By Mike Van de Elzen
9:15 AM Tuesday Oct 8, 2013
Australia’s southern island is pretty big. A mountain bike helps Michael Van de Elzen to see some of its best sights
Biking is my thing. When I need to clear my head, to get out of the kitchen, I jump on my bike and head for the hills. I love the adrenaline kick of mountain biking and I love to go fast. My build means I’m a bit slower on the ups but, going downhill, I’m in my element.
There’s no better way to see a different side of a place than on a bike. It doesn’t matter if it is a gentle roll or a fast, buzzy trip, you get a different perspective, you meet different people and you’re out in fresh air. What could be better?
On my Australian travels, I’ve been consuming a lot of incredible food, wine and beer so giving the legs a workout won’t do me any harm.
I have heard good things about biking in Tasmania. If you are a speed nut, apparently you head to Mt Wellington – clearly it’s not the one I’m familiar with in Auckland.
Tasmania and its gateway city, Hobart, are so different to other parts of Australia. For a start, Tasmania is lush and green, almost New Zealand-like, whereas so many other parts of Australia look parched.
Hobart reminds me of Christchurch, both southern cities split through the centre by a waterway. I love the wharf area, tucked behind buildings that once housed the IXL jam factory but which now house bars, cafes and art galleries. The view from my room at Sullivans Cove Apartments takes in the water and the town.
Today, my itinerary’s main event is a bike ride and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been so busy with my new restaurant, plus I have a new baby and a toddler – finding spare time to cycle just hasn’t been happening.
But first, I can’t resist looking around the Saturday Salamanca markets in the centre of Hobart with everything from wooden toys to leather bags and meat pies. The markets have a rule – if you buy another person’s stall, you have to sell a similar product. So a scarf vendor is replaced by another scarf vendor. This keeps the market varied. Funnily enough, I buy a scarf as it is so cold.
I also buy rolls for lunch before heading up Mt Wellington to meet the people I’ll ride with. At more than 1200m high, the mountain is impressive. No matter where you go in Hobart, you can always get your bearings from Mt Wellington.
The locals say it’s a 40-minute ride to the top but they are talking to someone whose biking legs are coming out of mothballs. Someone has warned the boys at Vertigo MTB about my fitness and I’m relieved to find I’ll ride down the mountain rather than huffing and puffing all the way to the top.
Rob Potter is my guide for the off-road descent on a shiny new 150mm Rocky Mountain. Awesome! But it is also scary. Why do I need so much suspension? What’s down there?
It’s a chilly 2C – eight less than in the heart of the city. Despite being bloody cold, the 360-degree views of the city, waterways and mountains are breathtaking. I had imagined Tasmania as a little island at the bottom of Aussie, but no way. It is huge.
It’s time to ride. Rob assures me I’ll be fine and to just stay behind him. With that briefing, we’re off. Down – down – down.
The trail is firm and pebbly; even a beginner could ride it. We start in thick bush with giant pines overhead but soon the track opens up and is more dirt-based, with open spaces. We ride under fallen trees, along the top of them, around corners made out of berms and earth switchbacks – all making a great mountain bike track and before long I have found my cycling wings.
Rob suggests I ride in front and it is exhilarating being on my edge of speed versus control. It takes me 40 minutes to get to the bottom and I’m grinning ear to ear as we end up at Mona. The Museum of Old and New Art was built on what was a vineyard, planted in 1948 by Italian migrant Claudio Alcorso, who founded Tasmania’s modern wine industry.
I’ve also worked up an appetite for tonight’s meal at Ethos in the city centre.
The new word in world cuisine is foraging and this restaurant is all over it. I choose a six-course dinner but there’s no menu.
After asking if there is anything I can’t eat, the chef sends out the courses based on what has been bought or scorched that day. From home-cooked sourdough rolls to radishes with black garlic, smoked oxtail, lamb with pearl barley and crab apple cheeks to finish. I can’t fault it. A perfect end to a memorable day.
Tasmania has been a hidden gem for me. I am blown away by the quality of the cuisine and its different approaches. I’ve felt at home here and I can’t wait to return with my wife, Bee, as I just know she will fall in love with Tassie, too.
Tassie’s top spots
Trip the bike fantastic
Whether it’s back-country riding in the Tasmanian wilderness, adrenalin-filled mountain descents or new flow trail rides, VertigoMTB has Tassie mountainbiking covered with guided adventures ranging from half-day rides to three-day adventures.
The point-to-point rides have been developed for small groups of avid mountainbikers and have environmental setting, technical variety, diverse terrain, challenge and entertainment in mind. They are not for the fainthearted, inexperienced or out-of-condition.
Experienced rider guides lead the groups, taking in single-track, double-track and some fire-road, plus stops for a re-group while riders enjoy the surroundings.
The rides pass through World Heritage areas. There is the time for a walk at Cradle Mountain and the option of cruising the remote Pieman River in the state’s west for a post-ride wind-down.
The tour selection includes accommodation and food with suppliers selected based on location, comfort, quality and ability to feed hungry riders on hearty local fare.
See what the world is talking about
Mona, the Museum of Old and New Art, opened in Hobart in 2011, houses a collection ranging from Egyptian mummies to some of the world’s most thought-provoking contemporary art. The building’s subterranean design and the owner’s unconventional and challenging curatorial approach make it a must-see for visitors to Tasmania.
Mona takes a different approach to interpretation; there are no labels or wall texts. Instead, visitors use a touch-screen device to informs them about works in their proximity. Called the O, it allows visitors to select the level of information they need and to vote for works they “hate” or “love”.
Itinerary options include a Mona fast catamaran service from the Hobart waterfront or Mona-Roma mini-bus transport. Indulgent day-and-night packages include accommodation at the luxurious Mona Pavilions, plus wine and food.
Mona is on the Derwent River, just 15 minutes’ drive north of Hobart.
Michael Van de Elzen travelled to Tasmania with the assistance of Tourism Australia, Discover Tasmania and Air New Zealand. For more information see Explore – Food and wine
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The New Zealand Herald