Sunday, 24 October 2010

Tasmanian Trail - Great Lake to Bronte Park

I'm a bit obsessed with finding new trails.  I rationalise it as a combination between the fact that I get bored doing the same thing over and over, my love of all things that require a processor to make them function, and an essentialy curiosity that there must be another way, a better way, a more interesting track.

I will happily sit in front of my computer for hours comparing potential routes on google earth with those I have on 1:25000 topographic maps just to see if I can discover a combination of squiggly lines somewhere that might come together into a brilliant new route.

This is in part why Stage 8 of the Tasmanian Trail has vexed me for so many years.  This is the stage south from Miena, on the bottom edge of the Great Lake down to Bronte Park.  It mainly follows the Marlborough Highway (don't be fooled by the name, it is a fairly narrow, poorly maintained, infrequently used gravel road) but according to the Tasmanian Trail map there were three sections that headed off the highway, and what vexed me was that (1) when I cycled the route many years ago, I completey missed the first two sections, and (b) no amount of searchign for indistinct trails or lines on any of my maps showed me where the route may actually be.  

Now, with hindsight, I migth have read something deeper into the fact that I couldn't find these routes and that the route guide recommended that cyclists by pass them, but I was pumped up from my walk on Thursday and wanted more outdoor challenges, and this was the one I wanted most.

So Saturday started early with a three hour drive up to Great Lake, via a rather circituous detour through Waddamana.  I parked where  Waddamana Road comes out onto the Great Lakes Highway, and I set off on a warm up ride which was a planned figure eight up towards Poatina, but cutting across onto the Tasmanian Trail and following it back along Arthurs Lake, and then along the water race to Toby's Corner and from there back to the car.  It was a nice ride, with the highlight being when I came to a pretty deep river crossing with three young motorcyclists sitting there scratching their heads deciding how to get their motorbikes across.  I just said g'day and plunged straight into the river on the bike. It came up to the bottom of my knicks, but was worth the look on their faces. 

Well, it was worth it until about 15kms later when I was pushing into a antarctic headwind and my soaked feet were feeling like Icicles.

The whole circuit was just over 30km, and ended up on a splendid downhill.  It was nice, but nothing to rave about, just nice.  I did come across another Tas Trail Registration both where I eagerly devoured visitor numbers and comments.  Comments were much more positive than the box I found south of Geeveston, but numbers were still very low at aroud 30 entries with the earliest in 2008.

It was about noon when I got back to the car, so I headed to Miena for a nice hearty lunch.  The hot food choices consisted of three varieties of meat pie.  I took mine with a side of tomato sauce.  It was half warm and disgusting, so without any further delay I headed south to Little Pine Lagoon in search of the first section of trail I had missed all those years ago.

Unfortunately it is now no longer part of the trail.  To the trail signs credits there are now some good signs clearly indicating you should continue straight down the highway rather than detour into this section, so somewhat disappointed I did just this until I came to the very well signed turnoff to the section.  However, I had hatched a brilliant plan and continued on down to the southern end of thsis ection of trail with my idea being to cycle it South to North from Pine Tier Lagoon and thus having a nice downhill on the way back rather than an uphill haul.

With this plan in mind I drove as far as the first gate over Howards's Way (not signed) just above Pine Tier Lagoon, I got the bike together, threw it over the gate, and set off into the rain.

20 minutes later I was still cycling up the steepest hill I had encountered on the trail.  I mean this hill was so steep they've actually cemented some sections to give vehicles more traction, and remember this is an area where the highway is still a gravel road.   However, it can't have been more than 2kms to the top, and from there it was a lovely downhill past a huge quarry, a bit more of a climb and another long downhill to where I hit another gate I had to throw the bike over. 

It was a left from here, then up a steadily climbing gravel road, which veered off to the right into the bush, but continued along well graded roads and as I crossed what I assumed was Bung Bung creek and filled up my water bottle I started to wonder what the heck all the fuss about this section was.

Sure enough, another 300metres up the road I found out as the trail left this road and headed off a rutted, rocky, tree strewn trail. 

I valiantly set off to pedal up the hill in front of me, only to be ignominously dumped of my bike before the back wheel had even gotten onto this new trail.  I decided to push.

The trail continued to deteriorate as I climb up to the crest of the hill, and then, well it just pretty much vanished, and it was just, my bike and regular TT signs, speced out every 50-100m leading me ahead into the unknown.  At last I knew why I could never find this section of the trail on any maps I've looked at.  It isn't a track, it's a trail in the truest sense of the word.  The only sign of it is those regular signs.



I loved the next hour as I pushed, carried and even managed to squeeze in a ride my bike through scratchy, but beautiful open bushland, carefully scanning out in front to catch sight of the next sign showing me where to go.  Thankfully every sign was there, because it would only take one missing sign and there would be no way you could follow this trail due to its twist and turns.  As it was I found myself getting momentarily mislocated on several occasions.




After the first hour however the novelty of carting my bike had started to wear off somwhat, so it was good to break out onto some open ground where I could actually cycle some short sections, as I watched the numerous wallabies around me getting startled out into the open and leaping away, and as I crossed a few open grassland sections I started to think I was getting near the road.

It was just past one of these, that I came across the Little Pine River crossing mentioned in the guide, which means it was only 800 metres to the road.  Woo Hoo.  After a very slippery crossing (I walked across barefoot as I was on my second, and last, pair of shoes and they were nice and dry) I had a bit of a search to find the trail (it's straight ahead) and set off expecting to hit the highway pretty quickly.



The reality:  It took me nearly another hour, most of it carrying my bike, to travel that last little bit, and what had started out as a bit or a lark, now was feeling like a really stupid idea.  

The path became incredibly overgrown and scratchy, tearing at my unprotected legs every step I took.  What really frustrated me was just to my right there appeared to be a nice open meadow that the path could follow and 100metres to my left there looked to be a forest snigging track, but I was too nervous about leaving the trail markers as I just didn't know where these alternates went, so I slogged on the signed route, stradling my way around the meadow, then started my descent to the road. 

The last 300 metres were perhaps the most frustrating.  It was all fairly well uphill, and there seemed to be tracks criss-crossing everywhere.  The trail even crossed a major road, but it was like whoever set up the trail deliberately tried to avoid the easy route and instead aimed for the most difficult and torutrous options they could find.  Actually I did consider at one point that maybe they got lost and so just wandered along knocking in trail signs and then when they reached the road thought to themelves "That'll do, I'm not going back in there".

I was so happy to emerge back out onto the Marlborough Highway that I could have kissed it.  I compromsied and had a chocolate covered muesli bar instead.  It had taken me nearly 3 hours to travel probably 10kms.  Just for the record, from the time I turned off the forestry road I had probably ridden 10% of the section, pushed my bike 40% and carried it 60%.






It took me less than 45mins to follow the alternate route down the Marlborough Highway back to my car, and most of that was rectracing the climb back over the hill I had first come over. The climb was much easier and ridable going North to South.

So that was pretty much my day.  I can now happily sit and stare at the little line on Google Earth that my GPS recorded for the days meanderings and think ... so that's where the trail is.

For me that actually makes it all worthwhile.

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