So it’ s been almost a 3 year hiatus from blogging on this site. Kids certainly keep you busy! What better way to revive this blog with an entry about our recent family adventure bike touring in Tasmania?
I first floated the idea to Dave last November about the possibility of going bike touring with the kids in 2016. It was an idea I suggested with some trepidation given the young age of our kids – Jessica, 3 and Isaac not yet 1. However, being the adventurous couple that we are and that “adventure holidays” (well , family holidays in general) have been suspended for the early child rearing years we decided to take the plunge and head to the lovely apple isle, Tasmania.
We decided the cooler month of March might be best for travel, although you never know in Tasmania – it can be 4 seasons in one day.
Prior to embarking on this little adventure , we did some test runs in Canberra and surrounds. For two successive Saturdays we planned out a 60-70km route from home. The first one being fairly local around Lake Burley Griffin so that if things went pear shaped we were within a reasonable travel distance to home. Thankfully, all went quite smoothly. It was a beautiful sunny day and as we meandered our way around the lake, stopping at Black Mountain peninsula for lunch, I found my thoughts wandering to the several years that I enjoyed racing in Europe.
For the second dry run we headed from Dunlop up to Sutton and looped back via the Federal highway service road to Eagle Hawk. The first section of the route took advantage of Canberra’s great bike paths around Gungahlin and we enjoyed our first stop at the popular Forde playground. Then it was onto the pleasant undulating country roads around Sutton and a lunch stop at Eagle Hawk . We were happy that Jess and Isaac were travelling well in the back together and aside from some obligatory squawks of discontent from Isaac and some louder shrieks from Jessica about minor incidents (such as the shade cover on the trailer Velcro coming unstuck!?) we were encouraged that our Tasmania bike tour might actually come together. Sure, we weren’t going to set any speed records, averaging 19.8km/hr, but I had to turn my ex-racing brain off and keep repeating the mantra “We don’t have to get their fast, we just have to get there…”
Given it was our first family bike touring trip, we decided it would be wise to bring along Dave’s parents as a Plan B. Sure, 2 days of dry runs had gone reasonably well but 10 days might be pushing it. Besides, Michael and Jill could have a lovely scenic holiday as they drove the route and met us up for lunch and stops along the way.
March 8th – off we go! We drove down to Melbourne and took the Spirit of Tasmania ferry across Bass Strait.
The furthest car trip we had done with kids up to this point had been Sydney to Wagga, about 5 hours driving time, so Canberra to Melbourne (8 hours) was certainly a new challenge. I had half expected that Isaac would be the tricky one to contend with and would tire of things quickly. It turned out Jessica was the one asking “are we there yet” not long into the trip. It certainly wasn’t the worst of car trips but given an incredibly hot and long day, it definitely didn’t rank as one of my favourites.
Things perked up when we boarded the overnight ferry. Jess was all wide eyed and amazed that we were all going to spend the night together as a family in a cabin (yippee) and we allowed her to stay up past bedtime as we enjoyed a lovely sunset and the night lights across Port Phillip Bay.
After a long drive, Dave and I were both looking forward to a decent night’s rest. It started out ok but once the ferry had left Port Phillip Bay the rocking began. A rocking action that should (in theory) rock one to sleep, however this was far from the case as every rock forwards was accompanied by a loud bang as something rolled around in the depths of the ship. It was one of those nights where you don’t feel like you have slept at all so when the PA system came to life at 5.45am to get us out of bed and swiftly into our cars to disembark I was very much wishing that I drank coffee. Baby Isaac probably had the best sleep of all of us… which is a problem when your baby is bursting with energy and the rest of you are feeling like death warmed up.
Drive to Launceston and then ride to Scottsdale
Whilst Tasmania is an excellent place for touring, we only had 2 weeks off work so we needed to condense the bike touring part to 10 days. We would have loved to have traversed greater parts of the island but decided it was best for all involved to keep our travelling circuit to the North East section. Also it was important with little ones in a double chariot trailer being hauled behind that we selected quieter, less major roads and hopped on bike paths and rail trails where possible. So we decided on a quick drive to Launceston – 3 adults and 2 kids + all out luggage piled into our car and Michael catching the bus.
From there we unpacked the trailer from the back of our car and left Dave’s parents to some peaceful scenic driving.
We began our trip on a rail trail and were only 5km into the trip when we realised that we had left my back wheel skewer on the pavement where we had unpacked. Surprisingly it hadn’t been noticed in the first 5 km until the pressure was applied on a small rise. Definitely unsafe to continue so Dave unhitched the trailer and scooted back to retrieve it from just where we had left it. Meanwhile I hand rocked Jess and Isaac to sleep by shifting the trailer back and forth whilst sitting on the pavement!
The rail trail took us through some dodgy suburbs with lots of burnt out cars and a frustrating number of anti-car barriers which would have been navigable if you just had a bike , difficult with a bike and panniers and next to impossible with a bike, panniers and a double trailer. We ended up unhitching the trailer and lifting it (still containing 2 children) over the barriers. Who says cyclists don’t need upper body strength?!
This undesirable suburban route and the fact that it had began to rain was not the best start to our touring holiday. Once we had stopped and refuelled the children and ourselves at a tiny general store on the outskirts of Launceston, we were on our way again. Things were looking up again as we wove our way through beautiful forests and the sun began to shine. We met up with Dave’s parents in Lilydale and were grateful for lunch and a spot for the kids to explore. At this point, Jess decided that she had had enough of the trailer so jumped in the car with Nan and Grandad heading for Scottsdale. For this 2nd part of the journey Isaac, now sitting in the centre position in the trailer like Lord Muck, havd a ball without his sister and again slept for a few hours.
There was a fair bit of road works along this route requiring us to stop at temporary lights and wait for oncoming traffic. Due to the snail’s pace we were travelling at, we struggled to make it through these sections before the lights would change and we’d find ourselves directly in line with oncoming traffic. Now there’s motivation to pick up the pace!
During our test rides in Canberra we had averaged close to 20km/hr. Now that we were in Tassie, I was reminded why I had chosen to train down here during my racing career: it is hilly everywhere. If the road is not going down then it’s going up. With a single bike you can often ride the rolling hills by getting decent speed on the descent and zooming up the other side. When carrying a trailer that is incredibly hard to accelerate and acts like a parachute on the descents. Our average speed dropped to closer to 15km/hr.
Our first night in Scottsdale provided an opportunity to go platypus spotting in the creek across the road from our accommodation. Unfortunately after staring at a number of ripples on the water and encountering noisy ducks we didn’t spot any platypi. However it was still an enjoyable walk around the boardwalk in a lovely bush setting . I slept like a log that night.
Scottsdale to St Helens
This was our big distance day so we decided to aim to leave at 8.30am. Turns out we left closer to 9am but that’s the reality when you not only have to get yourself ready but two little ones. Isaac kept wanting to crawl around the car park whilst we were packing the car and Jessica was busying herself in the owner’s veggie garden. Nan and Grandad had a nice quiet morning to themselves as they explored Scottsdale and enjoyed rhubarb smoothies.
The rail trail at the start of this ride was quite bumpy in parts which really turned up Isaac’s discontentment dial. He whinged, bit his sister, pulled her hair and of course she reacted with as much punch as possible. I was grateful for my headphones blaring music for this section as I hauled a trailer full of yelling kids. It was slow travelling with a steady uphill gradient of about 3% for 15km but again it was enjoyable to be out riding in the cooler part of the morning, riding through stunning forests.
By the time we arrived at Bruxholm for lunch, some 3 hours later, we had only travelled 25km of the 108km trip. Jessica was definitely over it by now and begging to join Nan and Grandad in the car. Turns out she enjoyed cheese tasting, milkshakes, waterfalls and a playground visit… all before arriving at St Helens for the night.
Zac again enjoyed the solitude of the trailer and drifted off to sleep as Dave and I rotated turns pulling the trailer, travelling up and down the mountain ranges on the way to St Helens. A real treat was travelling through the bike friendly town of Derby. Once a deserted old mining town, it has been transformed into a MTB mecca and has hosted top National events. As we travelled through on the road, both of us were wondering if Isaac would notice if we suddenly took a detour off road and zigzagged through some single trails. 🙂
By 3.30pm we still had a few hours to go which would include climbing over another mountain range and the rain had begun to set in. We called the grandparents for a pick up and Dave finished off alone still towing an empty trailer so we could get the kids settled in the overnight cabins before their bed times.
Rest day in St Helens
It poured throughout the night and the rain was still heavy in the morning. We faced the challenge after 2 days of riding of washing and drying a heap of clothes. (I wasn’t too keen on wearing wet knicks the next day!) The driers at Big 4 St Helens were getting a work out by many campers. Thankfully we didn’t have to endure cabin fever with the kids all day as an afternoon break in the weather allowed us to explore the town of St Helens and then go for a nice drive to the white sands of Binalong Bay. We stopped off at Taylors Beach, off the Gardens road where the kids tumbled and rolled in sand ( and Isaac ate it). Of course they managed to get sand into every crevice of themselves as well as bring half the beach into the car. Did I mention that Dave loves sand?!
St Helens to Bicheno
This was my favourite day thus far as the road hugged the coast, the sun was out and we had a nice cross tailwind allowing to push the pace.
We had a morning tea break at Falmouth (yep, pronounced foulmouth!) where we met some friendly grey nomads who were impressed with our efforts and commended on us our useful hand signals whilst on the open roads. After a 30 minute stop we powered onto Bicheno. Along this coast there were very few reserves to stop at so we ended up having lunch on a farmers driveway. I had time trialled for a solid 35km with the trailer and was at the point of cracking it on all fronts so it was a refuel just 10km from our next night’s stop at Bicheno. A highlight of our final section was watching an echidna bumbling across the road – a sight you are most likely to miss when driving.
We arrived at the family backpackers in Bicheno and was grateful for free wifi , showers and a yummy dinner again catered by Michael and Jill. Bicheno is renowned for its fairy penguin populations coming up onto the beach in the twilight evenings. We ventured out at dusk and sat for about an hour. Unfortunately no penguin sightings this evening – just plenty of mosquitoes.
Bicheno to Coles Bay (and Isaac turns 1!)
We woke to steady rain and given it wasn’t a scheduled rest day, it was back to riding in the rain. Managed a later 10am checkout time for Isaac to open some presents and play with the paper before riding towards Coles Bay.
We made good time today as I was feeling energetic and it was only 33km. Just like a race time trial really – except I’m hauling 35 kg of children and trailer. We encountered intermittent rain for the first half and then the sun peeped through the clouds as we rolled into Coles Bay. It’s an absolute gorgeous part of the world-crystal clear waters surrounded by craggy mountain ranges.
We spent the afternoon splashing around at Richardson’s beach. It was pretty fresh in the water but that doesn’t usually deter kids and we found ourselves carrying two shivering children back to our cottage. We finished the day with a celebratory cupcake for Isaac who looked pretty chuffed with himself.
Rest day in Coles Bay
I decided that I couldn’t resist a ride through Freycinet National park and managed a solo ride up to the Cape Tourville lighthouse. The sealed road leading up to the lighthouse is steep and reminded me of the Muur of Fleche Wallonia. The view from the top is stunning and well worth the trip. I returned with the kids in the afternoon and luckily I had Isaac held close in a sling as we were almost blown away by the force of the wind on the 600m viewing boardwalk.
Coles Bay to Launceston
We had a small problem – 4 adults and 2 kids weren’t going to all fit in our car and given that we needed to cover a large distance (190k from Coles Bay to Launceston) one of us was going to need to ride. Dave planned a nice quiet cycling route that ran parallel to the major highway running from Campbelltown to Launceston. It was always going to be a huge riding day for Dave but he was up for the challenge and left at 6.30am.
Hearing the early departure, the kids were also up at the crack of dawn (there is no such thing as a leisurely morning anymore!) and we packed up the cottage and the rest of us set of for the drive. We stopped at the “Pondering Frog cafe” (just after the Coles Bay turn off) to sample their homemade berry ice cream. Nothing to rave about but Jess certainly devoured her kid’s size cone. We passed Dave as he was approaching Campbelltown and all stopped for lunch in a little park near RedBridge cafe, which had a yummy range of gluten free food. I decided to join Dave for the last 80km stretch of back country roads to Launceston. Isaac was keen for a sleep and again enjoyed the solitude in the trailer, whilst Jessica relished 1 on 1 time (or is that 1 on 2 time?) with Nan and Grandad.
We were able to travel along smooth, traffic free roads at a decent speed with a roaring tailwind. The only problem was that there were no rest areas or villages for about 50km. Fortunately Zac slept the time away. As we rolled into Launceston, I was enjoying the descent with the trailer so much that I missed Dave’s calls to turn off to our accommodation half way down. We endured an extra 5km to an already long trip to top off the day – but I’m sure Dave will forgive me eventually.
Our accommodation was in an old 2 storey B and B called Windmill Lodge which was in need of significant renovations and it was a squeeze for 4 adults, however the breakfast was amazing and given that we were still catching up on food from the epic day before, we spent a long time at the buffet. 🙂
Launceston to Deloraine
On day 8 we travelled at a nice casual pace for the 50km trip from Launceston to Deloraine. We stopped at a small village called Carrick for the kids to play and run off some energy. This didn’t seem to do a huge deal of good as our second leg of the trip was spent having stern words with each kid as they attempted to kill the other in the trailer. I think the trip was starting to take its toll, which wasn’t too bad considering we had made it to Day 8. Deloraine is a lovely town with plenty places to stock up on food. We stayed in a nice roomy house with views of the mountains.
Deloraine to Devonport
We had made it to our final riding day! Once again it was raining which was not at all an issue for the kids with the rain cover and the excellent waterproofing on our Chariot trailer (I’m very glad we had invested in a good quality double trailers – it’s had good use and really lasted the significant riding time and load we’ve placed on it). Dave had mapped out some nice quiet roads off the main highway which had us stopping for a break at Kimberly – a tiny village with thermal springs. Whilst the springs were not so warm, it was a nice spot with a pond for some eel spotting and trees for Isaac to peel bark from! I really felt I was loafing on this last day of riding as I was without panniers or trailer. It felt great to be free of all loads so I mixed it up with some hill sprints and short efforts. One could almost call it training again. 🙂 No I’m not planning a return to a racing career but was thinking it was going to have me fitter for the Thursday women’s ride in Canberra (the WIP ride) which we have just started.
The final 10km into Devonport along the river was very pleasant and we finished up for lunch at the Rectory – a unique cafe right near the ferry terminal. Our last night was squished into a cabin at the windy shores of East Devonport Big 4 and unfortunately not an optimal night’s rest with both Jess and Isaac deciding that going to sleep was overrated and that waking up before 6am was the new trend.
Drive to Ulverstone and Penguin
We had coped pretty well with the 4 of us and extended family but by day 10, Dave and his parents were after a quiet day before boarding the ship home. I decided to take Jess and Isaac to the berry farm at Taylors beach just out of Devonport. It’s a cool spot where you pick your own strawberries, blackberries and raspberries and muck around in the hay bales and sandpits. From there we did a tour of the playgrounds of Penguin and Ulverstone as we wiled away the afternoon before catching the ferry overnight back to Devonport.
Drive Melbourne to Canberra
Once off the ferry, we visited some friends in St Kilda for breakfast before setting off on the long car trip back to Canberra. We had all slept better on the return ferry, nevertheless an 8 hour driving trip left us all feeling like we needed another holiday to unwind. Arriving home Saturday night, it was back to the grind on Monday morning.
I can genuinely say that it was a successful first family cycling holiday and hope there are many more adventures to follow. 🙂 We already talking about our next bike touring trip to New Zealand so it can’t have been too bad.