It was a great idea! A whole week (actually 10 days) of motorcycling and motorcycle events! There were organised rides, a Motocross event and a Super-motard race meeting, as well as a bike show. There were lots of social events and film nights too. It had the support of a local TV network and was very well promoted for months before. But it was in Tasmania. That was good though, because Tasmania is possibly the best state in Australia for motorcycling! There are lots of great bike roads and lots of interesting places to visit. The only trouble is getting there; you can't just pack the bike up and ride there! Well, you can, but it involves a trip on the ferry, which adds a significant cost factor to the whole thing. But it went ahead, the first one being held in November of 2003. They held another one in 2004, but I think that was the last one. Still, as I said, it was a great idea, and a great event; if you could get there! It sounded so good to me that I went to that first one. My wife and I had been to Tasmania briefly once before, and so I convinced her that this would be a good time to go back for a better look at the place. That meant that it was going to be more of a "holiday" trip than a "motorcycling" trip, but I still planned to catch some of the motorcycling action.
The first choice was easy - how to get there. My wife doesn't ride now, so for it to be a real motorcycling trip, it would have meant taking the car and the bike. Probably not an ideal way to spend a holiday with your wife! Driving would have also meant a 12-hr drive to Melbourne plus an overnight ferry trip, compared to just under 2 hrs in a plane. So for us, no contest! The only disadvantage being that they wouldn't let me take the XJ on the plane as hand-luggage!
We couldn't afford to go for the whole 10 days of Motorcycle Week, so originally I planned to go to Launceston for the start of the event, hire a bike, do a couple of day-rides, then drive to Hobart to do more tourist things. But if you are going to Hobart you really should plan to be there on a Saturday, to sample the famous Salamanca Markets; and with my wife being a keen market-goer, this was an essential! So the itinerary was changed. We would go to Launceston a few days later than originally planned, do a few tourist things, then go to Hobart for the end of Motorcycle Week.
We arrived in Launceston after a smooth, pleasant flight, picked up the hire-car and proceeded to explore some of the small towns to the south of the city. And straight away I wished I'd brought my bike! The roads are well-surfaced with smooth flowing corners. To make matters worse I had decided against hiring a bike. Time was going to be a bit tight, and also the hire-rate of $175 per day (for a Yamaha XJ 900), with a $3,000 excess that I wasn't sure my travel-insurance would cover, convinced me that maybe I should just stick to observing by car for this trip. (I said this was going to be more a "holiday" trip than a "Motorcycle" trip, but sadly it had become even more so than I planned).
I could describe the trip in more detail, but I'll stick mainly to bike-related things. And the first of these came unexpectedly. Breadlabane's main attraction is a glass-blowing factory. The actual glass-blowing was over for the day when we arrived, but we saw some of the intricate creations and also had a chat to glass-blower James Dodson; who just happened to have a small collection of classic BMWs he was restoring. (So my wife looked at the glass items while I checked-out the BMWs!).
Arriving at Launceston, I went to a couple of local bike shops for a browse and a chat. The 5-day tours (there was an enduro-style ride and another that followed main roads) had begun the previous day, and there had been quite a lot of activity in the town centre. Although the shops themselves hadn't seen a lot of extra trade, they said the level of interest around town had been good, especially for the first time it had been held. "It'll be bigger next year!" one sales-manager predicted. The local paper ran a story on the event, reporting that more than 200 bikes had left the town on the start of the 5-day tours. There was an impressive photo showing a street full of bikes being waved on by one of the local constabulary.
Launceston has a lot to see and do; including the National Automobile Museum, which has a good selection of classic and vintage cars and bikes. (Did you know that BSA made cars? Well they did; and the museum has one!). The photo on the left shows some of the bikes at the museum.
Our first full day in Tasmania was spent travelling to Sheffield about 100km to the west. On the road out of Launceston you pass Richardson's Harley Davidson shop. This is well worth a visit. The staff are friendly, there
is a good range of merchandise, and some interesting Harleys to look at. Upstairs is an impressive museum with a number of vintage Harleys on display; including a 1917 model, a couple of WLAs and even a Harley pushbike. They claim to be Tasmania's oldest motorcycle dealership, and the state's only Harley dealer.
Having bought a couple of souvenirs (even though I don't ride a Harley!), it was back in the car and on towards Sheffield. Along the way you pass through Deloraine. This is a pretty town situated on the banks of a river. With it's lush green river-banks and willows overhanging the water, it was a pleasant spot for lunch. Deloraine was also the venue for the classic motocross meeting a couple of days previously.
As we approach Sheffield I'm wishing I had the bike again; with smooth road winding through forested hills. It was enjoyable in the car, but would be magic on a bike!
Sheffield boasts more than 30 murals, and they are everywhere you look; in the main street, in side streets, the local park; even the rubbish-bins are painted! It's an impressive display, and tourists arrive in cars and buses to admire them, wandering the streets cameras in hand. The roads around Sheffield take you through villages (or "locations" to be more precise) such as Nowhere Else and Promised Land; which are worth going to just to say you've been there!
The next day we drove to Hobart. We took the short route straight down the centre. This is often referred to as "the boring drive" to Hobart, but that is selling it short. It used to be known as the "Midlands Highway" but now is being promoted as the "Heritage Highway"; and you can certainly catch a bit of the state's heritage along it's route.
Our first stop, for lunch, was at Ross; a leafy little town with quaint old buildings and an historic bridge. Built by convicts in 1836, what distinguishes this bridge from that "other" famous historic Tasmanian bridge are the intricate carvings made by the convicts who built it. On the top of the bridge are two inscriptions, one each side, stating that it is XLVIII miles to Launceston, and LXIX miles to Hobart Town. (Try entering that into your trip computer!).
It was at Ross where we encountered the only rain on our holiday, when a storm passed through from the west. The riders on the 5-day tour weren't so lucky though. Riding in the west of the state they had a whole day of wet, misty conditions. For them too though, it was the only time the weather was less than favourable.
Next stop was Oatlands, a picturesque little town that claims to have more Georgian and early colonial buildings than anywhere else in Australia. Two days later it's quiet surroundings would come alive to the sound of the final round of the Tasmanian Motocross Championship.
Richmond is home to Australia's oldest, and (apart from Sydney harbour) probably most photographed, bridge. It's quite amazing to see this bridge, built by convicts in 1823, still in use today. The next day, the 5-day rides were to meet in Richmond and be led into Hobart by the Lord Mayor of Hobart, Rob Valentine, who had been given the use of an MV Augusta Brutale (the perks of being Lord Mayor!). The highway into Hobart takes you across the famous (and also oft-photographed) Tasman bridge, with the towering Mt. Wellington making a spectacular backdrop.
Hobart has so much to see and do; you could base your whole holiday there and not be disappointed! As I mentioned, we changed our original itinerary so we would be in Hobart on a Saturday; to visit the famous Salamanca Markets, (although this was also why I ended up missing a lot of the Motorcycle Week events!). Every Saturday an entire street (Salamanca Place) is closed off and converted to a shopper's paradise! There are stalls selling all kinds of wares; from souvenirs and arts & crafts to clothes and take-away food. There are even buskers to entertain you while you shop. It all has a very cosmopolitan atmosphere, with the wonderful backdrop of the historic buildings that line the street.
A must-do is a drive to the top of Mt. Wellington. The summit is often shrouded in cloud, but get to the top on a clear day (it was just slightly misty when we were there) and the view is spectacular! Mt. Wellington is 1270m high. To put this in perspective, imagine being somewhere like Jindabyne in NSW, and looking vertically down to sea-level. As you look at Hobart spread out more than a kilometre below, it's quite a view!
For a day-trip out of Hobart, the Huon Trail is a must! This follows the coast to the south-west of Hobart, ending up in the timber-country of the Huon Valley. As you travel this road, to your left are superb water views, while on your right are forested hills and rolling country scenes. It's a great drive; the sort of drive you wish you could do every Sunday afternoon with a picnic along the way.
Hobart was where our itinerary finally got to include some of the specific Motorcycle Week events. The first of these was the "Motorcycle Expo" at the Wrest Point Casino. I visited this on it's second day, the Saturday. So while my wife continued her shop-till-you-drop inspection of the Salamanca Markets, I spent a couple of hours inspecting the latest Tasmania had to offer in two-wheeled excitement.
Wrest Point was a great venue for the Expo. In the parking-area outside the casino was a concourse event, which you could view with the fabulous backdrop of the harbour and it's lines of yachts moored beside the casino. The concourse featured a wide variety of bikes; from historics to latest sports-bikes, and the ever-present customised Harleys, including the award-winning chrome masterpiece pictured here. A great display!
There was also a stunt-team from a local motorbike institution called Joe’s Garage doing demonstrations, including the one shown here doing a burn-out.
Inside the casino, the Expo wasn't huge but it was interesting. Yamaha put on a good display, as they were part-sponsors of the event, and unveiled the 2004 model R1, as well as the new FZ6N. There were good displays too from Kawasaki, Triumph, Ducati, and Suzuki. There were also the usual merchandise stands; including one selling T-shirts, jackets and other memorabilia of the nation's first Motorcycle Week. I spent quite a few dollars on souvenirs including a pull-over jacket and a rain-proof jacket.
The trade seemed pleased with the response too. There may not have been a lot of sales of bikes, but the level of interest was high. As one Yamaha staff guy said: "You can't measure the success of something like this in dollars!"
In any event like this, the parking-area is always interesting; and I spent a little time wandering around the visitor's bikes. It was as varied and interesting a display as anywhere else! I took particular notice of the number-plates. Most were from TAS, but then I spotted a couple of bikes with QLD plates. I got talking to one guy on a Honda Varado and asked him if he had come from Queensland especially for Motorcycle Week. "Yes", he replied, "All the way from Cairns!". Up to then he had covered 6,500km, and he still had to ride home! He reckoned by the time he hit his driveway in Cairns he would have notched up around 10,000km.
He had been on the 5-day road ride, as well as doing a few other rides. I asked him how the rides had been. "Brilliant!" Was his reply. To have come all that way and be so full of praise for the event was a good indication that the first Australian Motorcycle Week was definitely a success!
Sunday was the final day of Australian Motorcycle Week and was marked by the final round of the Yamaha Australian Supermoto Championship, which was held in the grounds of the Derwent Entertainment Centre in the north of Hobart. Another picturesque setting for a great motorcycle event! For me, it was the first time I had been to a Supermoto race meeting, and it was an exciting spectacle!
It was a great end to what had been a great week (or 10 days) of motorcycling events! I'm glad I got to that first Australian Motorcycle Week, even if I didn't have a bike. It's just a pity that it didn't continue. Maybe if it had been on the mainland it would have. But I still think Tassie is a great place for a holiday!
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