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The Tassie Express: Hobart to Launceston via Swansea

Alia Parker's picture
Cycling along Nugent Rd, Tasmania, from Hobart to Orford. Cycle Traveller

Tasmania is one of Australia's most popular bicycle touring destinations and it's easy to understand why. Not only is Tassie scenically endowed with glorious rolling hills and coastal views, but its roads are generally quiet. Furthermore, as it is an island, meaning you can cycle all around it, giving you that satisfying feeling of having achieved something awesome.

The four-day Tassie Express bicycle touring route between the island state's two main cities – Hobart and Launceston – is designed to fit nicely into the space of a week, giving you some spare days to take in the sights. Besides the two main cities, Hobart and Launceston – which as two of the oldest cities in Australia are little historical gems, with plenty of museums, restaurants and cafes to keep you occupied – this bike route will take you through rolling countryside, past Maria Island, along the coast with spectacular views of the Freycinet Peninsula, and then up over the mountains through farmlands to Launceston.

 

Route: Hobart to Launceston via Swansea
Days: 4
Distance: 287km
Cum. elevation: 2,090m
Difficulty: Medium
Surface: Sealed and dirt road
Map: View full-page map here

Day 1: Hobart to Triabunna – 85km

Today's ride takes Simon and I out of town and onto a quiet dirt road that weaves its way through quaint farms nestled between green rolling hills. The dirt road is in good condition, although the ride involves a little climbing, so we travel this at what you would call a very leisurely pace. We get caught in a bit of rain, but the road remains quite good to ride, despite splattering us with mud. We love these type of dirt country roads and this is a great one, so we're sad to eventually rejoin the highway. Having said that, the stretch of main road to the small village of Orford is not busy, fairly flat and still scenic. Orford itself sits at the mouth of the Posser River with views out to Maria Island. There is an IGA supermarket, cafe and pub in town and some accommodation options too. Less than 8km up the road is Triabunna, which has more accommodation as well as a campground and Value Plus supermarket.

Those who make it early may prefer to stock up and get the ferry over to the enchanting Maria Island National Park, where there is basic accommodation as well as camping. The are two ferry services a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – taking about half an hour each. Check the ferry timetable first as they change throughout the year. Maria Island is one place along the way you may like to spend the entire day. The only way to get around the island is by cycling or walking.

Getting out of Hobart: Head up the Tasman Hwy to cross the Derwent River, jumping off at the other side and swinging around underneath it on Conara Rd to follow the backstreets that run alongside it out of town. Rejoin the highway near the airport, keeping an eye out for Pittwater Rd on your right because about 1km past this you'll see a bike path start up on the other side of the road. The path will take you comfortably across the bridge. Once across, turn left at the roundabout and take the first right onto Fenton Rd to follow the backstreets around and avoid a hairy piece of main road (which we, not knowing any better at the time, cycled up). Take the first right hand turn at each opportunity and you'll soon meet another bike path to take you across the Sorell Causeway. Pass through the town of Sorell, which will be your last food and drink stop before reaching Orford. Banjo's Bakery Cafe makes a nice 6-pack of date scones if you want to stock up for morning tea. Out of town, turn left onto Nugent Rd. The road soon turns to dirt. Follow it until rejoining the highway, where you turn right. This will take you into Orford and up to Triabunna.

Mayfield Bay Tasmania. Cycle Traveller

Day 2: Triabunna to Swansea – 50km

Today is relatively short and easy, allowing time to take in the gorgeous scenery. It is also easy to navigate, sticking to the Tasman Hwy, which although there is no shoulder on this stretch, is relatively quiet between Triabunna and Swansea. There will be nowhere to buy food and drink until reaching Swansea, so stock up before heading out.

As we cycle out of town, the road edges away from the coast and through wide-open farmlands. This landscape characterises the first half of today's ride. We unfortunately have some wet weather, which can't be helped, but it doesn't stop us from enjoying the ride. At about the 30km mark, the road meets the sea, opening up a glorious view across to the Freycinet Peninsula.

Down by the sand we find the Mayfield Bay Coastal Reserve, which makes a nice place for a break. Camping is permitted here for those who would like to stay, however, you'll need to bring your own drinking water. A little north of here to the left of the road is the unusual Spiky Bridge, named for the stone spikes that stick out from it. Built by convicts sometime between 1845-48, the exact reason behind the spikes remains a mystery, although there are various theories covering everything from revenge to falling cows.

From the coast we can see across to the mountainous Freycinet Peninsular, a striking sight on the bay. The road to get over to Freycinet is further north than where we'll be going on this route, but the views aren't diminished.

Not that much further up the road is the village of Swansea, which is a lovely little place to spend the afternoon exploring. The local pub serves dinner until 8pm and there is also a supermarket, restaurant and fish and chip shop in town. As a treat, we spend the night at Redcliffe House B&B, which turns out to be an absolute delight with a lovely cooked breakfast to send us on our way in the morning. There are other accommodation options in town, including camping at the Swansea Holiday Park down on the water.

Day 3: Swansea to Campbell Town – 68km

Cycling over Spiky Bridge, Tasmania. Cycle Traveller

Once again, there is nowhere to buy food and drink until reaching Campbell Town, so stock up before heading out and maybe take along some sugary boosters. Today's ride is a beautiful challenge. It all starts innocently enough as we continue to head north along the Tasman Hwy, with more views of the mountains of the Freycinet Peninsular, but we soon turn northwest onto Lake Leake Hwy and the climb begins. We're now climbing up through some classic Tasmanian bush, which is denser and 'bushier' than in many other parts of Australia. It's a relentless climb which lasts about 27km. Having started almost near sea level, we reach a peak of 680m at the 31.5km mark. Unfortunately for us, we are fighting a 30kph headwind all the way, making it all the more challenging. A little reward on the way up is a lookout point on a dirt pull-out with views back to Freycinet. About 4km off the road near the summit is the Lake Leake Inn. We don't ride in, but the pub serves food and has accommodation for those who want to take a pit stop.

After our long climb, we're hoping for a good downhill, but we rollercoaster along the top for a while before finally being treated to a fabulous downhill into Campbell Town. The views on the way down are fantastic, made all the better by the fact that we don't have to pedal.

Campbell Town is a good-sized small town with a number of pubs, cafes and restaurants. Various accommodation options are available, including camping down by the river at the Campbell Town Lions Club.

Day 4: Campbell Town to Launceston via Longford – 84km

Looking across to Freycinet from Lake Leake Road. Cycle Traveller

The fastest way to Launceston from here is via the Midland Hwy, and while it has a narrow shoulder, the heavy traffic flying past at 110kph make it a rather unpleasant place to ride. Much nicer is the slightly longer way via Valley Field Road. There's nowhere to stock up before reaching Longford, which is at the 58km mark, so make sure you've got some water and snacks on you before leaving Campbell Town.

Provided there are no headwinds, today's ride is fairly cruisy and while undulating in parts, is nothing compared with yesterday's climb. We start by leaving Campell Town on Macquarie Road, which takes us out through open grazing pastures. While the road changes its name over the course of the day, we pretty much stay on a northwest trajectory towards Longford, with the exception of a 2.5km northeast stint on Illawarra Rd to get to Pateena Rd. Quiet and enjoyable roads to be riding on, taking us almost all the way into Launceston.

Nearing the city, we join the Bass Hwy, which has a narrow shoulder in parts, but isn't too bad traffic wise. Closer to town we're able to jump onto Westbury Rd and ride through the suburbs to our destination.

Launceston is a great little city set around the Tamar River. It's colonial history dates back to 1806, making it the fourth oldest city in Australia after Sydney, Hobart and Newcastle. It's an easy place to spend a day.

Route review

Bicycle touring on Nugent Road, Tasmania. Cycle Traveller bike route

I enjoyed this ride. I wish I could have just kept going on my bike – there are so many wonderful places to see in Tasmania if you've got time up your sleeve – but squeezing trips into annual leave time can be tricky. This little Tassie Express Route covers a great cross section of the island – cities, farms, wild coasts and dense bush – in four days of cycling, making it perfect for a week-long trip once you've added some time for sightseeing. I highly recommend taking time out in Hobart and Launceston, and if it fits with your schedule, Maria Island.

This is not a hard route to cycle, although the climb on day three could be painful for those who don't cycle regularly. Even so, it's still manageable by getting an early start, pacing yourself and taking plenty of snacks to maintain energy levels.

Images from top: 1. Simon on Nugent Rd, day one. 2. Alia at Mayfield Bay, day two. 3. Spiky Bridge, day two. 4. Looking across to Freycinet from Lake Leake Rd, Day three. 4. Cycling on Nugent Rd, day one.  

Comments

Based on this experience, my wife and I have decided to try the same ride, but from north to south. We have never before done a ride as long as this in Tasmania, but have done some touring in France. We live on the NW coast of Tassie, and this article has made us see that we should do more touring of our own state.
I think north to south should give us fewer head winds. The winds are mostly north westerly at present, so fingers crossed!

Alia Parker's picture

Hi Graham,

That's great! Enjoy. North to South, you'll have a pretty steep climb out of Campbell Town, probably fractionally steeper grade than in the other direction, but much, much shorter. The climb should last about 13km followed by some rolling hills along the top near Lake Leake, then a lovely long uninterrupted downhill into Swansea. Heading up to Lake Leake will be the toughest part, then it will be rather cruisy after that.

Hope the winds are in your favour. We had a little tailwind from Hobart to Swansea, so hope that's swinging in your direction when you're out.

Let us know what you think of the route as well as any suggestions when you're done. Have fun!

Cheers,
Alia

EarlyJennifer's picture

Wow, I would love to go for this type of ride.

Thanks again for inspiring us, we completed the ride starting Sunday 12th Jan? north to south.
Launceston to Longford

It was a stinking hot day, the first part was downhill and through the city, quite pleasant. On to
Westbury road and it was uphill.
Out of Lonny
We stopped at an IGA, Les found cold coconut water, it was life saving.
It was tough up the hill, but the rest of the ride to Longford was very pleasant, but hot.
We had tea at JJs then on to a B&b.

We rode down to the river, found a really popular swimming area, Mill Dam, it was fantastic, we had a great swim, then later a visit to a church where we met up with a group of cyclists who had just completed a bike for Bibles ride, 160kms in one day from St.helens to Longford.

Longford to Campbell Town

The back road to Campbell town was good, mostly flattish, with the only hiccup some road works.
The day began cool but warmed up to hot, we had a few drink stops, finally arriving to have a veggie burger at the park. And a rest.

Campbell Town to Swansea
We knew this was to be the tough day, it was hot, very hot. It reached 37 in Campbell town.
We headed off early, it was a struggle getting going that morning.

We set off at 7:15, turned off and began a long, long climb. It was getting hot after 10am and it got tough. We both struggled a bit.

There were some fantastic down hills for the second half, but les is still cautious about them.
The last ten Kms were tough, a lot of traffic, narrow road, Les was close to exhaustion.

The tiredness hit me later, I just wanted to get in the ocean but we had to sort a place to stay. I wasn't impressed with the backpackers, very spartan after our luxury B & Bs so far but we couldn't find anything else.
I got a seniors discount.

Swansea to Orford
Expecting another hot day, we set off early again. The road was better than yesterday, the hills not too big, some nice downhills. There was a fair bit of traffic to watch for, les was aching from yesterday a bit.
The only place to stop and get a coffee was Triabunna, only 8 Kms from Orford.
We had a drink and food there and continued on.
Orford is a pretty town, must better than Swansea. Accommodation was great at the island View motel.

Orford to Sorell
As we turned off into Nugent road we came to a steep section that required us to get off and walk for the first time this trip. We walked about a kilometre before being able to get on the bikes.
The gravel road seemed to go uphill for ages.
In spite of 35 Kms of gravel, we escaped punctures and injuries, it was another really hot day, our water and health bars were enough to get us through.
We welcomed the sealed road when it appeared close to Sorell.

At last we found a cafe for tea and sandwiches in the town.

Sorell to Hobart

Didn't sleep very well last night at Cherry park Estate, maybe the heat. Only got about five hours.
We were keen to get on the road, went down for breakfast but on offer was not inspiring, although we paid $20 for breakfast we supplied our own.
Glad to get away, down onto the causeway, a great ride, lovely day but promising to be an extremely hot day. The bikes tracks were impressive much of the way, by the time we got to Cambridge it was hot. Up over mount Rumney and the gps took us the long way around to Howrah, where we had accommodation.

We left Hobart until the next day, the bridge is a bit narrow with panniers, getting across is a bit scary.
All in all, a fantastic ride. I wish I'd had the time to ride back up the west coast, however, we had to compromise and take the bus.

Although we live here, the trip made us appreciate Tasmania and it's beauty even more than ever.

Great ride, we broke it up into 6 days as we're older and not as fit as you Alia but thoroughly enjoyed the experience of
cycle touring in Tas. The info you provided on the route and distances between towns was very helpful, thanks.

Alia Parker's picture

Thanks Graham and Leslie for sharing your feedback and trip notes. Very helpful!

Graham -- RE bridge, if it's the same one I'm thinking of there should have been a bike lane across it?

Ciao! I love this route and I'm thinking to do it from Launceston to Hobart next 17th November. I'm alone and I'm not trained and I never made a cycling trip but I'm 29, enough healthy, fit and I live at the 5° floor with out elevator in the center of Florence (!!!). Do you think I could deal with this adventure?! I have more days so I can take it easy. I should book hostel/hotel in advance or I can find a place day by day? Thanks for helping me, it really means!

Alia Parker's picture

Hi Maddalena, this is a short route and good for your first bike tour. It's great you have plenty of time, so use it and travel at a slower pace if you need to. The hardest day is from Campbell Town to Swansea, so you may want to break that up by staying at Lake Leake Inn halfway.

Regarding accommodation, it depends.... if you travel during school holidays or public holidays accommodation will book out in advance, so it is best to book. At other times, you should be OK. But keep in mind, many of these towns are very small and don't have many accommodation options, so you may like to book ahead anyway just in case, especially if you plan to stay at a B&B.

Enjoy the ride!

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