If you have been following mountain bike racing for a while, there is a good chance you know about Smithfield. You have probably seen video clips of riders on rigid bikes, with skinny bars and bar ends, hanging on for dear life as they tried to navigate the trails. More recently, you will have seen Nino Schurter, Jolanda Neff, Loic Bruni, Miranda Miller, and Australia’s Cameron Wright earn their rainbow stripes in the tropical rainforest.
About 15km from the heart of Cairns, Smithfield is Australia’s oldest mountain bike park, hosting the first-ever World Cup stops in Australia in 1994 and again in 2014 and the World Champs in 1996 and 2017.
As one of Australia’s most esteemed riding destinations, there is only 33km of singletrack in the rainforest of the MacAlister Range.
Need to know
- A local community group aims to expand the Smithfield Mountain Bike Park and upgrade the Kuranda Downhill to make Carins a mountain bike tourism destination.
- The goal is to add 70km+ of singletrack and upgrade the existing network
- The team have support from the government at the local and federal level and are about to embark on the feasibility study.
“People think Cairns is a great mountain bike destination, it’s not; you’ve only got about 30k of trail in Smithfield, 15-20km in Davies Creek and about 30-40km at Atherton. That’s not enough for a riding destination,” says Glen Jacobs, Founder of World Trail.
“Yes, we’ve had a couple of major events back here, but that’s events, that’s not a tourism product,” he says.
Jacobs played a significant role in lobbying the Australian Cycling Federation and local governments to bring the World Cup to Cairns. Finally, after all the riders had packed their bikes and headed home, the local politicians sat down with prominent mountain bikers to ask how to capitalise on the momentum from the event. Even then, Jacobs could see where mountain biking was heading and stressed what Cairns could have if a bit of money were invested in expanding the network.
Since that meeting in September 1996, several community groups have secured the support to add the necessary infrastructure to make it a riding destination. Still, each effort has been unsuccessful for one reason or another.
“A lot of people think you come to Cairns because it’s a tourism destination, and then ride. I’ve been banging my head up against it for over a decade, saying, ‘no, no, for it to be a mountain bike destination, people need to come here to mountain bike and then go to the reef or the rainforest. They have finally started to understand the difference.”
Cairns Trails in Paradise
Stuart Carr is a commercial real estate agent in Cairns, and while finalising some paperwork on a new lease, asked Jacobs why the trail hub in Tropical North Queensland hadn’t become a riding destination.
“There have been people knocking on the doors of politicians for twenty years to make it happen, unsuccessfully,” says Carr.
Motivated to overcome the roadblocks that have prevented the network from expanding in the past, Carr called in the big guns, teaming up with Jacobs and Tim Watson from the Dorset Council, the driving force behind Blue Derby.
This time around, things seem to be a bit different. Cairns is very much a tourist destination; however, as much as 70-per cent of its visitors come from overseas. That tap has been turned off due to Covid, so the local government is looking to recoup some of those losses through domestic travel. Just around the corner from the Smithfield resort, the Paradise Palms resort is expanding and offers up land for a secondary trailhead. With a slate of elections on the horizon, politicians are especially to get behind big, bold community projects.
Carr, Jacobs and Watson invited as many local, state and federal politicians as they could and gave a presentation outlining the economic and community benefit expanding Smithfield would create for Cairns.
“Within hours, I was getting phone calls from Michael Healy, the State Member for Cairns, Warren Entsch, the Federal Member for Leichhardt and some of the local councils, saying ‘let’s make it happen,’” Carr says.
Wooo Hooo, what’s actually happening?
Smithfield was initially designed to host events, laying the foundation for a good riding destination. It has the name id; it has the terrain; now it just needs more trails.
“Because there is so much other tourism going on, people don’t really think about anything else, but Cairns has such a huge name because of the World Cups and the World Championships, and it’s designed that way; it’s a fantastic event area. It’s in a big bowl in the rainforest, you’ve got beaches and accommodation close by, all the teams would get on their bikes and ride from the beach to the races,” says Jacobs.
“I remember one bloke years ago said, ‘I don’t care if I get a flat tyre and loose, look where I am,” he laughs.
Transforming Smithfield from an event space into a true mountain bike destination will happen in a few stages, the most significant being adding about 70km of trail to the network to bring the total up to triple digits.
“Starting from the top, we are looking to upgrade the Kuranda Downhill so that it has a safe exit away from the highway. We’ll be doing blue and green descending trails, a climbing trail and a walking trail other that direction,” Carr says. “That’s going to open up Kuranda up to the likes of Smithfield, where all the trails will be upgraded and expanded from its current 35km up to 100-110km.”
Carr tells us that everything will be linked up, so you could potentially take a shuttle up to the top of Kuranda and work your way through the Smithfield network to the trailhead at Paradise Palms.
“From Smithfield, it’s only about 3km line of sight over to Paradise Palms, and there are already plenty of old timber trails and unsanctioned trails in that area,” Carr says. “The plan is to link those up, creating about 30km of cross country type trails on that side of the ridge. The terrain is a bit different, and it’s also closer to the ocean.”
The short term goal for Cairns Trails in Paradise solely focuses on Smithfield and Kuranda; however, Carr’s vision expands beyond just the eastern aspects of the MacAlister Range.
“Once we’ve opened up Kuranda so you can ride or shuttle up, you have that village up there in the rainforest that everyone loves. There are other trails in that area that link back to Carins, so we’re hoping to have some longer distance, bay of fires or Blue Tier, epic cross country rides.
“My long term plan is to see Kuranda then linked to Davies Creek,” he says. “And once you get to Davies Creek, you could then open that up to Tinaroo. Then you could go from Tinaroo, up the channel roads — which you can’t ride on at the moment — up to Atherton.”
“It will be a game-changer for Cairns because it really opens up another market. First, people come here to see the reef or the rainforest, now they’ll come here to mountain bike, and maybe they’d go to see the reef or the rainforest on their days off,” Carr says.
Cairns Trails in Paradise is very much in its early stages; however, Carr predicted that we would ride new trails at Smithfield and Kuranda in two years if everything goes to plan.
Carr is still putting together the website for Cairns Trails in Paradise, however for the most up to date information, follow them on Facebook.
Back in 2018, Mick and Dave McMillan spent a few days enjoying the sights and sounds of Atherton — and doing some riding while they were there too.
Want more? Check out day two and day three of their adventure in the Tablelands, west of Cairns.