Definitely part of Australia – the island state, but fiercely proud of its apart status and island mentality. During my time there I’d have to make sure I didn’t refer to the rest of Australia, some 260km to the north over the energetic waters of the Bass Strait, as the “mainland” within earshot of the locals. I was sitting astride Gosling One, my beaten and mile weary Yamaha XT600E, listening to the rain patter gently down on the outside of my helmet, watching the shimmering reflections of the vehicles ahead of me in the queue for the checkpoint, and waiting patiently for the waterproof liner in my jacket to lose the fight against the ingress of the rain.
Entry to Tasmania is on the condition that you don’t bring along any fruit, vegetables, plants, seeds, insects, annoying family members or other such undesirables; and it was the job of the depressed and thoroughly sodden looking border guards to confiscate such on arrival. Luckily for me, the whimsical nature of the Tasmanian weather was doing an excellent job of scouring most of the dirt, bits of vegetation and thoroughly grilled insect corpses from the bike and myself; the stream of detritus mixing with the petroleum rainbow tinted rain water on its journey to the nearest storm drain. Finally waved through the vehicle inspection checkpoint by an officer who looked reluctant to touch Gosling One with even the longest of poles, we thumped our way out of the docks, through the curtain of falling water and into Tasmania proper.
We’d been travelling for nearly two months around Australia before arriving on the island, as a last minute alteration to what could only very loosely be described as the overall “plan” to solo circumnavigate the entire country. The wet season in the northern reaches had been making hassle free travel in the region an impossibility without scuba gear, so a delaying tactic had been needed and a trip to Tasmania proved to be an excellent way of spending a month letting the wet season get a bit, well, less wet really.
The miles had been taking their toll on Gosling One, her old occupation as a rental machine with a tour company meant that her life up to this point had been one full of riders who knew they didn’t have to deal with the consequences. The old elastic band that had been serving as the drive mechanism was replaced with a shiny new chain, and the front suspension fork seals were replaced by a man with a big hammer. It’s amazing the difference it makes having shock absorbers that actually do just that, rather than transferring the full force of any impacts (and there were a few) straight up your arms in an attempt to dislodge any fillings you might have. As we rattled along the gravel and sand mixed track which passed for a highway in these parts, the sun racing towards the horizon on my right, I could quite conceivably have been the only person in the whole state. I’d not seen another soul since turning south at the settlement of Marrawah on the north coast, leaving the surfaced roads behind and riding into the wild west region of the state.
The roads for the most part in Tasmania are good quality asphalt, but the highway crews had either got bored or lost when they got over to the western coast.
Still, I’d gone there for a bit of practice at riding off the beaten track, and if the massive cloud of dust billowing out behind me and the smile I was wearing on my face were anything to go by, I was getting what I’d set out to find. As it was getting late, close to when kangaroos try and kill you more than usual, I selected a spot for my camp. Accomplished essentially by virtue of grinding to a halt in some sand, and it being too late and my being too tired to dig out and move on. If you’ve not found somewhere to sleep by the time night throttles the sun from the sky, wherever you happen to be will generally do the trick. Seemed sensible really, and the fact that there was nobody else around to argue about my chosen spot made it all the simpler to throw up the tent and crawl inside. A great place to while away an evening in contemplative solitude, appropriately and rather poetically titled ‘Sundown Point’ if my map were to be believed. Close to the beach, ocean view and sheltered enough from the attentions of the weather by some friendly pale dunes, to allow me a smug smile as I brewed up some tea and watched the angrily dark skies broiling over the waters of the southern ocean.
Come the morning after, I was to be found well rested and cursing the thieving ways of the indigenous wildlife as I hopped around my camp site.
A Tasmanian Devil was the suspected culprit in the the theft of some of my footwear. Not confirmed guilty mind you, more a ‘marsupial of interest’ to the authorities. It had attempted to make off with one of my motorcycle boots during the night, dragging it part way into the dunes before thinking better of it on health grounds and pinching one of my sandals instead. I didn’t hunt for it too hard.
Tasmanian Devils are about the size of a small dog, but packed with the aggressive and wildly violent temperament of a bear, post tranquilliser that you’re also poking with a big stick.
Seriously, they pack in more strength, teeth and attitude than anything else that could ever conceivably be described as “cute”.Sans-footwear we headed inland. There’s no option once you reach Strahan, the rest of the area is given over to national park, some 37% of the island in fact. It’s the sort of place that you can only get around if you’re big into your hiking or can fly. We travelled away from the coast towards the ‘Franklin – Gordon Wild Rivers National Park’, heading in a roundabout sort of fashion for the southern coast. I’d had another run in with the local fauna on the way, whilst taking a short break off Gosling One to hike out to an abandoned town called Pillinger. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but wasn’t really known for anything special unless you were a big fan of brick making towns, which I’m not I might add, I just fancied a walk. Thousands of kilometres on a Yamaha XT will do that to a fellow, trust me.
A Tiger snake had been sunning itself in the middle of the track as I clomped my way noisily through the bush, merrily thinking on other things and forgetting for the moment that the Australian countryside isn’t quite as sweet and innocent as middle England. The Tiger is one of the top ten deadliest snakes on the planet, so obviously it was to be found in abundance on my planned hiking trail and I almost interrupted its tanning session by stomping my big boot onto it. Making excuses about only being there to make sure it was using sunscreen, I backtracked faster than I’d ever thought possible. All the while Mr Slithers eyeing me with a look of utter contempt, quite a feat for a snake. The sobering thought on reading up a bit more about said serpent in the local newsagents, was that had it chosen to make the effort and chomp down on one of my limbs, I’d have been thoroughly deceased before managing to stumble and swear my way back to Gosling One.
Then again, flicking through the pages of the book on Australian wildlife I was beginning to get the impression that all the creatures in Australia had evolved with the express purpose of killing pretty much everything else. A choice survivor here and there had obviously been left to write terrifying books afterwards. It was a sign that’s what it was, a sign that I shouldn’t get off the bike ever again. What was I thinking, walking? Come on, this is a motorcycle expedition, walking can be hazardous to your health. Gosling One would keep me safe. I wasn’t feeling particularly safe right now though, peering through a swirling miasma of dust and debris at a once level mountain track, which could now only be described as ‘being a bit wonky’. Gosling One, offered her agreement with the conclusion I’d reached by coughing fitfully, her engine finally lapsing into indignant silence. It was an oddly serene place to be having a bit of a lie down under my motorcycle.
High on a gravel track clinging grimly to a mountainside, somewhere in the south western reaches of Tasmania. We lay there for a few moments in a touching man and machine embrace. Me wedged up against a crash barrier, which was certainly living up to its title, and Gosling One serving as the dead weight which was crushing me into the galvanised metal. As the enthusiastically dancing dust cloud decided it’d had quite enough exercise for one afternoon and started to settle over us both, the realisation that I was both stuck and really rather pissed off about the whole affair dawned. I’d turned left, yes that was it, that was when the day quite literally took a turn for the worse. I’d been travelling along the Gordon River Road through the Denison mountain range, en-route to nowhere in particular; a good job really as the Gordon River Road only goes to two places: the Gordon Dam and nowhere in particular.
Seized by curiosity about an intriguingly wiggly line heading south on my map I swung left, leaving the familiar solid security of the asphalt surface and crunching onto an altogether less reassuring one.
The track had been reduced to a single car width thanks to an extensive collection of gravel, stones and sand on the left and an imposing vertical rock face on the right. Riding in the ruts formed by passing vehicles was the only way to progress, keeping the speed up to prevent the front wheel from getting bogged down in the deeper patches of detritus. From the look of the place, there’d been a ‘buy one, get two loads free’ deal on gravel track surfaces the previous week. Approaching a blind right hand bend, descending from a high point on the track, a white car erupted out from it’s concealment behind the rock face, travelling much faster than could be considered polite. I pictured the driver as being the sort of person that’d employ the “sorry mate I didn’t see you” excuse, as they stooped over my broken form to pinch my wallet (not that it would have been worth the effort), so wisely decided it would be best to relinquish my claim to the wheel rut. Wrenching the front wheel up and left catapulted us free of the groove, out of the murderous car’s path and straight up to our necks in excrement. The rear wheel fought for grip and lost, there was none to be had. The front wheel decided it would perform a plough impression, digging in up to the rim, which didn’t do much for our forward motion. With the rear wheel spinning wildly, sending gravel fountaining out and up in a display that might have looked quite cool if I’d been watching someone else, we rapidly slowed, wobbled in a swear word evoking fashion and toppled over into the metal crash barrier. Ah well, lying around in the dust and reminiscing about it wasn’t going to get us to nowhere in particular any time soon, so I pushed Gosling One’s now inert 160kg Japanese frame off myself using my free leg, wriggled out from under her pressing bulk and glanced behind me. I silently took back every bad thing I had thought about the crash barrier as we’d been grinding painfully along it, giving silent thanks to whichever road crew had installed it.
There was nothing beyond its metal embrace other than fresh air, solid ground to next be encountered a few hundred metres below. The venerable Yamaha XT could cope with plenty, but I was fairly certain flying was out of the question. I hauled Gosling One upright, dusted myself gingerly down, persuaded the gear lever back into place, fired up the 600cc thumper and crunched back into one of the much coveted wheel ruts on the main track. After spending a fitful night accompanied by a symphony of pain, each bump, scrape and bruise adding it’s unique sensation to the orchestra of agony, I awoke to discover that I’d traded left arms with Popeye. I poked at it to see if it was broken. A well recognised medical technique, poking, and ascertaining that I could still waggle all my fingers and use the clutch I deemed myself a ‘lucky bastard’. I squeezed into the now battered riding jacket and zipped up the arm vents, which made for a handy substitute for the compression bandage I thought I probably needed but didn’t have. Still, could’ve been worse I reckoned, thinking back to the somewhat airy vista where we’d taken our tumble. A few days later, bruises still smarting and I was at it again. Some bloody short cut that was, about 47km of rattling around, up and through some pseudo-Scottish scenery between New Norfolk and the state capital Hobart had just taken the better part of three hours. Not for me the smooth and easily traversed surface of the Lyell Highway, oh no. I’d opted for the 4×4 only ‘Crabtree Track’ in an attempt at corner cutting, and as I watched Gosling One slide noisily off down the slope in front of me, metal screeching in protest, I realized I had no one to blame but myself.
One of the downfalls of travelling long distances alone; nobody around to hold the fan for you as the excrement starts flying.
It was becoming a habit that I needed to break I thought, as I hauled the prostrate Yamaha lump back onto her wheels again, before something important broke instead. I don’t want to make it sound like I spent all my time in Tasmania crashing into things, but those are definitely the times that make an impression, both figuratively and literally speaking. Still, I assured myself it was all good practice. Soon I’d be world class at throwing my bike down rock strewn mountain tracks. Down was supposed to be the easiest bit, I suppose the trick is getting down whilst still on two wheels. Perhaps I’d stick to asphalt for the next few days, lest Gosling One start to take the abuse personally. No visit to the island state of Tasmania is complete, without taking in the decrepit splendour ruins during a sojourn at Port Arthur, former convict settlement and now full time tourist honey pot. It might actually be against the law to visit Tasmania without paying homage to the state’s most popular attraction. I’d called in en route up the east coast whilst riding around the Tasman Peninsula, an afterthought of land seemingly stapled to the south eastern edge of Tasmania proper.
Home, if it could actually be called that, for the worst of the worst as considered by the British penal system until the 1850’s, it became the one concession to ‘traditional’ tourism during my stay in Tasmania. The brief guided tour, overly enthusiastic tour-guide and atmospheric carcasses of the former prison buildings were a welcome insight into the history of the place I’d found myself riding around. Perhaps Port Arthur was where that footwear thieving devil was hiding, I pondered as we rode away to the north. It was certainly where the little bugger deserved to be. Tasmania is like a microcosm of ‘mainland’ Australia; its eastern reaches are markedly more popular and therefore far more populated than the rest of the state. Picturesque bays, national parks, innumerable camp grounds and a surfaced road running almost its entire length means you don’t have to run the risk of having your family saloon pebble dashed by the road surface in order to reach the best camping spots. I didn’t linger long, paying scant service to world renowned locations such as Wineglass Bay as I was actually under time pressure for once during my expedition. Also you tend to look a bit out of place on a photogenic beach in armoured motorcycle clothing.
I had a ferry to catch in a few days time, and a day or so’s worth of maintenance or ‘essential tinkering’ to get done before returning to mainland Australia. We wriggled our way across the map like an indecisive ant tracking jam across a picnic rug; tracing an eclectic route that followed all the minor roads, surfaced or not, in an attempt to reach the Central Plateau region of Tasmania before I was left to swim back to Melbourne. Two precious days were spent on the shores of Lake Sorell for that ‘essential’ maintenance. In other words I spent the time re-attaching bits of Gosling One that had shaken loose, beating my billy can back into shape with a large rock and letting my imagination run wild around the abandoned camp ground I had selected for my stay. A seductive spot to while away some time, regardless of how little there was left. It’s easy to get lulled into staying for just one more cup of tea, hour, afternoon and then night in some of the places you can camp around Tasmania, picturesque would be an understatement. Lake Sorell had obviously been an immensely popular place once, but the rusted kids swings, deserted log cabins and eerily whispering stands of pine trees made it look more like a set from a low budget Tasmanian horror film. Time eventually did of course catch up, smack me on the ear as it raced past and then leave me well behind. So much so, that in the last afternoon before catching the ferry back to Melbourne, we were to be found speeding through the falling snow and accumulating freezing slush across the Central Plateau Conservation Area. I’m sure the scenery would have been breathtaking if I’d been able to see through the encroaching patterns of ice growing across my visor, but the chill air was doing an excellent job of taking all my breath away. Seizing each exhaled breath and hurling it back down the highway like so much ice stiffened road kill. I tried not to mumble too many complaints through the air vents in my helmet, in the next few months I’d be lucky if I saw water, let alone anything resembling a snowflake. Rolling in to Devonport, the last vestiges of ice melting from my frozen hands we clanked over the metal tongue of the Spirit of Tasmania and into the warming embrace of her hold. It was time to go west.
Ed’s note: Christian often writes ‘we’… he’s not gone mad with the solitude, but Gosling One has been through thick and thin with him over many, many miles and so has become his trusty cohort; he does by his own admission often consider that there’s two on the trip!
With many thanks to Christian Anderson who can be found at: