Tuesday, November 13, 2018

7 day Ultimate MTB Tour with Tasmanian Mountain Bike Adventures

When Phil from Tasmanian Mountain Bike Adventures approached me about coaching a tour, of course I was interested. There’s nothing bad about working on the bike, especially in Tasmania, despite the fickle weather. When he launched the 7 day Ultimate tour, I wondered what sort of people he would get signing up for it. Who would need a coach for a week of mountain biking? Absolute beginners hoping to ride the greens at Derby? Or those hoping to get out of their comfort zone? I brushed up on my Detonate riding, just in case it was the latter.

By the November kick-off we had a group of 6 – five friends from Perth and another from California who they’d met on previous road cycling adventures in Europe. These were fit guys accustomed to spending several hours a day on bikes appreciating the landscapes. It was great they all knew each other too as the banter flowed between them without too much input from the guides. It reminded me a lot of my old Thursday morning MTB group although somewhat more censored (at first). The brief was to experience varied terrain and show off quintessential Tasmania. Phil definitely delivered on both counts.

Day 1 - Hobart

Welcome to Tasmania. Brisk temperatures and strong winds. In the van to Fern Tree we did an easy warm up on the Pipeline track to ensure all the bikes were working well. This ended up stretching out as we discovered a bent rotor (thanks baggage handlers) and then Phil got a sizeable stick which killed his derailleur. Better to have it in Hobart than on the West Coast though. Reloading at the Fern Tree Tavern, we headed up to the Springs and gave the group their first taste of the North South Track. I’ve avoided this since the damage and forgot how good that top section is. All ferns and moss. After some coaxing the group had a crack at some of the log rides while I held my breath. Descending to Main fire-trail we hit up some of the choice South Hobart trails while the group got accustomed to the steepness not found in Perth.

A burger pit-stop at South Hobart and it was in the van to Meehan Range. I’m not sure going straight up the XC climb was the best thing after lunch but it is the most direct route to Clifftop for sensational views over the city. I took the more energetic crew around the Flagstaff Mountain trail and back down Corkscrew which was proclaimed ‘better than sex’. I wondered where Derby would rate as that’s a pretty high bar. By this time Phil’s group had managed the third mechanical of the day ensuring our breakfast would be taken at Avanti café the next morning to sort out bikes before heading to the wilderness.

Day 2 – Montezuma Falls

Although it doesn’t look it on the maps, the West Coast is quite a drive from Hobart. After breakfast and bike repairs, the group kicked back in the bus while being transported to the still-wild part of Tasmania. One rider had missed the memo about not wearing lycra in the mining towns so an early purchase of baggy shorts was made. The moonscape around Queenstown from mining and deforestation has started to regenerate, much to the chagrin of the locals who claim it’s their town’s greatest attraction. It possibly is although the chicken panini at the café was given the thumbs up by the crew.

The last time I rode the Montezuma 4WD track, I ended up face down in a mud puddle after a clip-out failure. My retelling of the story enabled one of the boys to re-enact it perfectly as he took a dip in ‘Jodie’s Day Spa’. We were all looking like mud-bath victims at the end of 14km where the spectacular falls came into view. Gingerly working across the 200mm wide cable bridge, we could admire them from up close before the 5km ride to the far end of the trail where our driver, Roger, was waiting. Being able to do point-to-point adventures is a huge bonus of being in the hands of TasMTBA.

Montezuma Falls - Tassie's best waterfall

Although we were camping at Zeehan, the large canvas tents were a far cry from my usual ‘almost two person’ light hiking tents. And the comfort afforded by the thick inflatable mattresses and -20C rated sleeping bags has potentially ruined me for roughing it. But the real revelation was the silk liner which enabled warm, friction-free movement throughout the night. It really is more like glamping especially with the catering and port by the fire.

Day 3 – Climies Track

So there’s a reason the West Coast is so green – it rains a lot. Woken by a torrential downpour at 5am, it had eased off to showers as we hit the start of Climies Track. This 4WD track follows the coast between Trial and Granville Harbours and is popular with off-road motoring enthusiasts. A fellow camper at Zeehan had done it the night before in his truck while towing a trailer. This took about 4 hours while I was surprised it could be done at all. By MTB it’s more of a 1.5 – 2 hour adventure sandwiched between the wild coast and Mount Heemskirk and smaller peaks. The area looks very Scottish by both terrain and climate. Although not single-track, it is quite technical with rocky climbs and descents and deep water crossings. There were several ‘no dab’ climb challenges thrown out with beer prizes. At the halfway points stands a memorial to three people killed after being caught in fast flowing water there in 2006. The waterfall they were swept over is stunning on its descent to the nearby ocean.

Not all mud is as solid as it seems. At the Granville Harbour end of Climies Track.

There had been a flat tyre at the back of the bunch but having two guides meant the rest of the group could keep moving, if only to keep warm. This track was used as a stage in the now-defunct Wildside mountain bike race. It’s old-school mountain biking at its best. Bundling into the van we were still surprisingly warm and half the group opted for a quick lunch then a beach ride at Macquarie Harbour. It was like fate intervening as, just as we started the ride, the sky cleared to a perfect bluebird afternoon with the tide at its lowest ebb giving us hard packed sand. Phil had cleverly even managed a tail wind for us so we motored down the beach barely pedaling.

We really lucked it with the weather for our beach ride at Macquarie Harbour.

We got a dinner tip on our reconnaissance trip and the local pub did not disappoint. Getting into some of these regional areas reminds you what value-for-money dining was like.

Day 4 – the van, mostly

The commute from Zeehan to Derby made for an epic travel day. We seemed to have lucked a good window to pack up the tents until it started hailing on us before we got them in the trailer. Passing close to Cradle Mountain there was snow falling which was lovely watched from the inside of the warm van. A day off coffee, sausage roll and sandwich stops we arrived in Derby just in time for it to hail on us again. A quick run up to Black Stump and a slippery, hesitant descent of Flickity Sticks got everyone accustomed to the single track before climbing back up and doing Return to Sender to whet the appetite for the next couple of days.

Staying in a cavernous house in Branxholm, another great meal at the local pub. I can’t remember ever having steak that cheap or good.

Day 5 – Blue Tier et al.

Waking to perfect blue skies this was the best we could hope for as we headed to Weldborough and the top of Blue Tier. This descent is an absolute must-do by anyone who calls themselves a mountain biker. Arriving at the bottom just in time to grab coffee from the Welborough pub, the van took us to the top of Atlas missing out all the boring fire-road climbing. There’s still plenty of climbing on the Atlas trail itself though. The guys requested I lead out so they could follow my lines and know which rises were followed by drops. I cottoned on to their game shortly after we began when I ran over the tail of a very large and healthy Tiger Snake. No one wanted to lead out after that.

The lushness of Derby.

The 2 Doors Down café is the perfect spot for lunch in a hurry as they pre-prepared burritos were toasted and hoovered down before the afternoon session. Half the group opted for a gentle roll down from Black Stump and straight into the pub. The other half were on a mission to fit in as many runs as possible before we could no longer safely grip our bikes. Scoring the second fastest run of the day (according to Strava) down Return was no mean feat with all the EWS riders turning up for practice. Some ripping runs down Flickity Sticks and Howler the boys then gave me a run off to do the trails of my choice. I didn’t really have the energy for Black Stump, Shearpin and 23 Stitches but I rode them anyway. Absolutely love that route.

At the Tuscan Fox that night I ran into Flow MTB’s Chris Southwood who was covering the EWS round that weekend. When I first met Chris I was repeatedly falling down a rock garden at the Oceania titles in Rotorua. Now, taking other riders to fall down rock gardens, it made me realise the full circle my riding career had made.

Day 6 – Running on fumes & Chain of Lagoons

Could we squeeze any more riding out of the legs? Yes! Pottering around the Dambusters and Krushkas loop was a nice change of pace from the breakneck riding of yesterday. Both trails climb gently and flow on the descents. Offering stunning views across the lake, it was a great way to roll the legs over for a last run of Blue Tier. As rain started falling at the top, the descent was markedly more slippery than the day before. We wrangled showers from the Weldborough Hotel and Phil managed to pick up a hitch-hiker while we washed bikes. Ben was an IT guy from Canberra was perhaps over-geared and underprepared for the solo ride from Launceston to Hobart he had embarked upon. He was happy to score a lift over the big climbs to St Helens in return for a carton of ales leaving us to ponder the contents of his very heavy frame bags. It was a toss up between cans of baked beans or severed heads. We hope he had favourable winds for the rest of his journey.

It’s rare to see as many stars as we did from our camp site just north of Bicheno. In the stable weather of the East coast we enjoyed perfect conditions for tall stories by the camp fire as well as the usual discussions on religion and politics. Falling into comas in the tents we had an early morning start to make the 10.30am ferry to Maria Island.

Glamping Tas MTB Adventures style.

Day 7 – Maria Island and Australiana

My last trip to Maria Island was with my partner in howling cross winds, paddling from near Rheban. Apparently there is a perfectly good ferry that goes across from Triabunna. It was warm, nay, hot as we headed off for our first jersey-only ride of the week. The climb up Bishop and Clerk wasn’t exactly what our legs needed and it was bliss to walk the remaining third through the boulder fields. Less so for those who had ignored Phil’s warning to bring proper walking shoes. The view from the top was breath-taking and we enjoyed it eating our pre-packed lunch at the top. For those who haven’t been, there are absolutely no services on the island and the Coffee shop is nothing more than a historical display so don’t get your hopes up (Yes, I fell for Phil’s promises he’d placed my order).

View from the top of Bishop and Clerk. Definitely worth the hike.

Spotting wombats is like those old 3D images – once you see one, you see them everywhere. We didn’t see our first one until well after our descent and exploration of the Fossil Cliffs. One of the guys lay on the ground to get a better shot. The wombat waddled over to say ‘hello’ then promptly gave him a love-bit on the forearm. Most were friendly enough for a quick pat though and we even managed to spot a baby in the pouch. They were chopped liver once the echidna made its appearance though. These guys are pretty rare and I’ve only seen a couple in the wild. This one had found a nice nest of ants though and wasn’t leaving, opting to huddle into a ball and hope we all got bored and left. Maria Island is a magical place if you love wildlife. It’s amazing what a lack of domestic animals and people can do for the native animals.

Wombats a plenty. Felt a bit weird with a group of us looking up its butt though.

It was all over too soon. Some guest DJing in the car on the way home with several of us napping at times. It was an amazing week on the bike, essentially doing a big lap of Tassie. We covered some must-dos while exploring some of the lesser visited parts of the state. If you want to focus on riding and enjoying some bike time with your mates, getting on a Tasmanian MTB Adventures tour is the way to go. Let Phil and co. do the driving and take you directly to the best MTB spots and the places with good coffee.