TASMANIA TWO WHEELING
We're halfway up a steep grade on a mercifully quiet road just out of Risdon Vale, a suburb of Hobart, Tasmania's capital. It's Day One. We've cycled across the lofty Tasman Bridge with the wind up our noses and the rain down our collars but there are two things we're thankful for: one, today we only need to cycle twenty-nine kilometres, and two, we're 65ers, and we're still pumping.
My partner, David, and I like to travel independently, but with accommodations and bikes waiting for us, a detailed itinerary prepared, and someone to call if we run into problems. That's exactly what Green Island Tours provides. Our fourteen days would take us from Hobart to Evandale-a total of 450 kilometres.
The hybrid bikes were waiting at our Hobart hotel yesterday, and - a thoughtful touch - a bottle of Shiraz, which now nests in my saddlebag.
A few hours later, under feeble sunshine, we're rolling happily into the historic town of Richmond, with hours left in the day to explore Australia's oldest operating bridge (1823), the venerable St. Johns Catholic Church (1836), and Richmond Gaol, the country's oldest intact jail (1825). We celebrate the end of our first day at our appropriately historic accommodations, the Richmond Barracks, built in 1830 and beautifully reincarnated into cottages. Out comes that Shiraz.
Day Two consists of fifty-five hilly kilometers, with the last five in torrential rain, but relief is ahead we splash downhill with the Tasman Sea and Seabreeze Holiday Cabins on our radar. Never has the prospect of accommodation been so welcoming. Later, as the rain retreats, we seek out fish and chips, already anticipating the next day, when we'll cycle only eight kilometres to Triabunna, and board the ferry to Maria Island.
The ferry captain, John Cole-Cook, is passionate about the island, negotiating the swells while extolling Maria Island's attractions to his scant 6 passengers: "The Fossil Cliffs are three hundred million years old. You should go there first and get a sense of the history. Have a peek at the cemetery, and allow time for the old settlement of Darlington. Visit the Painted Cliffs later when the tide's lower and the colours more intense."
We wander happily for hours. The Painted Cliffs, where we meet a few people, are splashed in coral highlights. Lastly we explore Darlington, where many of the deserted buildings have been resurrected: the school master's house is now the ranger station, the Coffee Palace, built in 1888, is now a museum, and the penitentiary building is now a dormitory.
We'd love to stay, but our eight hours of happy roaming on the 27-hectare national park is coming to an end. The National Geographic Traveler has rated Maria as one of the world's top ten islands, and we'd agree.
At Bicheno, we stay up late in order to catch our first glimpse of fairy penguins by the guide's flashlight.. In between the slush of waves, we hush to hear the diminutive little birds chittering. The next day, dazed by sunlight and lack of sleep, we stop at East Coast Nature World to see what the dreaded tiger snakes look like, and to admire the koalas and Tasmanian Devils, who look way too cuddly to be saddled with such a fierce name.
At St. Helens, we're happy to have a day off, so we can roll along the Bay of Fires, named one of the world's 'hottest' destinations in 2009 by Lonely Planet, and where every bend and hilltop reveals yet another deserted beach. It would be easy to conclude the area was so named because of the ubiquitous orange lichen spreading over the area's boulders, but in fact it was Capt. Tobias Furneaux who named this area in 1773 when he noticed the numerous fires lit by the aboriginals along this coastline.
From St Helens, the route takes us up some serious hills. We climb 1500' against a headwind, but the thing about hills is eventually they tilt, and a little tilt goes a long way, speeding us well along the route to Tin Dragon Trail Cottages in Branxholm, and the next day, beyond.
It's Day Fourteen and only fitting that upon reaching Evandale we celebrate at the Stillwater, partially owned by a Canadian. Kim, from B.C.'s famous Seagram family, welcomes us at Launceston's premier restaurant, where for four hours we savour the tasting menu and its accompanying Tasmanian wines, and the next day discover there is no age limit on hangovers.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Green Island Cycle Tours: www.cycling-tasmania.com.
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