Devonport to Queenstown near Strahan

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Devonport 11th -12th January 2019

At last after our long journey we were in cycle touring mode. But just to break ourselves in slowly we stayed for a couple of nights in Devonport. We exited the large red 30,000 ton vehicle ferry in East Devonport and made for the tiny passenger ferry across the river to West Devonport where everything happens.

Except we couldn't find the ferry where it should be on the map. On the way to finding it, a sign would have been good, we came across a very pleasant breakfast stop. Eating and chatting to the other customers then finding the ferry used up enough time to risk checking in early to our apartment.

Devonport feels a bit like an island about 6km square. The north edge is the ocean with rivers on the east and west and a large road to the south. We loved walking and cycling around and the locals have made a real effort to get cycle routes in place.

The management found an excellent cycle shop to buy some oil and spare stoker's brake blocks to add to the already burgeoning store of spares. We visited beaches, learned a bit about the history and found a heritage railway.

Mural on our cabin in Sheffield

Devonport to Cradle Mountain via Sheffield 13th - 15th January 2019

After goodbyes to Rex and Julianne, our hosts of one of the best apartments we have ever stayed in, we pedalled out of town going south along the Mersey River (the other one) cycle path. It was lovely with the warm morning sunshine reflected from the azure river. We will see Rex and Julianne again in a month's time.

Devonport is a well maintained place with nice houses and a population of 30,000, about half the size of Weymouth. But like many places where land is not at a premium the suburbs straggle on for ages. It was a while before we were out of town.

Once out the cycling was great and even better further into the country side. The roads are wide, the main roads very wide and sometimes straight, but there was very little traffic. There were a few houses and farms, the odd cow and some horses but very few people.

It felt not unlike rural UK but the scale was quite different. It is rolling country with pastures and woods but the ups go on for ever and the straight descents on smooth wide roads are very fast for the management. The stoker of course is much more careful.

We arrived at Sheffield for our first night very early. It was always planned as a short shake down ride but the management had not factored in some 800m of climb. And even though the temperature was in the low 20's it felt pretty hot on the climbs.

Sheffield is famous hereabouts for the dozens of murals around the town. Hardly Banksy but it was still worth the time to explore the variety. The straight main street would not be out of place in a cowboy movie if it were not for the tarmac road. And the outskirts feel a bit 1900's New Englandish.

Roaring timber lorry

Buoyed up by yesterday's ride and buoyed down with three days of food we left our fine motel cabin and carried on into the rolling countryside. We were on our long, winding and hard road to Cradle Mountain but we did not know that.... yet.

Cycle tourists hate the fat car travellers who suck and say how hilly it will be. In this case Shane the motel manager said it was not too bad. And we believed him which was not good.

Until coffee at a tourist village, appropriately named Lower Crackpot, the rolling country continued though it was far more up than down. Had we known what was coming we would have put the stoker's battery on charge while we sat in the sun.

All morning we had craggy mountains to our left getting gradually nearer but we were not ready for what came next. Though the management should have been if he had not been sleeping on the job.

We went over a rise and then down a very serious long mountain descent with many hairpin bends. The management says he was pleased that the stoker went down so slowly. Health and safety can never be a prime consideration for cycle tourists. But high speed descents with rim brakes cause heat and blow outs as opposed to slow time consuming descents which do not, in the main.

Once at the bottom we had a 900m climb out. The gradients were on the steep side for the management's gears and while he toiled up the stoker went on ahead, electrified of course.

Fortunately there was very little traffic but every few minutes a roaring timber lorry came down. They were shiny chrome encrusted American semis using all their huge diesel engines to brake their heavy loads. It was like being approached head on by a steam train, particularly scary on the bends, but we got used to it.

Stoker in the trees

About half way up the stoker's battery was exhausted. The stoker said she was too but the management was not sympathetic. He had been reduced to pushing some short stretches and was extremely grateful that he had not completely lost his fitness after the Red Bull Time Laps event. Mind you it would have been better if he had not put on a kilo in weight which he now expects to lose.

Fortunately, soon after the battery expired and a 500m push uphill, there was a mountain restaurant and by the time the management got there the stoker had already put the battery on charge. Strangely we had 4g on the phones so could while away the time. The management is currently besotted with an amazing book called Milkman which kept him quiet.

Two hours later after tea, scones and iced water we were on the go again. The stoker's battery was half charged, it takes about four hours for a full charge. The management calculated, wrongly as it turned out, that that should be enough to get us to Cradle Mountain.

The half charge did however get the stoker to the top of the main climb. We now know that the fully charged battery, 370wh, has a range with the stoker and bags of about 800m climb which is pretty good.

It was not however good enough to do 500m of climb on half charge and for the last 10km the management took all the luggage, we had taken a front carrier just in case, and the by now truly exhausted stoker pedalled and walked up some of the hills.

Our Bushman's Hut Cradle Mountain

It was rather late, 7pm, when we arrived at our cabin in the woods near the Cradle Mountain visitors centre. Our cabin key and a map of how to find it was left pinned to the reception door. It was silent in the deep woods and we were delighted to have arrived. We ate our packed lunch, too tired to cook the food we had brought with us.

We don't normally do statistics on these tours, the pleasure is in the journey not the kms covered. But today we both got Garmin “badges” for our longest ever day climb at 1498m! Shame we didn't do the extra two. And that fully loaded on heavy touring bikes. In the two days since we left Devonport we had climbed over 2000m. No wonder the led cycle tours of Tasmania prefer the east coast, the wimps.

We had planned a day to do some exploring of Cradle Mountain. But it is hard to see that there could be anything better than being in our hut in the woods up here. There is a bus to Dove Lake and some walks but that would cost us a full park entry fee which is a rip off for cyclists and jars a bit.

Our cabin,named Bushman's Hut, is a bit like glamping. The building looks rustic and appears to be quite roughly constructed. Original Bushman huts were made of timber and bark. This one is fully waterproofed under a corrugated iron roof. It has every amenity, constant hot water, toilet and shower room and a kitchen area with a cooker. It has a gas fired pot bellied stove for the winter. It is small but perfectly formed, completely private and all we have is nature for company except when the cleaner calls.


Cradle Mountain to Tullah 16th January 2019

Looks like an easy ride, some serious ups but also lots of down. But 600m+ up is not easy here however much down there is. The cautious stoker managed the descent on the loose stuff, exiting the hut to the road. She got lots of brownie points.

We passed the flesh pot of the visitor centre with today's batch of grockles waiting for the bus. We on the other hand were cycling in the wonderful high country with little traffic and no sign of habitation for 55km.

It felt very much like mountain summer pasture and as we learned later is an area belonging to and preserved by the community. It had been aboriginal land for thousands of years and it felt like a special place.

We climbed through this summer pasture, oddly with no farm animals, to our highest point at 930m. We walked up to an orientation point with views of lake and hill country stretching away into the far distance.

The road kill here is mainly wallabies. Many of the vehicles are suv's with bull bars which may account for the slaughter. Very occasionally we see a live one and today soon after leaving one crossed the road in front of us.

Unknown Crow

We went on along the road, passing the entrance to a gold mine and crossing a very rusty railway track before joining the main A10 highway. Still hardly any traffic on the A10 but what there was was faster and heavier and the management in particular was pleased that the gradients were easier.

We reached Tullah soon after lunch but not before traversing road works. They seem to use the Greek system here. Strip off the surface for a few km and think about it while the traffic continues to flow slowly and dustily.

Tullah is a tiny hamlet, population about 150, in a spectacular setting between two lakes with a backdrop of mountains. The holiday chalets significantly outnumber residents' houses. Our hotel room overlooking the lake was a great place to rest tired legs.

Tullah also has history. It started as a mining village, copper or zinc, hence the narrow gauge heritage railway. From the 1970's for about 30 years it became the base for building a hydro electric scheme which established the lakes. And covered most of the railway.

During this period the population was 2,500. When the work was completed not only did the workers move on but they took their houses with them. This leaves a network of empty roads, shops and community facilities. Our hotel was the mess area and barrack type accommodation, with perfectly acceptable en-suite rooms.


Tullah to Zeehan 17th January 2019

Quite a different ride today but just as enjoyable as yesterday. It was entirely in and surrounded by the mountains. It is heavily wooded here and we are at a much lower altitude but the climbs are just as severe. The first one, just after we left, was 30 minutes hard in bottom gear.

We have almost got used to judging the difficulty of a ride by the height gained rather than the distance. We have always done this in mountainous areas but it takes a while to get used to it.

The other thing we have never experienced before is that this is a mining area with much mining activity. Even so it still felt extremely rural with very little traffic. On the plus side after the first big climb there was a very nice coffee stop in the mining centre of Rosebery.

Zeehan itself seems rather run down. It was clearly a large mining centre in fairly recent times. There are redundant looking winding wheels on the hills and empty looking miners' cabins, shops and pubs.

We have a cabin on a camp site with everything we need in a completely rural setting. It is a mobile site and Aussies seem to like off road looking caravans and vehicles. Like most off road vehicles including bicycles they are probably more aspirational than actual off road. But they do have more tech than the average carbon road bike so boys with toys.

Turntable on the West Coast Wilderness Railway

Zeehan to Queenstown 18th - 19th January 2019

Another fine ride in the mountains in lovely weather on smooth roads with very little traffic. The management loved one descent in particular with its high speed technical hairpins. He says his bike is amazing considering it is fully loaded.

We have a bit of a scare with the stoker's battery. It will now only charge if the charger wire is held in with an elastic band. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

On Friday night we went to the heritage cinema in Queenstown to watch the vintage film, Sunset Boulevard, and on Saturday we took a ride on the heritage steam railway, some of which is rack and pinion because of the gradients. Until 60 years ago it was the only practical way to get people in and copper out of Queenstown,

Unlike the smaller places with mines the activity here has been major for over a hundred years. Half the mountain has gone. It is easy to imagine what the town must have been like then. Drinking, gambling, the hotel we are staying in and the cinema have a frontier town feel about them.