My last scouting/pre-riding experience in Tasmania was intended as preparation for my first Edelweiss tour of 2017 that would take us from Sydney To Melbourne and would also include the 5 days on Tasmania I explored in advance.
I flew back into Sydney from Launceston, where the temperature was markedly higher than in Tasmania. There I met up with Anthony, my partner for this tour. Since this tour was overseas and we don’t have any Edelweiss-owned vehicles and equipment there, we had to arrange things with the rental vehicles in a different way than what I’ve been used to so far.
Over the course of the next days the tour retraced a lot of the route I followed back then with those 3 young German backpackers. It was fun and interesting to see some places again, and to be able to offer some “local experience” to the customers: I knew which small road to go down to see the seals at Narooma for example. We also went to historic Tilba Tilba, which we missed back then but i had wanted to see; it turned out it was a fun, quaint little town; very photogenic.
Riding motorcycles in Australia was different to my old, slow Toyota Hilux I had a year ago. In general the roads are fairly easy; wide, well maintained, average speeds of 80km/h are easy to obtain and of course these 120hp BMW’s are not phased by any hills like my car was!
Riding with the customers was also fairly straightforward, I’ve gotten much more relaxed about it, from the initial perception at the training that they would all get lost instantly, it’s turned out that things go much smoother on real tours. For the whole trip there were really no issues at all with regards to the riding and navigating part; I’ve also started using a new GPS system that works much better for me, especially with these BMW bikes.
At times however, the bigger challenge in this trip lay in the interaction with customers. Unlike in Europe, where all myprevious tours have been and I never had any German-speaking customers, we now had a group that was half German-speaking. Not that my German skills were necessarily a problem, they’ve gotten so much better since my start with Edelweiss, but the group dynamics are different and you have to spend much more time translating and explaining things. Switching between languages that are both not my mothertongue requires focus; sometimes I nearly started speaking German to our English-speaking customers for example.
Having many days in a row on the bike with customers was definitely challenging at times, I think I’ve learned I need to optimize that schedule with my partner in the future. Different people have different skills and preferences, and I’m the kind of tourguide that sees opening up a BMW engine to fix a small oil leak as a very welcome distraction from having coffee and dining for hours. Especially if it makes the customer in question very happy he no longer gets oil over his boots.
On one of my van-driving days, I had seen I’d be passing through Morwell, where I spent more than a week with the lovely Robyn in November 2015. My time there was really nice and I really looked forward to seeing her again. I had lunch together with her and her friend Goldie, who had showed me around the Morwell power stations. He’d even remembered I was named after Laurens van Der Post and had one of Van Der Posts’ novels for me as a gift!
After Victoria we’d be taking the bikes to Tasmania and for that there’s only one solution: the Spirit of Tasmania ferry between Melbourne and Devonport. We’d be taking it during the night, so it would substitute for a hotel and we wouldn’t lose any riding time. The ferry was actually very nice, I still have memories from sleeping in bunks with drunk truck drivers on the way to Latvia, so the Spirit was quite the luxurious affair compared.
Anthony rode from Devonport to Queenstown on that first Tasmania day, as I knew it was fairly straight forward, and the guy that rides the motorcycle onto the Ferry has to ride it off as well due to logistics. It was just as when I was there a week before, fairly rainy again. The Tullah – Strahan – Queenstown area of Tasmania is by far the rainiest part of Tasmania (and does pretty well in the Australia-wide rankings) so that was no surprise. Still it was nowhere as bad as our first day.
Also despite the weather, everybody agreed it’s such a nice area that it would be a shame to miss. It doesn’t even look like Australia much up there around Cradle Mountain. more like Scotland or the Lake District at times. It did get very cold; we measured down to 4 degrees at one point, and the riders saw some snowfall at one point. In summer!
The next day I rode to Hobart. The rain cleared up once we moved away from Queenstown, of course. At times some of the days on this tour felt short; in Australia doing 250 km isn’t all that much, and an extra 100 or so would have been nice at times. It does seem like for this tour I’ll have a bit more of a chance to suggest edits, so I’m sure it will improve for the better.
We had one day where the main goal was a loop to Port Arthur and back to Hobart. Port Arthur is a 19th century prison settlement, one of the largest and most well known in Australia and perhaps the nr. 1 attraction in Tasmania. Despite that it was fairly calm, largely devoid of Asian bus-tourists.
I’d been to Port Arthur before, with my family back in 1994 when I was just 7 years old. I remember a few things from it, but not this specific spot. Port Arthur was the site of a 1996 mass-shooting incident in which 35 people were killed, most in the very building on this photo. It used to be the Broad Arrow Cafe, the main hub of Port Arthur, I’m sure we passed through it back in 94. The incident led to some big changes in Australia, and the site was largely redesigned. Nowadays there’s a large visitor center with parking, and the Broad Arrow ruins are relegated to the sidelines. It was just strange to realize I’d been in this place before it happened.
From then on we mostly had good weather with sun and blue skies. Here’s a customer admiring Pirates Bay lookout near Port Arthur.
The last day in Tasmania was down to me riding again. Good thing I’d scouted this route before, as I managed to optimize it a bit compared to the plan. Funnily we even met an Edelweiss customer on that day who had ridden all the way from Europe; he’d been with Edelweiss up until Thailand for our “World Tour” trip.
Here’s a nice beach shot of the tourguide BMW R1200GS motorcycle. Again it was just such a care-free bike to ride, just like back in France. This time I had my own BMW Navigator system to rely on, which resulted in zero navigation problems or crises, compared to the Garmin Montana I had before.
The next day, straight after we got off the ferry at 6 (very difficult for me to get started before breakfast even), we headed for the Great Ocean Road, probably Australia’s most famous road these days. The start was a bit of a shock; busloads and busloads of tourists, mostly Asian, where being unloaded on every parking lot, selfie-sticks in hand. A few customers decided after the first stop already to take it at their own pace, as you can’t really get lost on this road.
The road and the sights are really quite nice. It’s a bit busy on the road itself, especially the first half, but on a motorcycle you pass the buses relatively easy. The group had gone down to just me and 2 customers so we were fairly nimble. By the end of the day, around the famous, packed-with-tourists-again Twelve Apostles, it started raining a bit, but it was still a decent day.
By then we were down to the last day, and I drove the van back to Melbourne again where the bikes would be handed over back to the rental partner. I’d been on the bike for 4 of the past 5 days and some driving by myself was a welcome change again.
After the final tour day, where Anthony and our guests returned home, I had an extra job of bringing the Van back to the rental place in Sydney. That first day was mostly incessant rain, when I followed what would normally be the “extension” leg of the tour if customers chose to book it (nobody had this time round).
The next day was much better when I took off from Wangaratta and passed through Beechworth, a very interesting town, seemed like one of the best preserved I’ve come across in Australia (or at least they have tried to replicate the look).
Eventually I crossed back into NSW and drove over a road called the “Alpine Way”. It was much better than it’s grandiose sounding cousin the “Great Alpine Road”; twisty corners and hills for ages. It took me over a spot called Dead Horse Gap where it was very cold, I had 4 degrees again, and saw some snow lying around for myself. In Australian summer!
Eventually I made another stop in Canberra, Australia’s capital. I stayed at the same AirBnB as I had last time i was there (with no budget concerns this time around). I then took a little bit of time to revisit the War Memorial, as I felt incredibly rushed last time I visited.