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The Tasmanian Trail renaissance

Alia Parker's picture
Misty morning in Hartz Mountain National Park, Tasmania. Source: Shutterstock

The picturesque farmlands, virgin bush and river valleys that form the Tasmanian Trail have been quietly seducing cyclists for almost 18 years. But a period of disrepair gave the trail a bad name and as usage began to decline, a dedicated group of volunteers stepped up to the challenge of bringing the trail back to life.

Now, with the renaissance well and truly under way, I chat to two of the Tasmanian Trail's management committee volunteers about what it's like to take the scenic route.

Map of the Tasmanian Trail. Cycle Traveller

Route: Devonport to Dover, Tasmania
Distance: 482km
Days: About seven
Difficulty: Medium to Hard
Surfaces: Sealed road, gravel and dirt track
Maps: Tasmanian Trail Association

Tassie local Paul Akerman describes himself as the new kid on the block. An avid cyclist in his mid-50s, he says he didn't know about the trail until he noticed a marker by the side of the road just recently. The seed of intrigue was planted and he set off to ride the trail early this year, joining its management committee soon afterwards.

“Tasmania is such a pretty place to cycle in; Victoria Valley, the Derwent Valley and going across to the Great Lakes, even going up to the Western Tiers as you climb up onto the plateau (that was a hell of a great climb up onto there!),” he reminisces. “It's a really good route.”

The Trail

The Tassie Trail – a multi-use trail for cyclists, horse riders and walkers – dissects the island down the middle, running about 482km from Devonport to Dover. It starts in the farmlands of the north, climbs its way up through forested ranges to the central plateau and across to the Great Lake before descending into the Derwent Valley and back to the coast through the southern forests. Small towns dot the way, making it possible to cycle either as a self-supported camper or a credit-card tourer.

Paul Akerman cycling the Tasmanian Trail. Cycle TravellerThe trail covers all types of terrain, from sealed roads, major gravel roads, minor gravel roads, forestry roads and dirt track. In some parts, such as farmers' paddocks, the path disappears completely with only marker posts as a guide. Other sections are unsuitable for bikes, with only horses and walkers able to navigate the terrain. In these parts, the Tasmanian Trail guidebook marks out alternative routes for cyclists.

Akerman says the trail is well suited to mountain bikes, but he found it was also doable on his hybrid bike setup with 700x35 cyclocross-style tyres. However, he says there are short sections cyclists may have to push.

“It's a horse riding trail and some parts of it are quite rugged for cycling,” he says.

“From New Norfolk, I went around the back of the mountain. It's going to be a rugged day going through there on a hybrid bike,” he says. “I had to push a bit of the way and I was pretty well stuffed by the time I got to the other side. I think it was only 25km; it was a pretty hard day, but it meant I bypassed the city.”

Early days

Tasmanian Trail. Cycle Traveller

Akerman's addition to the Tasmanian Trail management committee is significant: he's the only cyclist among a dedicated bunch of horse riders to volunteer his time to help manage the trail. And with the vast majority of trail users being cyclists – possibly about 80% – Chris Boden, secretary of the Tasmanian Trail Association, says Akerman's voice is a welcome one.

For his part, Boden is a horse rider who was involved in the development of the trail and, since his retirement, has now returned as the association secretary.

“There was just nothing,” he says of the trail at the start. “We started off as a multi-use trail – horses, walkers and cyclist – and we used the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) as a model. There was a push to try and include the Tasmanian part in the BNT, but we were slow and the Bicentennial went past.”

So it was that the Tasmanian Trail, which in its early days was supported by the state government, became a stand-alone trail. But, over the years, it lost its funding and the upkeep of the trail became too much for the two volunteers who were trying to manage it. Gradually, signs and markers disappeared and users began to complain of poor conditions and of getting lost.

“Up until about three years ago the trail was falling apart. So a new committee decided to take it on and rejuvenate it,” Boden says.

“We've got everything back on track and made sure all the facilities are up to scratch. One of the main problems was signage along the trail, but we've got all that up to scratch again.”

Ranges along the Tassie Trail. Cycle Traveller

New era

Red and yellow trail markers help users navigate the trail, but Boden says users should get themselves a copy of the Tasmanian Trail Guidebook to prevent themselves from getting lost.

“One of the major attractions of the trail is it differs all the time. You might be riding along a sealed road and then suddenly you're on a bush track,” he says.

He says the guide will help cyclists know when to expect the alternative cycling routes as well as locked gates on private properties the trail passes through. It also marks out distances between camp sites and towns.

But there is another important reason trail users should purchase the guide book – these days it is the main source of funding for the trail.

“We now fund the trail ourselves,” says Boden, who adds they also run fundraising rides. “We don't make a lot of money, but have a lot of volunteers and the whole management team is all volunteers.”

Farms along the Tasmanian Trail. Cycle Traveller

The good news is, the association's hard work is paying off and there appears to be a resurgence in trail use. While Boden says the committee still working on getting an accurate count of the number of people using the trail (for which he encourages users to sign the trail books along the route), guidebook sales have been increasing.

Akerman, too, finds this encouraging.

“The more numbers we get through, the more funding we can get together,” he says.

He hopes to continue to improve the trail for cyclists and sees potential to extend the route from Dover to include a scenic ride along the Huon River back to Hobart.

When to ride

You can cycle the trail year round, however, Summer months from December to February are generally the nicest with daytime temperatures between 18°C and 23°C. Autumn can be foggy, while winter days are crisp with the chance of snow flurries. Daytime Winter temperatures range between 9°C and 14°C with shorter days of around eight hours.

Have you ridden the Tasmanian Trail? Tell us your thoughts below...

More information about the Tassie Trail and how to get the guidebook is available on the Tasmanian Trail Association website.

Images from top: 1. Misty morning over Hartz Mountains National Park, which skirts the Tasmanian Trail. Source: Shutterstock. 2. Paul Akerman on the Tassie Trail. 3-5. Views from the trail. Source: Paul Akerman

Comments

Thanks for a great overview of what's the recent state of the Tasmanian Trail. I'm coming to Tassie in April and look forward to riding the trail in parts. It's encouraging to know the markers are all up again (after a few off-putting reviews/ comments on YouTube). Big thank-you to the great team of volunteers! I have already paid my membership fee and purchased the guidebook and gladly see it as my humble contribution to trail maintenance.

Alia Parker's picture

Thank you! Yes, the markers are back up, although Paul Akerman does warn that if you're cycling really fast you may miss some of them. But he says if you're taking your time and keep on the lookout for them, you'll be right. Knowing distances between turns should help you to know when to expect a change in track.

I rode the Tasmanian Trail in December 2014 with 8 other riders on mountain bikes and with two support crew. It took us 6 days averaging around 70-80km a day. It was a great experience and you can read my blog on the experience here... http://stredda.blogspot.com.au/

Alia Parker's picture

Thanks for the link. nice write-up.

Thank you Cycletraveller and those involved in producing this article. Through this promotion I look forward to greater numbers of cyclists utilising this beautiful cycle route. Paul

Thank you for the update, good info, I plan to ride the trail by MTB in January 2016 starting around 15th-16th if anyone is keen to join. cheers

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