St Helens Point to St Marys (via Elephant Pass)
79km, 1260m elevation
Before picking up my rental bike, Sil and I spent a night at the Scamander Beach Motel in northeast Tasmania. This was quite a change from the hipster places we’ve been staying at in Melbourne and Hobart. The motel looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1960s and Sil described dinner as “shockingly appalling”. We both got quite a kick out of how bad it was.
We drove up to St Helens where I picked up a rental bike from Manfred who runs Green Island Tours. The bike is a well-maintained Merida Speeder T2. It’s heavy but tough enough to do some moderate off-road cycling. Manfred also arranges guided and self-guided tours (where he books your accommodations and gives you a daily description of the route) but I wanted the freedom and flexibility of choosing where to go every day. I like to wake up in the morning, choose a direction, and cycle until I get tired or see a nice place to stop. Basically, I’m winging it. We’re booking ahead only in places where everything tends to get booked up.
I was a bit worried about the traffic in Tasmania. From St Helens back down to Scamander there was quite a bit of traffic and in many places there is no shoulder on the road. Most drivers are quite good, though. They slow down and give lots of room. Only the boats and trailers scare me. Drivers don’t realize how long their trailers are and how close they get to you as they pull back into the lane. Past Scamander it gets much better. The traffic dies down and the road follows along the coast with sweeping views of the ocean. Deep blue waves roll over and crash into long crescent-shaped beaches of fine white sand. When I get off the bike and go down to the beaches I never know what to expect. Sometimes it seems like a tropical paradise with warm, soft sand. At other beaches strong wind sends the fine white sand swirling and spinning like snow into drifts as violent surf crashes into the shore. Either way, the beaches never fail to impress.
My goal for the day was to cycle to St Marys, a little town of 500 people tucked away in mountains above the ocean. You can get there by a short road from Scamander but Manfred warned that it’s dangerous. It’s steep, very narrow, full of tight turns, and choked with traffic. Plus, you’d miss the wonderful coastal road if you went up that way. Instead, I went the long way around, climbing 600m up Elephant Pass on a beautiful quiet road lined with fragrant eucalyptus forest.
I’m really glad I took this diversion from the coastal road. St Marys feels like it’s lost in time – in a good way, unlike the Scamander Motel. We enjoyed strolling by all the old shops. It almost felt like walking through a museum. We even found a pretty good restaurant, which turned out to be a hilarious experience. When Sil tried to order “prawns and chips” the waiter, apparently not understanding our Canadian accents, stared at her blankly looking completely dumbfounded and said absolutely nothing at all. After a moment of awkwardness, she tried again. This time he got it and started laughing. Later he came over and said “I just love your accent”.
Great first day of cycling around Tasmania. I only have ~1000km to go!
Up next, I discover what a Tasmanian Banberry Pancake is on Day 2 of my Tasmania Cycle Tour.
If you’re planning your own cycling trip in Tasmania, you can see today’s track and download the gpx from strava.