art for sure, and very impressive but it’s the story behind them that kept me there for a while, contemplating how different the world used to be. The village residents planted the trees in memory to the fallen residents during world war one. In 2001 the trees were deemed no longer safe and needed to be cut down. The village residents were devastated at a potential loss of the memory and instead commissioned a local artist to carve the 25 fallen men into the tree stumps.

Launceston from there is about an hour’s ride away but I wanted to see the Bridestowe Lavender Farm. It is the largest lavender farm in the southern hemisphere and the largest one in the world owned by one family only.

On arrival you could smell the lavender immediately and the fields stretched as far as the eye could see. I took a short guided tour of the distillery where they produce the oil and a walk through the fields. We were told the summer was a couple of weeks late than usual and therefore the lavender wasn’t in full bloom yet. I can only imagine the sight of it when the flowers are all opened. Despite not being exactly hot I decided to try the lavender ice cream but I wasn’t brave enough to just have it on its own, so I had a mix of lavender and blueberry which tasted delicious.

From there it was about an hour’s ride to Launceston and I had arranged to meet with a rider who lives there for a beer or two and to discuss routes for the next three days. Allan kindly offered to take me to Pine Lakes in the morning before I head off on my way to which I jumped at the chance.

The morning started sunny and warm and I considered dropping a layer or two but luckily my sixth sense told me to keep them on which I was very grateful for not long after we’d left Launceston. It was great to have someone leading the way for a while, Allan pointed out a few interesting sights and explained the vast white flower fields were opium poppies. He took me past the factory producing the opium which was secured like Fort Knox.

The weather turned, the roads were slippery with a few switchbacks which would have been fun in the sun but the fog was so dense and my visor was steaming up so poor Allan had to slow down to keep me in his sight. The lake, I believe is pretty impressive but all I saw was fog and low cloud. We turned around and found a diner for a big fry-up.

I carried on from Deloraine on my own and decided to add miles to the planned route by riding to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre. The mountain peak was wrapped in snow, the temperature dropped as the roads climbed but I was enjoying the bends and the empty roads. I could ride for hours without meeting a single car on the road. A few times I wondered if I’d entered another dimension where only I existed!

The visitor centre was as expected, full of tourists so I didn’t hang around. Instead, I turned around and diverted north from my planned route because Allan suggested a couple of places to stop at. As you can imagine, riding an empty road through the conservation areas and national parks was magical. Even more so with the weather I was experiencing. From barren areas with only a few trees to areas with thicker vegetation and the smooth road weaving around the side of the mountains and hugging them with spectacular bends, I was grinning despite the rain relentlessly hitting me and breaking my failing waterproofs.

In Waratah I warmed up with a good cup of coffee and some food, viewed the waterfalls and had a quick ride around this picturesque village but didn’t have the time or will to stop at the local museum.

Heading back south towards Strahan the red light suddenly came on indicating low fuel. I looked at it bewildered because I was told the daily routes planned for me will be easily covered by a tank if I filled up in the morning. Except following a planned route is not exactly my style and by diverting to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre and to Waratah I have added quite a few miles to the route. I panicked because I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a petrol station. And indeed, there were none close by. It’s a remote island and the western coast more than the rest. The closest fuel station was in Rosebery which was a good 60 km away. I nursed the Tiger to it and breathed a sigh of relief once I got there.

On arriving at Straham I spread my clothes all over the room to dry out and headed for dinner. The accommodation supplied complimentary port in the room so it would have been rude not to have had a glass before bed.

I woke listening to the rain bouncing off the balcony outside my bedroom. I got up and peeked outside and I didn’t like what I saw. Back to bed it was for another hour to be greeted by a glorious sunshine and blue sky! I quickly packed up and jumped on the bike in search of breakfast. I was excited to get going as I had a long day ahead and the first section was on a road known as 99 bends which lead to Queenstown.

I don’t need to explain where the name came from let’s just say I was tempted to turn around once I arrived to Queenstown and do it all over again!

From Queenstown the road steeply curved around the mountains and for the first time I had to overtake a car. Actually, two cars. I was told if they are white, they are probably hire cars and judging by the car occupants and their style of driving they were tourists for sure. There weren’t many opportunities to overtake and for the first (and only) time I wished the Tiger had a bigger engine and a bit more oomph!

As the road reached the top of the mountains I turned off to Iron Blow lookout where I had a good chat with Pete, an old guy from the village below and his dog and I could have still been there chatting to him had it not been for the fact that I had quite some miles to get through.

Afterwards I visited The Wall in Derwent Bridge which is definitely a stop to make if you appreciate craftmanship and skill in woodwork. It is a commemoration to those who helped shape the past and the present of Tasmania’s central highlands. The story is carved into large 3-meter tall wooden panels and the result is awe inspiring.

Because I liked the name on the road sign, I turned off the main road to see the Laughing Jack Lagoon and found myself on a gravel track. While the lagoon itself wasn’t laughing at all and Jack wasn’t there either I did come close to a wallaby that crossed the road just in front of me and was proud to have kept the bike upright on the gravel all the way.

The weather cheered up and the blue skies made an appearance, but I kept all my layers on to offer some wind protection. The road to Strathgordon is a lone road going to Gordon Dam and back with not much else there, no villages for miles but trees, mountains and beautiful scenery.

My last night was overlooking Lake Pedder eating pizza and drinking red wine.

Gordon Dam

Last day on the island greeted me with more rain and I pushed on to see the Gordon Dam. Satisfied by seeing it from the distance I didn’t feel the need to walk across it. It was a bitter sweet ride back to Hobart as I was flying out that evening to Sydney and while I wanted to stay longer I also wanted to come back at a better time to enjoy more of the sunshine. My last stop was the summit of Mount Wellington for the most spectacular view over Hobart.

If Tassie isn’t yet on your list of destinations, add it now. Allow more than just 5 days as despite the fact that it is a small island there is so much to see. I, for one, will be definitely going back at the first given opportunity.

2560 1440 Maja

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