I often get asked what is the best part of Tasmania to visit, especially when riding a moto. The answer is that it is all good, and you can’t go wrong. I grew up in Tasmania and spent the first 18 years of my life on the northwest coast, and I have been there too many times to count. But it always seems fresh, and I find a new place and a new angle to see this wonderful island each time I go.
This time, I took my adventure bike, started on the northwest coast, and headed south via the west coast. This is the first time I have taken a decent bike to the island, and it made all the difference on the relentless roads. It was in the middle of summer, but it was still icy, about 5 degrees, so I needed layer upon layer of clothing. Plus, it rained. It always rains on the west coast, part of its lush, misty appeal (and it keeps the hedonists at bay).
Queenstown is a small mining town with a fearsome reputation. The hills around Queenstown were once denuded due to the pollution from mining, but as mining has receded, the trees have returned. It has some pretty impressive pubs on the main street that have seen better days.
From Queenstown to the south is a crazy road. It goes on and on through a lush rain forest with zero human habitation. There was also no cars and no tourists, so the riding was super fun. I stopped at the Frenchman’s Cap hike trailhead and walked about 1 Kilometre to the world-famous Franklin River. The fight to protect this river spurred the Australian conservation movement and sent (brown) ripples worldwide. Once, it was about saving a muddy old river in Tasmania, now it about halting the mindless excess of industrial modernity.
I avoided Hobart as it is overrated and full of blow-ins and went to Cockle Creek on the far southern tip of Tasmania instead.
Cockle Creek is a special place. It has numerous bays and beaches and is nestled on the edge of the southwest wilderness world heritage area. I walked the southwest track for a couple of hours and made it to the furthest tip of Tasmania.
From Cockle Creek, I went to Bruny Island and stayed there the night. I got a fantastic ploughman’s lunch at the local cheese factory along with some beers and oysters and ate them on a deserted beach. There are many things to like about Australia, and indeed, beer on your own deserted beach is one of them.
A fantastic trip, and I hope to do it again and again. Tasmania is small and compact, but the riding effort between places is pretty tiresome, given the crazy mountain roads. This is especially the case on the west coast, best to take your time.
During the year, I bought a sparkling new moto, a 2019 Suzuki Vstrom 1000, which is a major step-up from the bullet-proof 2008 Suzuki GS 500 that I had been rinding too many places that it wasn’t meant to go. I have been itching to take it on an adventure ride since I bought it and I thought that riding 1600 kms to go to a party for NYE seems like a good start. It’s a long way for a party, but half the fun is getting there through the windy B and C roads in the south-east of Australia. It will be hotter than hell on the road (and maybe a few bush fires), but there are some beautiful towns along the way where the beer is bottomless and that narratives boundless.
I have a bit of time on my hands and I will be in the slow lane staying at grand county pubs along the way, many with long bars and huge balconies adjoined by tiny rooms. These pubs are such a special part of Australian rural life; the centre of their communities. Many have seen better days and their accommodation is under-utilised, but there are a bunch of ways to book them now (even Air BB), and they are much better than the soulless modern alternatives.
Here is my itinerary. I will blog along the way. If anyone has any tips or suggestions, I would love to hear from you. Have a great Xmas and NYE
27 December, Narrandera, Victoria, Star Hotel
28 December, Coonabarabran, NSW, Imperial Hotel
29 December, Bingara, NSW, Imperial Hotel
30 December, Tropical Fruits Party, Lismore, NSW
31 December, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
1 January, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
2 January, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
3 January, Tropical Fruits, Party, Lismore, NSW
4 January, Dubbo, Castlereagh Hotel, NSW
5 January, Beechworth, Tanswell Commercial Hotel, Victoria
6 January, Walhalla, Victoria (camping, no pubs damn!)
After leaving Vilcabamba in Ecuador, I rode a blissful 200 kms to the Peruvian border at Macara in the belief that this was the most important land border and thus the easiest to cross. But it turned out to be little more than a grumpy man in a hot shed who insisted on seeing my Chilean drivers licence. After an anxious couple of hours of paper shuffling, he finally let me cross the border with the moto. The contrast to Ecuador was quite stark as gone were the vegetated high mountains and hills to be replaced by flat and dusty desert. Also, Peru is a lot poorer than Ecuador so there were lots of apocalyptic, Mad Max style towns on the side of the Panamerican, proving that humans can survive an impending environmental collapse. There were no ATMs at the border, so I had no Peruvian Sol, but I managed to swap five American dollars for a gallon of petrol from a bored young man standing next to a lonely petrol bowser.
This was a hard day riding of about 500 kms, and I arrived at Colan on the Pacific coast at around sunset. Colan was a desolate Peruvian holiday town; a mixture of plastic and thatch restaurants and authentic South American village. It had a sleepy town square, colourful adobe houses, and a very prominent and strange looking church thrusting out of the desert. I had fish and rice for dinner and slept peacefully in a hotel right next to the ocean with the feeling that the sea was lapping at my bed.
The next day I rode to Chiclayo, a reasonably large city, but with not a lot for a traveler to do. I couldn’t decipher the crappy guidebook map of the city, so spent a long time looking for a budget hotel where I could store the moto. The last hotel I visited initially said no, but then the proprietor said I could keep the moto in her bedroom. It was a nice hotel, and I slept well and rose early to visit the witch doctor section of the local market. But witch doctors obviously don’t get out of bed as early as I do and thus I couldn’t find it.
I then rode to Huanchaco, another beach town, next to Trujillo on the Pacific coast. This was a pleasant enough town near a large pre-Colombian, adobe ruin called Chan Chan. I rode the moto around the vast ruin, but there wasn’t much left of it which is probably to be expected of a city built 700 years ago out of mud.
The next day was possible the best days riding of my life as I went from the Pacific coast up into the Andes past shear 1000 metre cliff faces and deeps gorges. The highlight was Canon del Pato, which many Peruvians call the world’s most dangerous road. The road disappears into spooky, roughly carved, one lane tunnels cut into the mountains (I will write a separate blog post about this very special ride).
I arrived late in the day in the unique city of Caraz, set beneath jagged, snow-covered mountains. I stayed in a rather generic hotel, but with a balcony overlooking the lively town square. The next day I rode 25 kms up a drunken goat track to visit Laguna Paron, a bucolic lake that looked like the wallpaper in the bathroom of a flashy London club.
The ride from Caraz to Barranca was again a long one, but it was downhill, so it felt as though I was on a real motorcycle. Barranca was a sad, Peruvian holiday resort geared up for a party that had long gone. I didn’t leave my hotel room this night as the beach was frigid and the town a bit sketchy.
From Barranca I made a small detour to Caral; to visit the ruins of a one of the worlds first large cities dating back to 4500 BC, roughly the birth of civilisation (along with the Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian formative contributions to what we call civilisation). The place was entirely deserted as most tourists would prefer to visit the overrated Inca rock stars who have a better promoter.
On the way back to the Panamerican I took a short cut, but the road disappeared into the fields, so I had to turn back losing a precious two hours of travel time. This was bad news as I had a big day of riding ahead that included riding through Lima. I had decided to give Lima the flick as I had already spent a month in a large, modern South American workhorse, Bogota, and Lima is a lot meander and tougher than Bogota. Luckily there was a road that went straight through the centre, past the many kilometers of colourful shanty towns built on the hill (in developed countries it is the rich people who have the best view).
After Lima, a strong head wind, whipped up from the desert, brought with it mouth fulls of sand. I closed my visor but couldn’t see very much, so blindly rode on at 60 kph for the next 300 kms to Huacachina. At 8 PM that evening, I arrived in Huacachina, a desert oasis a few kilometers from the major town of Ica. The oasis was a stagnant pond with a few palm trees and pissy party hostels, but the sand dunes were magnificent (and fun to climb).
From Huacachina, I rode to Nazca, along the Panamerican and through the Nazca lines. The Nazca lines date from 450 AD and were made by aliens. The aliens drew animals like geoglyphs in the desert so that the Discovery Channel could make gee-whizz documentaries about them to make mysterious things sound more interesting than they are. The Panamerican goes straight through the centre of one which was sort of convenient as I was hungry and wanted to get to Nazca for dinner.
I had dinner with a lovely Italian couple I met in the central square of Nazca, slept well, and set off very early the next morning on the long, two-day ride to Cusco (with stop-over). I rode past the world tallest sand dune (at 2000 meters), but didn’t have time to stop and do whatever you do at exceedingly tall sand dunes. The two-day ride was spectacular but the higher I got into the Andes, the colder it got. Then, what all 125 cc moto riders on high mountains with ten dollar gloves fear, it started to snow. I stopped, pondered the situation, then put a pair of my bamboo socks over my gloves and soldiered on. After being chased by dogs that were possibly rabid (and didn’t respond kindly to sly kicks-in-the-head), riding through rock slides, rain, and intermittent snow, I arrived in Cusco where I am now. I plan to stay here for a while and rest after riding 3000 exceedingly diverse Inca-kms in less than two weeks.