As forecasted, the sun made his comeback this morning! Karel, Marketa and I went to the Hungry Wombat Café for a solid breakfast with eggs, bacon and sausage, so enjoyable after many morning oatmeals in a row! There, we met Paul Davenport, 75 years old. While I was tranquilly seated near the hotel’s fireplace, Paul rode the mainly uphill 127 kilometres between Strahan and Derwent Bridge in the weather conditions you know. He simply told us “I rode a bit too much yesterday, my legs are a bit stiff today!”. Now next time you are trying to find a good excuse not to go sporting outdoor, please think about Paul and move your ass!
After this nice breakfast, it was time for me to say goodbye to my friends and start my biking day. Today, there will be no town or village on my road, not even a single house! For nearly 80 kilometres, this road goes trough untouched wilderness! The ride began with a gentle climb to reach King William Saddle. This pass marks the divide between the East and the West of Tasmania. The West part, where I am heading, is a land of ancient rainforest and moorland, swift dark rivers and rugged mountains. The West coast receive an astonishing 2,5 to 3 metres of rainfall a year, because the prevailing westerly winds loose all the moisture accumulated above the Indian Ocean when encountering Tasmanian mountains. The East coast, that I had been biking through for one month, is dryer, lower and dominated by heathlands and eucalyptus forest. From a geological point of view, the West Coast’s foundations are billion year old quartzite rocks formed in primeval seas. At some places, sandstone and younger sedimentary rocks are also to be seen. During the Cambrian and Ordovician period (about 540 – 440 million years ago), important volcanic action happened. At that time, Tasmania lied under the sea! Seawater entered the volcanic rocks and the resulting hot waters were driven back up trough the volcanic pile. They altered the original volcanic rock, forming the so-called “Lyell Schists”, and more importantly, deposited large amount of minerals rich in sulfur, iron, copper, silver and gold. These ore deposits were later on brought to the surface of earth thanks to the combined action of earthquakes, faults and erosion. In simpler terms, the West Coast hosts very concentrated ores and as we will see the coming days, mining played an important role in its history!
As for the East Coast, it is dominated by much younger foundations of dolerite, formed during the Jurassic period (about 165 million years ago): at that time, as Gondwana, the super continent formed by Australia, South America, Africa and Antartica, pulled apart, molten rock beneath the earth’s surface found its way into cracks, and then cooled and fractured into tall columns. At the moment of their formation, these columns where not visible, because they were surrounded by other type of sedimentary rocks. But with time, erosion removed these more fragile sedimentary rocks and left these stunning dolerite pillars that I have showed you already a few times. (This part over geology is tricky, because if I am telling you bullshit my brother will certainly react. For those who would want to go further, Wikipedia provides a lot of information here).
After King William Saddle, I could enjoy a wicked downhill with lots of sharp bends and amazing views on the narrow valleys and surrounding mountains. I then arrived near the Franklin River, which has a special place in Tasmanian history. Indeed, in the early eighties, ecological activists mobilised themselves for month to block the Gordon-below-Franklin dam project. If built, this dam would have annihilated the Franklin, Tasmania’s last wild river, and the amazing surrounding rainforest. The conflict between those who wanted to preserve the environment and those who wanted to develop the economy thanks to “clean” electricity was so harsh and long that it attracted the attention of the rest of Australia and international media. The case had to be settled by the federal High Court, who finally ruled by a vote of 4 to 3 against the construction of the dam. Consequently, the river was saved and the whole area was declared Unesco World Heritage Area. This protects the river and the rainforest against all human activities such as building dams or chopping trees. This was an important victory for the ecological movement against economical interests.
Then I continued my cycling to the start of the track to Frenchman Cap, an iconic quartzite peak dominating the area. The name is supposed to be given by convicts on Sarah Island penal settlement, because the shape of the mountain is similar to the cap worn during the 1789 French revolution (le bonnet phrygien). For the convicts, this peak represented a useful landmark in an escape attempt, thus a symbol of freedom. The summit can be reached in a demanding 3 to 5 days hike that I will sadly not be able to do. Still, I can enjoy the views from the distance from Donnaghys Hill lookout, a nice 45 minutes hiking side-trip. While enjoying these views, I felt so happy that I had made the right decision to delay this ride and take one rest day in Derwent Bridge!
I cycled for two more hours on a mainly descending road, but the strong headwinds, bad asphalt quality and short steep climbs made it more difficult than expected. I had then another stop to walk to Nelson falls. Once again, the quality of the path and provided background information along it is amazing. This time, they use the walk to introduce visitors to the geology of the area.
After enjoying the waterfalls, I biked the last 15 kilometres until my lovely free campsite on the shore of lake Burbury, an artificial lake nested in a mountainous landscape.