As is the case with any great adventure, The Pillion and I set off on Bluey one Sunday with no set destination and no deadline to work to.
We were just going to play it by ear.
We’d left early. It was a brisk morning, a fog hung low around the base of Mt Wellington and the surrounding suburbs of Hobart.
There were some clouds around, but apart from increasing the glare, they were harmless and didn’t produce any rain.
We headed north towards New Norfolk where we stopped at an establishment adorned with golden arches. We dined on hash-browns with bacon and egg rolls, washed down with a hot coffee.
Mmm-mmm the breakfast of champions!
From New Norfolk we followed our noses, not really knowing where we were going. The roads unwound before us as we meandered our way along highways and back-roads that seemed to go on forever.
Before long we happened upon a town called Bothwell and The Devils Den Take-Away. We decided to stop and gather our thoughts, get our bearings and look around a bit.
Surprisingly, my mobile phone provider had a strong signal way out here in the middle of nowhere, there was even a 4G data connection, so I took the opportunity to Google Maps and get our bearings.
While sitting and discussing which direction we should head in next, a local by the name of Greg approached us and struck up a conversation. He was a rider as well, but today he was in the cage with his wife and 2.3 children (statistically speaking).
He’d noticed the QLD plate on the bike and inquired if we were having a good time in Tasmania. He also asked if he could be of any assistance.
This wasn’t a throw away line by any stretch, Tasmanian’s are genuinely interested in your well-being, are quick to strike up a conversation, offer a helping hand and/ or pass on some local knowledge. They are just, all round nice people.
After some brief discussion, I mentioned we were thinking about heading towards The Great Lake on the eastern side to have a look around.
I’d chosen the eastern side because, from what I could tell on Google Maps, the road on the western side was unsealed. Greg agreed there was indeed some unsealed road on the western side, but assured us this was only the case for about 5km (3 miles) or so.
“The section is hard packed, is graded often and in excellent condition, it’s also got an 80 km/h (50 mph) speed limit, easy peasy”. He added.
We chatted for a little longer before Greg had to return to his family and continue on to his final destination. He bade us a safe journey and left us to mull over what we’d discussed.
And Awaaay We Go
The Pillion looked at me and shook her head sternly “We’re not riding any gravel roads!” She said.
Now, I’m not averse to short sections of unsealed road if the rewards are worth it. Besides we had it on good authority that it was only 5km or so of hard packed gravel, and it was in good condition.
The Pillion and I bickered too and fro discussing the prospect of riding the western side of the lake. In the end, with some reluctance, The Pillion relented.
Yes, we could head out along the Highland Lakes Road to the northern end of The Great Lake, on the proviso that I took it easy.
Done deal, I was happy, The Pillion not so much.
We left Bothwell and followed the Highland Lakes Road out-of-town. The riding was easy and the road was smooth, with big sweeping corners and lots of open spaces and views to take in.
Before long we caught up to a couple of blokes on adventure bikes, they were packed to the hilt with sleeping bags and camping gear, and were cruising along at around 90km/h (55mph), so I decided to tuck in behind them and tag along.
Company is always welcome when riding, I figured, and if we were going to be riding on gravel and one of us got into strife, help would be close at hand.
Eventually we came to the gravel section Greg had told us about. Just as he had alluded to, the road was in indeed in good condition and hard packed, with few ruts and corrugations. No one slowed for the transition from bitumen to gravel and we maintained our 90 km/h pace.
There were a few times I slowed due to corrugations, but we managed to keep up with the adventure bikes with their better suited suspension pretty well.
After about 15km (9 miles) we were back on bitumen.
Yes, I know Greg said it was only a 5km section, but I guessed his perception of distance was a bit skewed and left it at that.
Half a click further along the now bitumen road, the Highland Lakes Road again turned to gravel.
By now the pillion was getting toey and through the intercom came. “I thought it was only 5km worth of gravel?”
What could I say, so did I… but we were in the thick of it, and turning back was not an option.
Will It Ever End?
I was beginning to wonder if the gravel road would ever end, when rounding a corner, we came upon a sign indicating a steep incline with three tight hair-pin bends.
This short 200m (650 foot) section was not in good condition and was rutted quite badly. I had to pick my way through carefully. Remember I was on a road bike not an adventure bike.
By this stage we had completed one section of hard packed gravel that was 15km long and we were approaching 19km (12 miles) of hard packed gravel for the second section.
Just shy of 35km (22 miles) all up.
By the time we’d arrived at the hair-pins and steep incline I was over it, as was the Pillion.
Surely, this can’t go on for too much longer, can it?
We rounded the last hairpin and were greeted with a gravel (what else?) parking area on the left, complete with a small sheltered tourist information map and rocks to sit on. At this stage, like the two blokes we were following, we decided to pull up and gather our thoughts.
I took the opportunity to check Bluey for damage and make sure her shoes hadn’t been torn up too much.
Fortunately, she was just fine. Albeit a bit grubby.
We struck up a conversation with the two blokes on the adventure bikes and found out they were heading back to Melbourne on the Spirit Of Tasmania that night.
They’d been touring Tasmania for about three weeks and had covered a lot more gravel roads during their stay, with each one revealing natural wonders as good as the one we were now looking at.
We were encouraged by what they had said and decided that when we come back again, yes we plan to head back to Tassy someday, we would explore the gravel roads and hopefully uncover more of Tasmania’s beauty.
As it turned out, that parking area is in the best possible place to take in the 180° views stretching from Camps Bay in the east to Reynolds Neck in the west and as far south as the eye can see.
We stayed at the parking area for about for about half an hour, just taking the views and relaxing, before heading further north into Deloraine and then back to Hobart along the Midland Highway.
It might seem like a long way to travel in a day until you recall that you can ride along the Bass and Midland Highways from Devonport to Hobart in about 3 hours.
For us it worked out around 5-1/2 hours and a 450km (280 mile) round trip with the final 250km (155 mile) leg through Deloraine, Longford and then straight down the Midland Highway to Hobart.
We were home in time for the 6 o’clock news.
Moral Of The Story
If there is anything that we took away from this adventure, other than the challenge and the views, it’s that road bikes can indeed traverse gravel roads.
You just need to take care, and not be silly about it.
Another thing was that corrugations are less harsh if you ride/ drive on the wrong side of the road.
Sounds stupid right?
Well, as it turns out, your suspension sets up an oscillation that makes the leading edge steeper than the trailing edge of the corrugations. By moving to the opposite side of the road, providing there are no oncoming vehicles of course, the oscillations are softened.
Although its good to have local knowledge bestowed upon you, you should take it with a grain of salt. What should be 5 km of gravel road may become a 35 km stretch as it was in our case.
Till next time.
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