A stomach for hills

Burning calories...Liffey Falls.
Burning calories...Liffey Falls. Photo: Getty Images

Beautiful scenery and wonderful produce thrill Andrew Bain as he rides through the island state's dramatic countryside.

At the base of Tasmania's Liffey Falls, my tour guide is the former Greens leader Bob Brown. As the river charges through rainforest, tumbling from the Great Western Tiers, Brown tells me of his connection to this waterway. For 40 years, he has lived in the Liffey valley, and speaks of the platypus, wedge-tailed eagles and peregrine falcons that inhabit the area.

But Brown is not physically here with me; his voice is sounding through my iPod, part of a series of podcast-guided cycling tours that radiate out from the northern Tasmanian town of Deloraine. There are four "Great Rides" - the Great Gourmet Ride, Great Caves Ride, Great World Heritage Ride and Great Country Ride - linking one of the oldest forms of transport to the newest of technologies.

On the road near Deloraine.
On the road near Deloraine. 

The rides range in length from 56 kilometres to 72 kilometres and each can be completed in a day (the Great Caves Ride also has an extension that can add a second day of riding). I've come to cycle the two routes that most define Tasmania: the quality produce of the Great Gourmet Ride, and the World Heritage wilderness that blankets 20 per cent of the state.

On each of the rides, I will be accompanied by a podcast of local voices. It's like travelling with a guide, except it's entirely on my terms.

Each podcast offers far more than a simple blow-by-blow route description. I learn about the feats of Melbourne Cup-winning horse Malua, bred outside Deloraine; the deceptively lamb-like call of the endemic Tasmanian froglet; and even bygone cooking notes for echidna stew. There is a multi-voiced debate on forestry, and food producers take me on oral tours of their lands and production.

Ginseng seed pods at 41 Degrees South farm.
Ginseng seed pods at 41 Degrees South farm. 

I start with the Great World Heritage Ride, pedalling south from Deloraine along the banks of the Meander River on the Lake Highway. For much of its journey the ride will follow this road, which is a highway in name only, being light on traffic but heavy on scenery as it climbs towards the Great Western Tiers, the high edge of Tasmania's mountain country, framed by snow.

Halfway to Liffey Falls, the highway dips into the tiny town of Golden Valley, appropriately named this day, with the wattle trees across the valley balled in yellow flower. From Golden Valley, the ascent into the Great Western Tiers begins. The eight-kilometre climb to the Liffey Falls turnoff is steady but rarely steep - about 6 per cent to 7 per cent in most parts - with the tiers' rocky bluffs rising ominously ahead. Side roads tempt me to explore off the route, but instead I'm drawn ahead by the discussions and debates on my iPod.

Part-way up the slope, the ride turns onto a dirt track, rolling downhill towards Liffey Falls, arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Tasmania. Along this road, the ride enters the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, with native rainforest taking over from plantation forest.

Ferns arch over the road, and giant eucalypts stand as straight as poles. Climbing back out of the valley on this former logging track will be the steepest and toughest part of the day.

By the time I return to Deloraine, detouring from Golden Valley through the rural lands of Quamby Brook, I will have cycled 60 kilometres, building an appetite worthy of the Great Gourmet Ride, which I cycle the next day.

From Deloraine, the Great Gourmet Ride climbs steeply out of the Meander Valley to the Bass Highway, which is more your highway style of highway. A road of fast-moving cars, it's also the connecting line between a string of berry farms, cheese-makers, chocolatiers and bakeries.

My first stop, five kilometres from Deloraine, is the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm, where berry canes stripe the hills and a cafe overlooks a lake with several resident platypuses. As I pedal in, cafe manager Lindi Dornauf is promising, through my iPod, that "we've got everything raspberry you could possibly think of". This includes the traditional raspberries and cream, but also more curious items such as raspberry beer, raspberry socks and crumbed mushrooms with raspberry chilli sauce.

Four kilometres past the raspberry farm, the route takes me through tiny Elizabeth Town - essentially a bakery masquerading as a town - before rolling a further four kilometres to Ashgrove Farm Cheese. Established almost three decades ago, Ashgrove Farm began by making hard English-style cheeses, but now produces unique Tasmanian flavours, including a lavender cheese using lavender from Bridestowe Estate, and a signature wasabi cheese using, in part, wasabi grown at nearby Mole Creek. I have now cycled just 13 kilometres today, and my calorie intake is far exceeding my output. So be it.

From Ashgrove Farm, the Great Gourmet Ride doubles back into Elizabeth Town, where it turns off the highway and into the rural lands that fuel the gastronomic stops. Within a few hundred metres, I'm hidden in the fertile folds of the land, riding across the blood-red soils that make this region one of the most productive food bowls in the country.

I pass just metres from the doors of shearing sheds and farmhouses, with dairy cows and cattle speckling green hillsides. It's beautifully anonymous country, a grid of farmland squiggled with meandering lines of willows. Frogs chorus from dams, and a pair of kites court in midair, above me. Craggy Quamby Bluff hovers ahead on the horizon, and discussion on my iPod turns to the less-appetising subject of roadkill.

After passing through quiet Dunorlan, once infamous as the town in which a local landowner attacked then-prime minister Joseph Lyons with a whip, I suddenly find myself back within six kilometres of Deloraine, though the ride is far from over.

Instead of returning to town, I turn south, angling towards the final stop on the Great Gourmet Ride: the 41 Degrees South salmon farm. As much a green stop as a gourmet stop, the salmon farm sits among wetlands outside Deloraine, filling its tanks - which are home to about 15,000 Atlantic salmon - with water from the Western Rivulet and filtering it back through the wetlands to the rivulet, as clean as it was extracted.

Inside the farm shop, salmon products mingle with ginseng, the salmon farm having been established back in the year 2000 to fund a slower-growing ginseng operation. There are salmon fillets smoked over blackwood sawdust, and the likes of vodka, honey and nougat-infused with ginseng.

For other visitors in the store, these foods might just be tasters but, for me, they are the extra gastronomic gear I might need for the ride back into Deloraine.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar fly to Launceston, the nearest airport to Deloraine.

Cycling there

Bike hire is available from the Great Western Tiers visitor centre in Deloraine, for about $25 a day, including a helmet; phone (03) 6362 5280. Details about the four "Great Rides", including maps and podcast downloads, can be found at greatwesterntiers.net.au/highlights/great-cycling.

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