There’s a lot of buzz coming from over the Bass Strait lately. And rightfully so. North East Tasmania has been embarking on an ambitious mountain bike trail project in the past few years, which will see the area transform into a cycling paradise. Tassie is well known to Mainlanders for its wild countryside, scenic coastlines, and mountainous terrain. The Apple Isle is also relatively well known for its mountain biking too, with popular events such as Wildside and the Hellfire Cup making it to many riders bucket lists, and trails such as the North-South Track (just outside of Hobart) garnering their fair share of attention. The North East corner of the island however, has been relatively untapped for the mountain bike market. That is, until now.
The North East Mountain Bike Project was released in mid-2013, with joint funding coming from a substantial packet from the (then) Federal Labour Government, along with local and state agencies. The Project has concentrated on 3 key areas of development just outside of Launceston: Hollybank, Derby and Blue Tier. Hollybank opened the gates back in October of 2014, and has already been bringing riders from all over the state and over from the mainland to ride the awesome Juggernaut trail. The former 2 have since been amalgamated into the one network, which is now branded as “Blue Derby”. The new Blue Derby network officially opens to public on Saturday the 7th of February, and so in the lead up to its highly anticipated debut, Enduro Magazine was invited out to preview the trails to see what all the hype is about. With an invitation in hand, I made my way onto a minuscule aeroplane at Melbourne Airport to make the 1 hour flight over to Launceston.
After arriving in Launceston, our media contingent was picked up by Buck from Vertigo MTB Tours. Buck has been operating out of Launceston for the past 5 years and has seen the mountain bike scene grow and evolve from humble beginnings. He offers airport pickup and dropoff services, along with a range of riding options that encompasses the Hollybank and Blue Derby areas. Most of our crew had arrived in Tassie without bikes, and so we were promptly paired up with 140mm travel Norco Sight rental bikes for our trip. If you’re flying into Tassie like we did (as oppose to catching the ferry), the option to leave your bike at home and skip the rental car companies is ideal for a stress free trip.
The town of Derby sits about an hour drive East of Launceston. It’s home to just 200 people, though like many towns around Tasmania, it was once a thriving hub for mining. Tin mining specifically. The area’s mineral significance was discovered in the late 1800’s, and the surrounding mountains were treated to an extensive sleuthing process that saw them stripped of their valuable cassiterite. So valuable was the tin, that an enormous dam was built further up in the Cascade Valley to provide the necessary water for the large water cannons used to blast the rock faces. In 1929 after unseasonably heavy rain, the dam collapsed under immense pressure. The entire valley flooded, killing 14 people and ravaging homes and the mine along with it. The mine did open back up a few years later, but the damage had been done and it ended up closing its operations permanently in 1948. Since then, the town of Derby has been in economic depression. In 2009, the area was identified as having significant potential for mountain bike development. While the area has begun to grow back following the closure of the tin mine, it is still referred to as being ‘disturbed land’. This makes for an ideal location to build trails, because there is very little environmental significance compared to say, an old growth forest. Fast forward to 2015, and the development of the Blue Derby trail network is in full swing. The entire town is getting behind the project, because they understand that it could well be a new avenue to inject tourism dollars into their local economy. With the inevitable arrival of thousands of mountain bikers, new cafes and stores are springing up, and accommodation providers are converting their dwellings into bike-friendly options.
There is some really impressive cycling infrastructure in Derby. It’s one thing to have awesome trails, but to have a whole town that’s geared towards serving the cyclists who are coming in to enjoy those trails? That is what will create a truly awesome riding destination. After our ride around Derby, we made use of the cycling-specific wash bay at the trail head, as well as the shower and toilet block next door. This is a fantastic service for interstate and international travellers who may need to clean and pack their bikes before flying out of Launceston.
Just up the road from the trail head is the Tin Centre, which houses the new Corner Store. Jess and Norm Douglas made the early move to get involved with Blue Derby, and have set up shop in town to provide riders, tourists and locals with another food and drink option, along with rental bikes and trail information. It’s a great little hangout that will surely be the cycling hub for pre and post-ride chinwags. Further through the Tin Centre you’ll find a museum dedicated to the mining history of the town, along with a brilliant video that details the devastation of the 1929 flood that decimated the town.
We’ll have the second instalment from our Tassie trip online for your viewing pleasure in the coming days, but you’ll also be able to read the whole story in our upcoming Travel Issue that goes a little deeper into the story behind Blue Derby. If you’re drooling at the prospect of a Tassie Trip of your own and you don’t have the patience however, checkout some of the links below for more info;