THE ENDS OF THE EARTH - VAN DIEMENS LAND
I'd been meaning to make it down to Tasmania for the last 26 years - however life just got in the way. When Sam, a close friend of mine, phoned me up to see if I'd be interested in migrating south for the queens birthday weekend my mind went into overdrive, thinking of that reason why I couldn't make it. That seems to be the case in this day and age - we always have a reason why we can't rather than a reason why we can.
Before I knew it Sam, myself and another old friend Phil booking flights to Launceston. Sam and I flew into Launceston around 9pm on the Friday night. Phil flew in at 7:30pm - He booked the earlier flight by mistake!
We collected our Tarago hire van at the airport and made a B-line for Launceston - a short 10-15 minutes from the airport. For those travelling with up to 3 people, the Tarago comfortably fits 3 people AND 3 EVOC bags - worth noting.
We woke up bright and early to clear skies and single digit temps on Saturday and after a quick coffee stop we were en-route to Derby. All up, allow about an hour and a half to get to Derby from Launceston. Next time, I'd just head straight down there for a late arrival. However, the drive Is sensationally beautiful and I'm stoked we did it in day light.
We booked a little cabin on Air BNB a short pedal from the trails, and more importantly a shorter pedal to the pub and to the [in my opinion] best coffee in Derby which could be found at Two Doors Down (@2doorsdowncafe_derby). They serve light meals and specialty roasted coffee from Ritual roasters. Besides, any cafe that has as much bike parking as seats is worthy in my books.
Day one was a real treat to the senses. We rolled into derby around mid-morning and after a quick build and prep session were on the trails at around 2pm. We opted to spin the legs rather than relying on a shuttle service and made it to the top of Black Stump after about an hour of climbing. Now, that wasn't quick climbing. I'm tipping in shape (read; Athletes) riders could power up here in 40-45 minutes, and potentially around the 30 minute mark if you've been following the Putin program or are running some Bosch assistance.
It'd been quite some time since I'd ridden such tacky dirt amongst such grand forests - in fact I'd say that the dirt and local flora in Derby almost pips British Columbia. What Derby lacks in sheer elevation is made up ten-fold by the most insane trail building I've ever seen. EVER.
The climb to Black stump was not difficult - in fact I'd go as far to say that on my 160mm enduro bike, with 2.5" tires, a Fox x2 and Cush core set-up front and rear, I enjoyed it.
It snaked it's way uphill at a gradient that had a unique magic in that you gained elevation without realising. Yes, they could probably have picked a more direct route. But that isn't what Derby is about.
Riders that head to derby looking for a pure, descent only thrill are served for the most part by the EWS built trails which have shuttle access. However, be prepared to spin the legs a bit and you will reap what you put into your ride. The climb is built with the purpose of taking riders on a tour of sorts. Multiple water holes, water falls, and view points adorn the climbs. Just when your enthusiasm heads south, you are treated to something else that will distract you from the lactic building up in the engine room.
I think we covered, by memory, around the 16-17km mark that afternoon. Once at Blackstump we opted for a trip warm up down 'Return to Sender'. It's a must ride. Riders with 140-160mm of travel, and in particular 29" wheels will relish this trail. It takes a bit of effort, it's not a pure fall line but crikey me it's grin inducing! Confident beginners will be challenged, but should make it down most, if not all features. For those with courage and skills there are ample side hits and A lines that will challenge anyone right up to an EWS level rider. The best part? It finishes by the old post office - which in its own right isn't overly exciting unless you have an urgent letter for your pen pal - however it's what lies a stones throw from the post office that is of most interest. If you guessed the pub, you were correct.
After a couple beers watching the sunset we ventured into town for a meal at the Dorset hotel. We were pretty stunned to find a que out the door and no space, all night, for a meal. We sat down and had a pint for half an hour deliberating on where we'd drive for dinner when a no-show meant we got a leg in - after that we booked every night. Be prepared and book ahead - the town is small and the visitation is huge. On a side note, the parma (yes, parm-AHH) at the Dorset is the best I've had to date. Shazza's homemade potato bake is the cherry on top, so be sure to ask for roast vegetables as opposed to chips and salad!
Day 2 started with a big old pedal in the morning. I was hell bent on riding Trouty, so it was up towards Black stump before we detoured off to Krushka's.
Be warned, the slog to Trouty is long. You'll get there - provided you ride semi-regularly or do some sort of physical activity (mowing the lawns doesn't count) often. Just don't take your cousin who thinks Blue trails are lame and should be sweet on Black trails because he used to do the 15ft double at the local BMX track on his Fatboy in 2002.
Once you make it though, the magic happens. I'm going out on a long, feeble, termite infested limb here - but I will say Trouty is my favourite trail of all time.
I've ridden some classics before - the shortlist includes Pembertons 'Jack the Ripper', 'Treasure Trail' and 'Chossy Shlabz' in Squamish, and Whistler's 'Lord of the Squirrels' and 'Dark Crystal'.
For me, Trouty provided a better time than all of those. It's over pretty quick - 4-6 minutes depending on your abilities. If you're paid to ride you'll be done in under 4. However, the way the trail has been built around all the natural contours and rock is phenomenal. The first time I rode Trouty it was great - the second time it was an entirely different experience. Fast, technical, challenging with some insanely fun and creative gap lines. The top isn't overly steep, however as you're about to finish up in town it gets much steeper.
After Lunch, we headed up for Black Stump shuttles - we went with MAD (Mountain bike adventures Derby). They were extremely reasonable with 3 shuttles for $30. We started off with a lap down Upper Flickety sticks and Flickety Sticks. Much like Return to sender, Flickety is a really, really fun blue trail. Lot's of blisteringly quick single track loaded with turns and jumps.
Next up, we rode 23 stitches.. another blinder by World Trail! Holy moly, you'd want to take some time on this trail to get the lines down. AMPLE jump lines mixed in with some tech for good measure. In some aspects this trail was reminiscent of some of the trails I rode at Coast Gravity park - albeit better in some regards.
Lastly, the infamous Detonate. I'm glad we left this til last. What a way to finish such a big days riding (over 50km if I'm not mistaken). Detonate has the infamous rock chute which I regretabley did not photograph - we were having far too much fun. This isn't a trail that should be taken lightly or underestimated. If you've been to Whistler, Detonate is like Green Monsters bigger, badder, gnarlier older brother. It's got some steeps, some great turns, and it is littered top to bottom in challenging technical features.
The rock chute crux has worn over time I've been told, and now resembles a janky rock garden with no room to be bucked off line. I had no troubles riding it blind on the first go round, however the second time I rolled in for a video I let my concentration wander and came awfully close to being chewed up and spat out. This trail is the real deal!
Day Three and our final days riding we jumped on board with Buck from Vertigo MTB and set off for the Blue Tier and Atlas. If you want to do both in one day, which you absolutely should, it'll set you back 75 fun coupons. You get picked up from Derby trail head by Buck and set off on the roughly 1hour drive to the Blue Tier through drop dead stunning old growth forest. What. A. Place. I can't even begin to describe it - green pastures, towering forests, ferns bigger than you could ever imagine. It's like the garden of eden actually exists!
When we arrived at the top of the Blue tier it was fresh - raining and misty. I'm told on a clear day you can take a quick walk to the summit to see the ocean, however we had no hopes of seeing that far in the conditions at hand.
The Blue tier is a proper wilderness trail - it is not difficult. Most beginner riders will have no worries. This makes it the perfect trail to target weekend warriors and less committed riders. The blue tier winds its way through beautiful Tasmanian old growth before dropping out at the Weldborough pub some 19 kilometres later. The overall elevation profile is around 70/30 biased towards the fun stuff (you twice as much time riding downhill!).
When you pay Buck 75 fun coupons, this includes him meeting you at the pub for a chat and not hounding you to get on the bus whilst you enjoy your lunch (the steak sandwich is a real delight). You get anywhere from 40-60 minutes generally to warm up and refuel before you're off to start Atlas - not quite as long as Blue Tier, however you virtually end up at Black stump. So, you've got an awful lot of descending to get back to town.
You're going to get tired of all my overly descriptive and enthusiastic writings of each trail, so I'll try and keep it concise. Atlas is not the worst trail I've ever ridden. In fact, it's quite the opposite. That's all I'll say. Get your ass south, go to Vertigo MTB, and do the Blue Tier x Atlas day trip. Then shoot me a message and tell me I was right about it all.
As I sit here, on this flight, thinking of how I can best summarise our trip to Derby I’m at a loss for words.
How something as simple as the bicycle has transformed this sleepy little town hidden in the hills 90 mins east of Launceston is simply indescribable. You may have high expectations - you should - but if Derby fails to surpass those I’d be VERY surprised.
A riding experience like the one found in Derby has previously been unheard of in Australia. Now that Derby is on the Map and the greater community can see physical, tangible evidence of the benefits that cycling tourism can deliver we can only hope more towns follow suit.
Mountain biking has given life to this region and the people aren’t just benefiting from this trickle down effect - They are thriving. Home owners had no option to sell 10 years ago. Land couldn’t be given away in Derby. If you’d have opened a non-bike related hospitality business (ie. a generic cafe or lodging) you’d be lucky to last 6 months. Now residents have cyclists knocking on their door asking if they’d like sell - cafe’s are packed out the door and several long term locals have been able to build successful businesses that will provide great futures for their little ones.
With the promise of the Warburton trail hub just over an hour east of Melbourne we are on the brink of some very exciting developments in the coming years. I’ve also heard talk of Dirt art partnering with East Gippsland tourism to create a similar trail centre in Omeo, north of Bairnsdale. With it’s pre-existing trail network and fantastic town, Bright is set to only grow as more and more people take upon cycling.
Mountain bike enthusiasts no longer have to travel to North America, or across the Tasman to New Zealand. Fifty minutes across Bass Strait to Tassie will deliver you everything from world class gravity riding to wilderness epics and everything in between. And you know the best bit? The coffee kicks ass.