It’s a comfortable day’s ride from Hobart to St Helens
Words: The Bear
Photos: Lou Martin and The Bear
It is so easy to get out of Hobart you’d almost think they were trying to get rid of you. Take this ride as an example: just head north along the riverfront and before you know it you’re on the Captain Cook Bridge and the main road up the east coast, the A3. A few suburbs drop away and … whoops, almost missed the left turn onto the B31 to Richmond.
Seeing we’re in the area, we might as well have a look at the old place with its historic bridge, historic houses and historic scones no, just kidding about the scones. They’re really good.
If you’ve left Hobart early to get on the road and miss the traffic during morning peak hour (small joke there in more ways than one, ha ha) Richmond makes a good stop for breakfast. If you leave at the time we usually seem to do on launches, it makes an equally good stop for morning tea (see comment re scones above). There are several cafés with very similar offerings and at this time of day you can park your bike right outside. Later on there are coaches full of pensioners; please don’t scare them.
Instead, take the C350 back over to the A3 and you’re on a really nice and reasonably traffic-free back road – err, that is to say, main highway – which winds pleasantly up and down the many hills. It will take you out to the coast at Orford. Like most of the west coast, Orford has come along a treat in the past few years and now offers perfectly good coffee. So does Triabunna, a little further north, which is also where you get the ferry to Maria Island. Don’t try to take your bike, will you.
Please note while you’re in this area that while Tasmania’s east coast does not get as much rain as the west, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get much rain by south-eastern Australian standards! It is quite often wet, but unlike the weather on other coast it rarely sets in for long. You can expect a fair bit of sunshine and might like to take advantage of the excellent beaches.
Some American travel magazine has nominated Wineglass Bay as one of the world’s great beaches but the Americans are always nominating places as the world’s best this or that. We try not to pay attention, except when they nominate ARR as one of the world’s great motorcycle touring magazines, which as far as we know they have sadly and inexplicably not so far done. But then we wouldn’t know, because we don’t read the travel magazines, damn.
Do be careful after Swansea, which has a nice little harbour, because the road can be treacherous. The Frog tells us that one set of corners is especially dangerous, but we can’t work out a way of telling you which – so be careful all the way up, all right?
Do stop in Bicheno for some fresh crayfish and a quick hello to Bertrand “The Frog” Cadart, the Australian importer of the famous French Fournales shock absorbers at his tourist shop Le Frog’s Corner. You can also go for a trike ride with him if you don’t have enough ridiculous photographs of yourself yet.
Bicheno is in the “motorcycle friendly” shire of Glamorgan Spring Bay. Just what that means is up to you, apparently; you are encouraged to make a suggestion as to ways in which this friendliness might express itself to The Frog, who also is the mayor, when you see him. No, not that sort of suggestion. Well, actually, why not?
Then, as they say in the trashy books with the pink covers displaying heaving bosoms (or is it the heaving covers displaying pink bosoms?), it all changes. Less than 30 kilometres up the coast is the turnoff to St Marys via Elephant Pass.
It’s 17 kilometres up to St Marys from the A3 on the coast and it’s 10 kilometres back down to the same road. That will give you some idea of the respective gradients of Elephant and St Marys passes, but take my word for it – they’re both fun.
Elephant, the southern pass, is relatively gentle with larger radius corners. That makes it a pretty quick run. There is also less traffic. The road, which has been in good condition every time I’ve sampled it, runs through forest for most of the way and does get a bit damp and slippery at times.
St Marys is considerably steeper, with quite tight corners that hug an almost cliff-like hillside pretty much all the way down. It has a steel guardrail on the downhill side, which is something that always makes me extra careful. A very wise fellow motorcyclist once told me that the rail always wins and the rider always loses in an encounter between the two and I haven’t forgotten that even though I have not sampled the experience myself. This road is slower than Elephant but the main thing likely to slow you down, as I’ve already mentioned, is traffic. Avoid school bus times!
Both of these roads are arms of the A4, which runs away the other way to Fingal and eventually the Midland Highway near Conara. For most of its length it’s called the Esk Highway. Not that you care, do you. Try to be hungry about now because there is a pancake house on Elephant Pass which welcomes motorcyclists.
It’s not far now to St Helens, which is also quite a pleasant place these days – a far cry from earlier times when it took remarkably little trouble to get a fight organised in any one of the pubs. Today there’s a big resort, a coffee cart at the harbour and so on; pine for the past if you like but I prefer it the way it is now.
If it’s a little too early to park the bike you might like to ride up to Binalong Bay. It’s tar all the way, in reasonably good condition and Skeleton Bay is well worth seeing. Lots of big rocks, too.
I think we’ve taken you over the roads between here and Launceston elsewhere, so I’m just going to settle down with a Hazards Ale, brewed just down the road at Wineglass Bay and try to decide how I’ll have my crayfish at dinner. Come join me.
The Mount Elephant Pancake Barn, (03) 6372 2263, is open seven days a week, 8am to 6pm. It has the best pancakes in the universe, allegedly, and is recommended by the Ulysses Club’s Mr Mutt among many others.
Various people have recommended Kate’s Berry Farm, just south of Swansea; the Visitor Centre at Freycinet National Park; the Frog’s trike rides in Bicheno (of course); and St Helens History Room, whatever that might be. For our part we recommend the Hazards Ale.
Information from: www.tasmanianmotorcyclecouncil.org.au, Tasmanian travel and information centre Hobart, (03) 6230 8233; Launceston (03) 6336 3133.