Tasmania was a days ferry crossing from the Australian mainland (well 10 hours anyway) and the change in latitude meant the island was much greener, cooler and generally wetter than most of the rest of Australia. It’s situated at roughly 42 degrees latitude right on the edge of the notorious roaring 40′s which means if you don’t like the weather in Tasmania wait 10 minutes and you will get something different. It was absolutely beautiful and there was so much to see and do.
A while ago some Guzzi riding friends of ours in England called Dave and Pam mentioned they had friends in Tasmania. They put us in touch and it seemed the planets might align for us to meet up with Phil and Karen. Phil is an engineer on a ship and was due home soon. The trouble was he was also off to Lake Gardiner on the mainland to run his Guzzi Daytona in the up coming speed trials so we had a window of only a few days when they would be around because of this we planned a little circuit of the North West corner of Tassie. The plan was to ride through Waratah to Corrinna and then ride back up the western explorer gravel road. As it turned out the weather had other ideas and by the time we had got down to Waratah the rain had set in.
Waratah was a picturesque and interesting town and we spent a couple of hours wandering around. It is steeped in history as it was the birthplace of the Tasmanian mining industry. James ‘philosopher’ Smith discovered Tin at the nearby Mount Bischoff and in its heyday it was the worlds greatest tin mine.
The hut in the picture below is a replica of Philosophers hut from that time. Also in town was a working stamper mill (the blue thing in the pics), this machine pounded the tin ore and was the first stage of seperation from the waste rock. This ‘small’ stamper was the last of its breed and was operated by the late Dudley Kenworthy the last man to run a mining enterprise on the mountain in the 1980′s. It was moved here together with its shed to show some of the regions mining past. The original stamper battery was run 24hrs a day by seven huge waterwheels next to Waratah falls right in the middle of town, the noise must have been deafening. The only time the town was quiet was Sundays when it didn’t run.
The weather was still coming from Corrinna direction and wasn’t getting any better so we found a free camp just out of town for the night. Waratah is infamous for having its own wet microclimate.
On the return journey we rode along some great twisty roads past a dam and King Solomans cave where we had lunch. The sun came back out again and the day brightened right up. Next stop was Paradise where we had to stop for a picture.
Eventually we popped back out into civilisation and had a look around Sheffield and Latrobe both of which had some interesting old buildings. In Sheffield there was a fascinating second hand shop called the Emporium. We got chatting to the owners and I happened to notice they were selling postcards of some of the wacky vehicles that had been parked outside their shop over the years. We were parked up the road but I said “we have a motorbike you might be interested in I’ll bring it down” Their eyes nearly popped out of their heads when it appeared on their forecourt. The instant he saw it Mark the owner said “would you like to bring it to steamfest this weekend to display, we will let you in for free” We happily agreed and after taking some pictures we arranged to come back for the long weekend to do Steamfest Sheffield is also a mural town. Here are some pictures of all the above.
Phil and Karen very kindly put us up for the night despite the fact they were moving house and were surrounded by boxes. We went out to dinner that night and the next day Phil took us out to where they are moving to, a wooded block of land just a few km’s out of town. We also put our tent up in their garden to dry it out from the previous night’s rain sadly a tom cat decided to sharpen its claws on the side in the night and by morning we noticed a large rip in the side about 12cms long. Grrrrr!!!!
Phil and Karen’s block of land was in a lovely spot and Phil spent quite a while showing us around what was quite obviously his little bit of heaven. He has built a workshop with an apartment alongside and plans to build a house on the block when he can. He has lots of projects dotted about the place and while I admire his ambition I can’t help but think he will need two lifetimes to finish them all. Good on him though!
We rode the bikes through some of the woodland tracks around the block and he showed us the Tasmanian freshwater lobsters in the creek (pic below), they are huge. They are protected here and he feeds and keeps an eye out for them.
Just as we were about to leave I spotted what looked like the top of a huge engine valve sticking out of the grass, it was from ship explained Phil. They come even bigger than this apparently, he bought it home after it burnt out intending to make it into a piece of furniture someday. Phil rode with us for an hour or so before peeling off, there are a few pictures of our ride out as well because Karen jumped on the back of his T3 for a change.
Phil is heavily into tuning both 2 strokes and 4 strokes amongst many other things and is really interesting to talk to, I Iearnt a lot from him in the short time we had there and wish it could have been longer.
Here are some pics.
We looked at a weather forecast as we left and it looked like the West Coast was fine so we headed down that way. It is one of the most beautiful parts of Tassie but as the weather generally comes in from the west it tends to be the wettest part too (very similar to New Zealand). We were blessed with some great weather that day and the views were spectacular, this is looking back over cradle mountain, you can just see some of the road we had just ridden down. We had to stop riding in Tassie around 5pm as there were lots of small roo’s around and lots of roadkill to remind you too. We had dawdled a bit and the day was getting on so when a little used gravel road appeared we rode down it to see if we could free camp down there. It was a good spot but a cold night, we were well into autumn and the tipi was soaked with dew when we woke up. You can see the steam rising off it in the photo. It took a while for the sun to get over the treeline in the morning but eventually it made it and we were glad to see and feel it warm our bones and dry out our gear.
The next morning we carried on through some more great roads to Strahan (pronounced Strawn)
This was an important port for the west coast mining and logging industries as there were very few roads on the west coast for them to get their product out. Even to this day there are vast areas of forest with virtually no vehicle access and strahan is still the gateway to the south west wilderness and the base for the seaplanes, helicopters and boats that go there.
It is also the centre of the Tasmanian Huon pine industry which was based around the Gordon, King and Franklin rivers as Huon pine generally only grows on silty riverbanks. It is really close grained slow growing timber which is excellent for turning, carving etc and such is it’s popularity that it is getting scarce and expensive. We wandered around a wood workshop and showroom that both smelled soooo good. Also there was the tiny set of “The ship that never was” Australia’s longest running play about the” Frederick” the last convict built ship which was due to sail to the new Port Arthur prison from Sarah Island penal colony but the convict shiprights had other ideas. Sarah Island was the site of the Macquarie Harbour Penal Settlement from 1822-33. Its reputation was one of the bloodiest and most brutal penal institutions in the colony. Up to 380 men were confined on Sarah Island to harvest Huon pine.and build ships from it.
We continued a 100year tradition by having lunch in the peoples park then rode on to Queenstown which was and still is a mining town. The landscape was stark but amazing, the reason for the lack of vegetation is a combination of tree removal for use in the smelters, the smelter fumes (for about 40 years), and the heavy annual rainfall. The erosion of the shallow topsoil back to the harder rock profile has contributed to the stark state of the mountains. We were fore warned about this but we found it a quite fascinating landscape. It was an amazing ride up from Queenstown and again the weather was kind to us.The road is switchback after switchback and is called the Lyell highway after Mount Lyell the mountain peak where copper was found in the late 19th century and the site of the Mount Lyell copper mine which is the sole reason for the existence of Queenstown.
The three hills in the picture below are the King William Range and the sign there reminds you that you are on the edge of one of the worlds last temperate wildernesses covering 1.38 million hectares and protected by world heritage status. The last couple of pictures are where we free camped for the night and the nice leech that crawled up my boot and made a meal of my shin. I felt an itch and pulled up my trouser leg to find him chowing down on my leg, a dose of salt showed him the error of his ways and he dropped off. For some reason there were quite a few of them around our camp that night which gave Karen the creeps, she found some in the tent too which had come in on the bottom of our drybags. We had to evict them before we went to sleep, you don’t want one of those crawling across your face during the night.
Next morning we headed back to Sheffield and Steamfest via a lovely road that ran beside the great lakes. On the way we visited the beautiful Liffey falls, it was a fairly bouncy 6km dirt road in but was well worth the effort. Liffey Falls State Reserve is nestled within a rainforest on the slopes of the Great Western Tiers. The state park surrounding the falls are a great example of Tasmania’s cool temperate rainforests where myrtle, sassafrass and leatherwood co exist with tree ferns and huge eucalypyts. On the banks of the waterfall were fossil impressions in the rock and we saw brown trout swimming in the clear river (look closely at the picture of the river and see if you can spot one)
Next up : Steamfest.