Drew Jackson from Townsville, QLD, attended the SR500 Club Ride ’round Tasmania, 11-20 March, 2016.
Here’s his account of the trip:
A SINGLE-MINDED RIDE AROUND TASMANIA
The opportunity to ride around Tasmania once more was too good to miss out on, especially as the ride was going to be chance to use my SR500 on some this country’s best motorcycling roads. When the SR500 Club first floated the idea, I signed up straight away – this was at least 6 mths prior so I had plenty of time to sort out the logistics (and earn the brownie points needed). There was no way I was going to ride the SR500 6000 km on the mainland just getting to and from Tasmania. The thought of having a 38 year old bike break on the wrong side of Bass Strait and then having to get it back home meant that the ute was going to do the big kilometres on this trip. I booked the Mazda on the ferry, and once a rough itinerary was available, hotels and motels were booked online. I then contacted a friend, John, in Warwick and asked him if he wanted to come along for another crack at Tasmania. He had recently downsized his bike as, like all of us, he’s not as young as he used to be. His Kawasaki KL250 was set up for touring, with pannier racks, heated grips and 12V outlet. Given that the bike only had to keep pace with SR500s, then it was thought that the Kawka would do the job.
It is cheaper to take a fully loaded ute across the Strait than two motorcycles.
The drive to Melbourne took a couple of days and with diesel prices as low as $0.99 per ltr, the cost wasn’t too bad. I stopped in Mackay the first night after leaving on Thursday afternoon and driving through torrential rain. It was really pissing down and I had visions of road closures and lengthy detours. So I was up at 4:30am and off to Warwick. More rain! It did stop before Rockhampton, and the rest of the drive was uneventful. We loaded the bikes and camping gear into the ute after doing a final tappet adjustment on the SR, and planned for an early start, with Canberra being our goal for the day. We left Canberra mid-morning and headed for Lakes Entrance where we set up camp in the recreation grounds ($20 for a tent site). They have a big problem with rabbits – the bloody things were everywhere! We arrived in Melbourne in the middle of a heat wave – 37°C! We spent the night with my brother in his fur shop in the suburb of McKinnon. The following day we planned to check out the bike shops in Elizabeth St. We left the ute in a side street near the port with our gear stuffed into the cab and our bikes chained to the ute’s tray. Then disaster struck!
We decided to get a tram into the city, but as John stepped into the tram, his knee went bung. Really BUNG. We got off the tram and he went to a pharmacy to get some painkillers and a walking stick, but he couldn’t walk, even with the stick. We were in deep poo. We managed to catch a taxi to the Royal Alfred Hospital and I wheeled him into emergency in a wheel chair. After waiting a couple of hours, the doctor took him into a cubicle and prodded and poked his knee and didn’t really think he should leave. John explained that he was going to ride a motorbike around Tasmania for ten days. The doctor was probably going to send him to the psych ward at that stage! So she drained a bucket of fluid from his knee, X-rayed his knee and released him with a pile of pills and warnings. We took a taxi back to the ute and eventually found ourselves on board the ferry. John hobbled into the bar and after several cool drinks and a good meal, he went to sleep. The knee was going to play up for the next three weeks, going from feeling pretty good, to feeling pretty awful. Once underway on the bike he was fine – it was getting on and off that had its challenges. Luckily it had electric start.
Once off the ferry, we headed for St. Helens where an old friend was going to let us leave the ute while we were on the ride. He also told us he’d come and pick us up if we broke down anywhere in Tasmania – another retiree looking for something to do! We were asked to leave our laundry behind as well. Great! Clean clothes would be great. That night the rain started and even though we looked at the computer radar images, the clouds weren’t going away. So we set off in the rain and hoped it wasn’t going to ruin a good ride. The rain cleared after 50 km, and the ride to Devonport went well, with the SR and KL making good time. We were to meet the rest of the group on Saturday morning as they got off the ferry. We found a room at Molly Malones Irish Hotel, with a lock-up shed for the bikes. The following morning at 6am, we repacked the bikes and prepared to leave. It was still dark at this time and I flooded the SR. I did the usual thing to clear the combustion chamber and turned the ignition back on. The backfire that resulted shattered the morning peace and would have woken the dead! Luckily the bike started next kick and we melted into the darkness before anyone called the police looking for a fool with a shotgun!
Now this is where the title comes into play. We found a lone SR500 parked near the ferry terminal surrounded by BMW GS1200s and other motorcycles of various sizes and capacities. In the end, only three SR500s and one XT600 Ténéré were in the group. Oh well! As they explained, it’s an owners’ club, not a riders’ club! After introductions, it was off to Stanley, but not directly. We went to Sheffield first for breakfast, then on to Wilmot via some tight windy roads that skirted Cradle Mountain. Our first fuel stop was at Waratah. The SR was running well, apart from a small oil leak, and the economy was looking promising (65 mpg). The main group then headed up to Burnie via the main highway. However, the road we chose was the Hellyer Gorge Rd (Murchison Hwy) which I found to be a great ride last time I was there, and as the weather was fine, we figured that we shouldn’t miss the chance to ride it while it was dry. So after some spirited riding, we arrived in Stanley and found the hotel we’d booked months earlier online. The booking was there, the room was good, and the beer was cold. We then climbed up ‘The Nut’.
The following day, we headed off to refuel and found that the service station at Stanley was out of business. John’s KL was on reserve and we weren’t sure where the next fuel was going to be. His KL only holds 9 ltrs and it had been on reserve for a while. We rode slowly towards Burnie and found fuel at Detention River. They also did a very good bacon and egg burger! The others caught up with us and we headed to Wynyard to top up, just in case. Our destination for the day was Queenstown, but there is more than one way to get there. Some of us wanted to go via the Reece Dam, but this was after riding though Hellyer Gorge again. This is where the first mechanical problem occurred when the Triumph Speed Triple picked up a puncture in the rear tyre. Now this was interesting, as finding the hole wasn’t something these possums had done before! So with some sage advice, soapy water was found, and the leak detected. The hole was plugged with one of those screw in repair kits and the 12V socket on the KL provided the power for an air compressor, and we were on our way again.
The road around Reece Dam is another gem, with a combination of fast sweepers and tighter corners – really worth it. It’s great when you are already enjoying one of these roads with endless corners when you come across a sign telling you that ahead is another 11 km of windy roads! We had lunch at Tullah. The road into Queenstown from Zeehan was a great way to finish the day.
That night we had a really good steak at one of the motels, and retired for the night. The next day the weather was beautiful, so we rode to Strahan. This is another twisty ribbon of bitumen, and very enjoyable. The pub sold cold ale, so we supported it before heading to Zeehan. This is not an exciting ride and was disappointing after what we’d ridden previously. We had lunch in Zeehan before riding back to Queenstown for the night. We cooked for ourselves on the motel BBQ – a pretty good steak with tomato and jacket potatoes. We were doing it tough!
The following morning it was time to head south east to Hobart via Derwent Bridge (breakfast) and we stopped at The Wall. I didn’t think a lot had changed there since our last visit, but it is a ‘must see’ in Tasmania. The Lyell Hwy is another good ride, and after going through New Norfolk and getting fuel, it was off to Hobart. The GPS came in handy, finding our motel, which had views over Hobart. A few of the others were staying here as well. We took the bus into the city as we expected to find a pub at some time in the afternoon. We met up with one of my old friends from way back and he took us for a tour of the University Campus near Constitution Dock. He’s doing a PhD on the environmental impact of the dams, etc. We arranged with him to go for a ride out to Strathgordon the next day. Again, the weather was perfect, but there was question mark about the availability of petrol on this road. We rang the Wilderness Lodge, which had just re-opened the previous day, and fuel was available – at $1.73 a ltr! I’m glad the bike had cured its drinking problem! The scenery was stunning and the effects of the bushfires and drought were obvious. A great day on great roads.
The following day, it was off to Swansea on the East coast. Nowhere is very far in Tasmania, so there was no rush to get there. We stopped at Richmond, where the British Motorcycle Owners Club had a display going in the town hall. After looking at some very good bikes, it was off to the bakery for breakfast, then off to Swansea. Again, my online booking had been successful and a cabin was ready. We unloaded the bikes and headed north for a look at Freycinet Peninsula. This is a very picturesque spot, but the cost of getting into Wineglass Bay was just too much, so we contented ourselves with views from the Coles Bay public bar! The wind had picked up and was blowing very strongly. The following morning it started to rain and showed no sign of clearing, so it was on with the wets and off to breakfast at the bakery on the Northern side of town. The ride to St Helens was pretty uneventful and the rain stopped for us before we got to Bicheno. We had a look at the bike museum there, but I didn’t take any photos. We decided to take a detour on the way and found the turnoff to Elephant Pass. Another set of winding corners took us to a pancake café where we had lunch before going to St Helens via St Marys Pass. We were reunited with the ute and used it to get supplies from the bottle shop. We stayed with friends and played cards into the night.
Launceston was our next stop, and the road to Scottsdale, and then Launceston, is a ripper. We stopped at Derby for coffee and caught up with a couple of fellow SR members on BMWs. After a couple of photos, it was off again on some really good roads. Our motel was across the park from the Automobile Museum, and so we headed over there to check it out. Launceston wasn’t very busy, and finding a café took a fair bit of searching. By this time, John’s knee was playing up, so armed with a bottle of red and a six pack, we headed back to our motel.
It was time to bid farewell to other members of the SR fraternity and head back to St. Helens again to pack the bikes and say farewell to our friends, who once again had done all our laundry! We had one more night in Tasmania, so we drove up to the North East and went to Mt William National Park. This was a dirt road and the graders were ripping it up, so progress was slow. We then visited Tomahawk Point and Bridport before calling it a day and spending the night in a cabin at Low Head.
We were due to sail out in the afternoon, so we headed for Great Lake (above), which was really only a little lake, due to the drought. But what a road! I was tempted to unload the SR for one final assault on Tasmania’s highway system, but I didn’t. I’ll leave it until next time! We had lunch in Deloraine before heading up to Devonport to catch the ferry.
Our next adventure involved trams again, and getting out of Melbourne. Next, Broadford [Bike Bonanza]!
PS: John is still waiting for an MRI on his knee.