Rid­ing Tassie’s Blue Derby Trails.

Australian Traveller - - Contents - WORDS DANIEL DOWN

THERE’S A SWEET SPOT in any sport – a time when ev­ery­thing comes to­gether. For a brief mo­ment you ex­pe­ri­ence nir­vana; it could be a per­fect stroke in a ten­nis match when ball, racket and body be­come a sin­gle en­tity for a bliss­ful frac­tion of a sec­ond to set up a sub­lime shot. Up in the hills around Tas­ma­nia’s quaint town of Derby, 100 kilo­me­tres north-east of Launce­s­ton, there’s a way you can achieve this feel­ing for a pro­tracted pe­riod, grin­ning from ear to ear as you hur­tle through an­cient for­est. It’s called ‘flow’, moun­tain bik­ing’s holy grail – a med­i­ta­tive state that will take you be­yond any­thing any yoga re­treat can claim to of­fer. I’m not an ex­pe­ri­enced moun­tain biker, but with just three days in the sad­dle with Blue Derby Pods Ride I was up to a level where I was able to taste this de­li­cious state of be­ing. “We call the soil here ‘hero dirt’,” says our guide John, point­ing at the red earth that marks our route drop­ping down to our ac­com­mo­da­tion for the night. “It makes bike tyres stick to it like glue and runs all the way from Scotts­dale through to Derby. And… it’s great for grow­ing pota­toes too.” The Blue Derby Moun­tain Bike Trails opened in 2015, weav­ing paths through­out the Derby re­gion. And such is the qual­ity of the ter­rain, its per­fect mud and the beauty of the forests, that it’s started at­tract­ing the best in the world; last April, Derby hosted the En­duro World Se­ries – the For­mula One of moun­tain bik­ing. My first day is about get­ting used to han­dling the new full-car­bon-fi­bre frame bike with a com­plex set of sus­pen­sion rigs I’ve been handed. It skips over ev­ery­thing the trail throws at me – er­rant boul­ders and tricky ‘rock gar­dens’ are ab­sorbed with ease by this gor­geous ma­chine. Blue Derby Pods Ride has a deal with a local bike shop to al­ways have the lat­est equip­ment and guests can pur­chase their steed – at $5000, I de­cide to leave it in Tas­ma­nia. We stop to ad­mire a view out across the hills and forests ahead. In parts, old for­est ap­pears to ad­join ar­eas that are in the process of be­ing, or have re­cently been, logged. A state gov­ern­ment at­tempt

to make 356,000 hectares of for­est avail­able for log­ging, in­clud­ing some of the coupes around the Derby moun­tain bik­ing trails, was re­cently de­feated in the Tas­ma­nian up­per house. With vis­i­tor num­bers to the re­gion up 250 per cent, helped largely by the in­flux of moun­tain bik­ers, not to men­tion the global recog­ni­tion achieved by hosting some­thing like the En­duro World Se­ries, the sport has helped the local econ­omy mon­e­tise th­ese trees in a way that doesn’t mean they have to be de­stroyed. It’s as if the trails are a net­work of life-giv­ing ar­ter­ies and makes this whole ex­pe­ri­ence feel en­tirely vir­tu­ous; tourist dol­lars are es­sen­tially pro­tect­ing the gul­lies of tree ferns, 700-year-old tow­er­ing myr­tles and the wildlife they harbour, which flash by on our way down to our home in the woods for the next two nights.


Tara and her hus­band Steve could have gone down the tra­di­tional route when plan­ning their guest ac­com­mo­da­tion for Blue Derby Pods Ride – miner’s cot­tages, say, would have been en­tirely fit­ting with Derby’s his­tory as a tin min­ing town. But hav­ing se­cured the rare op­por­tu­nity of a long-term lease on a plot within the Derby Re­gional Re­serve, the cou­ple built a con­tem­po­rary mas­ter­piece. It makes for a dra­matic en­trance as you round a bend and ride un­der the arch hang­ing off the im­pres­sive struc­ture. Nes­tled among a copse of black­woods, pri­vate sleep­ing pods sit away from a cen­tral hub. They’re min­i­mal­ist to the ex­treme with curved walls wrapping up over a big bed, LED strip light­ing re­cessed into ex­posed ply­wood giv­ing it a pared-back Scandi feel. A large win­dow frames the for­est; John says he’s spot­ted sugar glid­ers here and it’s won­der­ful to lie propped up on some pil­lows look­ing for life among the moon­lit trees. The hub is all clean lines of ply­wood, a big wood burner dom­i­nat­ing a lounge and a com­mu­nal dining ta­ble; the fur­ni­ture is solid and finely crafted by Tara’s brother, Mar­cel, a renowned car­pen­ter. Big slid­ing glass walls open up onto a deck with views down to the Cas­cade River Val­ley. Tara and John of­fer a se­lec­tion of cheeses from Coal River Farm down south, local wines and beers as we sit on bean bags around the fire. Din­ner is Scotts­dale pork and pota­toes from nearby Cuckoo Val­ley, with a Parme­san and rocket salad – the leaves from York Town Or­gan­ics on Tassie’s north coast. We fin­ish with le­mon tarts from Launce­s­ton’s Manubread bak­ery and cof­fee from Prove­nance Cof­fee Co. run by Launce­s­ton res­i­dent Jesse, who heads out to farms in Colom­bia to per­son­ally source his pro­duce. Stay­ing in this part of

Tas­ma­nia, you get the sense that Aus­tralia’s bright­est young minds have set up shop here; from the local pro­duce to the solid dining ta­ble it’s served on, and the show­piece of con­tem­po­rary de­sign that sur­rounds it all, it fills you with in­spi­ra­tion. Legs burn­ing and my heart threat­en­ing to ex­plode, I’m not feel­ing in­spired at 8am the fol­low­ing morn­ing. It’s a test­ing hill climb to start the day, with John and Tara of­fer­ing en­cour­age­ment – I feel the calo­ries evap­o­rat­ing; you’ll eat well and get fit over just a cou­ple of days of ex­ert­ing your­self up here. We’re soon on a flat, and rusted wrought iron pipes fol­low the trail, barely vis­i­ble snaking along beside us as the moss and lichen sub­sume them. The pipes once car­ried wa­ter from the Cas­cade Dam up­river to scour the land­scape, blast­ing away earth to ex­ca­vate tin. Parts of the trail we’re on now would have been un­recog­nis­able. “There was noth­ing here in 1920,” says John. “But since the mine closed in 1946, the for­est has com­pletely re­gen­er­ated.” He tells us of a dis­as­ter that struck in 1929: fol­low­ing a record rain­fall the dam burst and oblit­er­ated the town, killing 14 peo­ple. “One house was lifted up, floated off and re­set­tled else­where,” he says. “Ap­par­ently the tea ser­vice was still laid up on the dining room ta­ble.” As if to il­lus­trate what a dra­matic change the town has been through over the last cen­tury, some of the steep, banked bends (called berms) on the trails are shored up by boul­ders left over from min­ing. Our route takes us to the reser­voir of the dam, through tem­per­ate rain­for­est, on wind­ing trails down to Derby. It’s deliri­ous fun; with ei­ther Tara or John rid­ing up front and shout­ing in­struc­tions I can con­fi­dently hit the track at speed. “Lean back, lean back,” shouts John as I nearly jump down a steep, rocky de­scent. The trails were built by renowned track de­signer Glen Ja­cobs of World Trail, and they pre­serve your mo­men­tum like you’re on a roller-coaster, dip­ping and ris­ing be­fore plum­met­ing again. I start to mas­ter the ridicu­lously light bike and copy Tara in do­ing lit­tle bunny hops over lumps and into cor­ners. At some point I re­alise that I’ve for­got­ten about ev­ery­thing other than the trail com­ing at me re­lent­lessly, my body and brain forced to sim­ply re­act – I feel this thing they call flow.


driv­ing up through rain­for­est to the wind-blasted Blue Tier plateau – at 600 me­tres above sea level it will be a glo­ri­ous rib­bon of dirt all the way down. We pass the oc­ca­sional farm­house but we’re head­ing some­where en­tirely more wild than our last two days. “You can get lost up here,” says John, re­call­ing when a friend of his couldn’t find the trail. “He found a clear­ing with a cabin, and knocked on the door for di­rec­tions. An old man ap­peared, long grey beard, look­ing like some Texan hill­billy. He was wear­ing noth­ing but black French lin­gerie. ‘Left or

We’re in the Goblin For­est: a dense net­work of ferns and moss-cov­ered eu­ca­lypts.

right?’ my friend said. ‘Right,’ replied the old boy. My friend cy­cled off. Quick.” The de­scent starts in the alpine tun­dra of the plateau and the air up here is so pure that it’s a haven for var­i­ous species of pale lichen that grace­fully drape the scrub with their del­i­cate struc­tures as if placed by some hip­ster florist. From the tun­dra, we hit cloud for­est; it’s such a sud­den tran­si­tion and the change in light so dra­matic that I slam on the brakes to take it in. It feels like we’ve crossed into an­other world; gone is the opaque white of the tun­dra and an all-con­sum­ing deep green per­vades. We’re in the Goblin For­est: a dense net­work of ferns and moss-cov­ered eu­ca­lypts, an at­trac­tive creek run­ning through it all. John pulls up beside me and smiles; they kept quiet about this so as not to ruin the sur­prise. What our group now de­scribes as ‘long sec­tions of flow’ mean that we make quick work of wind­ing our way through the Blue Tier Re­serve, its tow­er­ing myr­tles and groves of colos­sal tree ferns. We come to a stop at the at­trac­tive Weld­bor­ough Ho­tel and there’s time to re­flect on the jour­ney; it’s one in which you can set­tle your mind and be good to your body too, be in­spired by the peo­ple, and in do­ing so help make this sleepy Tas­ma­nian town’s newly dis­cov­ered par­a­digm a shin­ing ex­am­ple of what can be achieved in the rest of the state, the coun­try, the world.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: You cy­cle un­der a huge arch to en­ter the ac­com­mo­da­tion; The pods are pared-back , sim­ple spa­ces; Chal­leng­ing moun­tain bik­ing ter­rain; You’ll have the at­ten­tion of two guides on your tour. OPPOSITE: The reser­voir of the Cas­cade Dam through the trees.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Tara (right) re­lates the his­tory of the Cas­cade Dam; The sleep­ing pods make for an un­usual dis­cov­ery in the for­est; The Blue Derby Moun­tain Bike Trails are all sign­posted clearly through­out the area and come with their own art­work .

FROM TOP RIGHT: A view out over the forests of the Derby re­gion; Guests com­mune, eat and drink at the main hub; A Tas­ma­nian tiger greets you at the en­trance to the trails; Guide John leads a group up an as­cent; The pods are hid­den away down an el­e­vated walk­way through the for­est.

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