Standing high above the Darling Downs in South East Queensland are the Bunya Mountains. These remnants of an old shield volcano are home to the world’s largest forest of bunya pines, also housing a dense sub-tropical rain forest and a brand new 30km trail network.
Right up against the Bunya Mountains National Park, in an area called Russell Park, this trail network is designed to be as much about the journey, riding through this epic landscape, as it is about the riding itself.
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Adventure among the bunya pines
Russell Park was donated to the Western Downs Council in the early 1900s, and lays adjacent to the Bunya Mountains National Park. It’s the ideal spot for a trail network because it offers the same nature riding experience, but isn’t governed by the management constraints imposed by National Parks, which aren’t necessarily friendly to recreation and tourism infrastructure.
The Bunya Mountains are already on the map as a tourist destination. With the beautiful rainforest, hiking trails and swimming holes aplenty, and at their altitude, it’s also substantially cooler up there in the summer months.
“Down here in Kingaroy, we often get to 40-degrees; we go up there, and it’s 28-degrees,” says Jason Wyeth from the South Burnett Mountain Bike Club. “Where the trails are, in amongst the rain forest with the canopy above you, it’s an amazing environment up there.”
Slated for a hair under 30km of singletrack, the trails are divided up into five one-way loops and two bi-directional linking trails. World Trail put together the detailed design for the network, and Common Ground Trails is currently on the mountain cutting trail.
“The trail styles are more tilted towards adventure, cross country style riding, so longer, bigger loops weaving through bunya pines, huge big rainforest trees and through rocky screes. It’s a stunning landscape,” says David Wilcox, Director of Common Ground Trails.
You’ll be riding among these huge Bunya Pines, that are 200-foot (60m) tall, 20foot (6m) around, and I believe the trails come out on some of these grassy (open) areas where you have views to the south and west from 3000-feet(914m) above sea level.
And it’s this beautiful landscape that will create the rhythm and some of the topography of the singletrack.
“There are a lot of root masses from some of the large trees, like the big figs. They’ve got the massive exposed root buttresses that make for pretty unique terrain, and a lot of the trail will incorporate the rolling undulations created by the root masses,” says Deon Baker, Head Trail Builder from Common Ground.
“Being a more beginner focused network, there won’t be that much-exposed root and texture — but it will come through over time — and it’ll certainly work to the fact that those little landforms are in there because the really large trees are creating rises and falls in the landscape,” he continues.
It’s about the place as much as it’s about the trails
As Baker alluded, these trails will be more pitched towards beginner riders. Councillor Kylie Bourne from the Western Downs Council tells Flow that the network will be made up of green and blues to appeal to a diverse group of riders.
“The opportunity here is to go mountain biking in a beautiful part of our region, and we wanted these trails to cater to all ages and skill and make them approachable for both beginners and more skilled riders,” says Cr Bourne.
The network has been set out so that the pines, the massive figs trees and the place itself command the experience. Baker has assured Flow the ride will still be entertaining for riders at every level, but the singletrack will almost be a secondary part of the experience.
“There’s very little phone coverage or internet and it’s just a very calm, serene sort of place. You’ll be riding among these huge bunya pines, that are, you know, 200-foot (60m) tall, 20-foot (6m) around and I believe the trails come out on some of these grassy (open) areas where you have views to the south and west from 3000-feet(914m) above sea level,” Wyeth says.
“It’s just such a beautiful place. The Bunyas are hard to describe,” he says.
What do the locals think?
There is a cute little village between the Bunya Mountains National Park and where the trails will be at Russell Park, with accommodation, a few cafes and restaurants and a small community of locals, with the major population centres of Dalby and Kingaroy on either side of the range.
Cr Bourne told Flow there had been some hesitation from community members who were worried about the impact of the trails on the environment, but overall the locals were on board.
We spoke to Baker shortly after the council had conducted a community meeting where they introduced Common Ground to the community.
“There was a majority of support there, and there wasn’t much in the way of people being outspoken against what’s happening,” he says. “It’s such a touristy spot, they’re used to having people come in and out, and some of them have based their livelihoods around that tourism,” he says.
Wyeth tells us that the local riding community is absolutely frothing, and can’t wait to get up to Russell Park to see what’s happening. He also says the club regularly hears from riders in Toowoomba desperate for updates.
Where do the Bunyas fit in?
The Bunya Mountains are about 2.5-hours from the Sunshine Coast, 1.5-hours from Towoomba, and with a few other local trail networks near Wondai and Gordon Brook Dam; the trails at Russell Park offer something totally unique.
Wythe sees the Bunya mountains as a ‘key player’ in drawing folks in from South East Queensland and further afield. He hopes they will lead to them hanging around for a few days to ride the other trails in the area or the Rail Trail in South Burnett.
The Bunya Mountains is quite a unique destination in that the focus is on the experience. With Common Ground’s chops for trail building, rest assured it will be fun to ride, but the focus from everyone involved is portraying how magical the place is in itself.
Baker and his crew are on the ground now building trails, and all going according to plan, the trails should be open this coming June.
The Local Beta
The Bunya Mountains are just about equidistant from the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane. On either side of the rage, there are significant population centres and all of the infrastructure that comes along with it. On the way up the mountain Cr Bourne says you have to stop at Kaimkillenbun Pub for a meal.
Moving up the hill, there are places to stay, ranging from Alpine Chalets to Airbnb’s. At the top of the mountain, the Bunya Mountains Tavern is the pick for a meal and a brew — both the morning and evening type. In the same building, you’ll find Shackleton’s Whisky bar, which is the highest speakeasy in Australia.
Head over to the Western Downs Council website for the latest on the Russell Park Mountain Bike Trails.
Photos: Tourism and Events Queensland, Matthew Taylor/Tourism and Events Queensland, Larissa Dening/Tourism and Events Queensland