HACKTREKS IN TASMANIA
in Tights highlights from
a cycling trip in Tasmania
'I spot an advert for the Imperial Hotel in an Estate Agents
window. Its for sale for $300,000. "A motivated buyer
could easily increase sales" says the blurb.'
*See update at end of piece
- This hotel has changed hands is now much better
Its a beautiful sunny day as we set out on the toughest ride so
far on our cycle trip down the east coast of Tassie from Devonport to
Hobart. In our salubrious digs in Launceston I wake up to find a man
with an Errol Flynn moustache, dressed only in his underpants, doing
his ironing in the Residents Lounge. Mmm, I knew this was a classy
joint. Of course Errol Flynn was a Tasmanian. Perhaps the Residents
Lounge is a time machine. I blink but hes still there.
Outside the time machine Alec and I unchain our bikes, load up our gear
and start the long uphill climb out of Launceston. The road is a rollercoaster
as it gradually climbs away from cleared farmland up into State Forest.
Theres a headwind blowing, as there always is when you cycle.
We stop for a drink at Numamarra, the first place weve come to
that isnt named after somewhere in the West of England. Its
the typical rustic general store with petrol bowsers outside, and, as
everywhere seems to be in Tassie, its up for sale. We cycle on.
Up, down, up, down - long slow sweaty hills, grinding up in granny gear,
and I dont mean black lace and a pince-nez. On quiet roads through
spectacular dense forests and terrific scenery. On these long hills
the pressure on your backside is relentless. Theres little chance
to get off the seat, unless you have the drug-induced stamina of a Tour
de France rider, so you quickly get a sore derriere. This is where the
chammy leather crotch in the cycle pants comes in to play. At least
thats what youre told. You may still end the day with a
sore bum but at least your testicles are nice and shiny. And its
terrific for absorbing cold water when it rains.
We cross into the Municipality of Dorset (!) and descend into Scottsdale,
not before several more long steep ups and downs. Before you ask, there
is no Scottsdale in Englands Dorset, the town is named after a
pioneer called Scott who founded the place, which is what pioneers do.
We arrive in the long wide and undulating main street gasping and exhausted.
Much to my amazement Scottsdale has a nice coffee shop equipped with
an expresso machine and I quickly settle at an outside table, sitting
gingerly on my sore posterior, and refuse to move until Ive had
at least two lattes and what turns out to be a delicious salad
sandwich on brown bread. Im getting a sore throat (horrors
not a cold I hope) so I eventually drag myself away to find a chemist
for some lozenges. Tour leader Alec has disappeared.
Alec has gone to the Tourist Information Office and has been lulled
into a false sense of overconfidence when the Tourism Customer Service
Representative, or whatever the woman behind the counter is called,
said that the road to Branxholm is mainly flat. Decision making is Alecs
forte and so he quickly decides that, despite being knackered after
riding 64kms in four an a half hours up hill and down dale, and being
in a nice town full of wonderful looking accommodation and excellent
coffee, that well ride the extra 25kms to Branxholm. The woman,
bless her, obligingly rings the Imperial Hotel in Branxholm to ask about
"Well I'm doin the spring cloinin" says the proprietoress.
"Well I spose I can give them a room. I spose they'll
want food as well?"
Hobbling my way to the chemist I spot an advert for the Imperial Hotel
in an Estate Agents window. Its for sale for $300,000. "A
motivated buyer could easily increase sales" says the blurb.
Comfortable though the café seats are and good though the coffee
is, tour leader Alecs motto is: we never rest, so
off we set to cycle the extra 25kms to Branxholm, just for the hell
of it. And hell it is. Contrary to what the Tourist Office lady confidently
told us it couldnt be less flat. Down and down we go, then theres
another relentless 15km climb before we descend a final steep 300m (1,000ft)
brakes smoking into the picturesque village of Branxholm. Behind the
town stands Mount Horror. Im convinced we just cycled over it
at least twice. The huge hotel dominates the town.
We arrive outside the grandiose two-storey Imperial Hotel, freshly painted
inside and out, and situated on the deserted wide main street, in the
deserted town. We negotiate $40 a head for dinner, bed and breakfast.
Bizarrely there are tall trellises of hops growing behind the pub, which
is huge, timber and beautiful and spotlessly spring-clean. Its
run by Gerald and the spring-clinin Meryl. A mere $300,000
(£113,000) and this huge building full of rooms is yours. Just
bear this in mind the next time you see your ever-shrinking superannuation
We are invited to bring our bikes into the hall for the night and then
shown to our small twin room on the first floor. Across the hall there's
a newly installed spa bath that we are not invited to use. There are
though large 'female' and 'male' bathrooms opposite with baths. I fill
the huge six foot cast iron bath with piping hot water, gingerly lower
my throbbing cheeks into it and blissfully soak for half an hour. The
bath is so long and deep I have to put my water wings on to avoid drowning.
Luxury! Red-cheeked I eventually drift downstairs to find Gerald playing
patience in the deserted bar with the worlds most dog-eared set
of playing cards. The beer is served from a gun-style tap on the end
of a plastic tube. Alec and me are the only customers. After a few pots
of delicious Boags have gone down and weve done todays crossword,
Meryl sidles in and asks: "What d'youse want fer toi? Steak alroight?"
We say: "Fine." "Lovely." Wed read a lot of
stuff inviting us to 'Come to Gourmet Tasmania' but were not overly
confident at this juncture.
When the food is ready we are summoned by Meryl with due ceremony into
the adjacent enormous dining room containing just one brown formica
table and four chairs, some childrens toys on the floor and an
old piano-roll piano. Two huge plates of food are unceremoniously plonked
in front of us together with side plates of four slices of white chewing
gum bread with margarine. A bottle of Worcester sauce is decorously
wrapped in a yellow paper napkin in the centre of the table. Alec says
(God knows why): "looks good." Meryl says, "Youse haven't
oiten it yet."
Too right. The steak (of indeterminate age and from the freezer) is
buried by chips, commercial coleslaw, canned beetroot, canned sweetcorn,
real (!) tomatoes and lettuce (well you can't get lettuce in a can,
as far as I know,) half a boiled egg, two red grapes and two mushrooms.
The steak is completely inedible. This sophisticated feast is followed
by canned peaches and ice cream.
We return to the bar for some more Boags to get rid of the taste and
to play pool for a modest 60c a go, not the more usual $2. Gerald our
host continues to play patience with one eye on the TV. There are still
no other customers. When one ball doesn't appear after the insertion
of 60 cents Gerald says: "just pull the money drawer open, it's
not locked." Well I reckon for once the Estate Agents comments
about a "motivated buyer" increasing sales would be a dead
cert. It would be difficult to reduce the takings any further. If we
hadnt turned up they wouuldnt have had any takings.
"Reckon the Hydro should've dammed the Franklin. It's useless land
- nobody can even get in there." says Gerald, obviously a concerned
environmentalist. The Hydro Electric Commission used to run the island
and was doing its best to flood the entire place until the Federal Government
stopped them in 1982. The Franklin area is now World Heritage listed.
His wife reappearing triumphantly from the kitchen to join in the festivities
chips in with her deep monotonous strine drawl: " I'd loike to
go t' Broome ...... or Dhubai. Or the Sissilly Isles"
"You mean the Scilly Isles?"
"Yea, I saw 'em on Toi Voi once - just loike the Carriboin."
"Where are youse from?" she continued.
"Never boin to Sid-noi."
For light relief I played their ancient piano-roll piano which had a
surprisingly good whine.
The next day I tried without success to find out how Branxholm got its
interesting name, but drew a blank, although there is a former feudal
castle called Branxholm in Hawick, Scotland.
Breakfast the next morning is, I kid you not, two Weetabix with hot
milk. Hot milk! She doesnt have any jam, or marmalade, or eggs,
or bacon, so that is followed by ghastly soggy white toast, margarine
and honey. Alec doesnt drink milk so I feel obliged to eat the
two bowls of warm Weetabix. The milk is off but I struggle on manfully.
I put it down to my stiff upper lip English upbringing.
Talking of upbringing I hope I dont. Saying our fond farewells
we jump onto the bikes, and burping rancid Weetabix flavour tackle a
35km relentless climb up to our highest point so far - Weldborough Pass
at 590 metres (2,000ft.)
And were doing this trip for pleasure?
UPDATE Jan 2004: From a reader
From Leanne Kent
I'm writing in respones to the "Hacktreks In Tasmania" article
by Stewart Hughes, in April, 2003. I thought I'd just let you know that
the Imperial Hotel has been bought, and not long after his visit. It
changed hands at the beginning of July '03, and is now owned by Ian
and Lix Kent. They have been able to increase the sales, and it is now
quite a busy pub. The meals are a lot better now, and the townsfolk
actually come in to say hi. The pool table is still 60cents, and there
is now a jukebox there too. All guests are allowed to use the spa at
their own free will, and the owners talk to the customers rather than
play cards. And they don't talk like that, either. Just thought you'd
like to know.
Tamil Nadu 1982
More World Journeys in Hacktreks
all rights reserved