David Cauldwell takes a bicycle holiday through Tasmania’s Tarkine wilderness to find that some things are worth preserving. Not your dry clothes, and certainly not your sense of direction, but some things.

“I only use it to shoot wallabies and cyclists,” says the farmer, gripping the barrel of his shotgun. Ivan and I look at each other.

The day’s been pretty bad up to this point. Getting shot certainly won’t be the ideal way to end it.

We’ve been lost for 24 hours, cycling towards the Road to Nowhere in Tasmania’s northwest.

Aware of this irony, and after hours of trudging through grass crop silage and over crater-like turnip paddocks, it seems we’ve forgone the “road” part and just ended up nowhere.

“Let’s take the scenic route along the coast,” Ivan had suggested the previous day. It meant a detour off the highway down bumpy gravel into Granville Harbour, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
 

Much of the time was spent pushing the bikes through swamps, over dunes and under electric fences. 

The detour, which took us along rugged coastline – a little too rugged, as it turned out, to lug bikes and panniers weighing nearly 30kg – quickly descended into farce. Much of the time was spent pushing the bikes through swamps, over dunes and under electric fences.

Eventually the track disappeared and dusk fell. We pitched a tent in the dunes and stumbled onto a farm the next day. Now we’re face-to-face with a shotgun, and it’s time to get back on track before this farmer gets trigger-happy.

The Road to Nowhere (more commonly known as the Western Explorer) takes you through Corinna, a sleepy town on the banks of the Pieman River.

A boomtown in the late 1800s housing around 2050 residents at its peak, there are around four residents when Ivan and I pass through. Once a lure for gold prospectors, the whole town was recently bought by a guy from Sydney, but the only gold we find is a tin of Black and Gold baked beans in Ivan’s pannier.

"…infamous convict Alexander Pearce, who twice escaped from the penal colony on Sarah Island, ate six people and was found with human remains in his pocket." 

A barge called the Fatman takes you across the Pieman into Corinna.

Apparently the river is named for infamous convict Alexander Pearce, who twice escaped from the penal colony on Sarah Island, ate six people and was found with human remains in his pocket.

His hanging attracted a large crowd and his memory has been immortalised both in song and opera.

Activists certainly weren’t singing during the construction of the Road to Nowhere in 1995.

Then-environment minister John Faulkner labelled it an act of “environmental vandalism” and more than 1000 protestors converged on the area to chain themselves to bulldozers. Their protest was in vain, however, and the logging trucks rolled on.

The road runs through a vast and unprotected wilderness called the Tarkine, home to the world’s second largest temperate rainforest (after British Columbia), as well as one of the greatest concentration of Aboriginal sites in Australia, with middens that pre-date the Pyramids.

Although this part of Tasmania couldn’t be more opposite to Egypt. Wet and lush, it gets three metres of rain every year. A sign warns riders of roads ahead with “steep winding and narrow sections”, and that, for 71km, there’s nothing but wilderness.

From Corinna, the road plummets into a gorge. As we approach Savage River, clouds hang low and rain sprinkles the hills.

We stare into tannin waters and try to spot a giant freshwater crayfish – just one of the 56 endangered species living in the Tarkine.

We knew they were around here somewhere, and at one-metre long there’s little chance you could miss the world’s largest crustacean, but today the water has an oily glaze and, unlucky this time, we wonder if anything at all could live in there.

Since 1967, Savage River has been polluted by a mine upstream. Today its copper levels are more than 25 times what they should be, altering the migratory habits of fish that now die before they can reach the sea. The forests skirting the Savage River are very much alive, however.

Trees twist back through time. Centuries-old mossy myrtles glisten with raindrops. The pitter-patter on the canopy causes the occasional drip to escape down your back, and abundant leaves of yellow, green and brown adorn the trees, endlessly drizzling.

From here it gets steep. But a rigorous climb up the Mount Donaldson road is rewarded with beautiful views. Green hills roll, mountains jag against the horizon, and not so far away we spot Bob Bush, out for a drive.

For two days after that we see nobody and cycle along the back of a giant gravel snake, riding past marshes as opposed to in them, and through towering eucalypts and forests charred by fire. 

Bob, a friendly man in his 70s, is a member of the Tarkine National Coalition, an organisation devoted to preserving this wilderness. He’s out scoping the area for illegal mining operations, but helps us out instead by taking our rubbish, lightening our load considerably.

For two days after that we see nobody and cycle along the back of a giant gravel snake, riding past marshes as opposed to in them, and through towering eucalypts and forests charred by fire.

Further inland, there are granite tors, magnesite karst systems and wild rivers that carve out the landscape. The road dips into creeks occasionally, and these are ideal places to camp and replenish water supplies.

Out here, nowhere is very definitely somewhere. And after four days it’s a shame when gravel turns to bitumen. Back on the highway, smoke spirals into the air as controlled burn-offs turn a sunny day into an eerie pre-eclipse dusk, bruising the sky with brown, orange and yellow.

Although people have been campaigning since the ’60s for the Tarkine’s protection, areas of it are being plundered alarmingly for woodchip. “When I moved here it was quiet,” says a resident who lives on the road to Smithton. “But in the last two years the logging trucks have been non-stop.

They start early in the morning and finish early in the morning. And the dust!” He adjusts his hat and strokes his greying beard. “You see those trees over there? They may look untouched but don’t be fooled by what you see at the roadside. Ten metres back it’s all gone.”

Such stories make me glad I’m visiting the area before it’s further destroyed. Cycling through the Tarkine is a great way to see it, and you feel sorry for the cars that whoosh by and miss everything.

Our journey continues to Burnie where we eat beef stew with Bob. His wife tells us of the time she beat Rolf Harris at tennis. The Tarkine had served up an ace there, and before long we’re set to go nowhere slowly all over again.

Enjoy this article?

You can find it in Issue 17 along with
loads of other great stories and tips.

BUY THIS ISSUE