Targa Tasmania Tour

Imagine there was a place you could take your car that had hundreds of kilometres of twisty windy roads. Roads that weaved their way through some of the most amazing landscape on the planet. A place where there are barely any cars and when you do come across another driver, they courteously pull over to let you past. No, these roads are not paved with fairy dust. There are no unicorns grazing in paddocks of four leaf clovers. This place really does exist, and you don’t have to travel to some exotic overseas location to get there. Well…you do have to travel overseas…sort of…

Our adventure began at Station Pier ferry terminal in Melbourne where we were booked in on the 9pm ferry to Tasmania. 11 cars and 13 extremely excited individuals met up at one of the cafes nearby. Most of us already knew each other from previous Porsche adventures but there were a few new faces that up until now had just been usernames on an internet forum. We enjoyed a couple refreshments and some laughs before jumping in our cars and boarded the ship.

 Boarding the Spirit of Tasmania can take some time due to the amount of cars that need to be loaded on the ship. This time, the queue of cars seemed to be stopped for longer than it should. I got out of my car to discover that our convoy had already suffered it’s first casualty. The beautiful lime green 911 of John Orchard’s had it’s bonnet up and the boys were feverishly trying to work out the issue. Unfortunately that was as far as that car was going. Devastating for John who accompanied his car back home to Geelong. Once the rest of us boarded the ship, we met on the back deck, enjoyed some more refreshments and a light dinner while we watched John’s car get loaded onto the back of a truck. This might sound like one of those old Top Gear episodes where the person who’s car breaks down gets left behind but plans were already being hatched to get John over to Tassie to continue on with the rest of the group.

John’s stricken 911

Day 1. Devenport – Cradle Mountain.

The boat arrived at Devenport at 6:30am after a relatively smooth ride. We hit the road not long after with our first stop being Windows on Westella in Ulverstone for some much needed bacon and eggs and to meet up with a local joining us on our trip, Adam Foxton. For those of the group that had never been to Tasmania before, day 1 would prove to be a massive eye opener.

We started by heading West along the Northern coast before turning off the highway at a town called Camdale, just past Burnie, and heading towards Cradle Mountain which is where we would stay for the next two nights. The roads weaved their way through lush green countryside as we passed by farms and a couple tiny country towns. As we edged closer to Cradle Mountain, the landscape changed. The roads opened up into high speed bends that made their way across open planes of low lying scrub that were surrounded by mountain ranges. There was also an abundant amount of road kill, a big issue in Tasmania due to the large amount of wildlife and the lack of traffic. It’s advised not to travel between dusk and dawn to avoid making a mess of your pride and joy and any wondering critters.

A wombat leisurely strolls through our convoy

After dropping off our luggage, and checking in to the Cradle Mountain Wilderness Retreat, we jumped back into our cars and headed towards the western side of the state where we would drive towards Reece Dam then loop back around through Zeehan and Rosebery and back to Cradle Mountain

Reece Dam. Friends of mine had talked up the Reece Dam stage so I had pretty high expectations of what it would be like. I was wrong. As you leave the highway, the sign says “Reece Dam 50kms”. It may as well have read “Fun starts here”. The road climbs and drops and twists and turns its way over  scrubby bushland. The road quality seems a bit off at first with loose stones being thrown up into the wheel arches in some parts, but the Toyo R888 tyres didn’t flinch and I quickly gain the confidence that I’m not going to go sliding off into the trees. After 10 minutes you realise you’re only one third of the way to the dam. You also realise you have this stupid grin on your face that only gets bigger as you navigate along the stage. The stage in my 3.2 Carrera is mostly done in 3rd and 4th gear with some low speed 2nd gear corners in between. The gear changes are constant and you’re always tugging on the steering wheel. The road briefly straightens out every now and then, allowing you to slide it into 5th momentarily before hitting the brakes again and gearing down to crank into another sensational series of bends. As we rolled into the small car park at Reece Dam, we were all spent. It was a long rest stop as we took photos, recuperated, and chatted about one of the best pieces of road in the country.

We continued on over the dam where the landscape became dry and open. It was a sunny day and the heat of the road was attracting snakes, fresh out of hibernation. I counted 5 in total but one poor bugger made me laugh. The first car went over the top of it with the turbulence sending it tumbling down the road. It arced up in the attack position ready to kick some butt when the following three cars went over it, sending it hurtling further down the road. Lucky it survived and will live to fight another day.

 By the end of day 1, we had done 337kms and 6 Targa Tasmania stages including Gunn’s Plains, Riana, Hellyer Gorge, Rosebery, Mt Black, and Reece Dam. We returned to the Cradle Mountain Wilderness Lodge where we enjoyed a tapas style dinner, some red wine and recounted the days highlights. John had also caught a plane to Launceston and was picked up by Tony who managed to make the return journey without hitting anything.

Day 2. The West Coast

The 2nd day gave us an opportunity to explore the Western side of Tasmania further and drive some of the roads we had missed on the previous day. Day 1 had been absolutely epic so we were pretty keen to hit the road. As we approached our first Targa stage, Rosebery, a tray back Landcruiser with dual Kenworth style exhaust stacks pulled out of a side road in front of our group much to our dismay, but with black smoke bellowing out the stacks he proceeded to outrun our group as he attacked the tight twisting turns of the Rosebery stage. At our next rest stop, he would be the main topic of conversation and a realisation that there are two types of drivers on Tasmania; the crazy drivers that think that every day is Targa, and the courteous drivers that pull over and let anyone behind them by.

We continued towards Strahan where we stopped to fill up with petrol and a drink before heading off onto in my opinion, the best stage of the trip, Strahan. I’d previously driven this stage in the wet and it was amazing but on this day, in the dry, with semi slick tyres, it really was something else. The road is like a rollercoaster with short undulating hills, and 2nd and 3rd gear corners that weave their way through thick, lush vegetation. You don’t really realise that the stage has ended until you roll into Queenstown which is where we stopped for lunch at the Empire Hotel. There we enjoyed a typical counter meal and were treated to a history lesson by the very friendly publican.

For those that don’t know Queenstown, the mountainous landscape is often described as being like the surface of the moon. This is because all vegetation was destroyed over decades by toxic fumes emitted from the local copper mine. While this might sound terrible, it provides an amazing back drop to yet another fun Targa stage, the Queenstown stage. As you head towards the mountains that shadow the town, you pass a gravel football oval (yes, gravel!) before the town abruptly ends and you’re into the Queenstown stage. It’s a short but relatively steep climb that winds its way up the edge of the hill side. It’s tight and narrow! The 3.2 Carrera doesn’t even get out of 2nd gear for most of the stage. With the low power of the old car, it’s a very slow speed but there is still plenty of danger to be wary of, including lots of blind corners that tighten on themselves and grey nomads hauling massive caravans coming down the other way. Take it easy, and you’ll still have a big grin when you reach the top. A brief stop at the car park at the top was a great opportunity to chat about the stage, take in the amazing view, and check out the abandoned quarry full of bright blue water below. We then got to enjoy the same stage in reverse as we motored back down the mountain back into Queenstown.

The Queenstown stage

From Queenstown we headed back up the Zeehan Hwy and then Anthony Rd, North towards Cradle Mountain. This is the main Hwy that joins the North to the South if travelling down the West of the state. I found myself constantly shaking my head in disbelief about how a major highway could be so much fun to drive with so much spectacular scenery to take in.

By late afternoon we had arrived back at Cradle Mountain to enjoy a pub style meal at the Peppers Resort. A few beers and a few laughs were had as we recollected another epic day.

320km and 6 Targa stages. Pieman, Strahan, Queenstown, Plimsoll, Rosebery, Mt Black

Day 3. Cradle Mountain – Hobart

Wet, wet, wet! As we set off from Cradle Mountain, day 3 was to be our longest day, finishing in Hobart. The day started out mostly dry, with some light rain not enough to worry us too much. Our route took us back down to Queenstown but this time continuing over the top and past the spectacular Lake Burbury. To our left was snow covered peaks, adding to the amazing back drop. As we headed towards the Mt Arrowsmith stage, the rain began to properly fall. We took it easy as we navigated the stage but were still able to enjoy its perfectly sculpted tarmac. The landscape goes through a number of changes as you traverse East and then south towards Hobart. The moonscape of Queenstown is quickly replaced with lush vegetation, lakes and mountains. The land opens up into wide open plains of low scrub and then it’s back to thick green forests. Further south are rolling green hills and farmland.

The group were happy for me to lead the way from Mt Arrowsmith, all the way to Tarraleah as the rain continued. The R Spec Toyo R888 tyres performed flawlessly, no matter how heavy the rain got which was quite impressive. Once we had completed the Tarraleah stage, we left the highway and crawled into the township of Tarraleah for a long lunch in the hope that the weather would clear.

The road after Tarraleah becomes a bit more like what we’re used to on the main land. The bends are much more open and there was a fair bit of traffic. With the rain pelting down, it was slow going. Some of the more powerful cars were able to make some head way but with nearly zero visibility when stuck behind trucks, it wasn’t worth risking pulling out and hitting a river of water across the road so I chose to remain in the conga line and cruise down to Hobart. I say cruise but by the time we arrived in Hobart, I was completely destroyed. Exhausted from being behind the wheel for so long and from the intense concentration it took to make sure I made it in one piece.

Even though it rained for most of the day, I would still have to say that up until Tarraleah, the day was excellent. The roads were wet, and it was raining but the roads and the Targa stages were still a lot of fun. The scenery on this side of the state truly is amazing also. After Tarraleah, with the rain becoming heavier and the increased amount of traffic, it really was hard work and I was glad to get out of the car when we arrived at our hotel.

382kms, 3 Targa stages, Queenstown, Mt Arrowsmith, Tarraleah

Day 4. Baskerville Raceway

I’m fairly new to track days but I’ve done enough of them that I’m familiar with what to expect. Well, that was until I went to Baskerville. Our group had arranged with the track’s management to run a track day on the Thursday that we were in Hobart. It’s a day open to the public but given it was a Thursday, the chance of anyone else showing up was almost nil. So we had the track to ourselves!

Baskerville is a really cool, fun little track. It’s a short track but technical so it takes plenty of laps to learn and nail a good lap. It starts with a simple mild right bend that climbs slightly before turning right again, requiring a very late turn in, dropping into a super technical S that can easily spoil your lap if you don’t have the car positioned correctly. Hang out wide as you exit turn 3 then try to maintain momentum through the left at turn 4 which begins the climb up to what is probably the most famous corner of the track, the blind left turn at the top of the hill that requires full commitment. Turn in too early and you could find yourself on the grass or even worse, into the concrete wall that sits on the outside waiting to embrace those trying too hard. At the speeds us amateurs were doing, none of us were willing to risk our cars, so we took it easy, taking baby steps to master the tricky bend. The track then drops back down gently to turn 6 where exit speed is critical as you enter the main back straight. The track drops down further, helping the car pick up speed but even so, the old 3.2 Carrera could barely break 150kmh before it’s hard on the brakes to take the final 2 turns. Turns 7 and 8 are really good fun. They sweep up to the left on the side of the hill then come back down as you cross the start/finish line.

The amount of laps everyone did is testament to how fun this track is. The CAMS officials were fantastic and made sure we had a fantastic day. To have the place to ourselves and share it with great people truly was an amazing experience.

That was the story about the day at Baskerville I would like to have written, but unfortunately my version of the day was a bit different and the day didn’t quite end as planned for one of the other guys.

As I left my hotel room, I was full of excitement in anticipation of what the day had in store. I had been to Baskerville a year earlier so I already knew how fun the place was. As I approached my car in the hotel car park, that sinking feeling came over me as I spotted a puddle of oil about 20cm in diameter under the engine. This was not a good sign. We headed off to the track where I was hoping I’d be able to get under the car and have a closer look but while the car was parked in the pit garage, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be hitting the track that day. It was a massive downer for a day I’d been eagerly waiting for many months.

After spending some time trying to find the source of the leak, I was none the wiser so put the torch down and decided to make the most of the day and jump in the passenger seat of some of the other cars. This was a real eye opener and a great experience in itself. The first car was Tony Stephen’s black 993 Turbo. This car is one of the legends in Porsche history and after experiencing its brutal acceleration and enormous amount of grip, it was easy to see why. The next car was Wayne McAuliffe’s 996 GT3. Again I was blown away by the grip and acceleration but the GT3 felt more racey and perhaps a bit more raw than the Turbo which almost felt clinical, like if you made an error, the Turbo would just fix it for you. The next car was Andrew Whyment’s ’84 Carrera. This is a car that was set up for the track by the previous owner. There’s definitely been some engine work done but details are lacking. Whatever has been done, you couldn’t stop me grinning. It had so much more pull than my 3.2, enough that the GT3 couldn’t shake him. The exhaust and engine sounded fantastic through very little sound deadening and really felt like I was in a race car. Andrew looked like he was having a blast too throwing it into each corner and hammering onto the straights

So it wasn’t all bad I guess…

Have you ever uttered those famous last words “Just one more go” and regretted it? Tony Stephens was having so much fun punting his 993 Turbo around the track that as the day drew to a close he decided to have one last go. Shortly after he came rolling back into the pits, steam bellowing out through the whale tail and fluid pouring out from underneath. It certainly was a terrible site to see on such a beautiful car. With no experts among us, we still quickly diagnosed the problem to be a split hydraulic hose. As the weather all of a sudden turned ugly, the car was rolled into a nearby shed and as the rain came pelting down, the massive crusade to fix the car began. Phone calls were made to Louie at Motion Automotive in Melbourne and he guided the guys through removing the hose. Within minutes the intercooler was out and shortly after, the broken hose was out of the car. A few more phone calls were made to some local Hobart shops and a plan was put in place to have the hose repaired first thing the next morning and reinstalled back in the car at Baskerville.

Day 5. Hobart – Bicheno

The East coast of Tasmania is a lot different to the West. With tourist destinations including Port Arthur and Freycinet National Park, there’s a lot more traffic. This isn’t a bad thing if you consider we’ve already done a lot of driving over 4 days. It gave us an opportunity to kick back and take in some of the scenery which I was more than happy to do with a car I didn’t want to push too hard. The group split into two, with the guys that had some clue how to turn a spanner going with Tony to help repair his car, and the rest of us leaving a bit later, with the aim to meet up for breakfast and re-group to enjoy the rest of the day together.

As the Turbo rolled into town, there was a bit of excitement among us but it quickly turned to concern as the familiar steam was seen puffing from the rear of the 993. The repair had failed and while it wasn’t leaking as badly, it wasn’t going to make it much further. Not to be defeated, the repair team got back on the phone and soon found someone in town willing to have a crack at fixing it. In true Top Gear style, the rest of us got in our cars and headed for our lunch stop in Swansea.

The boys did everything they could to get this thing back on the road.

With forever changing scenery, a lot of the road follows the coastline with mountains on your left and ocean on your right. There were still 4 Targa stages to check out, all of which are a hoot. Keeping a strict eye on the oil pressure gauge and oil level gauge, I drove very conservatively but still was able to enjoy the different driving experience the east coast offers. Not knowing what was wrong with the car or if I was going to make it back to Devenport, I broke off from the rest of the group after lunch and headed straight for Biceno. The rest of the group continued on to drive the Elephant Pass and then have a few beers at the Iron Horse Brewery while I settled in at the Biceno Hotel and mingled with the locals which was an experience in itself.

Sadly for Tony, it was the end of his driving adventure as the 993 was put on a flatbed and taken up to Devenport. A broken and dejected crew had done all they could to try and get the car back on the road and all we could do is shout them some beers and have a bit of a laugh about the crazy adventure they’d been on.

323kms and 4 Targa stages. Avoca, Rossarden, The Sidling, Elephant Pass

Day 6. Biceno – Devenport

With the familiar puddle of oil under the back of my car, I was feeling confident that it hadn’t gotten worse and maybe it will be ok. Then the starter motor started playing up, sticking on momentarily after the motor had fired up and sounding like a squashed cat. “I just need to get this thing on the boat” I thought.

The final day was still a big day of driving through more amazing parts of Tasmania. Elephant Pass was the first Targa stage to tick off and being my first time, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s tight and narrow and flip flops through the forest and doesn’t require you to work the car too hard to get maximum enjoyment out of it. As we came out the other end, the rain started to fall and conditions became challenging in parts. There were sections lined with ferns and low hanging trees that had dropped their leaves on the road. In the wet conditions, it didn’t take much to lose the front or the rear end which kept us on our toes.

As we drove on, I was filled with mixed feelings of happiness that the car was going to make it and disappointment that such an epic journey was coming to an end. We stopped for one last photo shoot of the group and marvelled at the enthusiastic locals as they drove by. Then it was on to Launceston for a very late lunch before heading to Devenport to board the ship back to the mainland.

304kms and 6 Targa stages. Elephant Pass, Pyengana, Welbourough, Moorina, Legerwood, Sideling

It had been a nervous day for me but my car had made it. The oil leak would turn out to be the fly wheel seal, an engine out job with a few “while you’re in the there” expenses plus the starter motor rebuild. Ouch…

Tony’s 993 Turbo made it back to the mainland and into the safe hands of Louie. The split hose was some sort of high pressure hose that also came with an extraordinary Porsche tax…

John’s 911 suffered from a dodgy coil and was back on the road shortly after our return.

For anyone looking to retrace our steps, our whole holiday was booked by Southland Travel in Canberra. Feel free to send us an email if you would like their contact details

Special thanks go to Tiaan, our fearless leader who organised everything for us and dealt with the travel agent and restaurants along the way.

Most of all, thanks to everyone who attended. A trip like this is only as good as the people you spend it with and these guys truly are an amazing bunch.

The crew