Untaming Tasmania

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Intrigued by Tasmania since childhood, Mateo Arango Guerrero finally traveled there with a group of friends to experience it firsthand. Their six-day bikepacking route delivered an unforgettable ride across the island, packed with tough climbs, nights under the stars, and interactions with hospitable locals. Read all about it here…

Words and photos by Mateo Arango Guerrero (@matangog)

Tasmania. An insular state located 240 km southeast of mainland Australia that was initially established as a colony of convicts in 1803, keeping this island wild and almost uninhabited for many years. Nowadays, more than 20% of its territory is a world heritage site, with a population that hardly surpasses 500,000 inhabitants.

It’s a place that’s captured my imagination since I was a child watching the Tasmanian Devil on Looney Tunes. Despite the fact that my knowledge of Tasmania was mostly limited to what I’d seen in cartoons, I always had a lingering curiosity to learn more about it. And so, years later, several friends and I would take on an adventure of the most exquisite Australian style: crossing Tasmania by bicycle.

Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero

Our route would mostly follow the Tasmanian Trail, a track that crosses the island, connecting the town of Dover with the port city of Devonport, crossing the Central Highlands, also known as the Lake Country of Tasmania. However, after reviewing the route and analyzing the points of interest we’d pass by, we decided to add in a bit more excitement and give it a twist by diverting to Cradle Mountain, a place that did not seem like it belonged on this planet, at least in the photos we could see on Google. Eventually, we came up with a six-day, 503-kilometer route that included over 9,000 meters of climbing.

We’d begin the trip with a flight to Hobart, then ride the island south to north and finish in Devonport, where the Spirit of Tasmania arrives, the only Ferry that connects Tasmania with Melbourne and the Australian continent, taking us back home.

  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero

Begin

Finally, the much-anticipated day had arrived. Despite the months of planning, we faced setbacks from the very beginning. First, two of our riders missed their flight. Others, as downright rookies, arrived at the airport with the bottle of fuel for the stove, with traces of petrol, which led to a tricky time navigating security at the airport. Sorting out those first obstacles gave the trip its first bits of excitement. Later, we arrived at Hobart, where Tasmania began showing us its kinder side; which is often dampened by its wilder and more hostile side.

Our Airbnb hosts welcomed us with the kind of hospitality we’ve only found in a few places in the world, offering us their pick-up truck to get the other members of our crew and to do our initial shopping. Our trip was already beginning to have a very special touch.

  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero

The first two days were the longest, and with more than their fair share of climbing. Our idea was to get to the Central Highlands in the shortest possible time so we had more time to enjoy them. Rookie optimism. A large part of the land we passed through was private, which made finding designated campsites necessary. Lucky for us, Tasmania has many of them, and with amenities that made for very enjoyable nights. We spent our first night sleeping under millions of stars.

Despite being the most demanding, we managed to pedal our way into the Central Highlands without any problems, driven by the adrenaline that accompanies the beginning of any adventure. Small villages, kind people, great riding, and some good beers adorned our first days.

Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero

Miena, a Well-Deserved Rest

Miena is a small settlement of just 87 people, and it was home to our very first pub along the route. In the past, pubs were legally established as hotels to obtain a liquor-selling permit, and for generations have been the place where all visitors and residents gather and tell stories. As six foreign friends riding across Tasmania by bicycle have to tell, we felt like we had a good excuse to initiate conversations with the locals, who were colorful characters and always found a way to make us realize how “crazy” we were. “You’re the most beautiful people we’ve seen in the past six months, including women,” two men told us, followed by endless laughter.

Leaving Miena the following day, we soaked in a ride through extraterrestrial landscapes while flying down expansive downhill stretches. There wasn’t a single tree around, just mounds of rock and a winding road that led us without effort to our next campsite. While we descended, all of us were audibly oohing and aahing at the mind-blowing scenery. We arrived at our destination with our minds recharged and our legs ready for the serious climbing ahead.

  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero

The Laws of Cycling

Our fourth day is one we’ll never forget. A steep descent shot us down to a hydroelectric power plant, Cethana, and the climb that followed nearly broke us. As dictated by the laws of cycling, all that elevation we lost would need to be regained, and we had to face an eight-kilometer climb with steep grades up to 16%. At one point or another, all of us were wishing we were back in the comforts of our homes, no longer having to pedal our 23kg bikes up massive grades.

Of course it didn’t help that we’d visited a pub just a few hours before for a few beers and a shot of whiskey, which left our bodies tires and legs feeling heavy. Nonetheless, we faced our demons and accomplished the climb, each of us having moments of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel during that segment that we all agreed to call the Queen Stage.

As a reward, we spent that night around a bonfire enjoying the beautiful dusk light after taking a dip in a picturesque lake. I felt incredibly lucky to be living in that moment with my riding companions, experiencing the perfect mix of ingredients that make for an unmatched feeling of adventure. Our night took a welcome turn when a friendly man who can only be described as a Tasmanian version of the Crocodile Hunter appeared and brought us some extra firewood to ensure it kept us warm all night.

Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero

Out of This World

Once again loaded with energy and positivity, we were ready to arrive at our journey ́s highlight: Cradle Mountain. Getting up to the top would prove to be an interesting challenge unto itself. And for the first time on our trip, we got to try out our rain gear. It was a short but demanding stage with intensely windy conditions in a landscape that was equal parts cold, dark, and mystical.

Finally, we arrived at the peak of Cradle Mountain, a moment we’d been anticipating since the start of our ride. It’s a rocky formation, somewhat reminiscent of the Dolomites, and it has more than 100 million years of history. It was first climbed by Europeans back in 1827, who displaced the aboriginal tribes who’d been living on and around it for thousands of years. Adored today by Lake Dove and its historical boatshed, the Cradle Mountain landscape is worthy of a postcard and is engrained deep in our collective memory. It’s a place where just a minimum amount of effort to get away from the crowds yields a rewarding, peaceful place to contemplate this jewel of nature as the clouds go by.

Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero

Removing the Rose-Colored Glasses

After cruising down Cradle Mountain, there remained just a short stage until we reached Devonport, where our ferry back to Australia would await us. It was a relatively easy ride, especially since the high of such a great trip acted as wind in our sails.

However, not everything in life is peaches in cream. As we slept in a caravan park during our last night of the trip, two of our bicycles were stolen. Even though their license plate was captured and the police know the identity of the thieves, as of today our bikes have yet to be recovered. But life goes on and our friends and families awaited us back in Melbourne.

  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero
  • Tasmania, Mateo Arango Guerrero

We ended our trip with a ferry ride on the Spirit of Tasmania, a trip that was even more pleasant than expected, with good amenities on board and a bar where we could celebrate the end of the first of many journeys together to come. Despite the setbacks, we’ll forever remember the beautiful moments of the trip, something that can never be taken away from us. Thank you, Tassie, for your incredible landscapes and hospitality.

Mateo Arango Guerrero

About Mateo Arango Guerrero

Mateo Arango Guerrero has been riding on two wheels for as long as he can remember. Born and raised in Colombia, a land that breathes cycling, his passion for riding grew as he experienced different aspects of cycling, from BMX, to enduro, to road. He discovered bikepacking after moving to Australia and has been using photography to inspire others to give it a try since then. You can keep up with him on Instagram @matangog.

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