About an hour southeast of Perth lays the town of Dwellingup, and another hour or so down the road is Collie. Both of these towns were founded on the back of resource extraction, and are transitioning from digging up coal and bauxite, to digging trails and epic descents.
With hundreds of kilometres of singletrack on the books, Dwellingup and Collie are WA’s next trail towns, with mountain bike networks traversing open Jarrah forests, sprawling river valleys, loamy rain forests and pine plantations, all with a healthy heap of WA’s infamous red pea gravel.
Need to know
- Collie is about a 200km drive from Perth and had plans to build three major trail networks around town — though conservation constraints have changed their plans slightly.
- Dwellingup is a little over 100km from Perth and has an established network of trails and a new network that opened in October 2020.
- Neither of these trail projects is complete, with each town still adding more singletrack.
These major trail projects are going ahead in Western Australia because Parks and Wildlife have been laying the foundations for adventure tourism to flourish for nearly two decades. Rod Annear, Assistant Director at WA Parks and Visitor Services, said they would hold annual trail forums where guest speakers would come and talk about what was happening with trails around the world.
“One of the things that was emerging was the idea of having trail hubs, which has obviously evolved into this idea of trail towns,” he says. “The idea of creating a place where people go to use trails, whether that be on mountain bikes, horses, motorbikes or their own two feet, was a guiding force in the development of the WA state-level strategy, which then sets the tone for each region’s strategy.”
WA has long had the 1000km Munda Biddi trail, which runs from Mundaring near Perth all the way to Albany, and destinations like Kalamunda and the trails around Margaret River, and thanks to this push for trails in the regional strategy, Dwellingup is adding to its bag of tricks, and Collie is now on the map.
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Collie a coal town no more
Annear first came to know Collie when he passed through on his way to completing an end-to-end run of the Munda Biddi trail.
“I was just about to leave town, and I stopped at the bakery to get something to eat. My bike was all packed up and leaning against the wall, and this guy pulled up — flano shirt, trucker cap, bogan mullet hair-do, big beard. As I’m coming out of the shop, he says to me, ‘is that your bike?'” Annear says.
“I’m thinking to myself, here we go, he’s going to give me a hard time about being on the road or something. So I go, ‘yeah, yeah, that’s my bike.’
He gets a big smile on his face and says, ‘I’ve got one just like that, but I’ve got different wheels.’ He started telling me the best way to get out of town and things to look out for, and he wanted to have a yarn about where I was headed,” laughs Annear. “That kind of sums up Collie for me. It’s not just what you get on the surface; there is a fair bit underneath.”
For a rural town about two hours south of Perth, the history of Collie has quite a few more chain links than you might expect.
Back in its heyday, Collie had four or five frame builders living in town. It’s also the starting spot for the famed Collie to Donnybrook Cycle Classic, which first ran in 1925, and is home to one of Western Australia’s oldest velodromes.
“There are so many stories of guys from Perth who would jump on their bikes and ride the 200km on rough, crappy roads to Collie. They would swap to their race wheels (when they got here), race at the Velodrome, get drunk as a skunk after, wake up in the morning, put their training wheels back on and ride back to Perth,” says Erik Mellegers, owner of the Crank’n Cycles bike shop, and a Collie MTB Club Committee Member.
Collie is located in the heart of Western Australia’s coalfields, so it should not be a surprise the town’s foundations are built around mining and power generation. But, times are changing, and a large portion of the WA’s coal-fired infrastructure is on track to be phased out in the next decade in favour of renewable energy sources.
Annear tells Flow the state government had set aside money to help Collie transition away from coal, and the town received a 10-million dollar grant to put in trails for bikers and hikers.
Collie adventure trails: Arklow and Wellington National Park
When Mellegers bought Crank’n Cycles over a decade ago, there were a few people in town who would ride out in the forest, mostly on fire roads, and informal singletrack scratched in by a few committed trail fairies. The local club had long been lobbying for legal trails that would bring riders to town, and in 2019 the opportunity arose to legitimise the existing network, add new professionally built singletrack, and make Collie a riding destination. So Parks and Wildlife worked with other parts of the state government on a proposal that would see over 120km of new trails in Collie, including realigning the Mundi Biddi to run through the centre of town, and the development of a 65km hiking trail.
Four kilometres north of town is Arklow state forest, where 11km of new singletrack have been added to the network of home-grown trails.
“Arklow is open Jarrah forest, in a state forest, so there has been logging. For this part of the world, it’s pretty wet, but it’s a dry forest with pea gravel and laterite (soil). It’s a combination of flow trail and narrower (more technical) single track,” says Annear.
The piece de resistance of Collie, and where most of the new trails are being constructed are at Wellington National Park. Contouring through the Collie River Valley, when complete, there will be 65km of singletrack, ranging from gravity fuelled shuttle runs to adaptive friendly trails.
“Wellington National Park is a big steep river valley with loamy soil, lots of big granite outcrops, and views of the river valley. It’s a national park, so we have to work around higher conservation values, but there are some big machine-built descending and climbing trails,” says Annear.
Also on the books are multiple ~30km IMBA Epic style trails that will join up Wellington Dam to the rest of the network higher in the valley, with the opportunity to create 60km+ round trip loops.
These proposed trails run all the way down to the base of the river valley at Wellington Dam, which is home to what might be the largest mural in the world, painted on the dam wall by world-renowned Aussie artist Guido van Helten.
Making lemonade in Westralia
The last network slated for Collie was in Westralia Conservation Park, which was set for a 35km of trail. According to Mellegers, the locals had been eyeing off this reserve for years, unfortunately, the vast majority of what was planned wasn’t viable due to environmental constraints. So Annear and his team are making lemonade, and have instead put the money budgeted for Westralia into expanding the jump lines in Arklow, and a pump track that will flank the Collie Visitor Centre.
“People are going to be driving along, and there will be this beautiful parkland with a crazy dirt jump pump track. As you drive into town, there will be folks riding (the pump track) and doing jumps. That’s going to be a great entry statement as a trail town,” he says.
Once completed, Annear predicts Collie will have enough to keep riders entertained for three or four, and the drawcard will be the variety of riding experiences on offer around town.
“Arklow doesn’t have a lot of elevation, so it’s more rolling blue and green trails. Average punters, families and weekend warriors aren’t necessarily after crazy rock drops and super steep (terrain) — Arklow has trails that will appeal to those groups. We will build that hard stuff out at Wellington National Park with lots of exposure and crazy gradients, along with some family-friendly trails,” says Mellegers.
“Wellington National Park is really going to be the signature stuff. Western Australia is thought of as pretty flat, but this is a pretty impressive, big steep river valley with amazing views,” says Annear.
Dwellingup – not just for XC marathoners anymore
You have probably heard of the Dwellingup 100. This event has drawn marathon racers to Western Australia since 2009, and these trails have hosted many an XCM national round.
The local government in Dwellingup loves trails and outdoor rec, and received funding to put in a trail centre in town. The initial plan was to base this infrastructure around its existing network, like those used for the iconic event, but the town managed to secure additional funding and land access, to make it a riding destination that will appeal to more than just XCM riders.
“Lane pool reserve, where the (new Murray Valley) trails are, has quite a lot of pine plantation in it,” explains Annear. “One of these (pine coups) was clear-felled, and it’s not going to be replanted because it’s part of the reserve.”
“Some of the Murray Valley trails run through those beautiful undisturbed sections of Jarrah forest, but we built a lot of the descending trails in this old pine plantation because this area has already been impacted,” Annear says.
Contouring the Murray River basin, this first phase of the Murray Valley trail network was completed in October 2020 with about 30km of new trails, but there is another ~70km still to come, including more singletrack near town, a new skills park and upgrades to the pump track.
However, getting to this point was anything but easy, and when it came time to start moving dirt, Covid decided to introduce itself to the world, and shut everything down. So, again, Annear and his team took lemons and made lemonade under the circumstances.
“The three key trail builders in WA all had contracts elsewhere that got cancelled, so we employed all three of them at the same time to build the network. It almost became like a comparing and contrasting competition, to see who could build the best trail — it worked out pretty well for us,” he says.
Annear tells us that even Sam Hill, who was home in WA and unable to travel because of the pandemic, got on the business end of a shovel and helped out on some of the descending trails.
“Murray Valley is a really interesting network. There are some big open, flowy (trails), and some of them are big jumpy (airflow) trails, with reasonable — for WA — elevation, ” Annear continues. “There’s not a lot of people who get to the bottom and don’t have a big smile on their face.”
North of Dwellingup
On the north side of town are the Dwellingup 100 trails flanked on either side by the Turner Hill and Marrinup XC loops. With a bit less gravity behind them, these trails are hand-built, and the drier soils and WA pea gravel have been ridden for many years.
“Some of Marrinup and Turner Hill goes through old Alcoa (bauxite) mining areas, which have been re-vegetated. But Marrinup is interesting because part of the loop goes through the remnants of an old WWII Italian POW camp,” says Annear.
Before this latest infusion of trails, Dwellingup had already been a bustling adventure tourism destination for nearly 30 years, with guided canoeing and rafting trips, in addition to camping and hiking. Since the trails have opened, the town has gone gangbusters.
“Dwellingup has been growing; the town is just pumping,” says Ash Jardine, owner of the Loose Riders shuttle company that services the Murray Valley. “When you come into town, there are just cars everywhere; the pub is full, the restaurants are full — it’s a great atmosphere.”
“It’s kind of an outdoor mecca. You can park your bike up after a ride and go for a swim in the river to cool off, and then ride straight to your campsite — and you can take your dog too,” says Annear.
We have been hoping to get over to WA to see these trails with our own eyes for some time now, but interstate travel has been a bit tricky over the last 12-months. While we wait, more trails are being built, and the locals are riding them in, so they will be firing when we can make the trip to the Wild West. But you can bet, once things calm down a smidge, we’ll be slapping some flights on the Flow company credit card.
Photos: Daniela Tommasi/@daniela_tommasi_photography, Roxanne Taylor/@RoxanneTaylorMedia, WA Tourism, Nic Quinnfirstname.lastname@example.org