Roaring wheels | Get your gravity fix in Kempsey, NSW

Flow Mountain Bike acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Kempsey and Kalateenee State Forest, the people of Thunggutti/Dunghutti Country. We recognise their connection to lands, waters and communities and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

Looking forward, looking back, NSW’s Mid-North Coast has come a long way with mountain bike tracks. Just inland from Crescent Head, Kalateenee State Forest has received a handful of new trails thanks to a first-of-a-kind funding arrangement.

East Coast Mountain Trails has primped and prepped five enduro trails to complement the existing network of XC trails, and there are also brand new trailhead facilities.

Freshly opened and begging for some laps, we gathered a crew, threw our bikes on the car and headed north for the Macleay Valley Coast to see what Kempsey was all about.


East Coast Mountain Trails has just finished up a set of enduro trails in Kalateenee State Forest to complement the existing XC riding.
It’s only a short drive from the trails to one of the best slow right-handers in the state.
We didn’t know much about Kempsey or really where it was before prior to hearing about the trails. For those who are in the same boat, the local tourism board has created this handy dandy map (Credit: Macleay Valley Coast)

Enduro trails in Kalateenee State Forest

Managed by Forestry Corp, Kalateene State Forest is a mix of native bush and plantation pines, and there is evidence it has been logged in the last two decades. With the XC trails spider webbing their way through the scrub, the new enduro trails stem from a node at the high point in the trail network.

But all of this work sits on the shoulders of a relationship built on a trail named Firefly. Over the years, the Macleay Valley Mountain bikers have won several little grants from the Kempsey Shire Council for small improvements and things like signage. But in 2021, the Club won $30,000 AUD from the Kempsey Shire Council to fund the construction of a new trail called Firefly.

The relationship between the Macleay Valley Mountain Bike Club and the Council was cemented with the Firefly trail, and has only improved since.

Shaped by East Coast Mountain Trails, it’s all berms, rollers and tabletops. It proved extremely popular among riders who frequent Kalateenee, and provided a taster of what quality trails can do for a small community.

So when just over $300,000 AUD came up for grabs as part of the NSW Government and Department of Planning and Environment Places to Play program, the MTB club was salivating at the opportunity for a substantial investment into its network.

The fly in the ointment was that only councils were eligible to apply for this funding, and the trails are on land managed by NSW Forestry Corp. So essentially, the Council was stumping up to help fund a project for a community group on land managed by a third party.

In addition to the new trails, Kalateenee also has a new trailhead complete with toilets.

There are very few places around Australia where a local council would come to the table for such an arrangement. Fortunately, the Kempsey Shire Council saw the value in what the trails could bring the community, and so they said G’day G’day, and she’ll be right.

Not only did team Kempsey win the $301,000, but the club also secured an additional $130,698 to build a proper trailhead, as the one they had been using at the Kempsey Golf Course is outside of the land allotted for the trails and wasn;t much more than a parking lot and a trail map.

Riding Kalateenee

Flying high on nothing but a box of Subway cookies — an elite road trip snack — with the new trailhead only just opened and not on Google Maps just yet, we arrived at the Kempsey Golf Course.

On our second day, we found the newly constructed starting point on the Southern end of the trail network. It’s located closer to the new trails to maximise your ride time. There’s a trail map, some long drop toilets — which Caleb was thankful for — and a rainwater tank, which the club doesn’t recommend for drinking.

With about 1,400 Ha of land, Kalateenee State Forest is punctuated by a section of Pine Forest against native Eucalyptus, Ironbark and Bushbox trees. The endemic forest is a familiar sight in this region of the Mid-North Coast. The lush tangles of plant life all competing for space create a stark contrast from the plantation pines with equal spacing, perfect alignment and posture that would make British Royals question their own etiquette.

Our resident downhiller, Will Ireland, was dismayed about the long pedal up the fireroad to the takeoff of the enduro trails, so we dragged him up by his dual-crown to the trail node aptly named “The Top.”

Yetti is the new jump trail at Kalateenee, and according to the club, in just one week, it had 1,200 passes by riders!

From here, there are descents on just about every aspect of the compass.

With everything from substantial jumps on Yetti to the whippy flippy shredding down Snakebite — which feeds seamlessly into Firefly for an extended descent — our whole crew was blown away by this little gem, hiding in the bush on the Macleay Valley Coast. Some of the trails are brand new, like Ugly Duck, while others like Tim’s Carlton Dry are more or less a new trail on an old alignment.

The descents are deceptively steep, and you’ll be hummin’ down the track like the Indian Pacific rollin’ by.

East Coast Mountain Trails put in a range of work, from refurbishing old trails to building some brand new ones too.
The new trails have been built with progression in mind, and there are B lines and rollable features for riders to safely progress with a smile on their face.
Whether you are super steezy like Will or are still earning your wings, the new enduro trails will have you craving another lap.

“The trails were definitely different to what we were used to. It’s a refreshing mix between your local trails and a bike park. The runs are nice and short, meaning maximum lappage,” mused Caleb as we pedalled back up for another run.

With that bike parkeyness in mind, Little Kenny’s was a hit with our crew. The trail finds that beautiful balance between speed, flow and lips to send you into the Exosphere — or the Troposphere for those still finding their wings thanks to ample B-lines.

It’s not all manicured bikepark-style jumps and berms; some of the original flavour of the trails here has been maintained.
The different sections of the forest create quite a contrast with the wide-spaced and perfectly aligned pines against the tangled native bush.

“It was a relatively short track, however it still had me puffing for air at the bottom,” said Olly.

Kalateene State Forest isn’t a visual feast of bushland, with rocky escarpments, swimming holes and gobs of moss. But what East Coast Mountain Trails have built among these trees is absolutely is nothing short of spectacular, and will leave a broad spectrum of riders with a smile on their face.

Kempsey eats and drinks

On the banks of the Macleay River, Kempsey sits less than 20 km in from Crescent Head and the 14km long Killick Beach is known for its long, slow right-hander that peels off the point — so don’t forget the Mini Mal. We managed to pop in for a paddle after riding, and there is a reason the Crescent Head Malibu Classic has been running strong and attracting some of the best boardriders to this break for more than three decades.

Kempsey has long served as a service centre for nearby resorts like South West Rocks, Hat Head and, of course, Crescent Head, but the small inland town of about 15,000 residents is progressively attracting more and more out-of-towners. Though based on the trails we rode, there will be a fair few cars with bikes on the roof headed through town soon.

Once the dust had settled at Kalateenee, we set our sights on Bucket Brewery. Situated on the edge of the Macleay River, Bucket Brewery is difficult to spot from the road, but persevere, the MANDARin NEIPA and Bucket Lager are worth it. The origins of this peculiar name come from a toddler’s mispronunciation of “Patrick”, which then evolved into the name of the family dog and then, of course, the fermentation palace, which churns out delectable amber-coloured liquid.

From its peculiar name to the eclectic seating areas, Bucket Brewing was a hit.
Arcade games on a refurbished bus with some lovely locally-made beers, talk about a great way to spend an afternoon.

With an excellent outdoor seating area, we made a beeline for the refurbished bus/beer lounge, complete with old-school arcade games.

Thoroughly rehydrated, there was no need to live on damper and wallaby stew, and the quartet rolled over to the Great Northern Hotel — which doubled as our accommodation — and offered a great atmosphere and portions the size of your head.

Packed full of chicken and chips, we played a few rounds of pool to aid digestion before heading in for the evening.

Pool shark Caleb doing his thing at the Great Northern Hotel.

Kempsey culture with Duncan and the Ringer from the Top End

With a caffeine hit from the Corner Store Cafe, we went for a stroll around Kempsey to see what this little town was all about.

The Macleay Valley Coast Art Trail is an opportunity for local artists to display their murals, mosaic work and sculptures all along the Mid-North Coast with installations and galleries from Crescent Head to Yarrahapinni. Kempsey has half a dozen stops on this trail, with our highlight being the Big Daddy Skater Sculpture — paying homage to car designer and cartoonist Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth.

The Corner Store has a great vibe with lots of locally made goodies to eat and drink.
Made completely of scrap parts, the Big Daddy Skater Sculpture was our favourite installation on the Macleay Valley Art Trail

When we think of Kempsey, it’s for the mountain bike trails. However, it’s also the hometown of one of Australia’s most-awarded musicians, with a career spanning over seven decades and over 100 albums. If the easter eggs we’ve dropped throughout this story have not already tipped you off, Kempsey is home to the King of Aussie country music, Slim Dusty.

There’s an entire museum devoted to ol’ Slim. We spent a couple of hours exploring the life of the bush ballad singer, sat at his dining room table, watched old TV shows, and, of course, sang along to Waltzing Matilda, Two Singers, One Song and Just an Old Cattle Dog.

Kempsey probably isn’t on your map just yet, but for a weekend away of riding, with a bit of surfing, some time set up on the beach, and some good old-fashioned country music sprinkled in, it’s quite the weekend getaway — a mix we’re not sure many riding spots around Australia can match.

It’s not a sprawling trail destination that you’d spend a week exploring, but with nearly 40km of singletrack, there is plenty to keep you busy for a few days. Better still, it’s closer to Sydney and Newcastle than somewhere like Thredbo, and there are quite a few other trail networks to visit along the way, meaning you can build a pretty rad road trip — whether you are approaching from North or South.

We had a ball checking out the Kempsey and riding the new trails. You can bet we’ll be back.

Meet the team

This project was made possible by the Kempsey Shire Council and the Macleay Valley Coast. For more information, visit the Macleay Valley Coat website.

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