Podcast-narrated rides take visitors to the treats of this Tasmanian region, finds Jon Miller.
The Meander Valley municipality in Northern Tasmania stretches eastwards from Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park to Prospect Vale, just south-west of Launceston. The impressive escarpment of the Great Western Tiers lies to the south. To the north is the classic rural Tasmanian farmscape with quiet roads, hedge-rows and small villages dotted throughout. The region is easily reached from Launceston or from Devonport via the Spirit of Tasmania.
Compared to much of the rest of Tasmania, the Meander Valley is relatively flat, which makes it ideal for cycle touring. To cater for the increasing number of riders visiting the area, the Meander Valley Council has developed a series of four on-road rides; each with a different focus, showcasing what the region has to offer. Each ride is also accompanied by a podcasts. The podcasts are divided in to a number of tracks between two and ten minutes duration. Each track describes a point of interest on the route, including historical information and stories from locals.
Each chapter is narrated by somebody connected to the area you are riding through. This might be Jane Bennett, the proprietor of Ashgrove Cheese, a geologist describing the composition of the Great Western Tiers escarpment or Bob Brown, former leader of the Australian Greens political party, who makes his home in nearby Liffey. Regardless of who is doing the narration, they are all very interesting and add a lot to the rides. While it’s possible to ride the routes without listening to the podcasts, you are missing out if you do.
If you’re not comfortable listening to the podcasts as you pedal along, there are large signs with track numbers along the route. You can stop at each of these signs and listen to the relevant track before continuing on your way. A map of all the rides is available from the Tourist Information Centre in Deloraine or is available for download. This is more of an overview of the rides than a detailed guide suitable for navigation; it’s best to have a road map as well.
Apart from the Great Country Ride, which starts in Westbury, all the rides start and finish in Deloraine. This is a classified historic town, located approximately halfway on the main road between Devonport and Launceston. It’s worth spending a little time here exploring some of the historic buildings or just taking a stroll along the picturesque Meander River.
If you have limited time and are only able to do one of the rides, the Great Gourmet Ride has to be the pick of the bunch. It is a medium difficulty ride of 62km and, as the name suggests, passes by some of the gourmet food outlets of the region.
Starting from Deloraine, head north-west on the main A1 towards Devonport. This is a busy highway which carries a lot of traffic and isn’t an ideal choice for cycling. However, it does have a very wide sealed shoulder which is remarkably free from debris. So riding on it, while a little noisy, is quite okay.
First stop along the way is the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm and Cafe. Raspberries were first planted on the farm in 1984 and originally sold from a roadside stall; in 1995, the cafe was built and now a huge range of raspberry-themed dishes, from raspberry lattes to mouth-watering desserts are on offer. They also have more traditional cafe items on the menu, made with locally sourced produce where possible.
From the raspberry farm, keep heading north, through Elizabeth Town to Ashgrove Cheese. The first thing you notice is the distinctive cow art: dozens of life-size, corrugated iron cow cut outs painted by local schools are scattered throughout the property. Less obvious but equally colourful is the gumboot art.
Inside the shop, free tastings of Ashgrove’s extensive range of cheeses are available. They are probably best known for their cheddar varieties for which they have won numerous awards. But they make many other traditional English style cheeses and also use some unusual flavourings. The bush pepper and wasabi cheeses are both very good. As well as Ashgrove cheeses, the shop sells milk, butter, ice-cream and other locally produced foods such as pates, honeys, fudges and jams.
After you’ve finished at Ashgrove, head south back towards Elizabeth Town. If you’re thinking about a picnic lunch with all your purchases, stop at the Elizabeth Town bakery for some bread before you continue on your way.
Turn off the Bass Highway just past Elizabeth Town and ride along some quiet back roads reminiscent of England’s country lanes. There are some magnificent views of the Great Western Tiers, large rocky escarpments which delineate the boundary between Tasmania’s rugged central plateau and the relatively flat and fertile areas of the state’s north. Look for the large rocky hills known as Gog and Magog which mark the opening of a gorge through which the Mersey river flows.
Next stop on this Great Gourmet Ride is the Three Willows Vineyard, a very small winery in a picturesque setting specialising in pinot varieties. It’s open for tastings most days. A little further south is Tasmanian Pure smallgoods, makers of European-style sausages, hams, salamis, terrines, etc. They are open from Monday to Friday.
On the same road is the 41 South salmon and ginseng farm. This is a truly amazing place: an inland fish farm built on sustainable farming principles. There are free tastings of the products including their flagship hot-smoked baby salmon. For a small charge, you can go on a self-guided tour of the salmon ponds and ginseng plantation. This is very interesting with information boards throughout explaining all of the features of the farm and kids will love the opportunity to feed the salmon. The smoked salmon is sold in vaccuum packs so it will keep safely in the bottom of your panniers for several weeks—if you can resist it that long.
Other rides in the series include the Great Caves Ride: a two-day ride running west from Deloraine taking in the King Solomon’s and Marakoopa caves as well as the Trowunna Wildlife Park and dramatic Alum Cliffs.
To the south is the Great World Heritage Ride towards Quamby Bluff and Liffey Falls on the edge of the famous Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. This is a little more challenging ride than the others as it is hillier with the last few kilometres before the falls on unsealed roads. It escapes the farmland which dominates the area and heads up through native forest.
The Great Country Ride is a pleasant point to point ride through the countryside. It starts 17km from Deloraine in the classified historic town of Westbury, which is jam-packed full of beautiful old buildings. The White House Bakery is a local institution with people travelling from miles around to buy their pies and artisan breads. The ride heads in a westerly direction, passing by the historic homestead of Entally House before finishing at Hadspen. The last few kilometres are on the reasonably busy Meander Valley Highway. Unless you plan on visiting Entally House, it may be worth finishing your ride in Carrick instead.
You might also like to try rides from Devonport.
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