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Tassie Gems - Trip report (LONG!)

Discussion in 'Roads, Touring, Journeys, and Travel' started by Loz, Nov 29, 2005.

  1. I thought I'd post this even though I'm only halfway in and it's still in dodgy draft/brain fart format... I'll eventually edit it, so forgive any dodgy facts etc and I hope you enjoy it!

    Tassie Gems Trip Report, Part 1

    It's just as well Tassie is a boat ride away for Victorian and NSW riders. The minor effort involved in shipping one's steed across the Strait seems to be enough to preserve the island state from the avalanche of bikers that might descend on its magic roads if they knew what they were missing.

    The whole state is teeming with an astonishing variety of landscapes. One minute you'll be winding your way through a rainforest, the next you're on the top of a mountain ridge overlooking hundreds of kilometres of dry, deserted dusty plains. Half an hour of bucolic, rolling green valley, and then you'll find yourself following a rugged coastline to a broad, sandy beach. And always, everywhere, the mountains in the background.

    It's this constantly aggressive topography that excites us petrolheads. Where there's a mountain, there's a nice windy road - thus, 90% of the roads down here are as twisted as the average local's family tree, and due to the state's high rainfall levels they tend to be surfaced with the sort of grip you'd expect from all those extra digits you hear about. So even if you've only got one head, it's a no-brainer. Get your butt down to Tassie.

    Day 1:
    The 15 of us arrived on a Saturday morning and got stuck in immediately, heading through Sheffield for the twisties around Cradle Mountain and back up through to Moina. Sadly the weather got stuck in as well, but perhaps that was for the best, as our corner marking/tailend charlie system got a good workout. Up from Hobart way were friends TimTim and Dave who had decided to join us for a weekend lark in the uncharitable spirit of embarrassing their mainland buddies. We were warned well in advance that trying to stick on the tail of these ex-racer maniacs in wet or dry, on dirt or tarmac would result in extreme humiliation and/or pain, so despite their congeniality and flamboyantly coloured bikes, they were both regarded with wide-eyed caution.

    The day progressed reasonably uneventfully, spirits and textiles dampened by the rain and most of us riding for survival and sizing each other up rather than delving too deeply into the ol’ bag of tricks. As if by magic, the dark clouds and rain lifted the moment we pulled into our cabins in Wynyard, and brilliant sunshine lit the remainder of the evening... But by this stage, most of the crew were ready to hang our soaked gear up in front of a heater and jump in the shower. It was crowded in there. And Jason kept dropping the soap.

    Day 2:
    Thankfully the sunshine defied Sunday's gloomy forecast as we followed a gleefully speeding TimTim (it's okay, he's a local) up the coast road to where the town of Stanley nestles in the shadow of The Nut, a bulbous and photogenic protrusion to which Deano took an immediate liking.

    At this juncture a subgroup of V-Stroms and Pegasos detached to take advantage of the good weather and ride the white sands of the Western Explorer in the rapidly-settling dust of Tim and Dave, who were apparently in sight for about two backed-in gravel corners before they shot off at their own merrily terrifying pace and weren’t seen again.

    Meanwhile us roadies took off via some very sexy, snaky back roads and headed for Yolla. Coming up, around and through the spanky little hillsides and really starting to dig in to the corners, Andy on his SV650 came out and around a guy on a Yamaha quadbike. To his great surprise, the guy pinned the thumb throttle and gave chase, sticking on his tail through the twisties before rounding him up and skidding sideways to a halt where the rest of us had stopped to regroup.

    Andy needn’t have felt bad – turns out our man was an ex-Tasmanian champion ATV rider, still sponsored by Yamaha, taking his favourite road home. He put on a wheelie show for us, then fishtailed it gleefully around in the gravel before leading us off on a dirt road section, finishing with an impressive jump off a packed-down ramp to the side of the road.

    We waved goodbye and rode on through Tulla to the Hellyer Gorge, named incidentally for Marty’s grandfather. A group of us stopped to take in the three-minute scenic walk at the bottom of the gorge, and concluded that the road in was far more interesting than anything offered by the gorge itself, so off we went again. Sasha, rendered bikeless by back pain and insurance concerns, thrashed her Excel up the second half of the rainforest gorge so damn hard and fast that I didn’t even consider overtaking until the road opened right up towards the top of the gorge and got into a rhythym of high speed sweeping corners cutting through dry, open countryside.

    It was at the end of the gorge run that corner marker Jason pointed me the wrong way and I set off down a gently undulating highway headed North. I couldn’t see any bikes ahead of me so I thought I’d wind it on a bit to make up some ground on Nev and whoever else had really caned it through the gorge. When Jason realised his error, the chase was on.

    He did a brilliant job catching up with me, considering that I was [censored: going very fast] and had a ten minute head start. When you’re going that quickly, and you see something behind you, and it’s CATCHING UP, you immediately start thinking the boys in blue have got your number. I was bloody relieved to see Jason’s breathless grin when he pulled up beside me.

    The drama wasn’t completely over, as once we were back on the right track, my neck getting sore from 20 minutes at light speed on a naked bike with no wind protection, I went to check if the bike was in top… and found no bloody gear lever. The bolt had vibrated loose, probably due to high speed and revs, and the bugger was dangling by a connecting brace and dragging along the road. I pulled over.

    Tail-end Matty, who was trying to make up some ground on the two of us and doing ludicrous numbers as a result, saw me by the side of the road and enjoyed a wide-eyed pucker moment trying to wrestle the Fireblade down to a stop. And there we stood, miles from anywhere on a road pretty much devoid of traffic, trying to figure out if there was anything else on the Hornet I could unbolt to get the bastarding gear lever back on. It wasn’t looking good….

    …Until a single car came past and stopped to help out. It was a Caterpillar repair van driven by a ZX-9R rider, and he had a full complement of tools, bolts and nuts in the back. He spent 25 minutes by the side of the road searching for the right type of bolts, then fabricating a small sleeve, bolting the gear lever on and loctiting the whole arrangement. He did such a good job I’m not planning to replace it.

    The kindness of strangers has always been good to me, and I’ve been known in my travels as the sort of fella who falls into a bucket of arseholes and always comes up sucking a nipple, but the sheer odds on this one have got to put it right up there with the luckiest moments I’ve ever had. Thanks buddy, wish I could have bought a beer for ya.

    I started out gingerly on the new gear lever, but as the group set out across the Reece Dam road towards Zeehan, any thoughts of a mild-mannered afternoon quickly went out the window. This road was a true-blue corker, starting with a bunch of 30-40k recommended twisties through a lush green forest area before crossing the dam (where Nev wheelied the ZX12 obligingly for the cameras) and opening out into a brilliant sweeping ridge road through endless dry, stony mountains. At some points, for snatches of seconds between hard, wide, grippy corners, we could glimpse the road ribboning out before us for the next 30-40 kilometres. Magic stuff.

    Towards the end I was getting pretty mentally and physically exhausted keeping up the [censored: spirited] pace with scenery flashing by either side, but I was energised all over again when Matty came screaming past me, pinning the Fireblade’s throttle in fifth and making me feel like I was standing still. Which I was VERY not. It’s an incredible feeling being passed with such authority when you’re doing such high speeds yourself. Bugger me dead!

    We pulled in to the remote town of Zeehan for the evening and met up with our chookie companions to swap stories.

    Day 3:
    We set off in shifts for Strahan, a masterstroke of an idea which forced a welcome separation of annoyingly cheerful "morning people" from the more sluggish among the group. Strahan wasn't originally on the tour plan, and the road out there wasn't particularly interesting unless taken at cheek-billowing speeds, but (who?) had hooked up a bargain rate on a quadbike excursion through the vast sand dunes out that way and after the previous day's display we were all keen to have a fang.

    Shift by shift we rolled up to the dunes and jostled for the chance to ride the hindmost ATV, which was furthest from the sightline of the exasperated owner and guide. He resisted the keenest encouragement to "show us what ya got mate!" and kept an eagle eye in his mirrors for wheelie attempts, deliberate fishtailing and other shenanigans, stopping occasionally to admonish those of us who hadn't the wisdom to keep our clowning about until he was over the next dune and out of sight.

    Despite his hand-holding, the course was good fun - particularly the huge, steep, "knackers-in-the-back-of-yer-throat" descents and a bone-jarring tight section through the scrub towards the end. Jason nearly managed to knock off Matty and Jo behind him due to a joyful but cack-handed fishtail manouever halfway up a slope which ended up with his bike stalled and pointing sideways. Nice one, Jase.

    Somehow avoiding accident, injury and abrasive sand in the underdurps, we pushed on to the pretty holiday town of Strahan for lunch, where Pete led a small but faithful group on three or four laps of the town looking for a legal parking spot while the rest of us chucked our bikes up on the footpath and looked on in amusement.

    While sampling a selection of Banjo's pies for lunch, I had a quick chat with a bunch of New South Welsh riders coming around on a similar Tasmanian loop but backwards. Three Goldwings, a whopping big Beemer and a pom on a union jacked-up Buell who was complaining that he didn't bring enough replacement kneeslider pads with him on the trip.

    This prompted a lively discussion on the topic of poms and their seemingly universal tendency to throw their knees at the ground at the sight of the slightest bend, catholic minister or public lavatory stall. In the breeding, perhaps? Either way, I suspected that fellow might have been lapping the map of tassie in a rather lonely fashion looking at his companions.

    The clouds had been threatening all morning, and at this point they rolled in and turned on a pretty impressive downpour as we geared up for the stunning road to Queenstown. This one would have been an absolute rip-snorter in the dry, but myriad slippery tarmac repairs and some dodgy-looking moss had most us us tucking in and hunkering down on dodgy-weather autopilot, crying out in anguish into our helmets as we toddled laboriously through Daytona-style banked twisties with views out to eternity. Truly a road to be revisited and duly savoured in finer weather.

    Even the slow pace couldn't spoil the spectacular descent into Queenstown, set between mountain ranges that have been laid bare by fumes from local smelting plants. Even after the closure of the plants, the bald hills hold such value as a tourist attraction that locals are rumoured to go out on shrub-destroying missions to make sure they stay looking nice and lunar like in the brochures.

    Either way, it's quite a striking place. Jason, Matty and Karel struck out for the train station to catch the afternoon run of the train back to Strahan, a 1940s(???) engineering marvel using a rack-and-pinion system as well as dozens of bridges to make Queenstown's mining industry accessible through some extremely inhospitable terrain. The lads returned suitably impressed and enthusiastically reported that "it shits all over Puffing Billy."

    The group then tucked into a dirty big barby, under Tim's expert tongsmanship, Sasha's pinpoint saladchoppery and Jo's ruthlessly efficient breadbutteration. Deano's questionable humour was the headline act for the evening, followed by an unclaimed late-night farting catastrophe in the close quarters of the caravan that left me in agony and Matt and Jason giggling like schoolgirls for three-quarters of an hour. Choice.

    Day 4:
    The damp morning started to clear up as we took a brief detour south of Queenstown that led us up a sweet twisty mountain road to a stunning lookout view of Mt. Huxley, where everyone posed for heroic “me and my bike and the mountains” shots before blasting another 15k or so down the other side of the mountain to the shores of Lake Burbury. The brilliant sunshine and drying roads had a few of us getting pretty fired up, and I took off after Jason and Marty as they dropped the hammer on the way back into town.

    The road was smooth and wide with good views through the corners, a perfect recipe for a bit of speed, so it wasn’t surprising that a few of us got a bit of a shock when we hit a deeeep dip right on the apex of one of the tighter lefties that bottomed the Hornet out and gave me the slightest instant of eye-popping banked-over air on the other side. The bikes righted themselves though, as they do God bless ‘em, and we all made it back to town in one piece and sporting some pretty big grins.

    The best was very much yet to come – the road up and out of Queenstown heading East is without a doubt one of the most striking pieces of tarmac I’ve ever seen. It would be a killer road to ride hard, but the views were just so majestic that my heart was pounding just looking around at slow speed. A few snapshots were taken, but none that capture the place, it’s stunning. Whack it on your list if you haven’t been.

    A quick stop the other side of the mountain and the day’s instructions were handed out by the General: “There’s only one road from here on, so we’ll have no tail end Charlie and no corner markers. If you wanna go for it, go bananas. If you wanna double back and ride a section again, go ahead. Meet ya all at Derwent Bridge.”

    Brilliant sunshine and smashing views goading us on, we needed no further encouragement. It was on, baby! Riding behind Marty I could imagine the manic grin behind his visor as he dipped that ‘Strom deeper and deeper into a loooooooooooong, smooth [censored: mighty quickish] dead-flat left hander that formed part of the endless bridge over Lake Burbury. He lost me pretty comprehensively in the tighter rainforest section ahead, and then soon came flying back the other way for another crack, I’m sure, at that lefty.

    I did a quick double-back when I reached the waterfall walk, and got beaming thumbs-ups from Matt, Andy, Deano and Gary on my way back towards the lake… It’s amazing how you can tell when somebody’s grinning their arse off even through a dark visor, their body language said it all. Past the falls it got tight again and the air got chilly as we came up and around towards the Derwent. A pair of buses, one large and one small, seemed to make it their solemn duty to cross double-whites on blind left handers for as many of the group as possible, but apart from that it was a pretty smooth run into town.

    Jason was itching to go by the time I rolled into Derwent Bridge, while Deano spent a good while killing time by swearing at the oversized bumblebees, calling people knuckle heads and chasing the chickens around at the roadhouse, so when Pete, Goodie, Guenther, Jo and Nev finally rolled in after their waterfall walk, Jason hit the road straight away. Deano flung off his waterproofs with their gaping crotch hole, and he and Matty and I ran for the bikes too, anticipating the fast section to come.

    Matty and I went for another high speed run as the road opened out into a vast, gently rolling meadow, and I gave him the signal to slam on another warp-speed overtake, a challenge which he accepted with great aplomb. Then, as he flashed past me doing about, aw, [censored: jolly fast] to my [censored: still rather fast], the road dropped away over a crest in front of both of us and jagged away wickedly to the right. Braaaaaaakes! Push that inside bar, get your body over, leeeeean that fcuker in and hold on! Get that heartbeat started again! Forks thoroughly tested, we both made it around, me roaring with laughter and adrenaline into my helmet for the next couple of k’s.

    Deano caught up with us as we wound the speeds back into marginally more license-friendly zones and he led us up and over the steep twisties into Tarraleah where we stopped to gawk at the massive hydroelectric pipes that extend for kilometres down into the valley below. Hydro’s big business in Tassie, what with high rainfall and violent topography being two of the state’s biggest natural resources. The view took on a slightly sombre note upon reading the plaque beside it, about a small boy from Malvern who died after falling over the ledge on a Scout camp – until some uncharitable soul noticed that the unfortunate kid’s surname was “Downward.” This lifted the tone back into merry mirth and we set off again for Ouse.

    Just out of Tarraleah, Matty and I had to stop to let a small echidna cross the road. The little bugger looked up as if to say “you know and I know exactly what it will do to your tyres if you hit me, so you will jolly well wait for me,” and proceeded to take his sweet time, before rolling up into a quivering, terrified ball when I revved my engine at him on the way past. That’ll learn ya, spiky little twerp. Matt saw him in his rearview turning around and waddling back across the other side of the road from whence he came… Although he reportedly emerged again to put on a similar show for some of the others behind us, so maybe he needs a good spanking next time to get the message through. I nominate Karel for those duties.

    Something about the road into Ouse was so charming and peaceful that it tamed the raging road mongrel in me, and it turned out I wasn’t alone. Nev, Jo, Jason, Matt, Karel, Dean, and I all independantly decided to sit peacefully on the speed limit for this stretch, rolling gently into the turns and really relaxing after such a balls-out morning. It was almost, well, *meditative* until Marty and Andy came powering past having a bit of fun. That SV650 has a sweet tone to it!. We coasted into town and flopped down buggered in the grass by the petrol station, waiting for Pete, Goodie, Guenther and Gary who had taken some time out to visit a master wood carver and admire the giant wall of sculptures he was putting together as the Magnum Opus of his twilight years.

    It was time to bunch up again for the run past Hobart into Richmond, and Pete took the group off the map again onto a shortcut one-lane back-road that twisted wickedly up a steep, narrow ridge. Gary was loving it on the Pegaso, swooping past everyone one by one, engine braking deep into the corners and firing the chirpy little single out the other side, until he got to the front of the pack just in time to be designated corner marker and sent to the back again. Heh heh.

    The road into Richmond through Tea Tree is a blinder (notice a theme developing here) and it gets tighter and tighter, challenging you to be just a touch more daring on each corner as it ascends up the hill. However it bites you as well – fine sand, dumped on the roads to make them driveable in the snowy wintertime, made the back end step out on me as I chased Pete up the hill, and that was about enough excitement for me.

    To make a long day longer, we dropped our gear off at the caravan park and shot straight back into Hobart through Cambridge for dinner - Jason had the slimmer’s special; two leaves of lettuce and a chunk of tomato were brought out ‘cause he was being a smartarse to the waitresses. Then Smack joined us for a few beers at the famous Joe’s Garage Tuesday “Bike Night.” Helluva pub that, sad to hear it’s closing down, but as the owner said, it’s happened before and it’ll pop up again somewhere soon.

    Frustrated at not being able to get stuck into the beers, Jason, Dean, Karel and I went for a night tour of the opulent Sandy Bay area, with its Beverley Hills style mansions and stunning views of a brightly moonlit bay. Hobart is indeed a knockout city.

    ***Congratulations if you made it this far... To Be Continued!***
  2. Loz, you need to get into journalism, toot sweet, you're wasting talents doing (whatever it is that you do)
    A great read, looking forward to the next gripping installment.....
  3. Thanks Paul, Thanks Jo -

    The "next gripping instalment" might be a way off, but there's some great stuff to come, especially around Bicheno up on the East Coast... Actually, Strathgordon's gonna be great too... And St. Mary's... And can't forget about the last day, that was a sizzler.... ;)
  4. Wow! thanks for the trip!
  5. Excellent read Loz. Keep it coming.
    I need all the info I can get for a Tassie trip April next year.
    :applause: :applause: :applause:
  6. Do check out Nev's photos as well guys, I reckon they're the best of the lot.
  7. Fine prose there, Loz! :D
  8. And here's the extra bit that fits into the time-frame.

    Day2 Chookies:

    After separating from the “roadies” just short of Stanley, we plundered the small servo of bottled water and muesli bars, squashing every last drop of petrol that would fit into the tanks… filling the 1liter emergency bottle for it’s bumpy ride in the topbox.
    Coming into existence in a similar way as the Daintree Road in Northern Queensland (as a Government-versus-Greenies project), the road has never really fulfilled it’s promise as a north-south-connector or even tourist attraction.
    Lots of effort was spent to doze it through some of the most spectacular scenery of Tassie, some very steep climbs and drops into deep gullies were even sealed… all of it pretty much neglected by now. It leads through some of the highest optical grade silica-deposits in the world, which make some parts a blinder in the true sense of the word.
    No services, no buildings or farms, no power lines…this is virgin country.

    First the 60-70km south on tiny single-laners which had more gravel on top of the asphalt than underneath it…as the broken welts and endless potholes showed.
    Turn-offs every few minutes, dips, crests and gullies, sharp bends around the edges of farmers paddocks…all that while trying to read the map in the tankbag and the 2 Tassie-Devils (TimTim and Dave) on my back.

    Edith Creek…and it’s back onto the main road, still through pastures and farm land but the hills are creeping in on us. The CapoNord and Tiger of the 2 Tas-boys are seen for a half-dozen corners… and then they’re gone.

    After the quick stop at the scenic Arthur River bridge, we’re off again, the band of black seal snaking through the bush.
    It’s high-intensity honking time and with Marty on my arse it’s good fun picking the best lines past the broken, jagged edges lined by berms of fine gravel.
    Coming around a fairly fast, blind left-hander the asphalt suddenly disappears completely…replaced with gravel road and an endless carpet of potholes, most of them still filled after last night’s rain. No signs, no warnings.

    Instant panic, pucker going at record-speeds, feet off the pegs to warn Marty, thoughts of getting the family-jewels crushed when hitting the first decent pothole with the feet off the pegs, tearing the bike up to hit the crap upright and straight-on.
    Grey matter up top complaining about input/ output overload-meltdown, for-fugg-sakes: DON’T hit the brakes, ride it out…and HANG ON.
    Stiff-arm the bastard !
    Pull to the left, give Marty room…
    Amazing how much can go on within a distance of 15meters at 120kph….in the mirror I can see Marty’s long legs and arms all over the place in an attempt to warn the next one…or just to stay on the bloody bike?
    Some bumps and splashes and we’re both through it…Marty’s gymnastics had also done the trick and made everyone else slow down.

    A bit further on is the turn-off onto the “real” Western Explorer, the 2 Tassies grinning their heads off at the tales of that “pothole-stretch”. Judging by their bikes and boots they’ve had a similar experience.

    The next few hours are an amazing ride through a truly special area. The changes in the road-surface, the white silica, the slightly-sandy stretches, the remoteness and isolation…endless short stops to soak it all up, take shots that will never be able to even show part of the whole surroundings and atmosphere, the reason I came back a 2. time and will go again….for SURE.

    Too soon the endlessly visible white road winding it’s way across the shrubby hills dips into the dark cover of trees at Corinna, a small settlement on the oily-black, slow-flowing Pieman River.
    The tiny shop offers only 3 cans of cold Coke….and some tins of tuna and crackers.
    It’s gourmet enough for all of us, big grins……sunburnt……knackered.

    The “ Fatman-Barge” holds just one car and operates ‘on-demand”….sort-of….when the operator’s running out of beer-money :).
    He ships us across in 2 lots at a tenner each, sadness and relief are a curious mix as we hit the sealed Reece-Dam road a short while later.
    Time to split for TimTim and Dave as they still had to make a 300-odd km dash to Hobart, preferably before it got dark.
    The Capo and Tiger took off like a pair of Banshees, the 2 lots of Staintunes sang their hearts out as both screamed up the hill, redlining each gear…and the cacophony bounced off the landscape long after they were lost from sight. Goosebump-stuff.

    Things weren’t quite finished yet, the 45km from the junction into Zeehan begged with some sweet, quick sweepers and a few tighter bits, finally the bikes got into top-gear that day.
    With that out of the system, we rolled slowly through Zeehan to join up with the “roadies”, listening to their tales-of-the-day….
  9. Give us 5 years on those roads....and we'll only be 1/2 hour behind :D

    In hindsight....shit, it was fun, aye?
    Rather don't think about what could've been though...
    You looked like one of those floppy dolls-on-a-string :LOL: :LOL: :LOL:
  10. Tassie Gems Ride Report part2

    Finally getting around to "clearing the decks", this one is from the "unfinished business" box...

    As the next 'Biggie' is not far off and seeing that Loz hasn't gotten around to it...I might as well try my hand.
    No way I couldn’t even attempt to copy his style…but here’s part 2 (my way) then:

    The clear-washed blue skies the next morning were the perfect canvas to paint an action packed day …
    Tim showed up early for the planned Strathgordon ride, just as some others were leaving to slot in a jetboat-ride at New Norfolk.

    edit: rest deleted after mod action
  11. Well it reads like you all had a great time, Tasmania is a magnificent place to ride especially with others. It's funny that something always happens when bike rider are in a group ride, adds to the memories.