Earnie's Adventures Down Under
written by Earnie Williamson, circa 2000
After my Cross-country trip last year, I wanted to try to maintain fitness over the winter. I figured that I would find multiple excuses for not riding the wind trainer, so I looked for a trip in the first part of the year where it was warm. I initially signed up with the tour company that did the Cross-country trip. Because of Y2K complications, they canceled theirs, but were kind enough to recommend a New Zealand based company, PEDALTOURS.
PEDALTOURS has a fantastic web site. I looked over the many tours they offered and pieced together a 19-day ride in Tasmania, Australia and a 12-day tour on the North Island of New Zealand. I chose to rent a bike, as I did not want the expense of shipping my bike or hassles of taking it with me on the plane. Of all my decisions, this is the only one I regretted. While the bikes I got were acceptable, they were not of the quality to which I have become accustomed and I spent a lot of time tweaking it to get the saddle just right and the height and the gearing, etc.
The flight over was very long, 33 hours from Fort Wayne to Hobart, Tasmania, which included a 5-hour layover in L.A. I was pretty toasted by the time I got there. There were 5 of us on the Taz tour. Tasmania is an island off the southeast coast of Australia. Because of its topography, mountainous in the west, and the prevailing winds, westerlies, there are several “micro-climates.” Over the course of the trip we rode from sea level to about 5000 feet. It was hot the first couple of days with easterly headwinds. There was a support van, driven by our guide, which followed us. Of course they drive on the left side of the road, so that was always a challenge. We stayed in very nice motels or lodges. The tempo of the ride is very relaxed; breakfast each morning was usually about 7:30 or 8:00. In the mountains, some of the folks would sag to the top of some of the hills. In the mountains we ran into cold weather and rain. As our guide said one day when it was miserable; it was not rain, it was molten snow.
Tasmania is very hilly once you leave the coast. We saw a large number of road kill. It hurt my heart to see wallabies, Tasmanian devils, possum (different from ours, but just as unable to get across a road alive), and wombats. Tasmania is a bit primitive once outside one of the two major cities. Roads were good and the drivers mostly cooperative. Some of the folks had a problem with the traffic, but I did not find it difficult at all. My memory of Tasmania is that it was very hilly and windy with some beautiful vistas from the mountains and a great deal of diverse terrain.
On the New Zealand tour, we had 12 people and I had a roommate. Tom is a Captain with the NY Fire Department. His beater travel bike is a Litespeed Titanium, so he is a pretty serious rider. I did not realize that NZ and Australia were so far from each other, 1300 miles. We had two guides and two support vans. As in Tasmania, they buzzed around us during the day and made lunch for us on the route. We had maps each day, but there are not a whole bunch of roads, so navigation was pretty easy. NZ was a lot more scenic and the people seemed friendlier. It is a pretty young country, founded in the mid 1800s by people who wanted to be there, as opposed to Australia that was initially used as a penal colony.
We rode through the mountain valleys and some of the views were beautiful. I was told that the South Island is prettier and less populated, but I was pretty impressed with the North Island. The people in our group came from all over the US and England. We had the opportunity to stay on two farms and eat dinner and talk with the families. Lots of lamb and mutton for dinner.
We rode about 600 miles in Tasmania and about 400 in NZ, but these tours are more relaxed than most of the tours I have ridden in the US. I am glad I rode in Tasmania, but will probably not go back again. New Zealand, on the other hand, was great and I want to go back and do other parts of the North Island and go onto the South Island as well.