Tasmania has always held a special fascination with me. Maybe it’s because it is so unlike the Australian mainland, and more like NZ in a lot of ways. The weather is cooler, there are proper hills (even a couple of mountains!) and the people seem to have a more relaxed and friendly vibe going on. If I was ever to move move back to Australia, it’d be to Tassie. And now, with even more fantastic trails being built, the choice to go far south would be even easier.
Rob Potter makes the most of an Atlas natural feature
Having ridden around the Apple Isle on two occasions on road bikes in the early 2000s, it was always on the agenda to return and sample the dirt rather than the tarmac. A couple of chances to ride in the former iconic Wildside event slipped by, but with racing not really on the radar I’d hoped to be able to sample the growing network of trails I’d been hearing so much about. Thanks to Tourism Northern Tasmania, I finally got to go and check out the work being done around the small town of Derby in NE Tassie, a little over an hour’s drive from the city of Launceston.
Alternate lines abound on Black Dragon, as Liz and Rob ably demonstrate
I’d been well aware of Blue Derby through the words and images of my Aussie friends Wil Barrett and Tim Bardsley-Smith, which only served to whet the appetite for my own visit even more. With their help, I was able to get the right contacts to show me around and sample the best of the area. Ask anyone who the best contact is and the inevitable response will be “Ya gotta talk to Buck!” So I did. Buck Gibson runs Vertigo Tasmania, offering bike hire, shuttling and guiding around the region… he offered me a bike to ride and had an itinerary in my inbox within hours of contacting him. That’s the way to look after your customers!
Rob carves the last berm of the day on Flickety Sticks
Arriving at Launceston Airport is somewhat of a shock to the system, as it’s really just a couple of sheds and a runway… ‘quaint’ doesn’t really do it justice, but I’m more at home in modest airports that are easy to negotiate, rather than the sprawling madness of say Charles De Gaul in Paris. I had a good feeling about this trip. Picking up my 4WD hire car I headed to the motel and contacted Buck to see where I could pick up the bike. “I’ll bring it you” he insisted, and within an hour he’d set me up and asked the best question anyone could ask me; “Do you wanna go for a beer?” Well dammit, you’ve got me.
When you’ve been ejected from your motel, it’s raining and you can’t ride, you can always utilise their wifi and the rental car
Cataract Gorge, just minutes from downtown Launceston but a world away
Waking the next day to rain wasn’t unexpected, it’s Tassie after all, and was a welcome buffer to buy a few more hours of rest after a couple too many the night before with Buck at the hip little St Johns bar downtown. A good chance to reacquaint myself with Launy’s streets, and the Cataract Gorge just minutes from the centre of town, with its bushwalks, craggy rocks, waterfalls and abundant native flora and fauna was a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Buck Gibson, the doyen of Derby (and northeast tassie in general) surveys a Trevallyn twisty
There are trails right near here too at Trevallyn, nothing too technical and a great place to get an intro to the riding in the area, and although we only walked a section of them, the twisty singletrack was filled with berms and little rollers that looked like a lot of fun. But Buck had other things in mind, and he gave me directions to the Hollybank trails, about a 20 minute drive from town, where he’d meet me later with a couple of other riders in tow, two good blokes from the Central Coast of NSW, not far from my old stomping ground, and whose names escape my addled memory…
The pump track and dirt jumps at Hollybank
While waiting for Buck to arrive, I had a look around the facilities at the Hollybank carpark area. There’s a cool little pump track and dirt jumps, with wooden ladder- drops and a wallride to test your skills––or lack thereof––on.
We shuttled to the top of the Juggernaut trail and were set free by Buck. This trail starts off with a little grunt up some rocky outcrops but within minutes you are gaining speed and twisting through the rocks, over fallen timber and hitting a good number of jumps/rollers. The rocks aren’t your garden variety, and like most things in the Aussie bush will make you pay for your inattention; by the time we’d reached the halfway point of the trail, I was walking with a pinch-flatted rear, and with no spares on me I told the other guys to continue on down the trail while I schluffed down the fireroad to the pick-up point and fixed the puncture. Of course, we had to do another run so I could sample the lower half of Juggernaut, which changes its skin with a more clay-based surface wending its way under rainforesty bush and providing some exciting moments of slippage on the slick dirt and wet rock slabs. Speed is more eminent on the lower section, and by the time you pop out at the bottom the adrenaline is well flowing.
My loaners for the week on two and four wheels. One of them does better skids than the other
Some locals you don’t want to get too close to
Pretty happy with the puncture-free run down Juggernaut, it was into the Mitsy and off to Derby, or more specifically Scottsdale, just up the road a bit and more populace than Derby, but with no less of a true country town feel. There’s a local craft beer brewery called Little Rivers who produce a beer dubbed Dam Busters in honour of one of the main Blue Derby trails… unfortunately I missed their opening times while I was there, but got to sample a few of the brews after my rides at The Corner Store, a cool little cafe/bike shop right at the trailhead in town.
You can park up here and get on your bike and be on the trail system in five minutes, spend a couple of hours discovering the network and then pop back out and hit any of the little eateries or the pub. It’s a real country town with a sleepy main street, but with the work being done by World Trail is becoming a major hub for mountain biking and the influx of visitors from all over the mainland is growing by the week. And it’s easy to see why.
Winding my way out along the river, the Dam Busters trail has a nice gradient that isn’t too taxing in its elevation gain, with the smart use of the terrain offering a few nice little sections to gain some speed, and a few places to stop for a snack and take in the waterside views around the Cascade Dam. Just as I thought this was becoming a big XC loop, a fun one nonetheless, the top end of the trail was reached and it was time to start the descent, more like an undulating trail at first, passing a nice little ‘beach’ at the edge of the dam, a lookout over the massive stands of gum trees, before reaching the start of Black Dragon, which I’d been told to hit if I wanted “a bit more tech”. How could I not?
The top section of Atlas winds it’s way through some impressive rockery
The main reason for this visit was to check out the extra work that’d been done on the Atlas trail, and this time I’d be joined by Launceston rider/trailbuilder Rob Potter and former racer and now guide Liz. Having someone who knows where to go would be a better way to go than finding my way around by the signs and map yesterday, although both those resources are excellently utilised and it would’ve been a total muppet move to get lost out there.
Buck rolled into town in his bus filled with a group of riders from a Hobart business, out for their Christmas work party, and there were a lot of expectant faces asking lots of questions about the new trail. We kitted up and let the work party take off as we’d be stopping a lot for photos and getting the lowdown on the work being done. The top half had only been open a month or so, and for such a new piece of work, it was running very nicely indeed.
The number of features Atlas has going for it is many; loamy hero dirt, thick rainforest with spectacular old growth trees, and a trail that never disappoints in any way. The flow that has been built into it is impressive, as the elevation isn’t anything to write home about, so the way the terrain has been utilised is a credit to the build team.
You can keep the wheels on the ground and achieve momentum that may even get out of hand if you let it, especially on the fast swithchbacks a third of the way in, and there is plenty of scope to get the wheels off the loam if you so wish, something that Rob wasn’t shy of, and a few times lulled me into situations slightly over my head when trying to follow his lines without knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. Liz was smashing it along behind us, demonstrating some real speed and handling skills as we weaved our way towards the junction with Dam Busters and the super-fun lower section of that trail, and back onto Black Dragon for even more stoke.
Liz, always smiling, and why wouldn’t she with these trails at her disposal?
By now the new section of Blue Tier should be completed to join up with Atlas to create around a 20km descent, with Buck’s shuttles available to drop you at the start of what should become one of Australia’s premier trails. When you consider that this area only had a 4WD track just a few years ago, the scale of the work that has been done so far is all the more impressive. Not only has it made Derby a must-do for Aussie mountain bikers, it’s a truly legitimate destination for those of us across the ditch who desire top notch trails without travelling for a day or two to get there as well.