Maps and rides
Tasmania’s blend of wilderness and rugged beauty has attracted adventurers from around the world for decades. Join Ben Clark on a test ride through the newest singletracks in the island’s northeast.
It seems with every picturesque vista in Tasmania there’s the ubiquitous mountain – and that excites the off-road rider in me. And with nearly half the state being public land, there is great scope for recreation and these elements, combined with the relative accessibility of the major cities to the bush, make mountain biking a natural fit for this island.
Until recently, the missing element had been purpose-built singletrack. That shortcoming has been addressed in the last few years in a big way, with trails being crafted at both ends of the state. Much of the effort has been in the state’s northeast; between Launceston and the east coast over a 90km network.
Not wanting to delay any singletrack fun, I organised a weekend with friends and family.
First stop Hollybank. a town with a distinctive European character an easy 20 minute drive from Launceston, It is also the place where punters, if they so wish, can zip line through the forest canopy at Treetops Adventure Park.
The Hollybank MTB Park was created to provide an introduction to the northeast Tasmanian mountain biking network. There was a conscious effort by the trail builders to provide a safe and exciting experience for novice riders as well as cater for the experts.
We began with the 5km beginner loop ‘No Sweat’, building our confidence gently as we wound through a pine forest with sparse undergrowth, a smooth surface and rolling bermed corners. This is the ideal trail to reveal to new riders how much fun mountain biking can be. The gentle rise and fall of the trail gives you a sense of being on a kid’s roller coaster.
Next, we tried ‘Tall Timbers’, a 4km intermediate loop. The twisting descent through the fern glades and two river crossings were a stunning feature of the circuit. The transitions between the wet and dry eucalypt forest, as the track rolled alongside Butchers Creek, were great fun and the ascent also provided some splashes of colour, as the wildflowers were in season.
Advanced riders are well catered for with the famed ‘Juggernaut’. Described by trail craftsman, Rob Potter, as a ‘gravity flow trail’, the 10km descent has been raved about by riders, both local and from afar, and I dare say, prompted many repeat joy rides.
Adding to its appeal are two optional routes riders can take at the start offering tight technical chutes and rock drops for expert riders. While the trailhead can be reached with a sustained climb, you can skip the slog as it is also accessible by road. For a small fee, the ‘Juggernaut Shuttle’ operates most weekends and public holidays gifting riders multiple downhill runs per day.
For those with kids in tow or riders looking to refresh their skills, there is a pump track and skills park purpose-built to help improve technique for handling jumps and drops. Our three-year-old had a blast on his balance bike.
With the cobwebs well and truly dusted off, we headed eastward to locate the next instalment of Tassie’s newest singletrack – the trails of Blue Derby.
While the 80km journey is mostly unremarkable there are several worthy excuses to stop along the way, the first being the Lilydale Larder, just five minutes from Hollybank. Aside from showcasing regional produce, the providore-cumcafe offers a timely fix for caffeine-deprived riders.
A stroll along the charming main street reveals aspects of local history, artfully portrayed on the telephone poles.
Another five minutes from Lilydale we stopped again at Crestview Blueberries, which fortuitously coincided with the berry season, so we revelled in a pick-your-own bonanza. The half-an-hour break yielded several kilograms of fruit; ample sustenance for the remainder of the trip, and then some.
Suitably laden, we drove onward through rolling farmland, interspersed with tiny towns, many of which are no more than a cluster of homes. The road regularly climbed towards towering wet eucalypt forests then dropped into gullies crowded by tree ferns.
This provided a taster of the scenery to come and encouraged me to slow down to appreciate the environment. The undulating topography would make for challenging touring, however the great news for both riders and local tourism is that federal government funding has been allocated to convert the adjacent abandoned railway line into a rail trail.
After a long descent, we leave the forest and are greeted with the rich red soils for which northern Tasmania is famous and the town of Scottsdale, the service centre for the northeast region. It’s in transition following the recent collapse of its two mainstay industries – forestry and food processing.
While a number of empty shopfronts attest to the long-term impact this has had, like a eucalypt after a bushfire, there are sprigs of new growth emerging. Little Rivers Brewing, a recent startup enterprise, taps into the renaissance in craft brewing. We of course grab a mixed dozen, but there was no time to sample, for Derby’s singletracks were within reach.
Once the second largest tin mine in the world – and at its peak home to 3,500 – the town of Derby is now positively sleepy. The main street comprises of many original timber-clad buildings which hint at the wealth the town once generated. The structure which once served as the Savings Bank of Tasmania, with its ornately detailed timber façade, is the clear standout in the town and a reminder of an era almost forgotten.
To locate the trailhead for Blue Derby, simply ride to the eastern end of town – it is a downhill roll from the several cafes and pubs lining the main street. The emphasis of construction with these trails has been to create a ‘stacked loop’ trail network catering to cross-country riders.
The stacked loop system is a trail design which offers riders a number of options and a variety of experiences while preventing the need to backtrack. Beginner riders at Blue Derby can choose from seven trails, between five minutes to 20 minutes long, however these trails can be connected to enjoy a longer ride. Similarly, the intermediate riders have five separate trails to choose from but when combined there is three hours of riding to get a kick out of. Uniformly, every track is capable of immersing the rider deep in the Tasmanian bush within seconds of starting.
A delightful quirk of the design is that it incorporates many mining relics into the trail landscape. Rusted cart wheels, electricity conductors and abandoned vehicles are some of the many surprises waiting to be found, with trail names such as ‘Rusty Crusty’, ‘Axehead’ and ‘Sawtooth’ providing some clue as to what you may find.
A more substantial legacy of mining is of the modification it bestows on the landscape such as spoil heaps, water races and scoured hillsides. While decades of regrowth have helped soften the scars, in places the evidence still remains. These too, have been creatively featured in the design, with a trail climbing an old water race in ‘Long Shadow’ and ‘Relics’ which guides riders past a remnant wall from the old dam.
Without doubt, my trail highlight of the network was ‘Krushka’s’. It starts with a long climb to the granite ridge-tops where it provides a worthwhile view back to Derby town. It features a number of granite slab sections, including a fern-clad boulder the size of a two-storey house.
In several locations the track splits to wrap around old-growth trees, leaving riders with a split-decision of their own: stop and admire or keep the momentum. The reward for the climb is a seemingly never ending bermed descent that leaves most riders with a grin that is sure to last all the way back home.
In the months since the trails opened, Derby has awoken from its decades-long slumber. New and refurbished accommodation and dining options are opening up every month. Complementing this, the nearby towns of Branxholm and Weldborough offer welcoming and character-laden pubs that feature craft beers and food sourced from local producers.
On the basis of our weekend adventure between Hollybank and Blue Derby, I had planned a return visit before reaching home. With more trails due to open by summer, it’s the perfect time to come and test Tasmania’s trails out for yourself as the northeast is set to become the epicentre of mountain bike tourism in Australia.
For those with more time to spend, and looking to push further afield, Tasmania’s famed east coast is only a one-hour drive away – less to the trails of Blue Tier, which has long held appeal with mountain bike riders in the area.
PHOTOS BEN CLARK