Era 4, May 19

Today, I wasn’t going to travel as far, so I allowed myself the luxury of a short sightseeing jaunt. This was a good call. Battling my morning dilemma, my fast was broken so I got the hell out of Hobart and headed South. There’s a delightful little loop past the D’Entrecasteaux Channel that passes through towns with the most amazing names. Snug, Electrona, Bacon & Eggs Bay, Woodstock, Sandfly, Peppermint Bay, Margate, Kettering; all names that sounded very English. This road was awesome. And considering my recent unsettling discovery that morning rides are actually ok, I had a ball. The countryside was incredibly green, fervent with differing shades, astounding bay views in every direction, fabulous little roads that dipped and swelled, twisted and bent, cute little farms and hundred year old tractors busy doing what tractors do. I wanted to stop and take it all in but I was having far too much fun on the road. But it was all over too soon, and the freeway grabbed me and sent me back to Hobart.

When you say Hobart, what do you think of? Me, I think of the bridge. The one on postcards and jigsaws. There’s a photo of it taken from an angle that everyone recognises, so off I went in search of this place to take my tourist pic. First, I had to find the bridge. I had come over it last night so it shouldn’t be too hard. Correct. Then I had to find THAT spot to take the photo. Also shouldn’t be too hard. Incorrect. What I discovered is that there is no such place. From the bridge coming into Hobart, it is all freeway, botanic gardens and train lines. An odd combination but one that strangely seems to work. I ended up doing three laps of the Botanic Gardens before I managed to formulate a plan. Cutting a long navigational saga to a more manageable length, I had bypassed the bridge and successfully maneuvered myself onto an exit ramp (or entrance ramp, depending on how you chose to look at it.) I had figured out in my infinite wisdom that the best place to photograph this damn bridge from was located on this freeway ramp. But I wasn’t about to be beaten by something as pathetic as a tricky location. Not now. So I pulled over in peak minute Hobart traffic on a freeway, extricated my camera and shot away. And while the picture won’t win any photographic awards, I have my copy and went through traffic hell to get it!

Today’s destination was the miner’s town of Queenstown, about 260 km from Hobart. I headed North and took a great run past the rivers, aptly named “Rivers Run” with again, wide sweeping roads at water level to the right and cliff faces sprouting vertically from the left. It flattened out more open, wide and fast to Hamilton.  A quick break and I continued pointing at the National Park. About 50km short of Derwent Bridge, I was busy blasting through an almost tropical rainforest. The sun was out, trying desperately to dry the roads for me, but meeting with obvious amounts of resistance, and the tarmac steadfastly remained damp and slippery. I was not unduly perturbed by this, admiring the monstrous trees with my peripheral vision when a wallaby, in a seemingly planned acrobatic maneuver, sprang directly in front of me and instantly rebounded back into the undergrowth. Have you ever seen those gymnasts who cartwheel and spin several thousand times and then instantly change direction while somersaulting and doing pushups at the same time? I swear that this little furry dude was wearing blue tights and a white singlet. With no effort whatsoever, no apparent acknowledgement of me bearing furiously down on his little acrobatic past time, he flicked gaily into the road and instantly bounced back. I’m positive that if I had stopped and looked back, he'd be in the undergrowth with his little paws skyward, accepting the acknowledgement of the critters around him and bespectacled owls holing up scorecards of 5.9, 5.8, 6.0, 5.8. I would have stopped and applauded if I wasn’t busily occupied, trying to slow my heart rate to a manageable level.

A little further on was a small turn off. Feeling like a stretch, I followed the signs to Tarralea Power Station. I found myself on a highly engineered road, alongside a pipe that, had I the opportunity, I could have easily ridden inside. This man made tube cut a swathe through the rainforest, as out of place as a Daewoo in Italy. It ended at this tiny little petrol station, another reason for my stop, perched on top of a cliff. I buzzed for the attendant who arrived after about 15 minutes and grudgingly did his job. Walking to the end of the pipe, there was a metal walkway, jutting around the pipe and circling a small innocuous building. I went for a look. As the giant pipe carrying a gigalitre of water fell over the edge of this cliff, it split into 5 separate smaller ones. These tubes charged down the cliff to be dumped unceremoniously at what I assumed to be a power station at the bottom. It was a small rectangular building, perched on top of turbines and a heap of towering structures that could have been made with Meccano set number 10. Closer inspection revealed a series of power lines running confidently up the other side of the valley. It struck me that the water, having moved from large pipe to smaller tubes, to some infernal white water processing plant, was now in these much smaller lines travelling up the other cliff as electricity. It was as if you put lots of water in a small enough pipe, you can turn your lights on! I contented myself with that thought and disappeared.

The road down and back up proved to be a challenge. The word “hairpin” sprung immediately to mind. It struck me that the road builders had come down each side of this water powered valley and had challenged each other to put as many hairpins in their roads as possible. I think the other side won.

Derwent Bridge was my lunch destination and after a questionable burger, I challenged the National Park. Wow! This place was amazing. Around every corner, I discovered a new colour. It’s funny, when you think of all the physical elements and scenery that I was encountering; rocks, rivers, trees, plains, mountains; there would be a finite combination of the order in which they could possibly appear. But it was in this park that the laws of physics clashed violently with Ms. Nature and hurriedly retreated, chastened and incapable. It seemed that every time I looked up, I was greeted with a new combination. And I looked up a lot. Rocky outcrops had pushed rudely through the turf, the leaves created their own palettes, treeless plains challenged me to find new terms for their colours, and just when I thought there could be no more, I rounded a bend and it started again.

In the middle of all this, I passed a river. I remember it because it had been destroyed. Man had decided that this piece of delightful heaven was needed for some reason, and in the midst of this angelic beauty, had raped the land. Tree stumps beckoned longingly, rudely shortened, scraps of wood were left to rot, and the entire area appeared to have been levelled by some armageddon wielding maniac. Perhaps it had. And as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished, leaving me to wonder at the necessity. Unfortunately, I was about to observe first hand, the long-term effects of a similar scenario.

After the park, there was a glorious stretch of road past Burbery Lake. Kind of like a causeway, it wandered to the base of the mountains that were protecting the mining town of Queenstown. Unfortunately, due to the time of day, I spent the majority of this time squinting into the setting sun, but it soon graciously hid behind the mountains and let me get on with my ride.

Can anything prepare you for Queenstown? Probably not. I’d heard about it, and thought it would be interesting, but I don’t know if I was in awe, shocked, embarrassed or just plain stupefied. Queenstown is an old mining town. And well before the days of ecological awareness or political correctness, it took it upon itself to strip the land around it completely barren. Cresting the hill leading into the town, having just left the astounding variation of the National Park, the contrast is awe-inspiring. Lunar analogies are justified, presuming one has had the opportunity to ride a motorcycle on the moon. And I had to stop to take it all in. I have never ridden in a quarry, but was reminded of one as I descended. I also discovered that I have this annoying and somewhat perplexing habit of appearing to be reminded of things that I have never actually experienced.

I found a motel, and once more experienced a dinner that was astounding in its blandness. I feel there may be a market in Tasmania for restaurants within motels that provide a service consisting of chairs other than plastic and meals that may be approaching edible. But who am I to judge?

I retired to ponder moonscapes and gymnastic wallabies. 

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