Thursday, 30 December 2010

Montezuma Falls

Montezuma Falls
The first alarm went off at 4am and then, not more than three seconds later, the alarm went off again saying it was 5am.  If that wasn’t weird enough, it was only another few seconds after that that my third and final alarm went off telling me it was 6am.  Who knew my bedroom was in some sort of time vortex? 

Maybe it was some sort of Aztec curse given my destination today … Montezuma Falls.

Fortunately at 6am my panic reflex kicked in and I leapt out of bed, churned out the obligatory double shot latte, threw all my stuff in the car and headed down the road.  It was 6.18am, back on schedule.

 Despite the best attempts of the lady at the Derwent Bridge Café to try and poison me with something she said was a latte, but which tasted like a mix of third use coffee grounds and soap, I managed to reach Queenstown with my tastebuds in tack, at which point another lady at the local café tried to poison me a second time, this time with something she said was a toasted cheese and chicken sandwich but again seemed to have no taste similarities to either cheese or chicken, and I’ll have to check the definition of toasted when I get back online, because black on the outside and cold on the inside may or may not fall within the definition of toasted, I’m just not sure.

Despite my churning stomach, I managed to unload the bike at the back of Zeehan (Yes, Zeehan has a back) and prepared to set off to explore the  Montezuma Falls Rail Trail.

I’d found a little “Rail Trails of Tasmania” guide in the State Library which said there was a “cycleable” railway line from Zeehan up to Melba which connected with the Melba to Montezuma Falls line.  It looked to be an out and back ride of just under 60kms.

The beginning ... it all looked so easy
With several locals looking on, I set off on what looked to be the trail, and was about 500 meters or so along when I realised that those poles off to my right were running above something that looked distinctly like rail lines, in fact they were rail lines, which begged the question if that was the railway line where was I?

As usual, I had no idea, but decided that as I was supposed to be cycling the rail line, then I should probably be on the actual rail line not just beside it, and so after wading through a bit of button grass I set off for a second time, this time on the actual rail line.  Except I wasn’t really cycling, well I was, but I was also doing an awful lot of stopping as I lifted the bike from one side of the railway line to the other, and down and through creeks, and then back into the rail line.  

Then there were a few dips in the road

You see this section of the rail-line still had all its sleepers in place which made for a rather bumby ride in places.  It was also rather overgrown, in fact in some places very overgrown, in fact in one place I spent nearly 15 minutes clearing tree branches so I could proceed forward.  In short this was really a track for the adventurous at heart only.  I sort of loved it for that.

The odd bridge was missing.

... and the track a tad overgrown

but it was also pretty special in places.

I was however fairly relieved when I finally emerged out onto a proper railway line at the back of Melba nearly and hour and a half after starting out, especially as I had been carrying my bike for the last 15 minutes or so.  I won't divulge the exact details of how I got out onto the road as it did look like I was somewhere I shouldn’t be so I quickly got out of there, noting the “no trespassers sign”as I cycled out the gate onto the highway.  I won’t be going back that way.

It was time to hit the Montezuma Falls Trail directly across the road.

From Melba, which by the way is nothing more than a sign on the road,  the trail starts heading up along the old tram way line, I use the word up quite literally, as it is one of those nice gradients you can just settle down into and start pedalling.  The road quickly gets muddy and wet, and those who try and stay dry are as doomed as a child building a sand castle against the incoming tide.  Just settle in, churn through the puddles, get wet and enjoy it.

I have so got you in my sights ...
I had been pedalling along for about 20 minutes or so when I had an experience that will join my short list of oft repeated tales:  In this case I came around a corner and there in front of me was one of those fancy pretend 4WD’s.  I thought at first that it was stopped, but then quickly realised that it wasn’t and that I was actually catching up to it.  Sure enough it only took me another minute or two to catch up and then sit in behind.  I’d caught up to a 4WD!!!!

I was loving it, and wanting to rub it in a bit, I whipped out the camera and took a photo of it whilst still pedaling along behind.  I was almost disappointed when the guy pulled over to let me past as I then realised that I had to stay ahead of this thing, so I threw the bike up a few gears and trying to look as nonchalant as possible, I set off up the track as fast as my little legs would go.  

Even crusier, about 5 more minutes up the track I came across a second 4WD, but this overtaking wasn’t quite so sweet as he was ust waiting for his mate back along the track, and he went past me again not long thereafter, thankfully whilst I was stopped taking a photo.
Fantastic trail 

I followed this second vehicle up as far as the Ring River Track junction where he again stopped to wait for his friend and I carried on alone.  The track had finally turned downhill about half a kilometre before the ring river junction and pretty much remained that way all the way down to the falls, though don’t go thinking that that made it easy riding.  

Little bit wet and muddy in places, but no more than 10
maybe 11kms at most (of 14kms)
The road is a mud pit, puddles everywhere, a couple of pretty steep creek crossing, lots of logs for the unwary and most importantly ... dang it got cold.  The track is beautiful, but practicalities: the water is cold, you’re in the shade most of the time, and you’re cruising downhill not doing much work so you get cold.

This was only about 30 or 40cm deep.
I was starting to think someone had moved the falls and I was never going to get there, just before I turned around a corner to find several 4WD’s motorbikes and quad bikes jammed into a small car park.  I'd made it.

I swapped war stories with the assembled mass of drivers who were sipping beers and couldn’t believe that I had come in behind them.  One guy in particular seemed most put out that I’d cycled in in about the same time he had.  Big grins (but only on the inside).  I pointed out our relative conditions (me cacked head to toe in mud, him clean and polished) hoping that would made him feel better, but decided not to hang around to see, instead setting off over the suspension bridge to admire the falls and have my lunch.

After the 4WD section, the pedestrian (and bikes) only section out to Williamsford is an absolute dream.  The first section still has a lot of sleepers in place so is a bit bumpy, but  downhill in this direction, though the gradient soon once again turns every so slightly, but noticeably, upwards as it heads along some enchanting sections of track up to the car park.
At last dry ground ... the bridge below the falls.

Magical pedestrian side of the track

Old sleepers going around corner

Me trying to be artisitc

Just gorgeous riding

Getting slightly better at this artistic stuff .. just got to get my head in the shot.

I was ALMOST tempted to head back to Zeehan via the road, but figured I wasn’t likely to come this way again soon, so turned around and headed back into the mud.  

Form this direction, the grade of the track is basically downhill for about 2/3rds the way to the falls, then uphill to past the Ring River track where it again turns downhill for an increasingly fast and fun descent back down to Melba Flats, and if I was only doing the track in one direction, this is definitely the way to do it.  I was surprised at how quickly the uphill section went by  as it had looked quite steep and technical on the way down, but it made for great riding on the way back up.

I stopped again at Melba Flats, covered literally from head to toe in mud, even my bike was barely recognisable.

Muddy, muddy me.

Pretty flowers.
To finish off the ride, I headed back along the main highway towards Zeehan for about 500m, then took an unsigned little road off to the right which I hoped was the track running parallel to the railway line.  I figured I may as well give all the options a look.

After passing by a gate, and ignoring a couple of turn offs to the left and right, the road crossed my railpath near the last major bridge wash out (this would be a better way to exit rather than doing what I did which was climb back up onto the railway and carry and push my bike along to the new railway line) then continued on winding its way through a eucalypt plantation before bee lining it back to Zeehan (ignoring one clay coloured road to the left).

The section past the plantation is very overgrown in places, and one section in particular I found myself pushing through gorse for two or three hundred metres, then wading almost knee deep through long puddles, and I was constantly breaking path through fallen stems through the forested section.  However I did manage to carry on going forward, and fairly quickly reached the first major bridge wash out where I once again forded the creek (which had risen about 10 cm in the short time I’d been through).  I took the opportunity to give the bike a bit of a wash down here, before cycling the last, fairly open section back to the start.  This last section, in fact all of this section, isn’t for arachnophobes.  I cycled through what seemed like dozens (but was probably only 10) cobwebs strung across the trail, and didn't really enjoy seeing scary big black spiders in the middle of their web as I crashed face first through them.

Beware, all who carry on will be scratched within an inch of their lives.

Just before the first/last cutting I transferred back onto the railway line to cycle the section I had initially missed, which was not much.  Like some guy who had cycled the route in 2007 (I read his comments at the camp grounds that night), I almost cycled across a barbed wire fence which had been dropped over the line.

I dropped back out onto the track about 300 metres past here just near a pine plantation on my left as the track goes across a second fence.

Pulling up beside the car, my thoughts of carrying on to the Spray Tunnel section quickly vanished.  It 6pm by and I was feeling pretty well done through.

I ended up staying  at Zeehan Caravan Park, which I'd heartily recommend.  I paid $18 for an unpowered site, including free use of unlimited hot showers and a pretty reasonable camp kitchen where I swapped travel stories with three other cyclists who were over here from Hobart cycling the trails.  A perfect end to a near perfect day.

Camp ground dog.  He was a cutie.

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