Trails Of The Tropics | Exploring brand new trails in Finch Hatton, QLD


Flow Mountain Bike acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Mackay Region and Finch Hatton, the Yuwi, Widi, Barada Barna and Birriah peoples. We recognise their connection to lands, waters and communities and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.


Chatting about the drive to Finch Hatton through the cane fields and the development of the new trail network, we were introduced to a new term.

“Hold on, what’s a quark knuckle?”

Glen Jacobs of World Trail, along with Thor West and Riley Lowe — the trail building team on the ground and all-round top blokes, got to explaining. Fully expecting this phrase to be a unique Queensland expression for brawling at the pub, quark knuckle is a progressive style of jump where someone just learning can have a go, or, if you can ride a bike like Riley or Thor – can get absolutely sideways. The jump is tapered at one end, which makes a natural A, B and C line for those who like a little bit of choice.

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Join Chris and Em as they explore Finch Hatton

 


Welcome to Finch Hatton! This place is going to be BIG!
The group of airflow trails that have just opened is just a small taste of what is still to come.

Finch Hatton is home to a brand new trail network constructed by World Trail. The first stage consists of 16 airflow trails chock full of quark knuckles, but this is just the start, and upon completion, Finch Hatton will be one of Queensland’s largest mountain bike destinations. This initial release of trails totals 14.5km, but there is another 75km or so on the way, and subject to approvals and funding a 36km adventure trail which will descend from the mountain village of Eungella to Finch Hatton.

We’d just spent the drive in with our jaws dropped at the sun setting, with rainforest peaks poking out of the cane fields as far as the eye could see. We were buzzing to explore Finch Hatton at the crack of sparrows the next morning.

It is about an hour’s drive from Mackay after minor delays playing Tetris in the Kia Carnival. Four bike bags and a chaotic amount of camera gear in tow, with only a minor interaction with ground crew stating as she held her hands over her eyes:

“I did not see this!”

With a bit of elbow grease, you can fit four bike bags, three Pelican cases, two camera bags, four duffel bags and four people into a Kia Carnival.
The scenery on the drive out was breathtaking. This part of Queensland is nothing short of spectacular, and we were hyped for what was still to come.

This place felt like a proper getaway, landing in quintessential North, *ahem* or Central Queensland — the jury is still out. Perfect mid-twenties temperatures in May, rolling down the window to let the hair down kind of weather.

TV’s Chris Sansom, camera-wielding Colin, Murray “the muzzler” martini, and caffeine fiend Chadwick were out for a tropical trail riding adventure.

And we hadn’t even jumped on a bike yet!

Not everything is a quark knuckle on the airflow trails in Finch Hatton. The first stage of this park is heaven for folks who love to put some air under their tyres.

So about them Quark Knuckles | Exploring Finch Hatton’s Airflow

Fuelled by Moccono, questioning if it’s shorts or longs weather, we were out for a clear May sunrise pedal in Finch Hatton.

We were lucky enough to have those top blokes we met earlier show us the ropes. Rolling between head-height cane fields with a mix of red dirt and granulated gravel carved between, jumps of all scale and progression — our eyes were wide. We had a fantastic taste of what the entire network has to offer, lapping Bung Eye and Tinnie, giving the notorious “quark knuckle” a good test run.

Finch Hatton has 14.5km of new airflow trail ready to ride now, with about 90km total in the works. Airflow was a term pioneered by World Trail at Blue Derby, with the infamous Air Ya Garn, and is a perfect expression for this style of riding. Jumps mixed in with ‘uge banked berms and even a few little blind trail speed jumps and step-ups.

Quark knuckles in the morning light. This type of jump allows you to get exactly the amount of air that you are comfortable with, allowing for safe progression.

The current 16 trails are all airflow, however this will open up to a greater diversity in the trail network with steep technical descents planned from the rocky crags of Mount Pinnacle. A few rocky drops in the first phase give you a feel for what these tech trails might look like in time. There was also much debate about whether we could scale up the Pinnacle for a sunset, but the idea was dropped when we realised just how steep the shuttle drive alone is to the mid-point.

Off Camber Mountain Biking is the official shuttle operator in the area, headed up by Leah and Rob Stevenson — full-time stokers and expert uplift pilots. The troopy was fully loaded, carrying the crew and a number of Mackay locals to about 200m in elevation to favourites like Your Shout and newly constructed Tasty Fig. Tasty indeed.

Rob and his wife Leah came down from Atherton to start Off Camber Mountain Biking. Even with the network having only opened a few months ago, they are already running a full schedule.
Glen Jacobs from World Trail tells us that they didn’t find much rock in the lower section of the trails — likely due to its agricultural history. However, up higher in the next stage there is plenty of geology which will make for some steep, technical riding.
World Trail has built some amazing jump lines in one of the old cane fields with the full gamut of features. It’s all in one open field so you can work your way across as you get more comfortable.
While this first stage of the trail network is just a taster, it’s a full flavoured helping of trail that will leave you with a big smile on your face.

The second phase of works for Finch Hatton will not just offer new steep tech trails at Mount Pinnacle, but also a much-anticipated 36km of hero trail from the rainforest village of Eungella back into cane country. One of the most remarkable aspects of the trail network here is the landscape, a mix of old cane fields, lush rainforest and Australian bush. I can’t image what a total of 36km of descent through this would feel like — maybe Maydena 2.0, but make it tropical!

This varied landscape also produces variety in the dirt and therefore the trails themselves. The World Trail crew mentioned they added some aggregate in certain locations for drainage and tack. It would be amazing to come back on a classic mid-summer Queensland day in the wet. Bets are on it will hold up just as well that time of year.

With the lack of rock, World Trail was able to build some beautiful big flowing features. These trails are FAST!
As you move higher up the hill, the landscape begins to change. We cannot wait to see what the folks from World Trail have in store for the next stage of this network.

We ran into a few folks heading from Sydney to Cairns for Crankworx, some from the Whitsundays, a few from Western Australia and a whole heap of absolutely charging locals — beaming about this new addition to their town. The trailhead has everything from bike wash to shuttle pick up and one of the most impressive pump tracks I have seen in a while, let alone nestled in a town of only about 500 people. This hub, which used to be the entrance to the sugar cane mill operation, is now a bustling centre for the community.

The news has obviously already spread far and wide for a mountain bike park that is only just open but eventually will become one of the largest networks in Queensland.

When we visited Finch Hatton, it had only been open for about a month and the park was already buzzing. This first stage is only small but is attracting folks from as far as Western Australia, and it’s not hard to see why.
Does this climbing feature remind you of anything? Perhaps something that rhymes with Schm-Axe Head at a particular trail network in Northeast Tassie.
Even the trailhead at Finch Hatton is something to behold. There is a MASSIVE pumptrack, and it incorporates the historic Cattle Creek Mill administration building, Kungurri Rail Turn Table and the ‘bin shed’ which still has the four-tonne crane used to unload farm vehicles. There’s also toilets, showers, BBQ’s and a bike wash.
The pump track is a load of fun, and no matter what time of day we passed, there were folks of all ages out enjoying it.

The Local Watering Hole | The Criterion Hotel

Bikes rolled up to the pub after our first afternoon of shuttles, Queensland pint quickly in hand, not more than a few minutes at the local and we are already putting bets down.

“Meat tray? For the Finch Hatton Progress Association? Ah yeah, when’s the draw?”

Leroy and Glenda! You’re the lucky winners of the meat tray from the Finch Hatton Progress Association.
The Criterion is a classic old-school pub brimming with character. Whenever we bellied up to the bar, we met interesting characters. Everyone was extremely positive about the trails and quizzed us on what we thought about them.

The Criterion is an absolute gem of a pub, the kind that you remember your local used to be before a lick of white paint and a deep clean scrubbed out the soul of the place. Looking at pictures of the various floods through the 1900s, it’s a wonder the place is still standing and, dare I say – thriving!

After a day out on the bikes, the museum of age-old images on the wall also told a story of what the town once was. The shed still stands today as the entrance to the mountain bike park, a nod to the sugar cane operation that used to be the centre of the town in employment and heart.

The Criterion also has accommodation upstairs. It’s plenty comfortable in that classic pub stay fashion.

Finch Hatton used to be home to thousands in the prime days of the Cattle Creek Sugar Cane Mill operation and multiple timber mills. Sustaining three pubs, cinemas, and even a brass band in the earlier days, the Criterion is now one of only a few places remaining for a bite in the area and a guarantee to meet some absolute characters.

If you don’t manage to wrangle a spot at these lodgings, there are a few AirBnB options, as well as a great free camping spot nearby.

The Gift Shed is right across the street from the Criterion and is not what we expected to find in rural Queensland.
Yes you should be jealous of Em’s papaya granola and yoghurt breakfast — complete with a crystal on the side because why not? Like we said, The Gift Shed was not what you expect to find in cane country Queensland.

The Other Local Watering Hole | Finch Hatton Gorge

After the temperature rises around 11am and the papaya coco yoghurt breakfast of my granola girl dreams was consumed, it was time to take the heat off. The 15-minute drive out to Araluen Falls in Eungella National Park had Chris belting out his favourite classics and The Muzzler wondering if the creek crossings looked a little “croccy”.

Pssh, who needs a 4WD for river crossings when you have a fully loaded Kia Carnival! Even running high like they were after recent rains, the river crossings would have been passable in a Honda Jazz.
The hike up to Araluen Falls was a mellow stroll through spectacular rainforest.

Riley and Thor set us straight that this part of Queensland was in fact quite swimmable due to some downstream weirs, which made us yuppies from down south a little more comfortable.

The hike out to the falls is about an hour return, winding through rainforest and some impressive strangler figs. Opening up to various little creek corridors along the track, but the main event certainly takes the cake.

Araluen Falls is a rock-hopping haven and the perfect cool-off between rides. The swimming hole is deep and the waterfall was running full after a few weeks of rain. Like stepping into an advertisement for Far North Queensland, we could not believe this little hike and waterhole was so close to such an amazing area for riding. Classic, crystal clear, turquoise water and an absolute highlight of the trip.

The piece de resistance. Look at the colour of that water!
You don’t even need airflow trails to get air in Finch Hatton.

If all that swimming leaves you a little peckish or the papaya plate is wearing off, a stop at the Pinnacle Family Hotel is also a must. Freshly baked and mammoth-sized pies are a plenty. The Pinnacle has been here since the late 1800s — though it was on the other side of the street. When the locals learned where the main road was going, they literally moved the building.

After burning down in 1927, the Pinnacle moved to its current plot and offers a trip down memory lane, with all sorts of memorabilia along with some interesting characters on the menu, including gargantuan crumbed steak—a great stop in for something sparkling to replenish the crew, before a little more pedal time.

The Pinnacle Family Hotel is only a few minutes out of Finch Hatton, and should be on your hit list — the pies were magical.
Em thoroughly enjoying her gluten-free pie — yes, GLUTEN FREE PIES! With two folks in our crew with dietary restrictions there were an impressive amount of menu options for them everywhere we went.

Land of the Clouds | Off to Eungella

Pretty sad to be taking off for home after a few last detours, we were packing bikes on the curb. An older fella with his dog, broad brim hat, and dusty shirt — informed us he’d been living there for 50 years as he waltzed into the pub at 10am on a Sunday. Fully expecting he was going to unleash his Jack Russel on us for infiltrating his local with Maxxis tyres and AXS derailleurs scattered over the sidewalk, we kept our heads down.

“So, the new trails good?”

Genuinely curious, the crusty fella gave the bike bags an interested once over. We ended up having a good chat about how incredible the network is and the history of the town. He seemed chuffed with the whole thing and the amount of youngsters having a crack at the pump track.

It’s been a while since we packed up bikes on the curb in front of a pub. It’s always quite a conversation starter, and the locals we met were stoked to see it.
Up into the them thar hills we go. Eungella sits just above Finch Hatton and will be the jumping off point for the adventure trail.

Later, as we jumped back into the clown car Carnival, he was visibly angry leaving the pub as a few blokes pulled up in their obnoxiously loud Holdens — lesson learned, don’t judge a book by its cover. Oh, and perhaps the age-old story of locals not supporting new trail developments, well, maybe, it is just that — an age-old story.

Our expedition to find interesting folk and places continued with a little trip up to the good old town of Eungella. Eungella Chalet offers some quirky homewares, a classic beverage, and some unique live music, all to the backdrop of what looks like something out of the Hawaiian Islands—sheer cliffs covered in lush rainforest and a bit of car sickness en route on the windy road to the top.

Welcome to the Eungella Chalet. Like The Gift Shed, this place was quirky and fun but with a fantastic view.

Eungella is the aboriginal name for “land of the cloud,” and I think this perfectly sums up the place. Like a hanging garden of rainforest and mist rolling down the escarpment, it is wild to think eventually, this will be the starting point for the next phase of the network.

The tippy top sits at about 700m elevation in Eungella, with the 36km adventure trail planned to meander down the rainforest terrain back down to Finch Hatton. You could almost point out the full trail alignment at such great heights following the ridge line and all the little gullies and valleys in between that will be explored. The Finch Hatton motto of “tropical trails and endless tales” certainly checks out!

Eungella is a quirky little village in the clouds. Even before the trail is built it’s worth making the trip up here just for the view!
The windy road is well worth the drive as there are plenty of short walks and you can go platypus spotting at Broken River.

We love an optional extra

Aside from Murray “the muzzler”, destroying our sanity with a cute little game of “railroad,” aka raise your legs every time you drive over a railway track — there are plenty more fun and games to be had.

Rowallan Park is a rainforest XC trail network in the heart of Mackay, and there is even a wake park. In true form, we missed the beginner cable session and so proceeded watching each other in hope during the advanced session, aiming not to get scull dragged around the shallow pond. Thor however showed us all how this thing is done. Popping jumps around the water park and carving as the rest of us grappled with staying upright for just one turn.

Wake House Australia definitely had some thrills and spills. It’s a great little add-on for something a bit different on a mountain biking trip.

Chris offering,*insert incessant English accent here* “This really reminds me of learning to ride a bike! I forgot how hard it is, and still somehow A LOT of fun.”

We all got a giddy revisiting how it feels to try something new again. That addicting feeling that you just want to keep going despite relative embarrassment in a public setting. Would recommend!

On the menu of optional extras, and if you have some time. Broken River is also home to one of the best places in Australia to see a rare platypus in the wild. If you are travelling with some nature enthusiasts or are one yourself, the Eungella Day Frog and Spiny Crayfish are a few others to look out for in the National Park, not to mention a number of other weird and wonderful plants in the mix.

Mackay is also coined the window to the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach which could be a primary trip extensions whilst up north. We managed to run into a few who had travelled to Finch Hatton from both these locations with plans to be back regularly.

Riley and Thor were definitely the pros in our group, but Chris was the only one to complete a full lap without crashing.
Even if you’re not super keen on getting dragged through the water by a cable, there is a bar and a lovely atmosphere.

The striking thing about this trip is that we went mountain biking and then extended our flights another day because we wanted to fit just a little more in.

The characters we met up there and the soul of the mountain bike park makes the Finch Hatton experience a vacay you never want to come home from.

Here’s to making it back in time for the next meat tray raffle!

For more on the new trail network, head over to the Finch Hatton MTB website.

Until next time, we can’t wait to get back to Finch Hatton! This place is already a load of fun and it’s only just the start.
The colours, the vibe, the setting — the trailhead provides an amazing mix of mountain bike infrastructure and the culture and history of the place.
Until next time Finch Hatton.

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