Tasmania . The “holiday isle” of Australian number plate slogans. A tiny isle of White sized dot below Australia, a few hours sail from Melbourne. Easy enough to cycle around and a state ticked of the list. However this being Australia, tiny island is around the size of England, the sail took 12 hours and the cycling was impossible. The box may be ticked (among many many others) but 9 days wasn’t nearly enough, I’ve just arrived back to NSW from my holiday and I want to go back already. 90 days wouldn’t be enough. Even if I ditched the bike.
I need desperately to write about Young, but I know if I don’t keep up with the blog I’ll drop it completely. I’ve been so busy. Just a couple of notes before I wax lyrical over “darlin tassie”. THANK YOU JANE & MICHAEL for letting me stay at your house. THANK YOU HARDMAN for getting me work with the ridiculously unionised sheep shearers. THANK YOU EMILY for letting me ride your horse. As it seems more people are reading this blog than the intended audience of my mum I have to be a lot more conscious of what to write; but the thanks are more than genuine, I’ve never been so grateful to so many people in my life as I have been this past month. Oh yeah, I’ve been away a month, it feels a year and I’m homesick (even Bourne-sick believe it or not). I’m rambling and forgetting Tasmania already. To begin.
The luck of the Traveller.
Jane introduced me to a man named Sam Wood at a music group their children shared. We danced around the mulberry bush, sung of old gum trees and he mentioned he was driving down to Tasmania. Also that he ran a bicycle touring company and he could lend me his bicycle and the kit needed to live off it for 9 days. I jumped at the chance of a break from the heat. My only knowledge of Tasmania came from Warner Brothers… I didn’t even know it was a state, thought it was a separate country.
It’s not. Tasmania is an island state of Australia, formerly connected to the mainland but now separated by the Bass Strait, a choppy old stretch of Pacific/Indian shark infested madness. Tassie has 3 airports, but personally I’d rather sail over death than fly over it. The liner “spirit of Tasmania” leaves Melbourne and arrives at a town called Devonport 11 or so hours later.
I didn’t know quite what to expect getting off the boat, the Taz of Tasmania opening painting a picture of deserts, huge rocks and hunters roaming the sands with rifle and mother in tow. It was raining something fierce when I got off, it didn’t really stop til the last two days. I loved it. Sam and his Brother dropped me at the Capitol Hobart on the south coast, picked up a group of Americans and set off to cycle the West coast. I headed to my hostel with the intention of leaving Hobart early the following morning, I didn’t leave Hobart for another four days due to a mix of under estimation, compulsion and some seriously steep hills.
All I had with me was Sam’s touring bike, three heavy duty panniers (bike bags), a tent and three hundred dollars. Scratch that, I blew a hundred dollars on the ferry buying useless guide books, maps on a scale useless to those without a sextant, park passes that were never checked and Beetroot. The beet was far from useless, it’s my fave.
So I arrive in Hobart with $200 dollars to cover 9 nights accommodation, food, the transport that I knew I’d eventually fall back on and any sightseeing along the way. I’d spent it all before leaving Hobart; but made the 500 or so km, 6 day trip to Devonport for free… food, lodging, transport. All free. The luck of the traveller.
Hobart lies on the shores of the river Derwent, an impossibly wide river, and somehow deep enough for cruise liners and submarines to pass through with ease. Lonely Planet calls Hobart one of the top ten most picturesque cities on earth and I don’t disagree. The promenades are clean. There are no buildings over 6 stories let alone skyscrapers so from every street the snow capped mountains can be seen. There are less than a half a million people on the island let alone the city so it’s the only city on earth probably where the stars are brighter than Billingborough, but though not built up it is pretty damn spread out. The oodles of space equal quite a wide spread of houses making leaving the city difficult. As one resident put it “here in Hobart the urban sprawl has been perfected”.
But more on my fruitless attempts to leave the city on a bicycle later. I’m really losing track of this post. Rambling is a necessity when I wrote nothing down of what I’ve done and I’ve forgotten most of it already. Format Joe. Format and structure.
I arrive at Hobart, head to the pickled frog (my green hued hostel) and promptly fall asleep. I’d been travelling in a car and boat for around maybe 30 hours from Young.
It’s a Saturday: market day. Hobart is famed for it’s Salamanca market and rightly so. Between a beautiful row of Georgian sandstone terraces (as old as Australia gets) and leafy trees (also unusual amid fire ravaged Tasmanian dead-land) lies 300 stalls selling milks, cider and cheeses. Milks, ciders and cheeses! Not to disparage Australia or sneer but the mainland has none of these, how could they with no grass? The market itself seemed a rarity, Australia has never seemed a market culture. In England we take Saturdays and Wednesdays outside the corn exchange for granted, we live in a “market town” that is slowly becoming a “supermarket town”. In Australia it seems they have always been supermarket towns so Salamanca was a breath of fresh air. While I remember… Taz has the cleanest air on earth, you can tell. Honest to god it tastes lovely.
After the market I walked down to the harbour, watched a submarine disembark the stooping sailors, blinking into the bright sun. I then watched a polar research vessel empty it’s bearded woollen occupants into the icy rain. There is a saying in Tasmania: if you don’t like the weather… Come back in ten minutes. As sayings go it’s pretty good.
From the bay I caught a glimpse of a B E A U tiful boat, a huge military catamaran absolutely caning it through the port decked out in urban camo. For $20 dollars it would take me to an art gallery called Mona, another $20 to get in. Later that week when I hadn’t eaten all day and had to ride 40km I still stood by paying for both as a smart decision. I love boating, so of course the ferry was a dream. However I hate art galleries, MONA was the highlight of my trip to Tasmania.
The museum of old and new art is built underground beneath a peninsular of sandstone that juts out into the Derwent river. Built by a man who had worked out a system to cheat on online gambling the artworks are part of some kind of tax dodge, because they’re free to Tasmanians they can’t be seized by the government. I’d heard of it back in England described as a “subversive adult Disneyland”. It was full of the craziest shit.
I can’t begin to describe some of the things. A pinball machine that dispensed poison, a chocolate bust of the upper half an actual Palestinian suicide bomber, a trampoline that played music with bullets. A room with a floor made of pink hair full of Californians telling you about their lives and hobbies. Strange times. The wine was also made on site at the gallery vineyard, it was free.
The extra night at the hostel was not free.
I hone and perfect my cycle itinerary. About 60km a day, starting at 7 in the morning each day with breaks every half hour. Make a list of purchases needed: tubes, pump, food and least importantly special cheap powder that you mix with water to make it taste like Gatorade, with added magnesium. I already have the Lycra and padded shorts, I’m not completely defenceless. I get ready to wake up at half six.
I wake up at nine, leave the hostel and am promptly told it’s illegal to ride without a helmet in Tasmania. I buy a helmet and some cheap drink energy lime flavour salty horrible death powder at Woolworth’s. I know right, Woolworth’s! For the next six days I’m lucky not to get a puncture and I eat mainly this tub of powder with a little plastic measuring spoon. Wait for the end of day 3… I get pretty violently ill.
I’ve now convinced myself I have all I need to face hundreds of miles of phone-signal less, empty, commerce barren wilderland. Mainly because I have $30 left. So I hit the cycle path, power over the bridge. Start to sweat and breath heavily and promptly get lost.
It’s two hours later, I’ve just biked though a Hansons aggregate yard where they make asphalt and down a small mountain. There are small mountains everywhere when you’re in Tasmania. On the other hand there are small mountains everywhere when you’re shit at cycling and hate every minute of it. The bike was a road bike with 50kg of gear on it and no rolling resistance; meaning I didn’t have to push it up hills but I had to walk it down as it would pick up such pace. I’m in the middle of a wide swathe of bushland, I push my bike for an hour through grass and stones and bump into a kind old man who laughs when I ask him if I’m near the ocean. I’m still in Hobart. A good hour drive, 3 week cycle to the ocean.
It’s at this point I get pretty ill. The kind of ill that makes cycling through suburbia on a hard cycle seat for hours pretty impossible.
Outside of the dunny I ask the first kind looking woman with a bike rack on her car if she’d take me to the ocean. She won’t but she drops me off at a campsite in Cambridge. Maybe 10-15km from Hobart, so she drove me about 2-7km out of the city. I’d cycled about 8km on the third day and should of been at 60km… On the second day. It’s rained all day.
I walk around Cambridge and see a Wallaby on a hill, it stares at me for a minute before I realise there are another pair of eyes fixing upon me from inside the animal’s belly. I have one of those “oh yeah this isn’t England” moments. I have about $15 left.
Tempted to visit Richmond, a historic town with Australia’s oldest bridge (built in 1972!) However I need to make up around 200km and so will have to cycle for 10 hours straight. I cycle for 2 hours, reach a hill genuinely called “bust me gall hill” and head back towards Richmond. Which is still essentially a suburb of Hobart. I make it to Historic Richmond where I blow the last of my money on cashews, beer and a place to set up my tent. I go to sleep at 6 in the evening hoping that day 5 would see me on a flat road, truck free, that leads me all the way to the ocean. It’s still raining.
I look at the map and cycle back to Hobart to catch a bus to the coast and book a bus to take me to the ferry in 4 days time. I can’t even make it to Hobart my fat little legs are so buckled, I stop at the nearest pub and ask around if any of the gruff looking men have a pickup truck. All of a sudden I have a drink in my hand and ten men are explaining what a ute is. I get a lift back to the city in a Ford Falcon from a Tassie plumber who is probably drunk but really a huge fan of ACDC. I get out earlier than I have to and thank him kindly. I then empty both my cards and skip all the way to the coach station with my last $50 I own. This is Australia, the coaches all in all cost about $160. Then $10 each trip for the bike. There are 5 separate connections I’ll have to catch to get from one end of the island to the other, that’s sixty dollars. That’s $220. She puts me down as a pensioner and then just gives up and gives me all the tickets I need. In England if I tried to get a free ride on Delaine from Deeping to Queensgate I’d get thrown off, she essentially gave me free travel from Lands end to John O’groats… With my bike! By this point Sam had probably cycled twice around Tasmania and would still have been too busy with paying clients to ferry and nanny my broke English saddle sore ass around this huge island. I hide $20 in my bike so I will only ferret for it if I’m starving, spend another $30 on another night at the pickled frog and make friends with a holistic Canadian: sourdough, avocado and fresh fruits and seeds for tea. We watch back to the future and I’m the happiest I can remember being for a long time.
I catch the bus at seven. It’s just me (a 19 year old pensioner with a road bike), an old Tasmanian farmer and the driver. These men keep me entertained with jokes and stories all the way to the first stop, when the farmer gets off. The rest of the journey is spent in a strange, icy silence between me and the driver. I try my best to break it, offer him some of my cherry Bounty at Swansea. But he seems upset, I think he knows I’m not a pensioner. Or maybe he knows of my cycling failure shame and holds it against me. It’s a good 2 and a half hour bus journey from Hobart to the area of coast I most wanted to go to, Freycinet national park. A long time to sit in silence. The views drown out the fear and rain though, the mountains are imposing in the way mountains often are but it’s the beauty of the farmland and the valleys that really appealed. During my nine days in Tasmania there was not a single house I cycled or drove past that I couldn’t have lived in at a moments notice.
I get dropped off at the entrance to Freycinet and suddenly something in the driver thaws. He’s all laughter and smiles. Maybe he can see my over acted limp and knows I’ll be cycling in the rain, it could be he thought I had a strange ageing disorder like Benjamin Button and was cycling towards youth and eventual death. It was probably because we were a 3 hour cycle away from Freycinet. So yeah, I got dropped damn short but I found it funny, for ten minutes.
Around now the sun came out and within an hour I was burnt. I rarely burn so I guess the hole in the ozone theory must have some credence to it… The theory is that there is a hole in the ozone layer over Tasmania, it’s a pretty loose theory but I’m writing this at two in the morning andI can’t remember. I cycled to a beach and met a wallaby in a car park, the first that would let me touch it. Soft like a dog if you were wondering, but the claws are really quite huge and the eyes glisten with some kind of dark madness that would have had me throwing all my food at it if I had any. I finish the rest of my nourishing electrolyte rich powder and walk on to a beach.
It was the most beautiful beach I’d ever seen, stretching for as far as you could see either way with not a soul in sight. No shops, no cars and no rain. If it hadn’t of been for friendly beaches I probably wouldn’t of continued cycling along the park and into Freycinet. I can’t hope to communicate how in love with Tasmania I was when I first saw that beach. The rocks were streaked with stony orange fire but the sand was so white, dotted occasionally with pink blooming seaweeds and fragrant white flowered bushes that smelt like star mix.
Friendly beaches was the postcard moment of my month abroad so far… Maybe twinned with HK skyline at night. White sand and blue sky. Staring into the ocean and realising that the next piece of land would be Antarctica. Mind blowing views. Wombats and Possums playing in the dunes. An actual Kookaburra in an actual old gum tree. Paradise, God’s land.
I cycled on to Freycinet, a vast national park so I could at least have the vague notion that not all my dollars were wasted buying a $30 parks pass, that I used once, that was never checked. I fished out the last twenty dollars and spent pretty much all of it on the many various types of Cadbury chocolate that’s made in Tasmania, $5 a regular bar but the peppermint and rocky road just completed me.
I cycled on to Freycinet, realised I couldn’t take my bike into the park as it had no roads. In quick succession I realised I didn’t have a backpack to carry the clothes, tent, sleeping bag and roll that I’d need to camp for free in the park with. I used bungee cords and a bike pannier to create maybe the most dangerous and uncomfortable backpack to come into contact with an atheist’s shoulders and spine. It hurt like hell but I hiked up to the lookout over Wineglass bay, maybe Tasmania’s most photographed beach, I then hiked to the beach and slept on it. For free. In the most exclusive beachside property on the whole island. No phone signal, nobody knew where I was, at least 50 miles away from the nearest human. Completely off the grid.
It took me nearly 3 hours to sleep and I woke still clutching my pen knife but the sound of the waves meant I dreamt I was surfing, I slept like a baby and woke up to the rising sun and some startled hikers.
The nest bus I need to catch leaves from a town called Bicheno just above Freycinet on the East Coast, it leaves early on the morning of the eighth day and although it would have been heaven to sleep for a second night on the beach I hiked back to the bike and cycled the few hours back to Mr Whimsy’s made up bus stop and then another 20km into Bicheno. I did 40km that day and though my target was an average of 60+ I’d be lying if I wasn’t proud of myself for that ride, those hills, you can’t imagine.
I reach Bicheno and collapse next to a signpost that has a picture of a cartoon penguin on it, there must be a refrigerated zoo around as although it’s been showering the temperature slides into the thirties so quickly that you stop to change layers more than you stop for water when riding. I make my way down to the beach, not a sandy affair, more jagged outcrops of red rock with dramatic geysers bursting every time a wave came into a certain passage of naturally formed tunnels. Again, beautiful. I decided to camp right there, so I set up my tent took some arty photos for Instagram and tried to stop thinking about the last time I’d eaten.
I returned four hours later after meeting a group of fishermen who were only too happy to explain what type of fish flake was and how abalone should be cooked. I didn’t get a ride on their boat though. When I made it back to the rocks the geyser was still shooting tons of water metres and metres into the cold night air, but it was far busier than before. Furthermore these people weren’t the classic Asian waiting by the blowhole with arms outstretched for that picture perfect moment. These were tripod people, y’know? Lenses longer than your arm, sit down quietly and wait for hours people. The ones you only see outside of courts in cities or in adverts for cameras. They were deadly silent so I just left them and went to sleep.
As soon as I got in my tent something screamed. Not in my tent but right behind it. I ran around to the back as it sounded just like a child and as soon as I made it over those shitty tent rope lines I saw a rat like shadow throw itself down a crack in the rock and into the icy water. Then another little thing screamed underneath me. So I ran away. Luckily the people I first came across weren’t the serious photographers… And to be honest now I’m having to be really deliberate and self censoring about what I write, not that I am normally Mother….. Stupidly I had managed to camp on a penguin reserve. A breeding ground for fairy penguins. The people I spoke to found it hilarious when I asked them about the screaming black rats, they found it funnier when I didn’t believe that there were penguins in Australia. So funny that they invited me back to their hostel and plied me with beer, noodles and good company until the penguins had gone to sleep. Mein gott, those noodles were perhaps THE BEST NOODLES I have ever tasted in my young life. They were a group of all nationalities on a jump tour (Don’t thank me Jacob) tasting wines, jams and the local Brie whilst going on hikes and watching English boys nearly be scared to tears by about 30 shin high mad bastard penguins. I promise to some point go back to Tasmania and do more than scratch the surface if my farcical attempt at a bike tour can be called scratching anything. Sadly the new friends fell asleep before the penguins, I got two hours of sleep in total, rose at six to put my bike on a school bus headed for Launceston.
A series of busses with an ever increasingly friendly cohort of drivers took me to Launceston. Along convict built roads and past some pretty god-awful historical sites of tragedy and cruelty we threaded our way, through mountains and flooded roads, past road kill deer, kangaroo, wombats and devils. I couldn’t have cycled any of it, I feel no shame, I’m not great at exercise let alone continuous strenuous thigh based exertion.
When I reached Launceston I realised that camping in the city would be a slightly different kettle of exquisite seafood. You see in the bush and on the coast I’d convinced myself I wasn’t trespassing.
A. It was crown land (probably) and I’m a loyal god fearing English patriot (less probably)
B. It’s land stolen from Aborigines anyway, you can’t trespass on stolen land, terra nullis and all that
Neither would have sat well with police but I didn’t get caught on either of the beaches. Launceston is again, a sprawling suburban maze so I went down to po po headquarters to ask what to do if penniless, ferrybound the next day and in need of a pitch. They couldn’t of been more helpful, pointed me to a Christian housing agency on the other side of town and asked me all about my adventures. They didn’t let me sit shotgun in one of their souped up turbo Holden police cars though, never mind.
I cycled to the agency and they were even more helpful then the police. Australian people are the friendliest people on earth. Of those, Tasmanians are the most hospitable and among the Tasmaians the people of the city of Launceston were near comically friendly. I entered the anglicare office and left with a smile on my face, two huge loaves of fresh bread and the perfect place to pitch my tent. Not that Anglicare told me to put up my tent illegally in a city park, that’s definitely 100% not what I’m saying.
What a park though. The Cataract Gorge would be like Sherwood Forest in the middle of Nottingham city centre. Suspension bridge over raging rivers full of white water rafters, pristine pools and grounds, peacocks and seagulls fighting over my bread. I got given a selection of cheese tasters made in Tasmania by an incredibly friendly man behind a local Tassie produce stall who was accompanied with a Lama shaved to make it look like a lama wearing a buttoned down jumper. It didn’t even seem surreal I was so hungry. If you can imagine Tasmania is the equivalent of Norfolk. Rumours of incest, huge huge families, some pretty “quirky” read nut jobs, people all trapped on an island that has an incredibly sorrowful history. Strange place. Anyway. I eat my bread and cheese, Tasmania cheese is better than English cheese, I’ve said it… And what? I bother the man who works at the longest chairlift in the Southern Hemisphere for a free ride then I set up my tent at around 7, the park is now closed and abandoned. In the middle of a city… Nobody breaks in, no litter, graffiti, nothing. It’s a strange place. Go for a swim. Lock my bike to the railing and go for a short stroll. I have a vague recollection of remembering I left my passport in the bag that fits betwixt the handlebars… but who steals passports? Even with a generic face it doesn’t actually happen, you’d have to look the exact same. I leave it and head into Launceston.
The Christmas lights are being switched on, by lights Launceston means just the one tree but credit where credit’s due the tree is a beauty, fake but a beauty. Various not really safe for mother to read sketchy escapades occur but I end up meeting a man called Cat and two cousins called Steph and Alita. They are, like all Tasmanians, comically friendly. We just met in the street and became friends, it was as easy as that. By the time I think about how difficult it is to speak to strangers let alone make friendships in England it’s 5 in the morning, I’ve learnt (with varying degrees of success) how to use poi, the balls with strobes in them on stings that you rave with and meditate with and sit on bandstands and muck around with in strange strange cities with the friendliest people. That night I learnt so much about the side of Australia that you don’t really get to see on a Gap Year, combined with the sheep shearing I’m starting to feel obliged to do at least one party boat rave with drunk and stoned English fools before I realise I remember I wouldn’t enjoy it. I get a bed for the night with these girls just like it’s nothing and it seems strange to them that I’m so grateful. Hungry as I am I keep turning down food as these people on this island seem so friendly that to abuse their hospitality would be tantamount to gross disrespect. I wake up at 11 and say my farewells to my new friends.
Walking back to the park Police Holden after Holden comes racing up the hill and I’m really starting to worry about getting that bread from the benefits office. I’m not Australian, what if it was just for Australians and I lead them to believe I was a local? But they just kept going. It’s strange how all my life I’ve thought Vauxhalls were a piece of misshapen plastic yet soon as I get to Oz they become this symbol of the things I see Australia as.
I get to the park ready to pack away all my camping gear on the bike and cycle to the bus stop and wait for my transfer to the Spirit of Tasmania.
Someone’s stolen Sam’s bike. The bike Sam took when he filmed that BBC program about cycling on the trail of Hannibal. The bike that had millions of viewers on the iplayer. The bike that I’ve dragged up and down mountains for 9 days. Then I realise that this means some little bogun (Aussie chav) has stolen my passport… And ferry boarding pass… And those seashells I took from Wineglass bay as presents for Jane & Michael.
Sam’s going to crush my tiny English skull with his calfs of steel. It must of cost $2000 easily. Someone’s stolen I bike I’ve borrowed off a man who’s quite strong that I don’t know very well.
Then I see the thirty policemen in hiking gear with the backpacks and walking sticks. “I’m glad you’re here someone’s gone and stolen my bike!”
They stare at me for awhile before one of them gets the police chief who had just issued a report to the newspapers and TV about how they were concerned for my safety and were about to begin a search of what is apparently a place where people drown. A place where people drown quite often.
“Joe Stuttle, 19, of Lincolnshire, meandered his way back to the First Basin car park at 12.50pm yesterday and wondered what all the fuss was about.
Police hikers and State Emergency Service volunteers had already assembled to begin searching the Gorge.”
It shouldn’t be funny. They called my parents. I am so so sorry Mum. But it is quite funny. The press loved it, I got in the paper and on TV. I made the ferry and I got a ride in a souped up Holden police car with the chief, taking me back to the station where they’d impounded my bike as evidence. God my legs ache.