Preface: Tasmania is a beautiful, hilly, windy and rainy island, and I mean it in this order. And Tasmania is a dream destination for your bike tour.
I have cycled once around Tasmania, and I received excellent support by some very experienced Tassie-tourers and tourism pros. Some of the following tips are mine, some are the advices I have received myself.
Are you ready for all the advices I can think of, to help you do your Tasmania bike tour? If you’ve got any further questions, I am happy to answer them in the comments below.
Here we go:
- Tasmania is part of Australia, and all of Australia has this stupid helmet law. So by law you must wear a helmet. I am wearing my helmet on all the photos of me cycling. But who knows, in remote areas with no other traffic I might have done that just for the photo. I am European after all.
And yes, a helmet will very likely protect you. I am not against a helmet, I am just against a helmet law – because in total it increases the number of injuries (by reducing the number of bike rides). But let’s not discuss this here.
- Remember the ozone hole? The sun in Tasmania has no mercy with your unprotected skin. You may get a severe sunburn within 10 minutes. Get good sunscreen with a factor of 30 or more (you will find it literally in every shop in Australia) and apply it twice a day. The time from 12 – 14 is worst. The back of your hands will suffer the most from the sun. And don’t forget your ears.
- When the sun is not shining in Tasmania, then it is probably raining (or night). The west coast has more than 300 days of rain per year, and it is very likely that you will be riding in a few of those. So get good rain protection, and also have one or two spare days to hide from the rain in the worst case.
I was carrying a lightweight rain jacket, rain proof pants with zippers on the outside, rain covers for my shoes (and I used them several times) plus rain covers for my gloves (which I never used).
Remember that breathable rain gear needs a significant temperature difference between inside and outside. When it is almost as warm outside of your cloths as inside, then all the sweat will basically stay inside. That’s why even the best rain coat is not really working on a summer day once you sweat for a while.
- Besides sun and rain you may also have to cope with the temperature. Especially the cold temperature. Especially when it is raining anyway. Remember that the temperature can drop as much as 15 degrees celsius within a day. There might be snow up in the mountains even during summer.
I was freezing quite often on my bike tour. Actually freezing and sweating at the same time. And yes, I was wearing layers of the best functional clothes (merino, fleece, gore tex). Staying comfortable while riding in the cold is sometime simply not possible. Just get over it ;)
- Besides sun, rain and temperature there is just one more force of nature left to be mentioned: the wind. In fact the wind along the coast can be quite mean for cyclists. If you have to choose between an uphill and a headwind, go for the uphill.
- For both rain and wind I was using some apps (on iOS): the Apple weather app (which is using Yahoo weather) plus MeteoEarth for a good wind forecast. Remember that the wind in Tasmania is usually blowing a) strong and b) in circles. Meaning that there might be a very different wind in each corner of the island.
- When trying to escape the rain ahead of me, I was often using the Apple weather app for each of the towns along my way. You don’t believe how different the weather can be at slightly different places in Tasmania. So I could see that the sun would come out in Strahan before it did so in Zeehan, meaning that I started in Strahan with one hour of rain (actually the only one of my whole tour) knowing that I would not be cycling in the rain for long. That strategy worked very well to avoid most of the rain.
- Speaking of Apps. They (at least sometimes) need a network. There is by far no alternative to Telstra in Tasmania. It has the very best coverage. And, guess what, it is the most expensive one for data. But sill, I got my pre-paid data card at one of the many Telstra shops in Melbourne and re-charged my data volume once every 5 days or so by 2 GB via Paypal from abroad. In the end I paid maybe 65 AUD for 14 days exzessive use of the internet.
- For a map I was using mostly Google Maps. It is by far not perfect for cyclists, but fast and ok, because there are not many roads in Tasmania anyway. What I missed most with Google Maps on my iPhone was the elevation charts for my tour ahead. Google basically does not tell you (in the app) about the hills ahead of you.
- For a better usability I was also using two maps on paper. I got both of them at fuel stations in Tasmania, one was nice, the other one had elevation lines (to estimate climbs).
- Why are paper maps better? And why is the founder of Bikemap using paper maps? Well, you can easily write stuff on paper. And with every fellow cyclist I met, I exchanged advices for the roads. That all went to the paper map.
- To see the ups and downs ahead of me (day-wise planning), I also used both the website (for route planning) and the app (to see it on my way) of Bikemap. Both are free, and as a disclaimer: I founded Bikemap. But still, I am only using it, because I think in terms of elevation it is the best mobile planning tool out there.
- And another insight: Bikemap has been improving even faster than ever since 2015 for a new business setup that attracted some investors.
- A word about navigation: there are not many roads in Tasmania. I started with my phone mounted on my handle bar, but I quickly removed it. You do not need to look on a map more than once every few hours, simply because you will be following that one road for quite a while long.
- My general rule after having cycled all over Tasmania: the smaller the road, the better. Try to avoid the highways as often as possible.
- The only parts of the trip I did not enjoy were those along too busy roads.
- So again: take every side road you can find!
- All paper maps I saw were very accurate in the distinction of the road surface (paved or gravel). But there are gravel roads and gravel roads. Some can be as smooth as asphalt for a cyclist, others have those annoying corrugations that drive any cyclist crazy and stress both bike, equipment and rider. Ask around, and people will tell you about the road conditions.
- If you want to cycle the best parts of Tasmania you will also be using gravel roads. Have good tires for that, always well pressurized. I went around with quite thin 32 mm tires (Schwalbe Marathon Supreme 622/32), and I would not recommend going any thinner. I had one „snake bite“, a double puncture, and I am sure it would not have happened with wider tires.
- Remember that it is much more likely to get a puncture if your tire is not pumped well.
- Wider tires are much (much much) more comfortable on bumpy gravel roads.
- Tasmania is very hilly, you lowest gear should be 30/34 on a 622 (which is 28″) wheel at least. When I started my tour, I had a 30/30 on my 622 wheels, which I did not feel well equipped with, so I got it changed in Hobart for the even more hilly west of Tasmania – which was a good idea. A 30/34 means, that the smallest front gear has 30 teeth and the largest gear at the rear has 34 teeth. Both together make the lowest speed of my bike. This means one full rotation of the pedals is 30/34 = 0.88 rotations of the wheel of my bike (which has a diameter of 700 mm or 28 inch, and thus a circumference of 2.170 meters. One rotation of the pedals moves the bike by 0.88 x 2.2 m = 1.94 meters. Or enables me to comfortably ride as slow as 7 km/h, which I consider as just slow enough for Tasmania with a loaded bike. With my 30/30 it would was 2.2 meters instead of 1.94, or a 14% faster gear.
- I was using another very helpful app: WikiCamp. It is not free, but it shows all campsite (and more) all over Australia. It was quite accurate. And especially it shows the for cyclists very important fact whether or not there is fresh water supplied on a campground.
- I did not bring my water filter. And you don’t have to bring yours. Tasmania has either enough water tabs around (middle and east) or clean water that you can drink from the rivers and creeks (west). At least that is what I did and what most other cyclists did.
- I was carrying two simple 1 liter water bottles on my bike and an Ortlieb 4 liter water bag (great stuff, get one!) that I sometimes filled up as a backup, but most of the times it stayed empty.
- Some campgrounds did not offer much, but they charged a lot. I paid 40 AUD to set up my tiny tent in Corinna, and even for a shower I had to pay extra. I’d rather sleep in the bush for the next time.
- I was using my Hilleberg Rogen tent, a storm proof and still lightweight tent. I also have a lighter and smaller tent, but I decided to go save and stay comfortable even in a rain for some days. But I never stayed longer in my tent but for sleeping in the night, so that was an extra weight that I did not make use of. My other tent is a Mountain Hardwear, Supermega UL 2 which is 1 kg lighter and would have been good, too.
- There are cheap flights from Melbourne to Hobart (and Launceston), some for just 40 AUD, usually with Jetstar.
- I did not like to fly with my bike again, so I took the ferry Spirit of Tasmania from Melbourne to Devonport. That is wonderful down to earth night cruise, and I could literally cycle onto the ferry with my loaded bike.
- I booked a single cabin with window. And it turned out to be the most expensive way to get to Tasmania, some 360 AUD one way. Next time I would rather book just a bed (in a cabin of 4) or not even a bed at all.
- They take great care of your bike on the Spirit of Tasmania. Remember it is called a push bike in Australia. They charge just 5 AUD for a bike.
- You will need a National Parks Passe for Tasmania to enter some of the parks. You get those passes not (!) at the entrance of every park, but on the ferry and in any visitor information center. I have heard of a German cyclist who forgot to get one and still went into the parks.
- I did carry my stove (MSR Whisperlite International) with an aluminum bottle for liquid fuel, which is called methylated spirit in Australia, and you get it in any outdoor store for almost no money.
- For safety reasons you cannot transport such fuel on the ferry. So I had to dump it upon boarding in Melbourne and get new fuel in Launceston.
- Lonely Planet is wrong, there is no longer a punt / boat connecting both sides of the Freycinet National Park (connecting Coles Bay with Dolphin Sands Road). If you cycle in, you have to cycle out the way you came in.
- It is very easy to find out if a snake is venomous in Tasmania: yes. Why that? Because there are only venomous snakes in Tasmania. If you see one, keep distance. If you see one the seems to be dead (and hell, you will see many dead snakes), still keep distance, since you don’t want to be surprised by the snake’s last reflexes.
- If a snake bites you (well, better get more advice about that than from me), keep calm, don’t run, don’t cycle hard, just wait for the next car to bring you in a hospital. Your bike tour might be over, but you life will go on.
- If you hike in the bush you might want to protect your ankles against snake bites. For example by the rain cover of your shoes. Everybody from Tasmania I met does not do that. But still, better safe than bitten. And make some noise, so the snakes will disappear anyway.
- Talking about hikes: do them! I did not hike much, but I had some walks into the rain forest, whenever there was a path. Especially when there was a water fall to walk to. And those walks were some highlights of my tour. Go in there, and have a look for snakes to not step onto one. And, honestly, I only saw dead snakes, not a single one living.
- A word about coffee: Australia is coffee heaven, almost as good as Italy. And I know what I am talking about, because I am both addicted and a trained barista. In every tiny corner you find a café serving really good coffee. And I am talking about espresso based coffee, usually more sour than in Europe and more often pure Arabica.
- Except… well, except if they are closed. And the cafés in Australia are almost always closed. The might open as early as 7 in the morning, but be sure that they will be closing in the early afternoon for the day.
- I was also carrying my whole espresso equipment: glass, beans, grinder, Airspresso (to be used with the bike pump), and I liked it. But honestly, even without my own coffee equipment I would have had one or two coffees a day almost without much exception. So expect a good coffee coverage!
- Some people may tell you that it west of Tasmania is not worth visiting. Know what, they are lying. Some tour operators started spreading out that lie just because they did not want to drive that far (from their home on the west coast) for their customers. And somehow that news got multiplied. But still, the opposite is true. I had my best cycling days in the remote west, as had it everybody I talked to.
- The east is nice, populated, civilized and has some beautiful beaches.
- The west is remote, has beautiful and unique rainforests, almost no car traffic and also great beaches. Well, and to be honest, it also has some more hills and much more rain.
- How much time do you need for a bike tour in Tasmania? Well, that – of course – depends. I did it in 10 cycling days, but that was too much of a race. I had simply ran out of time for Australia (after a business deal in Melbourne had taken too long) and my flights were all booked and the next trip was already booked, too. So I sped up and was in a constant hurry. I advise you to take 3 weeks for that loop. Or even 4 weeks. The route I did was good, you can follow it (details are on the map of my bike tour in Tasmania). But please do cycle the tiny extensions of my tour that I was not able to cycle. There is basically one in each corner of the Island:
- Detour 1: Cycle the gravel roads to the Mount William National Park and Mount Pearson State Reserver in the north east of Tasmania (plus 1 day)
- Detour 2: Cycle into Freycinet National Park (and same way out again) on the east coast (plus 1 day)
- Detour 3: Cycle south from Dunnaley and do the loop around the beautiful (plus 2 days)
- Detour 4: Cycle south of Hobart either around Snug Tiers (plus 1 day) or even to Bruny Island (pus 2-3 days)
- Detour 5: You may cycle into the huge National Park to Lake Gordon – honestly I don’t know how good that detour is. All I know is, that you must cycle out the same way.
- Detour 6: And finally (and I really mean this one) just north of Corinna take I left (where I went right) and go another 122 km on a very hilly gravel road to the across Arthur river back to the paved A2. Everybody I met and who went there, was excited about this part.
- You can start your tour either in the north (flying in to Launceston or coming by ferry from Melbourne to Devonport) or from Hobart in the south (arriving by plane). Both is good, and I liked the ferry ride most, since it is hassle free for the bike.
- You can go either clockwise or counter clockwise. Both is good and about the same, except for the wind. I went clockwise, and I had tailwind most of the time. But that was much luck. I heard that clockwise is the way to go, and honestly, I forgot why. Probable because of the wind.
- A good read is the PDF about cycling Tasmania by Tasmania Tourism. Unfortunately it is only from 2010 and has never been updated since.
- Dear Tasmania Tourism, I know who of you is reading this blogpost: Every (!) single cyclist I met along my tour had downloaded this PDF and used it for their tour planning. So please do sustainable tourism and update it on a regular basis.A ll cyclists will thank you! And please don’t re-print it on paper. Nobody can make use of it once they are in Tasmania and might get it here. We do need it as A4 or letter to print it at home.
- A good inspiration for a decision to cycle Tasmania is (I am so blunt) my photos story.
- And the Instagram account of Tasmania Tourism, where they constantly re-post good photos that were hashtagged with #discovertasmania. Great stuff that makes you want to go there.
- I promised 50 tips, didn’t I? Well, I cheated. This list is being continued as I receive more and more questions and put the answers here.
I wrote 2 more articles about cycling Tasmania: