Era 5, May 20

I was becoming used to my grudging acceptance of all things morning. Morning, I’m sure, was mildly tolerating my existence also, and we met again. I had a quick wander through town, buying film and other necessities, and continued on my way.

And it was today that I discovered my liar. In all my research for this trip, I had received much advice. The most common being “Don’t go. It’s freezing.” I don’t really mind the cold as such, so I could put up with that. But Chris, my mentor from the TMRA had strongly advised to leave the West Coast alone. ”At this time of year, it rains every day and is miserable.” I wasn’t going to be back here for a while, so I figured I’d ignore the advice of a local whose every recommendation so far had been spot on, and check out the West Coast. It seemed that I was in the perfect situation. If it rained, I could say that I knew it would and I was ready for it, and if it didn’t, I could gleefully stick my tongue out at a man I’d never met and tell him I knew better than him. Apart from a dense fog leaving Queenstown and a little rain that was to fall tomorrow, my tongue is firmly pointed at Chris, and I will happily offer him any weather advice he requires! The entire West Coast was drenched in glorious sunshine, and had I ridden in my shorts, I would have got a tan. Chris; you lied mate! And thank you for it.

Today would be interesting. I was planning to attempt a road made out of silicone, and would be paying $20.00 to meet a Fatman very soon. It promised much.

Heading out of Queenstown, I took the twisted road to Strahan and then Zeehan. It wasn’t long before I had risen above the fog that had enveloped this tiny town while we slept, and I seized upon an opportunity to stop and check it out. The lookout afforded an amazing view of the heavy cloud that had crashed mercilessly on top of the town overnight, and was attempting to smother all life beneath. Pausing to marvel and this natural sight, a small car stopped alongside me. We greeted each other and the view, and the gentleman looked at me in pure driving frustration as he uttered the words ”I’d kill for piece of straight road.” I looked questioningly at him, and immediately came to the assumption that he had never been fortunate enough to travel on a pair of wheels and had not even assumed that corners could be anything other than an annoyance to the traveller. I motioned to my bike, smiled at him and said “I wouldn’t.” His quizzical look absolutely failed to comprehend anything I was saying and I left him to ponder this Victorian freak who actually enjoyed what he considered to be travelling purgatory.

I approached Strahan with the satisfaction of a good ride behind me, and looked forward to the day. Refuelled and slightly rested, I had just encountered approximately 40km of road, containing more corners per square inch than any other. I could see what my companion in Queenstown had experienced, but singularly failed to join his condemnation of all things bendy.

The road to Zeehan was faster. Long straights and sweeping bends made for a very fluid ride. The overcast heavens threatened to dampen things, but it appeared that the clouds were just there to watch my progress. From Zeehan, I made the unusual decision to turn left. Now, there is not a lot to the left of Zeehan. All roads lead right and try desperately to urge you back inland. Even the road that I took started to bend inland again, as if it couldn’t believe I had come this way and was slowly trying to coax me back to sanity. In defiance, I found my next turn off and headed left again. The road that I left sighed dejectedly, defeated, and charged off inland without me, presumably with stories of a madman who refused to follow reason.

I was now on a dirt road: a brave move considering I was perched atop a bloody heavy road bike. While dirt bikes are designed to not necessarily fall over, but are well catered for if they do suddenly become horizontal, road bikes such as mine, encased in fibreglass and with tyres designed purely for tar, are highly recommended to remain vertical. Lying them down is a less than favourable option for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the damage that would be caused to the fairing would almost write the entire machine off, and secondly, they are purely and simply too bloody heavy to return to their position of choice. I had warned myself and so proceeded with caution squared. The road was fine. Not slippery at all, and well packed. The bizarre thing about it was that it was white. I felt like it had just been cleaned; some overly zealous grandmother with a huge vaccuum had recently cleaned the road of all the dirt that kept gathering on it.  It was in fact, made of finely ground silicone. A nearby mine sent the pure stuff to Japan to be ground and made into camera lenses, and the rest proved to be a great and usable road surface. I believe there moves afoot to rename this the Carl Zeiss highway, but I feel that Sony would then want to copyright the road. And the great thing about this road was that when it got too steep, the engineers in their infinite wisdom had laid down tarmac. My vertical positioning was as safe as it could be.

I remained at around 40km/h give or take, depending on the state of underfoot, and my varying confidence levels. Up ahead, I knew there was a river and ferry of some description; just how far remained constantly elusive. I ended up giving up expecting it to appear as there was not one distance marker or signpost to indicate it was in the area. I returned to studying the silicone underfoot, rounded a corner and stopped as soon as I could tell my right hand and foot that braking would be really good right now, and the quicker the better. The road with absolutely no warning stopped, and I was met with the Pieman River. On the right hand side of the road there was a sign and in the centre, a large, Noddy style plastic button. Below the button, I was instructed to push this button once and once only. This would summon the ferry from its slumber and bring it to me. I assumed that there had occurred many times a frustrated succession of button pushers that lead to the warning to remain with a solitary bell ring. Not wishing to upset the ferry person, as he was my sole method of crossing the river, and the cards were all his, I resolved to keep my button pushing to the singular. After around 15 minutes, the ferry on the other side of the river had obstinately refused to budge and I began to contemplate gambling with my trip and pushing Noddy again. While it was relaxing on this side of the river, I also had nowhere else to go, and was starting to feel that I had been ignored. Psyching myself up for the second push, I began to approach the inviting button. However, a cursory glance to the other side of the river revealed a small beanie encrusted gentleman, angling his way down the hill to the boat. I had succeeded in summoning the Fatman! Curiously enough, this was the name bestowed upon the ferry and for reasons best known to itself, it refuses to change. Speculation abounds as to the origin of the ferry name, made especially difficult by the fact that the operator is a human one might be forgiven for calling bony. However, an astute businessman he is, as he has the ferry market sewn up. One 5-minute trip was successful in separating me from $20. Perhaps he can put it towards a louder bell.

From Corinna, the town containing the Fatman ferry, I followed my white road and shortly headed right. This was another silicone road on the way to Savage River. Somewhat curiously, the road was festooned with warning signs about trucks, and yet the surface seemed to be untouched. Perhaps they were old signs and this was a disused mining trail. About 10 minutes later, I discovered that they were in fact very new signs, as a vehicle larger than the road we were both on appeared to be beamed in from nowhere and bore down on me with little or no regard for the fact that I was in the vicinity. I discovered how good I was at swerving on gravel. Over the next 30 minutes, I perfected the art several more times as approximately 10 trucks were charging along this road. Just where they were going remains to me a complete mystery. Maybe they were having silicone truck races.

This road lead up the hill to Savage River. The aim was now to head back to the A10 and wander inland again, using up the rest of my day by taking the most indirect route possible to the town of Sheffield. From Savage River, the road to the A10 was the best of the trip. Very twisty but not too tight, awesome views, very wide and extremely well surfaced. If I had to take one road of the entire trip again, this would be it. Finger Post Road would have to wait.

I joined the A10 and sadly waved goodbye to this road. Somewhat curiously, I noted a small bus stop at this intersection, but was yet to see anything remotely resembling a bus. Now, not being too far from Cradle Mountain, I figured it was time to be touristy. I’ve seen many a mountain, and as far as mountains go, this was apparently one of the better ones. I’m yet to decide what makes a mountain good as opposed to being bad, but I’m sure this will become obvious once I see it. However, this fact will remain a mystery to me for some time yet. I approached Cradle Mountain, ready to be awe-inspired by its goodness and come away with my mountain reasoning, but was sadly disappointed. My friend the fog from Queenstown had either travelled north or called in a foggy favour and the entire mountain was invisible. In the tourist centre, there are a series of closed circuit TV’s, all placed strategically around the mountain so that you can see what the weather is like there without actually trekking to it. Kind of defeats the purpose if you ask me, but proved to be extremely useful in the fact that I discovered the trip out there would be an entire waste of my time. So I viewed photos of it, watched other bemused tourists trying to decide if they wanted to wait three hours to see a wallaby feeding and decided to return.

Resigning myself to an absence of solving my mountain dilemma, I began cruising back to the main road. A largish dark shape on the road ahead reminded me that there was wildlife in the vicinity and I slowed. An Echidna had decided to take this opportunity to cross to the other side and upon hearing me arrive, paused his tarmac trek. I didn’t want him to become the latest statistic in a mounting wildlife depletion exercise, so I dismounted and de-helmeted. I approached the little guy and dutifully encouraged him to pursue an alternate location agenda, one hopefully that would result in him continuing his spiky, yet sedentary existence. He seemed ignorant of my good intentions and I was met with a most insulted stare as he realised that the only way out was to return to the bushland that he had just left. I’ve never seen an Echidna sigh, but my little guy did just that and turned on his heels. His uncoordinated gait resembled that of a tiny spiked Sumo wrestler; legs bent, deliberate stomping and body rocking solidly from side to side. Reaching the relevant safety of the roadside, I watched him charge with the speed of a wounded turtle into the undergrowth. Wanting to make sure he wouldn’t tackle the highway crossing again, I stopped to observe him attempt to disappear. After a few minutes, he had stopped and looking over his shoulder at me in the most condescending way, he proceeded to bury his head next to a small bush. After watching his complete failure to move for some several minutes, I came to the conclusion that my little spiked dude had decided he was hiding, and if he couldn’t see me, then I sure as hell couldn’t see him. I resisted the temptation to point out the obvious inadequacies in his flawed Echidna-ish theory of camouflage, and left him to his bush pursuits, hoping like hell he wouldn’t wake with a “That scared the big guy off” attitude and attempt another doomed crossing of the blacktop.

I continued towards inner Tasmania. I hadn’t yet decided where I would stop tonight, but Sheffield was looking good. It meant taking a small detour to another approved two-wheel friendly stretch, and I still had a few hours to kill. The fog and rain was, however, now starting to encroach upon my afternoon. That was ok. I only had one stop that I needed to make. Bearing in mind the reasons for my stop at Lake Leake, I was soon to be coming across small town called Daisy Dell, that I wanted to stop at for exactly the same reasons. This was apparently a small hamlet of some description, located at a place where the main highway turned left to go and meet the town of Moina , so I figured it would be easy to spot. After a while, it began to hit me that perhaps I had missed it, as Moina was signposted as only being 5km away, and Daisy Dell was apparently 10km before it. I hit Moina and pondered. I had obviously blasted obliviously through it, although I did have a slight recollection of passing in the fog and rain, a sign facing the other way about 10 minutes previously. Slightly dejected, disappointed in myself and ruing a missed opportunity, I pressed on.

This was another of Tasmania’s delightful forest roads. Tight at times, opening out, and nowhere near as cold as I had been lead to believe. It was reminiscent of roads around Healesville in Victoria, Garie Beach through the National Park south of Sydney, and somewhat disturbingly, reminded me of Alaska. When I realised this, I became slightly alarmed at my constantly recurring capacity to be reminded of places I had never visited. This was becoming too common an occurrence and I began to think that perhaps it was time I had this issue addressed. I made a mental note to stop being reminded of bizarre places, and to continue riding. Unfortunately, I was accompanied yet again by my friend the fog, and I took to bypassing lookouts with monotonous regularity. This was a steep climbing road that descended as quickly as it rose. I rejoined the main road near Liena, and headed for Sheffield. It was dark, raining, foggy, and unfortunately, my visor was tinted. So the vision choices were limited: have a dry face, free from the needle like assault of fine rain at speed but not be able to see, or have a wet face, pin pricked with great rapidity and extreme regularity and be able to at least notice that the road was about to bend. I chose the latter and rode as quickly as my abused facial skin would allow. I began to observe the skin falling from the front of my head as the driving sandpaper-like effect of the rain felt like it was removing my countenance. Sheffield loomed and I began my customary search for accommodation.

This motel looked friendly enough. No restaurant, but a pub across the road promising great counter meals; I was in. Dismounting, I checked in and thought the greeting was a little overly friendly, almost expectant. Putting it down to the fact that they had probably never seen a motorcyclist with a face as abused mine felt it surely was, I went to my room. Totally expecting to see my visage dripping with a mixture of blood and rain, pockmarked for eternity, I cautiously peered into the mirror. And while I am tempted to say that I was shocked by the apparition that appeared staring back, there was in fact no surface damage whatsoever. I had expected to see a face scarred for life and what I saw was my pink unshaven dial, looking like I’d just seen a rabbit. The mind is a wonderful thing.

I unpacked, mixed myself a stiff drink and sat to chill for a while before partaking of the local pub. It was then that I realised, noticing the “Good News Daily” paper on the table that this was a blatantly Christian motel. I’d never heard of one of these before and I sat there wondering if I should be worried or donating. I was half expecting the guy from the office to arrive at the door, plate in hand for a collection, or to whisk me away to convert me from the fleshy sins of enjoying myself on a motorcycle. But neither eventuated and I remain in fond memory of the friendliest motel of my trip.

The pub with its parade of utes out the front, proved to be very uneventful. I enjoyed my walk home, although slightly watchful and wary of being accosted, I gave the office a larger than normal berth, and sidled gratefully inside my room.

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