I read with interest David’s article about the Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap in Tennessee and it reminded me of a fantastic drive I had down the rugged and beautiful West Coast of Tasmania last year in an MX-5.
TASSIE ROADS WERE MAGIC FOR ‘SLIGHTLY USED’ MX5
My wife Julianne and I were having a summer holiday in Tassie, based at our old friend Jake’s beach house right on the sand at Boat Harbour, a place that truly fits the much over-used travel adjective ‘beautiful’. Julianne had never been down the west coast or experienced such wonders as the boat trip up the Gordon River from Macquarie Harbour, so we had to do it.
Initially we were going to take our young bloke and his friend with us in Jake’s 351 XD Phase HO Falcon, which is a potent classic car we use when we visit. But when at the last minute the boys decided it all sounded a bit boring, I saw an opportunity to switch to Jake’s MX-5 instead.
Jake was happy and took us the 30k to Burnie to change cars and so we left in the red 1989 MX-5 with hard top fitted at about 6.30am on a clear but crisp January morning, just as the sun was rising. The 200km journey to Zeehan follows the Murchison Highway for the majority of a ride I had experienced a few times before as I grew up in Tassie, so it was always going to be a pleasant journey back in time for me, especially in this car. The initial 30 to 40km is quite open, undulating road with lots of fast sweeping corners. At that time of the day there was no traffic and little risk of being caught a tad over the limit as we headed south away from populated areas. This was the perfect time to familiarise myself with the car, the way it worked and sat on the road, and it was just fantastic cruising along. We knew we had to keep moving to catch the ferry and the first third of the way was easy, but just south of what is known as the Fingerpost we spotted our first wallaby standing nonchalantly on the edge of the road having breakfast, and many kangaroos followed. The prospect of a roo bouncing off Jake’s MX-5 was not pleasant, so the speed reduced rapidly to 80k, sometimes less, and we kept a very sharp lookout.
Fortunately the early morning roo presence only lasted about 20km and we were away again. The scenery in this part of the trip is spectacular and is one of my favourite pieces of road in the country, with mountains and valleys and beautiful Blackwood and Myrtle forests. The colours and shades are just fantastic, and the road just blends in beautifully with sweeping curves, and interesting ascents and descents.
And so it was that we passed through the small town of Tullah, once a mining centre but now just a blip on the map, and headed on to the still operating mining centre of Rosebery. Between these two stands Mount Black, a majestic forest-covered peak with a steep climb up one side and a steep descent down the other, nicely laced with a myriad of interesting corners. The approach is via a longish straight, over a bridge and hard left, back a gear or two and right foot down. The road twists and turns left and right always ascending, with rock cuttings on the insides and varying cambers. We drove in and out of dry road, as there were occasional damp patches that could unsettle the car, so this stretch required constant correction to avoid the chance of the rear breaking loose. Finally cresting the top of the pass with a smirk on my face we descend the other side, still not a car in sight. Slithering downward into corners with hard braking as we turn in and the back slips around, a gear change here and there, mostly second, third and occasionally fourth gear. Oh what fun!
We glide quietly into Rosebery and continue on with many more interesting and winding sections until we reach Zeehan, with a few minutes to spare before the ferry departed.
Now I could tell you much more about the spectacular beauty of Tasmania’s rugged West Coast and of its untamed beauty and the fabulous reflections you get on the Gordon River on a calm day. I could tell you about the ancient rain forests and the slow growing Huon Pines right to the waters edge, and it’s all true.
But there’s nothing like doing this in an MX-5 on roads that are made for cars like this — or is it these cars are made for roads like this, oh well……
And then the return trip, a second chace at that great drive. This time, just as we prepared to ascend Mount Black we were foiled by a slow-moving van, with no way to safely overtake. Pushing up close near the top gave him the idea we might want to pass and he kindly pulled into the mountain-view parking area and allowed us to start an uninterrupted journey down. More great curves and sharp corners as we descended rapidly, screaming into some wonderful corners almost in four-wheel drifts. And so the bottom where Julianne, a seasoned passenger who over the years has had some very interesting rides with me and has always remained absolutely calm, this time produced a ‘phew, glad we’re at the bottom’ expression of relief and satisfaction.
The rest of the journey was more great driving along these excellent roads and by now the little red MX-5 and I were one. We sped on to the North West Coast just as the sun was going down. What a day, what a thrill. It took about a week to get the smile off my face and for ages I couldn’t help telling everyone I saw about that fun drive.
The postscript to the story is that Jake wanted to buy a new model NC. I suggested we might look to buy his old car. He had considered the idea, but hadn’t suggested it because he thought the car might have been impractical for us. Impractical be buggered, said I and the rest is history. That much loved red 1989 MX-5 is now under a dust cover in my garage. It helped to know the car had a good history and obviously had never been thrashed (much).