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Website of Ian Muirhead

Launceston to Port Arthur

Great Escapade Tasmania 2013

Cycling along Great Oyster Bay
A rather grey day, but pleasant cycling along Great Oyster Bay

Napoleon Bonaparte (or was it Frederick the Great) apparently once said An army marches on its stomach, and the same can be said for the ravenous participants in a cycle tour. Historically, there have been many who felt that Bicycle Network Victoria did not sate that need well. For this Escapade, the organisation lead confidently, with a menu circulated pre-ride which spoke of Tasmanian atlantic salmon in BĂ©arnaise sauce, organic chicken breast stuffed with King Island brie and pancetta, and vegetarian kofta balls in red wine and garlic sauce. But as that old proverb states, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Thus the question - how did it all taste?

It started well, with free tickets to Festivale, Launceston's celebration of Tasmanian food, wine, beer, arts and entertainment. It finished equally well with a 'Convict BBQ' in the gardens of Port Arthur Convict Settlement. Indeed, general consensus appeared to be that the extra money allocated to food paid back handsomely in quality the week through, though there was still room for improvement. Fresh veggies were seldom seen, and while a hot serve of bacon and eggs was a treat on our rest day at Bicheno, it would have been nice to have a hot protein breakfast option each morning.

Supporting the formal gastronomic delights were optional extras such as local fish & chips while pitching a tent at Triabunna, mixed berries, ice-cream and cream after pitching a tent at Port Arthur, and several wonderful morning teas available from local charities along the route. Local wine tastings at Copping and Port Arthur, a refreshing Taverners Honey Ale in the cool evening air at Weldborough, and a Moo Brew Dark Ale or two along the way took care of the beverage side of things.

Medeas cove at low tide.
Looking towards a low sun, this high contrast image is of Medeas Cove, on the outskirts of St Helens near where we were camping.

There was no easing us into the week of cycling. The initial hilly terrain ranked amongst the toughest first few days on rides I have done. A strong but steady climb out of Launceston, Weldborough Pass and St Marys Pass provided great muscle awareness. An optional unsealed route of deep sand and potholes through Wielangta Forest was apparently more gruelling, but made up for it with stunning coastal views. Later days were longer but the topography more benign. The route from Bicheno to Triabunna was the longest, at 93km, but despite the wet start it was a relatively easy, flat ride with only a couple of climbs.

As has previously been the case for rides on this side of the State, our rest day was at Bicheno, and for many of us this meant a trip to Coles Bay and Freycinet National Park. Needless to say, it was not possible to take in the majestic view from Wineglass Bay lookout in the relative solitude it deserved.

Front porch in Weldborough
This composition caught my attention as we sat, cold beer in hand, on the front step of the historic Weldborough Hotel late in the evening.

But back to food for the moment (I'm not really obsessed). Praise must be given to the wonderful, friendly service from the ice cream shop near our Bicheno campsite. It was well patronised. My advice based on experience: no matter how hot and hungry, think carefully before asking for three scoops!

Maclean Bay.
Although the day had been rather long, scenery like that of Maclean Bay made the cycling more pleasant as we approached Bicheno.
Old boat shed
South of Swansea, an old weathered shed is the focus of this rather barren coastal setting.

There would have been few, if any, of us who were not moved by the extent of damage from the bush fires which had swept through the area a month earlier. Memories of the smell of ash and charcoal remain strong, as do images of a lone man sifting through blackened debris, tents where homes once stood, and the large number of For Sale signs passed along the route.

Burnt dunes near Dunalley
An unusual pattern of water at low tide provides a beautiful backdrop to the stark burnt vegetation along the dunes of Dunalley Bay.

Perhaps most poignant of all was a small gaggle of geese gathered at the charred skeletal remains of a front door - all that remained of what I assume was the home of those who once took care of them. One of those experiences best captured in memories rather than a photograph.

Burnt fireplace and vase
A small vase and burnt fireplace are poignant reminders of the terrible fires at Dunalley a month past.

I like loop rides, and the last day option was well thought out. Those who felt like another day in the saddle could add another 38km to the odometer tally. For many of us the time was better spent a little less energetically exploring the many buildings, museum, and gardens of Port Arthur.

Initially it seemed a little expensive, but the optional two hour ferry to Hobart was a special way to celebrate ride's end. Clear blue skies and calm conditions provided near perfect sailing, as Storm Bay thankfully failed to live up to its name. With barely a ripple on the water, our Captain was able to manouvre the ferry close to a colony of Australian Fur Seals sunning themselves at the base of the towering grey dolerite pillars of Cape Raoul. Between a complimentary drink and cheese platter, the scenic coastline, sea birds including albatross, shearwater and cormorant, and the historic Iron Pot Lighthouse there was still time to reflect on the past nine days.

Before this "Escapade" I had ridden the east coast of Tasmania with Bicycle Victoria three times. All considered, this was probably the best of them.