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Tasmania motorcycle tour

Tasmania – one hot lap

by Chris Beattie, April 2021

Young Beattie and his motley crew go looking for trouble in Tasmania, and find it

Firstly, just to clear the air I need to state from the outset that it is not, nor has it ever been my habit to wear the sort of sensible motorcycle clobber that could lead to me being mistaken for a BMW rider. The fact that I was wearing a jacket, pants and full-face helmet that bore a more-than-passing resemblance to my Beemer riding associates throughout our Tassie escapade was solely because all items were donated to me ahead of the trip. This was, no doubt, done in the hope that, despite the fact that I was the only one Milwaukee-mounted, casual observers might think I was part of the Kraut Krew. Which, of course, plainly I was not.

Pity may also have played a part as I’m not exactly known for my sartorial elegance as far as riding gear goes. An open face lid, mangy aged leather jacket, torn oily jeans and grazed steel-capped boots will normally suffice, along with a set of cheap, ripped plastic wet weather gear stashed somewhere convenient. Which means I tend to stand out when travelling with my Beemer buddies.

But on this particular trip, I relented after much pressure to at least try out a heavy padded rainproof set of ‘name’ pants and a jacket. And, while it felt like the bike equivalent of a medieval knight’s suit of armour, I’m prepared to confess that I did discover new sensations that I had hitherto not experienced from the saddle of my Low Rider; those being comfort, warmth and dryness. But more on that later ...

Tasmania motorcycle tour

Ahead of us lay four days of fairly rapid touring, with a return trip on the Spirit of Tasmania, which I was particularly looking forward to. I’ve done the trip in the dim and distant past and remembered it fondly as an opportunity to socialise with other riders, get stuck into some good grub and generally drink and laugh the night away. Or not, as it turned out.

I have to say that if our ferry trip truly was an example of the spirit of Tassie, then all we had to look forward to was surly service, crappy food, long queues and generally being made to feel unwelcome and inconvenient. All of it while wheezing through Covid masks. Hopefully, whoever runs the ferry service can give it a bit of a makeover and swap some of the current crew for humans …

Tasmania motorcycle tour

(Above: A mottley crew indeed, l-r Beattie, Bill, Justin and John enjoying a meal at the Wharf Bar & Kitchen in St Helens.)

Our own crew consisted of me on a loud and very angry Harley Low Rider S with a 117cu in big-bore kit etc, plus three other blokes, Justin, Bill and John all enthroned on BMW GS1200 ‘adventure bikes’ of various years and specifications. They all looked like modern-day versions of the sort of two-wheeled weaponry used by Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Riding pace tends to be pretty rapid, and over several thousand cruising kays, it’s seldom that we’ve been passed by other two-wheelers. As usual, the Krauts, despite their superior ground clearance, cunning electrickery and long-travel suspension, were hopelessly outnumbered and out-classed by the Low Rider. And since I’m the author, that will remain the official line ...

With little in the way of sleep on the crossing, we were summarily expelled from the boat at 6.00am after a 4.30 rude awakening and no breakfast, thank you very much. So first stop was the only open eatery in Devonport, the golden arches, for McMuffins with extra grease.

“Any chance you could plug my phone in for a coupla minutes while we’re eating?” I enquired of the disinterested looking youth behind the counter.

“Ummmm, nuh, can’t do that,” he muttered dully. Didn’t even ask if I wanted fries with that. Would have risen to management rank on the Spirit, I couldn’t help thinking.

The weather outlook leading up to our late March Hot Lap had gone from bleak to biblical, with the BOM warning that all the flooding and storm ugliness dumping on NSW and Qld at the time was now headed for Tassie. So we were pleasantly surprised to see that at least day one was going to be warm and dry. But feeling a little weary after our lack of sleep and early morning wake-up, we cut the first day a little short with a 350 or so kay ride to St Helens via the north-east coast and taking in the towns of Launceston, Bridport and Gladstone.

As with just about everywhere else we roamed over the coming days, there was more than enough opportunity to feather the tyre edges, our bikes seldom pointed in a straight line for more than a few metres.

An unexpected bonus was stumbling across Burt Munro’s Motorcycle Café in Exeter, not too far out of Launceston. We were a bit early so it was closed at the time, but from what we could see through the windows it looks like a must-stop for all visiting riders with plenty of old gear and motorcycle memorabilia on display.

Lunch stop was the Pub in the Paddock eatery/drinkery in Pyengana. Apart from having walls and ceilings festooned with all manner of mementos and historical pioneering photos, it’s also famous for its beer-drinking pigs – and I’m talking here about the four-legged snorting variety.

Tasmania motorcycle tour

(Above: Pub in a Paddock. Beer-guzzling pigs and world-class bogans are known to frequent this great eatery.)

It’s also less well-known for being where, on a previous visit, Justin came face-to-face with a hillbilly local, who boasted of holding the title of Australia’s Biggest Bogan. As Justin related with references to that classic good-ole-boys-gone-bad movie Deliverance, it was a gong well-deserved and he believes the only reason he is here to speak about it is that he turned down an invitation to accompany ABB and a couple of his mates back to his bush home for a late night “session”.

“I just had mental pictures of me hanging off a meat hook out in a shed somewhere being prepared for a starring spot on the Bogan menu,” he intimated.

Still, we enjoyed a great lunch of meat pies (tasted like beef at least …), and a couple of cold Cascades to get us through to our first night hotel in St Helens.

It’s a pretty little coastal burg, with a picturesque, protected harbour and a good selection of eateries. But before we got to check them out I had first to deal with the inconvenience of a rogue alarm on the Low Rider. I have to say the Harley alarm fob system has been an annoyance from day one, with its erratic behaviour and set-up, which sees it prone to activation at the slightest provocation.

It didn’t help that we were awakened early the following morning by what I first assumed was my own alarm going off yet again, only to realise as I struggled into my riding gear that it was the hotel’s own system proving to everyone in attendance that it had enough punch to wake up the guests and most of the surrounding town.

I have to give a mention to the Wharf Bar and Kitchen Restaurant and Tavern, which is just a short stroll from the pub. It’s right on the waterfront and we enjoyed a great feed and a few drinks, along with a chat and a laugh with owner Peter Robinson, a friendly host, who also happens to own the motorcycle-friendly nearby BIG4 St Helens Holiday Park (with handy courtesy bus).

Tasmania motorcycle tour

(Above: The occasional brake test made things interesting...)

Day two kicked off with the heavens opening up and our official Weather Bloke, Bill, consulting his various apps, upon which it was decided to go for a late check-out as an ugly front made its way through the area. By lunchtime the skies were clearing and the roads drying, so we packed up and headed south, taking the coastal route to Hobart.

Everywhere in Tassie is scenic, but the coastal road, taking in the towns of Bicheno, Coles Bay and the Freycinet National Park, as well as Little Swanport and Triabunna makes you appreciate how good this island state is from the saddle of a bike, with curly roads and scenic distractions seemingly around every corner.

Inconveniently though, despite all his weather predicting devices and know-how, Bill failed to spot a dark and sinister blot on the radar that made itself known about 100 kays from the Tassie capital. It started as a shower, but soon developed into a full-blown squall, with a hammering bout of hail at the end just to add injury to insult. Which is when I discovered that my new sensible gear actually allowed me to continue at quite a pace at the head of our little group, while still remaining completely dry, warm and relatively comfortable. Wonder of wonders – who would have thought! Whereas, in my traditional ‘road warrior’ clobber, I’d be immediately drenched, cold and angry with the world.

Eventually we checked into our Battery Point hotel overlooking the Hobart waterfront and handily just a short stroll away from Salamanca Place with all its fashionable bars and eateries.

Tasmania Motorcycle Tour

(Above: Gridded up at Salamanca Place with cloud descending on Mt Wellington for a long last day in the saddle.)

But before we wandered out for the evening, we were entertained by a good, old-fashioned punch-up in the hotel bar. It was unclear what the flashpoint actually was, but two of the locals went at it in fine bare-knuckle style before staff intervened to calm things down. All agreed, though, that it was a technically impressive exhibition of the art of the pugilist, with a few solid rights and lefts landed during the fracas.

Since we arrived on a Saturday, Salamanca Place was packed that night. Fortunately, we’d booked ahead and enjoyed a great steak dinner at the Ball & Chain Grill, followed by a few nightcaps back at the hotel, where the locals had, by now, mopped up the blood and become somewhat more mellowed over the course of the evening.

With two days to go, we decided to cover as much of Tassie’s southern extremities as we could, so headed out for the coastal village of Southport, taking in a few attractions and towns along the way. It’s yet another scenic route, much of it hugging the majestic Huon River, with plenty of variation as far as roads go. The Low Rider’s mass was certainly reduced a little in the tighter sections, most notably around the ends of the footpegs and the outer reaches of the exhaust system.

Southport itself is one of those remote settlements where you get the impression nothing much ever changes, and is a spot where Darryl Kerrigan from The Castle would definitely appreciate the “serenity”. We enjoyed a good Aussie-style counter attack at the Southport Hotel and finished the day with another spirited, peg-scraping flog back to our Hobart home base, for our last night on land until Melbourne.

Loading up early, we decided to make a big ride of our last day in the saddle, heading north-west out of Hobart for the historic mining town of Queenstown. From there the plan was to head north and east, ending up back in Devonport and a mid-evening departure on the Spirit.

Tasmania Motorcycle tour

(Above: Tyre torture - guilty your honour! With a little help from the Tassie roads department ...)

This was our biggest day on the road, working out to around six hours of riding, but it was easily the best – and most challenging. There were steep and tight hilly sections meandering through thick forest and lightly-wooded highlands that nudged the clouds in places. Overwhelmingly, road conditions and surfaces were good or better than average in comparison to mainland equivalents, although the Tasmania roads department certainly made things more interesting by occasionally sprinkling fine gravel of the consistency of small ball bearings on some of the hillier stretches. This probably contributed to shredding my rear Avon Storm 180/17, which had the consistency and feel of marshmallow by the time I finally limped into Devonport.

Another casualty on our final fling was John’s right-hand rear pannier, which at some stage decided to release itself and go exploring the countryside. Given his questionable personal habits, I can only wonder what impression its contents would make on any innocents unfortunate enough to stumble upon it.

Prior to boarding the ferry for the return voyage to Melbourne, we made sure to grab a bite at a local café, which was just as well as the same swill awaited passengers in the restaurant when we finally made it aboard after a two-hour wait queued up on the docks.

Overiding impressions of our four-day flog include the fact that four days is barely scraping the surface, which, in fairness we knew as we’d all toured Tassie in the past. I’m also left wondering firstly how they haven’t yet run out of wildlife, as there is so much of it squashed to pulp on the roads, and also can any race historians explain to me why Tasmania hasn’t produced hordes of world road race champions, as their whole road system seems designed to nurture two-wheeled talent.

In the end, and after around 1600 fairly hectic kilometres, I’m happy to report that if the measure of whether or not our little group still “has what it takes” includes shredded tyres, scraped bits, long stints in the saddle, industrial strength hangovers and scary bar bills, then overwhelmingly we’ve still got it -- in spades. I’m writing this a couple of days later and my cheeks still hurt from laughing too much.

Can’t wait to return to the scene(s) of the crime(s)!

Tasmania motorcycle tour

(Above: The sun sets on our last day ...)


See the feature on Beattie's traumatic introduction to Aprilia Tuono ownership

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