Friday, April 4, 2014

Tasmania: A Small Town Kind of Island

Gates of Hell, Strahan River Cruise, Tasmania

The drier side of Tasmania

Small towns are delightful!  In a small town, there is always a friendly air; everyone knows everyone, for good or for bad (for good in my case!).  You walk in to the local store or cafe, they greet you, and talk to you like they’ve known you for years.  By listening to other people’s conversations you can tell that life is calm in a small town.  There is no sense of urgency and the smallest events become big news.  People are resourceful in small towns, making do with the simple pleasures in life and limited material possessions.  It’s like there is a time warp in small towns, which can feel foreign or backwards for big city people.  However, I embrace the small town feel and that is exactly why I’m in heaven in Tasmania. I cherish the change of pace in life over here compared to mainland Australia.

Everyone knows everyone in a small town and the same holds true for Tasmania. It actually feels like everyone here knows me!  Just this morning boarding the boat for the Gordon River cruise, the ticket lady told me, “You made it! I saw you yesterday on my way over from Queenstown on those hills and I didn’t know if you were going to make it!” She is one of many to tell me that.  When I stop for a break at a cafe, restaurant, or store, before I can even say hello, someone comes up to me and says something along the lines of…..“We saw you back in……”  “Wow! You are already here? We passed you back in……” , or in disbelief they say, “I can’t believe you made it here already…….”  Everyone seems to know me here and naturally they’re inclined to converse. 

After my first day of cycling, after setting up camp in a deserted caravan park in a town with one pub and no more than 10 houses, I walked to the local pub to treat myself to an evening beer and basket of chips (sometimes, I indulge in the healthiest of food!).  The bar man greeted me and said, “I thought you would make it here! I saw you back outside of Ouse.”  I, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure I was going to make it.  The hills were grueling, but even worse was the head wind that slowed me down to about 13 kilometers per hour on the flats.  Unfortunately he told me I hadn’t seen anything in terms of hills, and needed to prepare myself for what was coming. 

Great roads for cycling if you don't mind the hills

There isn’t an extensive road network in Tasmania and there is very little traffic.  The main highway here in Tas is no wider than an alleyway in a big city, yet it’s the main thoroughfare that circumnavigates the entire periphery of the island.  I can go kilometers without being passed by a car in either direction.  And when the cars and trucks do pass, I always get a friendly wave.  There isn’t a shoulder for cyclist, but so far the drivers seem to welcome me sharing the road, the total opposite from the way drivers treated me on mainland.  Towns are sparse along the road however, and I have to be careful to plan my days carefully based on water and food stops as well as camp sites.

I was proud of my firemaking skills-got everything dried in no time at all!

Tasmania is rough and wild.  There are hills galore and they are steep.  I have yet to see a proper switchback.  The landscapes are reminiscent of New Zealand more than mainland Australia, however, distances are in miniature in comparison to the south island.  The climate is just as brutal as the roads.  My first day cycling, the temperatures got up to 30 degrees, but two days later, they never went about 10 degrees.  In fact, the first night, the sky was so beautiful and it was pleasantly warm, I decided to sleep without my rain flap.  In the wee hours of the morning I woke up to powerful roaring winds, followed by a huge storm that dropped buckets of rain on me.  My tent is waterproof but I hate packing up wet so I quickly brought all my gear into the camper’s kitchen which was vacant, and started to dry out my things.  I saw a fireplace and thought, that would be the fastest way to get things dry.  Remind you, part of being in a small town is being resourceful.  You don’t have many extra amenities and so you learn go back to using the simplest of things in life.  After all those years of watching my Dad and Walter start a fire at the beach house and home, I was proud of myself for getting a fire started in the wooden stove in the campers kitchen.  I had my clothes and tent all dried out in the matter of a few hours and was able to set out again once the rain stopped. 

Where else was I suppose to hang my fresh washed clothes while I went on the river cruise?!?!?

Other examples of resourcefulness on this small island (shameful or not)….I’ve got a running list.  When hot showers are hard to come by, I’ve found hot water taps in public restrooms at visitor centers to take extensive sponge baths.  I’ve done laundry in public toilets and laid them all across my bike and bags while parking it out back establishments,….and I’m becoming a frequent user of Tassie’s public libraries where you can also find free coffee and tea, internet access and hot showers,….yes, hot showers at a library, a great invention indeed!  Oh, and there is a delicious chain of bakeries that always has free samples.  If you stay long enough, they switch them out so I’m able to try two or three varieties of sweet treats all for free, after purchasing a coffee of course.

Rob and Lynne's camper van set-up.  Pretty snazzy, I pitched my tent under their awning

An eclectic mix of tourists at the hotel for dinner.  None-the-less, delightful company!

The tourists here on Tassie are definitely an older crowd, but I tell you, retired Aussies are an absolute delight and treat me like a very important cyclist.  Take for example Rob and Lynne who I met my first night riding at the caravan park.  Rob had seen my fire in the camper’s kitchen and couldn’t help but come over an join me.  We talked a bit before I headed out, and then later on that same day they found me again, just before I stopped for the day at Lake St. Clair.   I was going to camp there and have a quiet evening to myself, but they spotted me on the road, flagged me down, and invited me to dinner back at the hotel in town.  I could set up camp under their camper van awning, just to avoid any rain, and have some delightful company. You know me, I never turn down an offer for good company, nor food, so I after visited the lake, I headed back into town to meet them.

Not many big city hotels would let you dry your bike knicks in front of the fire and the rest of the clients!

We had a wonderful meal together in the hotel restaurant and instantly bonded.  They were a traveling duo, from up north in Queensland, each with their own children and grand children and enjoy each other’s company traveling.  Lynne is paralyzed from the legs down but has had a camper van designed and tailored to her needs so that she can travel completely independently.  Rob comes along for the ride and the two set off to travel around Tasmania for a month.  Rob has a great sense of humor.  He immediately wanted to teach me all the local slang, not really appropriate to mention in my blog, but I had a lot of fun learning the local phrases.  I was lucky to have such great company, not to mention the hotel let me bring dry out my wash in fromt of their fire and charge all my electronics.  We met another solo traveler Noel, and together the four of us had a delightful evening wining and dining.  At one point in the night, Rob, commented with his great sense of humor, “Let me get this straight, Melissa, you’ve got free accommodation and dinner, your drying your knicks by the fire and your computer and camera are plugged in and charging for free,….you really do well for yourself, don’t you?”  What a laugh,… he called me Freddie the Freeloader.  Little did I know I would run into Lynne and Rob the next three days along the road.  Day two, we stayed at opposite caravan parks, but I managed to find them in town and I came over to use their kitchen to prepare my dinner.  Today, we set out on the Gordon River Cruise together.  Again Rob had a laugh and photographed each of my trips through the buffet on board.  I hit it up for three big plates of food!  With local cheese and fresh smoked salmon, I couldn’t resist!
One of three trips through the boat buffet!  Fine dining indeed!

Might I say Rob and Lynne also had three trips through......
Half the people on the boat today had seen me on the road the previous days, and the chances are high that I will continue to see them as I make my way up north.  I’ll be sad to see Lynne and Rob off tomorrow.  Tonight, to celebrate, we have a dinner date back at their camper van.   I bought rissoles, a fancy name for Aussie hamburgers, and Lynne has defrosted chicken.  I’m sure I’ll end up pitching my tent under their awning again as I have done the last few nights.  As Rob likes to remind me, “What are friends for if you can’t use them!” 

"Freddie the Freeloader" and Rob- I'm going to miss these guys

I love the small town feel of Tassie.  I am very well cared for here. I actually feel more like a local celebrity.  By the time I’m done touring the island, I bet I will have run into about half of the island’s inhabitants out on the roads!  Tassie is paradise for tour cyclists, even more so than New Zealand.  In fact, I think it is one of the best-kept secrets, which is why I hesitate to rave so about it on my blog.  Shhhh! Please don’t tell anyone, I don’t want to spoil it!


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