there are so many things to like about mountain biking. to begin with it’s an outdoor sport, which is great if you, like us, live in a part of world that generally has pleasant weather and trails set in an unspoilt natural environment. it’s also nice to work those lungs and muscles and why would you do that in a smelly gym? we find that the pain is much easier to bear when the brain is distracted, by the surrounding, by challenging trail features – or preferably both.
we heard tasmania offers pretty much all of that: great unspoilt environment and trails that range from ‘way too easy’ to ‘definitely hard core’. especially since the enduro world series visited derby every mountain biker on the planet knows where tasmania is and is probably making plans to get there somehow.
we have first hand experience that australia is actually much bigger than it looks on the maps, but even with that minor caveat getting to tassie is still relatively easy for us. st helens is 500km from sydney as the albatross flies but for the more pedestrian creatures like ourselves the trip involves a 1000km drive to melbourne (about 10 hours), a 10h crossing of the bass straight and then about 3 more hours from devonport to st helens. an easy trip really.
we’d been to tassie before but this time we chose the ferry instead of the plane. yes, the plane is faster, not super expensive and these days it is of course possible to take the bikes on the plane, too. but that means disassembling them, sticking them in a box (will the bike get damaged en route?), then there is the question where to put all the bulky, heavy gear, the car rental and the fact that those vehicles generally don’t come with a bike rack. sounds too hard? we thought so.
the spirit of tasmania takes about 10 hours for the 440 km between melbourne and devonport, but at least one isn’t squashed into a tiny uncomfortable seat, a line of other irritated travellers or a smelly cab. there is a choice between a day and a night crossing; this time we took the day boat but next time we’ll probably sleep on the ferry. how bad could it possibly be …
natalie had worked out that pretty much right on the way from devonport to st helens (we took the scenic route via derby), near launceston, is an alpaca farm. giraffe sheep are even cuter, fluffier and cuddlier in real life than in the photos. if they were smaller people would probably just smuggle them out when they leave. nat very nearly took xena with her.
we stayed in st helens, the biggest town on the north east coast of tassie. when i say ‘biggest’ that’s a really quite relative term: we hear that 2000 people live there permanently but on these early spring days it felt like only half of them were out and about; maybe some were still frozen solid? there are no traffic lights and not even a roundabout, two small supermarkets and true to aussie style three massive liquor stores, but we are told that in summer the town grows to three or four times its normal size.
derby, the famous tassie mountain biking destination with its perfectly shaped trails, is an hour west of st helens, but right in between these two settlements is the start of another amazing trail, called blue tier, after the mining lease that operated there many years ago.
blue tier is an 18km long trail down to weldborough, a tiny place between st helens and derby, pretty much just a pub and one or two more deserted looking houses. the trial is not too technical but leads through a stunning landscape that changes from rocky, with sparse high altitude vegetation to dense rain forest with huge ferns.
the trail requires some climbing but the trail is never steep and the builders kept it interesting; the 200m climbing is easy enough and the long, flowy downhill sections make it all worth while.
nat and i were in for a special treat when we stopped to admire the scenery at this creek crossing: a platypus decided to stick its little beak out to say hello. i think he was as surprised as we were and he quickly disappeared back into his burrow. nevertheless, neither of us had ever seen a platypus so close.
did you think i made this whole ‘unspoilt nature’ blurb in the intro up? nat and i like to rail berms or boost a little lip like the next mountain biker but seeing a platypus at arms length on a trail is pretty much as good as it gets.
we immediately fell in love with riding in tassie. and we hadn’t even been to derby yet!