By Derek Synnott, Pedal Power member and advocate
The Tasmanian Trail is a 460 km route from Devonport on the northern coast of Tasmania to Dover, close to the southern tip of Tasmania. It was devised for horse riders but is regularly used by people riding bikes. The Trail follows quieter roads and tracks and runs through state forest and other reserves. It often leaves agricultural valleys to seek forested ridge lines.
After commencing from Devonport on a gentle grade on a bicycle path under construction beside the Mersey River, the Trail soon enters rougher terrain including the Cluan Tiers, Great Western Tiers and the Central Highlands. The Trail then passes through Great Lakes region, crossing the highlands to the Derwent River valley. After New Norfolk, the Trail leaves the Derwent Valley and climbs over a mountain pass on an old stock route behind Mt Wellington, and on to the Huon Valley and thence to Dover.
Organisation of the ride
Our ride was organised by Steve Shaw who many Pedal Power ACT members will recall cycled regularly in Canberra and organised successful multi-day bicycle rides in Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand before his move to Tasmania shortly before the pandemic struck.
While the Tasmanian Trail is in 15 sections and offers a number of camping sites, Steve opted for nine days of cycling and motel, apartment or cabin accommodation. While the daily distances, ranging from 39 km to 67 km, might seem benign, the daily elevation gains in the range 440 m to 1,324m and rough surfaces meant that no day was an easy day. Given that cool weather can be encountered at any time of year in the highlands, we were grateful to be staying in buildings rather than camping.
A rest day in New Norfolk in the Derwent valley was provided after seven days of cycling. While it would have been good to have had the rest day earlier in the ride, New Norfolk was the first centre with a range of activities to occupy the rest day and ready access to bicycle service facilities.
We used Steve’s car as a support vehicle and hired a bicycle trailer of sufficient size to carry all the bikes. Steve was most generous in hosting riders, storing excess baggage at his house and allowing the use of his car for various tourist jaunts, in addition to supporting the ride.
The condition of the Trail
The Trail includes some easier sections on sealed roads, including some highways where flashing lights and fluro clothing were essential for rider safety. More time was spent riding on gravel roads and forestry roads and tracks.
Tasmania is mountainous and unsealed tracks were often rough and stony. Many of the steeper sections were walked by some riders, including the 848 m ascent of Poatina Hill.
On the plateaus, we encountered mud wallows; the intrepid endeavoured to cycle through, others picked their way around the edges or lugged bikes through the bush. There were three river crossings; fortunately the water level was no higher than the knees. Alternative routes were suggested for periods of higher water flow.
The Tasmanian Trail is marked by distinctive yellow and red arrows placed on trees or posts and the route is marked on several digital mapping apps. The official Tasmanian Trail Association website provides a guidebook and gpx files for the route for those who purchase membership. Digital mapping apps have revolutionised navigation on rides such as the Tasmanian Trail, but riders should be aware that the route shown on the mapping apps sometimes varies from the official route.
Mountain bikes and e-mountain bikes
Almost half the group were riding e-mountain bikes. They certainly enjoyed the ride and were rarely fazed by the steep and rough climbs. As we were staying in accommodation, charging e-bike batteries was not a problem. Nor did any electrical problems arise from pushing the e-bikes through the river crossings. The e-bike riders did, however, find that they were waiting for some time at the top of many of the climbs for the hot and bothered riders of conventional bikes to emerge, often pushing their steeds. I was persuaded that e-bikes are the future for touring and one other rider had lodged an order for an e-mountain bike before the ride was over. For those preferring conventional bicycles, soft-tails are essential as these bikes cope far better with rough and stony tracks.
Fences, falls and mechanical failures
One rider came off her bike on a steep, stony downhill section and ended up entangled in a barbed wire fence; she was taken to hospital for bandaging. Several others fell off without significant injury. One rider backed into an electrified farm fence and managed to transmit the charge along an metal gate to the discomfort of another. The only significant mechanical problem involved damage to a derailleur, most probably caused when pushing the bike through a river. This rider was able to twist the derailleur back into position and cycle, very carefully, to a road where he could be collected by the support vehicle.
Given the often poor quality of the Trail surface, it is remarkable that there were no further serious mechanical issues.
Before and after the Tasmanian Trail
We started our tour in Launceston as this city was serviced by interstate airline flights. This meant that we had two days of riding, largely on quieter highways, to get to the start of the Tasmanian Trail in Devonport, although we found that central Launceston was most cycle-unfriendly.
After the conclusion of the Tasmanian Trail in Dover we caught a public bus to Hobart for a few days R&R. There we hired a minibus to transport riders to an optional day ride on Bruny Island and then transport the riders back to Launceston. That was not the end of the cycling, however, for we moved on to Derby and St Helens in northeast Tasmania to take advantage of the recently developed, world-class single track routes in the area, including the Bay of Fires Trail.
Is the Tasmanian Trail for you?
Riding the Tasmanian Trail is challenging and not for the faint-hearted, but the scenery is fine. You will cycle through a wide range of environments, and the sense of satisfaction on completing the ride is immense. Autumn is a good time as the weather is more stable. Combine the Tasmanian Trail with single track options in north-eastern Tasmania, and you are guaranteed an exciting time.