The new gateway to Derby
When most people fly into Launceston, they load their bike bags into a rental car and set sail for Derby. Soon, however, there may be a pretty darn good reason to point your car north, and make a pitstop in the coastal settlement of George Town on your way towards the east coast.
Like a lot of Tasmania, George Town is a municipality built on industry, and similar to so many others the local council is looking to boost and diversify its economic and tourist opportunities.
Where is George Town, and why build trails there?
“We’re only 35 minutes north of Launceston, and we’ve got excellent beaches, as good as they get in Tassie for swimming and surfing. But George Town isn’t really on anyone’s radar as a place to visit on weekends or as a holiday destination,” says Peter Rickards, Projects Manager at the George Town Council. “The mountain bike project is a way of slingshotting us back into the tourism limelight, as a destination people can visit on day trips up from Launceston, or tag onto longer trips as well.”
Still in the early phases, the proposed network, well actually, networks plural, will be located at Mount George near town and the Tippogoree Hills about five kilometres south.
The philosophy behind the project is to create heavily featured trails that cater to a diverse range of skill levels; with everything from green to black trails (and maybe a double-black or two), offering the opportunity for skills progression. And most importantly – shuttle-able!
“Mount George lends itself to shorter, faster runs with a quick shuttle to the top,” says Rickards. “We only have about 120m of available altitude, but what it does allow is speedy shuttle turnarounds. You can get 10-shuttle runs in a day, and you’re looking at 1200m of descending, which is a pretty compelling option.
Rickards says the gravity network will be heavily featured air-flow or jump trails or as he puts it, “as much fun as you can pack into a small area as possible.”
On the south side of Bridport Road, the proposed network will meander up into the Tippogoree Hills. The planned trails will be mostly longer format trail riding, with one or more ascending trails, a few extended gravity trails, and some longer wilderness style trails, and if a new purpose-built road is considered feasible, will mean the trails can be shuttled.
“The Tippogoree hills have the opportunity for interesting longer descents, but also backcountry style riding through rugged terrain and some exciting big slabby rock features. There are also these nice wide open forest areas which feed into these dense gullies which will make for great longer wilderness style,” says Rickards
What’s the plan?
The project was initially championed by the George Town Chamber of Commerce, who saw the strength and opportunity mountain biking destinations were having on boosting the local visitor economy. Dirt Art were engaged in conducting a feasibility study and preparing a design draft which was used to secure funding from the Australian Government to the value of $4.4 million. As part of their Community Development Grants Program to support needed infrastructure and promote stable, secure and viable local and regional economies.
Dirt Art Managing Director Simon French points out that their design was only a starting point; He believes the George Town network has the potential to fill the holes in areas other networks, like Derby and Maydena, are currently lacking.
“It’s close enough to Launceston that you could duck up for an after-work ride, or come up for half a day on the weekend — you’re not making the whole day commitment like you have to when you go to Derby,” French continues. “The other thing is it actually promotes a new way of driving to Derby, and it’s really not that much of a detour. I think there is a huge opportunity for George Town to become a new gateway into Derby.”
Cr Greg Kieser, the Mayor of George Town Council, stated, “As a keen mountain bike enthusiast, I am very excited about what a world-class mountain bike trail development will have on our visitor economy, particularly from interstate and overseas. Council will be working with our local business community to ensure the whole community will be trail ready for the launch in October 2021.”
The Mayor added “I am expecting we’ll see a lot of local traffic from Launceston and surrounding areas. I believe Launceston has a high number of MTB’ers and our trail networks will be close enough to come up after work, or for a half or full-day with the family on the weekends”.
“We presently don’t have a huge MTB scene. However, the local community are really excited to have mountain biking trails in George Town. It’s extremely important to have both local business and community members on board with the development as we believe our community will be our biggest advocates!” said the Mayor.
Long-standing manufacturer and local employer Bell Bay Aluminium, part of the Rio Tinto Group, have been a key driver of the development since the conception. The smelter has been incredibly supportive of the project with a significant portion of the trail network to be developed on their land.
Shona Markham, Bell Bay Aluminium’s General Manager, is excited about the development and what it can do for the region. “With the growth in mountain biking participation in Northern Tasmania, along with the obvious natural attractions of the Tamar Valley region, we are eager to partner with the council, community and region to explore the huge potential of the mountain bike tourism. This is a great example of where an industry like ours and tourism can work hand in hand.”
With big community projects like a trail network, gaining support from the wider community is paramount to its success. Despite not having much of a cycling scene, to begin with, the locals are on board with bringing mountain biking to George Town.
“We did a community meeting up there, and we had a packed hall of a little over 100 community members, most of whom weren’t bike riders, and they were overwhelmingly supportive of the project. Some didn’t understand what the project was, but by the end of the meeting, there was unanimous support from the community,” says French.
Rickards continues, “Without the local business support and the local community support, then why are you doing it? It’s there to benefit the community – it’s an asset the community will own.”
World Trail to undertake trail construction.
George Town Council recently went to tender for the re-design and construction of the trail networks, with World Trail being awarded the tender.
“We’re super excited to have World Trail on board. Their ability and experience speaks for itself, and we can’t wait to see and ride the end product” said Rickards.
World Trail stated, “We are extremely honoured to be given the task of helping deliver such an amazing project. The drive and vision for this project by George Town Council have been very refreshing and professional, to say the least. North East Tasmania is fast becoming the epicentre for Mountain biking.”
World Trail added, “With the addition of another high quality, premium destination, George Town will have the ability not only to sit up there with the other two world-class venues of Derby & St Helens, but will embrace & support the strong & proud local ride culture of Launceston and surrounding regions.”
“There will be something for everyone, says Glen Jacobs of World Trail. “Launceston locals will be able to ride these trails of an afternoon, as it’s so close to town.”
“We’re now planning to introduce five-to-six ‘air-flow’ trails, like what we did with the immensely popular track Air-Ya-Garn in Derby, taking the design of a flow track and adding jumps aimed at the skill level of 70% of mountain bikers out there. It’s the type of flow track where you can leave the ground on your own terms, a way to build up to jump for fun, though with less risk.”
Jacobs continues, “The terrain is completely different to St Helens and Derby. There’s a lot of rock with huge views over the ocean. It’s a little like Stromlo in the ACT with red dirt, loads of little valleys, gullies and undulating elevation. We’re keen to engage with the town and the coast with the trail network.”
With construction scheduled to commence towards the end of this year, the complete network will be operational by late 2021.
Definitely a project worth keeping an eye on.
How to get there
George Town is roughly a 35-min drive from Launceston or a 45-min bus ride. If your trip to Tasmania sees you crossing the Bass Strait via the Spirit of Tasmania, it’s a little over an hour from Devonport via the Glengarry Hwy.
Where to stay
As a sleepy coastal town, there are some quirky places to stay in George Town proper, or if you’re looking for beachfront accommodation, check out Low Head and Bell Buoy Beach.
The York Cove Holiday Hotel offers self-serviced apartments right on the edge of the River Tamar; while the Low Head Pilot Station is the oldest Pilot and Signal Station in Australia and can sleep groups as small as two or as large as nine people. Low Head hosts two caravan parks, Low Head Tourist Park and East Beach Tourist Park offering camping and holiday cabins, in addition to a range of AirBNB’s.
Other things to do
With the beaches at Low Head there are calm coves for swimming, as well as surf breaks — just don’t forget your wetty. The River Tamar has a vibrant ecosystem with world-class diving opportunities, and there George Town even has its own colony of Fairy Penguins.
The nearby hamlet of Hillwood is home to one of Tasmania’s best rock-climbing crags, which although has been recently closed, the council is looking to re-open.
If you’re after some of the local culture – George Town is Australia’s third oldest settlement, there is no shortage of history. Make sure to check out the Bass and Flinders Centre maritime museum and see a replica of the Norfolk, the ship that discovered Tasmania.
If you’re hungry – check out George Town Sea Foods, Rickards says they have the best fish and chips he’s ever had.
Or for a more relaxing adventure – check out one of the many wineries in the area, like Jansz Wines, Dalrymple Vineyard or Bays of Fires Winery, or the Fanny’s Bay Whisky Distillery near Lulworth and Hillwood Whiskey near Hillwood.
For more information and updates on the George Town mountain bike project head over to the council’s website here.
Words: Colin Levitch/Flow Mountain Bike
Images: Chris Crerar, Rob Burnett Photography, Peter Rickards, Stuart Gibson, Chi Kueng Renault Wong.