There’s Something About an Island. Part 2

Melbourne, Victoria. 3rd March 2016.


‘Spiriting’ tourists across the Bass Strait to Tassie.

Boarding the Spirit of Tasmania was slow work. Despite being there early, I queued up for ages. The staff were checking everyone for fresh fruit and vegetables. Tassie has real concerns about the spread of fruit fly and similar problems so I dutifully declared my lunchtime fruit. I could either throw it away or subject myself to a quarantine check on the other side. No contest, I kept the fruit. Oddly, they didn’t seem too fussed about my spare fuel can, something the info sheet suggested wasn’t allowed on board. Once on the car deck the crew strapped all the bikes down and I went up to the lounge. I found a table by the window with a very handy mains socket next to it and I settled in for the ten hour crossing.
I mentioned at the end of my last post I’d booked the ferry at short notice. All well and good for getting to Tassie, but what about getting back? I try to avoid deadlines while I’m on the road but I needed to be in Melbourne by the evening of the 20th March. You can imagine my annoyance when the website showed the next bookable ferry to be on the evening of the 21st! No good to me. I rang them up instead and was pleased to find they could get me on the evening sailing on the 14th, although the price left me gasping a bit. That gave me ten days for exploring the island and I figured it would be long enough.
A smooth crossing over the 200+ kilometres of Bass Strait saw me in Devonport by 6pm. Unloaded, passed through quarantine and out onto the main road across the north of Tasmania. I’d been unable to find a hostel in the port but had managed to locate one in the small town of Penguin, about 40kms away. It won’t surprise you to know that the town is named after the bird but it disappointed me when I discovered they no longer nest along the beach there, so no chance of seeing them.


A very large concrete penguin celebrates the town’s centenary.

At the time of the first a penal settlement Tasmania was called Van Diemen’s Land. It had been named by Dutch navigator and explorer Abel Tasman after his sponsor at the Dutch East Indies Company ( It had once been connected to the rest of Australia by a land bridge, enabling Aboriginals to find their way there. Over the millenia evolution had led to the development of some unique animals, as well as to some differences between the human populations of the island and the mainland. Tasmanian Devils and Tasmanian Tigers were two of the unique animals. Sadly both the population of tigers and humans were hunted to extinction by settlers. When transportation was finally stopped by Britain the people of Van Diemens Land wanted to remove the stain, as they saw it, of being a penal colony so they changed the name to Tasmania. Then came separation from New South Wales and statehood. Agriculture, sheep, timber, gold and tin mining had made the colony wealthy so more settlers soon came. It remains prosperous still. While on the ferry I attended a very amusing and informative talk given by one of the national park rangers, where our appetites where whetted for seeing the wildlife.


Tasmania. Lots of green, lots of mountains.

The west side of the island is mostly unoccupied, once the north coast is left behind. There are few roads and only small settlements, and most of the area is a series of huge national parks. In fact, forty percent of the island is protected in some way. There is some mining in the north west area and some larger towns lie on, or close to, the coast about halfway down the west side. Most habitable areas are in the south and east, including Hobart, the capital. As Australian states go, Tasmania is tiny. Its nearest neighbour is Victoria which is the smallest of the mainland states. Even so, it is over three times the size of Tassie, which compares to Ireland in size.
I made plans to explore along the north coast and into the hills of the hinterland, before heading south and west to Strahan. Hobart after that, then up the east coast and back towards the ferry port.
Meanwhile, another biker arrived at the hostel. Ryan is English, twenty years old and had flown out to visit his uncle in Fremantle. He bought a Honda Deauville and has ridden much the same route as me, across the Nullarbor and through Adelaide. He’s a very articulate and mature guy who used to own a motorcycle shop, along with his two brothers. We hit it off and decided to ride together for the next few days, at least as far as Strahan.


Ryan and Deauville

It made a nice change to have a riding companion. Yes, you can talk to other hostel dwellers about how good your day was, but they don’t really ‘get’ what the riding is all about. I feel that explaining it to another traveller is like trying to tell a drummer what playing a flute is like. Same tune, very different instrument.
We took a ride westward, along the coast to Winyard, where we found our way up to the lighthouse on Table Cape. I’ve visited several lighthouses now, so this one was a bit ‘ho-hum’, but Ryan enjoyed the tour very much. I was surprised to learn that automation came to this one in 1920, when acetylene replaced kerosene. Others I’d visited had been converted to automated electric lighting at a much later date.It was a beautiful day, sunny and calm, so we had a great view out over the sea and surrounding land. This part of Tasmania is renowned for its fruit, vegetables and flowers – especially tulips. The soil is volcanic, and the rich brown colour has the look of fertility about it.

The Nut

The Nut and Stanley.

Further along the coast we came to the town of Stanley, out on a spit of land and nestling under a geological oddity called The Nut. Almost circular, one hundred and fifty metres high, it has sides steep enough to warrant a chairlift up to the top. We didn’t go up there but the views must be stunning as it overlooks both the Bass Strait and inland. Instead, we rode around it and found a picture postcard little café on the waterside. Painted a bright red and yellow, a boat in the same colours was moored next to it, offering seal watching trips. We stuck with a nice coffee and had a chat with three who were out to enjoy a sunny ride. As often happens, the Union Flag on my British number plate started off the conversation about my route there. Fortunately I never tire of talking about it!

Stanly cafe

Pretty little cafe at Stanley.

The next part of our plan was to head up into the hills just inland, towards Leven Canyon. The map depicted the roads with wiggly lines. Bikers home in on those like bees to apple blossom, seeking the honey of the bends. We’d decided on a circular route through the hills, with a stop to look at Preston Falls on the way. Was the riding good? You betcha! We had fun, with good surfaces and challenging curves. I got us slightly lost, but we found the falls and stopped for a look. Nothing worthy of mention really, it hadn’t rained much lately. As we were walking back up to the car park we heard a bike go past. By the time we got there the rider had turned round and come back. He introduced himself as Brian and was riding a BMW K1200RS, looking surprising small for such a big bike. He asked us where we were going and when we said back to Penguin, he offered to lead us there through the back roads, reckoning he could show us some routes we wouldn’t otherwise find. So, a local rider, on a sporty bike offers to show us where its at. Would you refuse? We didn’t either and had even more fun getting back than we’d had getting there. Challenging sometimes, but enormous, honeyed fun. The roads were great but the countryside through which they passed was special too. It put me in mind of the Bavarian hills I’d ridden through at the beginning of my journey. Steep slopes, deep valleys and very tall pine trees. We knew there would be more of this to come. Tasmania was shaping up to be pretty special.


Brian and his very handy K1200RS.

Ryan and I had studied the map, taken note of advice from Brian and worked out a route down to Strahan which we hoped would give us even more bendy thrills. We weren’t disappointed. Three hundred kilometres of twisty fun. Even the main road was good. At one point we stopped to investigate Hester Gorge and in the car park got chatting to some other riders. One of them, Richard, was riding a Velocette Venom Clubman, a very nice looking example, which he’d owned since 1969 and had rebuilt over the years. It took me straight back to my teenage years, when I’d owned a Velocette too. One of the others had a Can-Am Spyder, two wheels at the front and one at the back. I’d seen plenty of these around Australia and NZ and I asked him how it handled on the twisty roads. “It sticks like glue and goes like stink” he said. Helped, no doubt by the torquey 1,000cc V-Twin engine.
We carried on and turned onto a narrower road which looped around past a couple of hydro-electric plants as it climbed through the Meredith Ranges, up to a chilly seven hundred metres. And it was here that we discovered that Tasmanian road engineers obviously all ride bikes. The surface was billiard table smooth and every bend had a perfect radius. No nasty surprises half way round. We just had to lean in at the start, set up the right speed, and maintain a constant level of pressure on the bars and tension on the throttle. Our engines, our tyres and our hearts all sang in unison as we flew through one bend after another. Up until that point I had thought of Raquel Welch or Marylin Monroe as being curvy perfection. Not any more!

We managed to stay on the back road twisties all the way down to Strahan, where we booked into the YHA hostel for a couple of nights. The speciality of the town is the boat trips which go out around Macquarie Harbour and up the Gordon River. We couldn’t get onto those running the next day so we booked for the day after. That gave us a day to kill around the town so after a relaxing morning we took a walk out along the sea front and through a local rain forested park to see a waterfall. Some much needed exercise for me and more time to chat bikes, touring and life in general, with Ryan.
There are two companies which run Gordon River tours. Both of them offer differently priced seats, according to position on the boat; both provide refreshments and lunch. We chose World Heritage Cruises, who allow you to wander anywhere on the decks of the boat, which the other company doesn’t. I’m all for egalitarianism, especially when it means better access to good photographic viewpoints. On a six hour trip like this, there was plenty to look at.


Old Velocettes shouldn’t be in museums. They should be touring round the countryside, like Richard does with his.

Ryan and I were seated at a table with two friendly couples, both touring around the island. The skipper kept up a running commentary as we headed down the harbour towards Hells Gate, where the quiet waters of the sheltered bay meet the often fierce seas of the Southern Ocean. On this day all was calm, although it was easy to see where one ended and the other began. It looks very odd to see waves seemingly breaking over nothing at all. There is a breakwater and a submerged sandbar which, literally, stem the tides so the sea doesn’t get much chance to batter the land within the harbour. It was a calm day but even so, the boat took on a new life once we’d gone through the 120 metre wide channel. I imagine that faced with a southerly gale any skipper would be wishing they’d stayed at home watching Home and Away. Yes, it could easily be that bad.


Looking inland through Hell’s Gate. It’s very strange how calm the water is inside.

Around the mouth of the channel are small, rocky outcrops with marker lights on them, and one with a lighthouse, the white walls very pretty in the sunlight.
Back inside the harbour we went to look at a fish farm. Luckily it was feeding time, otherwise there wouldn’t have been much to see. As it was we could see the circular nets, with some platforms inside. Feed is delivered by hose. Like some kind of demented gardener, a guy on a boat was spraying the area inside the nets with a mixture of water and feed. This operation takes place four times a day, making for some fat, fast growing, trout and salmon.


Feeding time at the fish farm.

The main place of interest was Sarah Island, a former penal settlement, which had a reputation as being the worst possible prison to be sent to. It operated from 1822-34, pre-dating Port Arthur, and for much of that time was a place of brutality and terror. Re-offending convicts, both men and women, were sent there, and suffered under a commander who delighted in delivering the harshest of punishments. Severe floggings and hard labour in chains, with minimal rations, were common. The stated objective of the regime was to deter other prisoners in the colonies from misbehaving by making Sarah Island’s reputation so bad that none would want to be sent there. It’s no surprise that when the commander got into difficulties in a boat in the harbour, none of the watching prisoners bothered to go and help him. He drowned.


The remains of the slipway at the boat building yard.

The main occupation was felling and hauling Huon Pine, a timber much sought after for ship building. Because of the difficulty of transporting the pine away from the island they started building their own boats and ships and eventually this became another key activity. In 1825 a commander arrived who was more interested in finding prisoners to work in the ship yard and a couple of years later a master shipbuilder was posted there. Many high quality vessels were constructed. Prisoners were treated and fed well and could learn a trade. During this period both punishments and escape attempts fell to almost nothing. When the settlement finally closed in 1834 the last ship to be built was due to be sailed to the new settlement at Port Arthur. It never made it. The convicts had other ideas and The Frederick became ‘the ship that never was’, now the name of a play. Ten convict shipwrights stole it and sailed to South America. They made it to Chile, although some were later recaptured and returned for trial. In earlier times many convicts tried to escape and there’s a story about Alexander Pierce, who escaped with seven others into the bush. He survived, the others didn’t. They became his source of food. Nice!

How the colony developed.

How the colony developed.


The value of learning a trade.

The value of learning a trade.

The story of Sarah Island is a fascinating one and it’s been described as ‘a place of degradation, depravity and woe’. This is part of the truth but not all of it, as the tour was able to reveal. The guide was excellent – informative and amusing. Very well worth the time spent and nicely gory too.
After the very excellent buffet lunch we travelled inland for a while, up the Gordon River. We landed by a nature trail, which took us along boardwalks to where we could see the area’s oldest Huon pine. Australia’s native trees are usually very impressive but this one was lying down, and has been for the last twenty years. It seems it still counts as a tree rather than deadwood because the roots are still in the ground and there is growth on the trunk. I felt somewhat cheated, as if I’d been offered a chocolate bar and given a toffee.


Six hundred and fifty year old Huon pine. Somebody had to count all those rings!

Back on the boat we enjoyed a video all about the men who spent their time felling these trees. A tough life, with many months away from family, but big rewards for the sought after timber. All Huon pines are protected now and the only available wood is from recycling. The boat landed us next to one of the old sawmills, which still produces Huon pine products. There was a demonstration of sawing and plenty of wooden trinkets on sale. It had been a great day out, well worth the time and money.


Trimming a Huon pine log down to size, ready to be made into tourist tat.

Ryan had decided to head back north. He wanted to explore those marvellous roads a bit more. I had a deadline so I needed to move on, with Tassie’s capital city, Hobart, next on my list. I was sorry to leave Ryan behind, I’d very much enjoyed his company.
A wet start but dry by lunchtime. I met a couple of bikers at my lunchtime café, so had a nice chat while I warmed up. The drying road and warm sun then gave me a decent run into the city, where I’d booked a hostel in the CBD. But before I got there I diverted to a place called MONA – Museum of Old and New Art. It is as unlike a traditional art gallery as anything you could imagine. Think Frank Zappa rather than Barry Manilow. It is Australia’s largest private gallery and probably its most controversial too. Owner David Walsh described it as ‘a subversive adult Disneyland’ when he opened it five years ago. It’s reckoned to have had the same beneficial effect on Hobart that the Guggenheim did on Bilbao, shining a bright light on the city and its surrounds and encouraging more tourists. Other city businesses have invested accordingly and reaped the benefit.


Somebody’s take on the Porche feeling.

In my opinion art, at least some of it, should be about poking the establishment in the eye with a sharp stick. Have you ever heard of Gilbert and George? Two artists from Britain who have been doing just that since the late 1960s. Their art almost always includes themselves and, from what I saw at MONA, seems to delight in undermining the kind of attitudes displayed by the right wing press. Racism, xenophobia, religion, inequality of all kinds. They’ve worked from their studio in East London for most of their time together and are a gay couple. One of their quotes about their work is: “Our art is capable of bringing out the bigot inside the liberal, and the liberal inside the bigot.”
The photos show some of their work and I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.


There’s a variety of other work there too. Some of it edgy, some just plain weird. One display was a wall full of plaster casts of female genitalia. Very strange, not especially erotic and the main question in my mind was ‘how was it done?’ Gallery information can be found here: There’s a good newspaper piece about it here:
My hostel was on the edge of the CBD, convenient for walking to the various places of interest. Hobart is clearly on the up, with a new shopping mall and plenty of places to eat and drink. But it still seems to have some edgier places out on the, erm, edges. On Saturday I went to the famous street market, down at Salamanca Square, near the waterfront. It was certainly busy, with plenty of stalls selling clothing, trinkets, food and drink, all spread along one side of the square. There was a cruise ship in the harbour so the ‘bees’ where buzzing around the ‘honeypot’. It was a nice, sunny day, so who could blame them? I’m sure the stallholders where content. The square has been nicely restored, with cafés and street sculpture.


Street sculpture with an Aussie flavour.

In the harbour a number of nicely restored boats were on display, as well as a couple of sailing ships used for training courses for youngsters. Straight away they put me in mind of Maria, the Danish woman I met on the ferry between Russia to Japan. She’d been on one such voyage as a teenager and is now a master mariner. These trips are great for building confidence and teamwork skills, although I don’t suppose very many participants go on the become Captains. The harbour area generally is very visitor friendly too.


Nicely restored boats.

Nearby is the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, a marvellous place in which to while away an afternoon. The complex includes some of the island’s oldest buildings, from the time when the port’s main function was to provision the prison and settlers. There is a smorgasbord of displays: the history of settlement; indigenous culture; natural sciences; art from colonial times to modern day. Three displays grabbed my attention. The geology of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean; all about how the polar currents work and recent discoveries about undersea mountains in the region. In the wildlife gallery was the sad tale of the Tasmanian Tiger, hunted to extinction by pastoralists, who were paid a bounty by the government. The last one was killed in the 1930s, before naturalists were able to do anything to save them. The even sadder story of the indigenous people, who were displaced, tricked and also hunted almost to extinction. They fought hard to protect their land, especially after settlers began to fence it. In the end the only remaining Tasmanian Aboriginals were those living on some of the Bass Strait islands, until they were also forcibly removed because settlers wanted the land. Some survived and recently they were given back these islands, so their numbers are growing now. Read more here:


Tasmanian Tiger.


An Aboriginal point of view about Australia Day.

I took a ride out to Bruny Island, lying just off the coast, south of Hobart. Accessible only by ferry, it’s a place of natural beauty and is really two islands connected by a very narrow neck of land. As I rode along it I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before global warming caused the sea to wash away the road, like an incoming tide eating away at a sandcastle. But for now it provides a place where visitors can climb a steep path to a 360 degree lookout point, or stay close to the beach to watch penguins coming home at dusk. I rode around both islands, mostly on gravel trails, and enjoyed the scenery. It’s easy to see why tourists like the islands. There’s some lovely bays, good fishing and plenty of trails for keen walkers and cyclists.


The connecting road between north and south islands. How long before swimming will be necessary?

My last day out before leaving Hobart was to the former penal settlement at Port Arthur. First opened in 1830, it was built to replace the one at Sarah Island. It closed in 1877, by which time most of the prisoners were too old to work. During its busiest period there were around 1200 prisoners, male, female and children. The settlement was expected to be self sufficient, earning its keep from timber felling, boat building, brick making and coal mining. It was a place for dealing with secondary offenders, as Sarah Island had been, and was another place of cruel punishments. An English prison reformer, Jeremy Bentham, had studied new prisons in Pennsylvania, USA, and brought these ideas back to England. London saw the building of Pentonville prison, based on these ideas. His thinking was to replace physical punishment with a regime of psychological control, a system designed to be a ‘machine for grinding rogues into honest men’. The system was adopted at Port Arthur and led to the construction of the Separate Prison, where those not responding to a diet of moral and religious instruction were kept in separate cells and not allowed to communicate with anyone. Even the pews in the church had single seats, closed off from those next to them. In some cases it worked, but in many others it simply drove people mad.


18th century view of the prison system. It was adopted with enthusiasm.

Once the settlement closed, the buildings and land were sold off but it wasn’t long before tourists started to visit so some of them were retained and refurbished, to be used as museums and hotels. Today there is a huge complex of old buildings, some in ruins but many still intact. It covers the area of a small town and the scale of it was the most surprising thing to me. Another surprise was the ability to wander round the site, in and out of the buildings, with almost no supervision and right up until dusk. It’s a big site and you can get a lift in electric carts around it. I was amused to discover that all the staff are constantly on the lookout for people who fly drones over the site, trying to take unofficial photographs. I wondered if they shot them down but it seems not.
Talking of shooting. Does the evil of a place remain in the walls or maybe the ground? I ask because in 1996 a Port Arthur man named Martin Bryant killed thirty five people and injured many others, in and around the town. It began with the killing of some local people he had a grudge against but soon changed into random shootings. More details here, if you want to read them: As a result the federal government, with the support of state governments, introduced nationwide controls on access to weapons. There have been no similar shootings since. USA take note!


Separated pews in the church. Prisoners weren’t allowed to talk to each other but they used to sing instead.


Some of the old Port Arthur buildings.

With a ferry to be caught soon, albeit at the other end of the island, Hobart had to be left behind. Tasmania isn’t very big, as I’ve already said. From Arthur Port to ferry port is less than three hundred kilometres, although my planned ride up the east coast would add some extra. But I didn’t intend to do it in one day, even though could. I’d studied the tourist guide and had marked a couple of places to visit. I’d even found a hostel in which to stay, en route. Talking of hostels, I was pleased to be leaving this one. It was a bit run down and trying to get a good night’s sleep had been closer to living under a motorway bridge than I would have liked. The traffic was constant.
There is a very long bridge that crosses the Derwent River, on the way out of Hobart. Last time I rode it the sun was shining on the hills in the distance. This time all I could see ahead was cloud. I zipped up my jacket and settled in for a wet ride. And I wasn’t disappointed, if you see what I mean. Despite being very damp, it wasn’t cold and the roads were good. Soon enough I arrived at the small town of Bicheno, and stopped at a motorcycle museum, as mentioned in the tourist brochure. It was small and displayed a variety of 1950s, 60s and 70s bikes, collected together by the enthusiastic owner. There were even some for sale, had I been tempted. All of them were from my youth even if many of them, like the Benelli Six, had been way out of my price range. When I was young my budget sometimes stretched to a number with one zero on the end, definitely not three!

Afterwards I was glad to find a café and bakery, as are often present in Aussie high streets. These small places usually have speciality products and I happily discovered the delicious delights of a lamb and rosemary pie. With the hot coffee, I was now nicely warmed up and the rain had stopped too.
Moving on up the twisty road I came to the Natural World Sanctuary. Imagine for a moment that you’re walking through the Tassie bush and you hear the crunching of bones being eaten. You sneak a bit closer and you see a small, dark haired mammal eating a dead animal for its dinner. It looks up, sees you and suddenly you’re faced with a mouth full of large, sharp teeth and a pair of ears glowing bright red, like a bulb behind a hairy lampshade. You’ve just met a Tasmanian Devil, one of Tassie’s indigenous marsupials.


Tassie Devil. The white markings help disguise them at night.

The sanctuary had lots of them. It was big and was full of pretty much all the mammals and birds Southern Australia and Tasmania has to offer. With the sun now shining, I enjoyed a couple of hours looking around. I was able to watch the Devils being fed and also learn all about their habits from the guide. Here’s a brief overview of what they’re about.
Firstly, they are Marsupial Mammals, nothing unusual for Australia. They live about five or six years and weigh around 6-8kg. Their name comes from their appearance. Their ears contain many blood vessels and when necessary they will suffuse with blood. Even just with the light behind them they look bright red. They have the strongest jaws of any mammal, relative to their size. Strong enough to bite through a human femur. They will eat mostly carrion and any live animals they can find. At breeding time, the female is kidnapped by the strongest male in the area, is taken to his den and is held captive there for a week or so, in a near comatose state. He spends that time impregnating her, to use the politest phrase I can think of. If this were humans behaving like that the tabloids would be having a field day! However, at the end of that period the tables are turned and she kicks him out of the den while she is gestating. After twenty one days she gives birth to around 25-30 young, 60% of whom will not survive. She only has four teats and competition is fierce. Devils eat small animals and carrion so the dead young help feed the mother.

Unfortunately they have one weakness. They are susceptible to catching a contagious form of cancer. The result is very nasty mouth tumours, which continue to grow until they can no longer eat. This sanctuary has a breeding programme, based around cancer free animals, which are kept out on an island. They attempt to spread the gene pool as widely as possible, especially as some schools of thought believe a narrow gene pool assists the spread of the cancer. They are also experimenting with a vaccine. Why go to all this trouble? The Devil is a vitally important animal to the ecosystem of Tasmania. They help keep down populations of feral cats and dogs by denying them carrion to eat. More importantly, they keep down the population of foxes, who are a real threat to native species. Other breeding programmes help support wallaby populations too. I don’t like zoos much but sanctuaries like these are valuable and aid the survival of threatened species. I thought it was great.
The day’s ride ended in St Helens, a small town near the coast. I’d put the hostel address in the GPS but when I got to the location, no sign of it. After I’d scouted around a bit I went into the reception of a motel, where a nice woman told me it had closed down. “But I’ve got vacancies” she said, “normally $80 for a double room but I’ll do you one for $70.” That was still more than twice what I would have paid in a hostel but the alternative was to camp. “I can’t really afford that, how about $50?” I said, with an expectant smile. She said she couldn’t go that low so we settled on $60. I was happy enough with that as I was still a bit damp and the tent didn’t appeal very much. “The only problem with a motel room,” I said to her, “is that I can’t cook for myself.” “Not to worry” She said, “how about if I put you in a family room, for the same price. There’ll be a microwave and a kettle in there.” That was good enough for me. So I ended up in a five bedded, two room unit for only $60. End of season days have their advantages. I was almost tempted to hang a sign on the door to see if there were any takers for the spare beds.


Lichen covered rocks, looking quite fiery.

My last day in Tasmania was sunnier and warmer so my ride out to look at the Bay of Fires was more enjoyable. Bay of Fires? A strange name and one which a tourist brochure suggested was earned by the red lichen covering many of the rocks. But when I rode out to Binalong Bay, at the southern end of the 40km long main bay, I read an info board which said it had been so named by Captain Furneaux when he saw hundreds of fires strung along the shoreline as he sailed past. They led him to believe the country was densely populated. But even so, the red lichen is very striking. A bit further up the coast I rode out to an area called The Gardens, which gave a view of most of the bay. Red rocks were everywhere.


Tin Dragon on the hillside on the road into Derby.

Retracing my wheel tracks, back to the main road, I continued my journey north and west, on a direct route to Devonport, via Launceston. At the small town of Derby I called in at the Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre. I’d seen the figure of a dragon formed by, and painted onto, some rocks on the side of the hill as I rode into the town. But I guessed the centre was more than just the story of some rock painting and I was right. It was all about the mining activity which centred on the town and the ‘Tin Rush’ which led to it. It was the Chinese that first found tin in the area, while looking for gold. They built a 48km water race to get the essential liquid across to their mines. Eventually the town decided to build a dam across the local Cascade River to guarantee a year round supply to Derby Mine, the biggest in the area. High pressure water was needed to separate the tin from the overlying rock. It’s easy to see the effects of this, where hillsides have been removed and great heaps of spoil left behind. But in 1929 nature took her revenge. Five days of solid rain in the surrounding hills, culminating with a fall of five inches in two hours, put enormous pressure on the dam. Although it had been declared ‘fit for purpose’ by inspectors, it eventually gave way under the pressure of water. The force of it rushing through the narrow valley was so great that the river reversed its flow for five miles upstream. Everything in the valley was swept away, including many houses and other buildings, and fourteen people were killed. The dam was rebuilt in the 1930’s and the mine reopened in 1937. The tin it produced was vital to the war effort.


Hillside removed, all for the tin within.

The interpretation centre did an excellent job of telling the local story as well as describing the history of tin use and mining world wide. The advances in metal technology were very significant in historical terms, even to the extent of affecting the outcome of battles when one side had better weapons because of it. The Romans probably invaded Britain partly to get hold of the tin we produced. I love history so learning new things at this place was a delight to me.
Apart from stopping at a car park for a toilet break, the rest of the journey to Devonport was uneventful. Now I wouldn’t normally write about a loo break, but the local State Emergency Service (SES) had set up a ‘revive and survive’ centre there. While travelling the roads of Australia I would often see signs with this slogan on, to encourage drivers to stop for a rest. Roadhouses and cafés will offer free coffee to drivers too. Here they were offering free tea or coffee so I was more than happy to indulge. For a small donation I could get a packet of biscuits too. Having had personal experience of the value of these organisations I happily donated.

revive and survive 2

“Have a cup tea mate.” “Thanks, don’t mind if I do.”

Devonport, despite it being Monday, was deserted. It was Labour Day bank holiday and everything in the CBD was shut. It seems all Aussies get the day off, even most waiting staff and cooks. So it was fish in a bun at MacDonald’s before heading round to board the ferry. When I got there I was amazed to see dozens of old Harleys and Indians queuing up – and I mean really old. There had been some kind of competitive event between the two marques on Tasmania, which Harley had won, “for a change,” someone told me. I discovered later that the ‘Great Race’ is held somewhere in Australia every year, the aim being to continue the early 20th C rivalry between the two marques by means of a navigation and reliability challenge. Pre-1958 bikes only, so none of those stupid looking, over the top behemoths that are sold these days. More details here:
There were hundreds of bikes waiting to board but I took advantage of some lethargy among the queuers to get on quickly. I located the cabin my berth was in then found somewhere to sit in the lounge and settled in for the evening. Time to reflect on the previous ten days.


Really old Harley, which means it’s a nice one.

Tasania is a terrific place to visit, especially on a bike. Friendly people, great roads, beautiful scenery, which is reminiscent of high Alpine passes in some places, Wales or the Lake District in others. There’s plenty to see and do and ten days wasn’t really long enough.There were loads of other bikes around because the Ulysses club were holding their annual rally on the island. ( ) But my disorganised ferry bookings meant that was all the time I had. Such a shame.



16 thoughts on “There’s Something About an Island. Part 2

    • Hi Sheila. Thanks for your kind comments.I try to make it as much about the place as it is about how I travel, so I’ pleased when that works.



  1. Clive Green says:

    Hi Geoff
    Always good to read your posts, and see what you have been doing.
    I first came across Gilbert & George when I was working in the Graphics industry. I sold them a High resolution scanner, so they could blow up their photographic images to enormous sizes for the creation of their artwork. They visited our Cheltenham factory for the day, and are true to their well publicised eccentric image, arriving in heavyweight handmade brown tweed suits in the middle of summer! Pleased to say a lot of their work went on to be displayed at Tate modern in London and many other galleries.
    Keep safe


    • Hi Clive, very good to hear from you.
      They only ever came across my radar when the made it into the papers, so I didn’t know much about them. They are definitely strange people. I know much more about them now though and I like what I saw. It seems your scanner did the trick anyway because they certainly make good use of the technique.
      Meanwhile, I’ll be back for a vist in June/July so I hope to be able to call in.
      All the best,



  2. You’ve written about somewhere that Gill and I had already visited! We were on a cruise from Auckland to Sydney two and a bit years ago and the ship called in at Hobart. We took an excursion to Port Arthur where I found the stories of the harsh treatment of the prisoners really quite distressing, Also distressing was hearing about the masssacre there, which I did recall being on UK news at the time. At least it was used to some advantage, as was the Dunblane massacre, in that it led to the ban on private ownership of guns. You’re right – the USA should really take note.

    We also called in at an animal sanctuary, where we ooooh’d and ahhhh’d at little kangaroos and koalas and gazed in amazement at Tasmanian Devils – these have to be amongst the most unappealing creatures in the world. Still, as you say, they have an important ecological role to play, so it’s good that there are people who concentrate on protecting them.

    You seem to be like a sponge, soaking up huge quantities of interesting information! ‘Motopangaea’ is a crackingly good read :o)


    • It seems I’m following in your Wake then David. But these are great places to visit and Aus is chock full of things to write about. I’m glad your’re enjoying it though.



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