"They say them goat tracks they're building up in them hills are world standard!," barks Derek, the sole customer of the Dorset Hotel at lunch time on Wednesday. "World standard!," he shouts with the enthusiasm of the half-deaf once again, "whaddaya think?!"
Slightly fearful that Derek might throw his glass at us, we assure him that he’s been correctly informed – the 21km of trails we’ve just spent the morning exploring in the beautiful wilds around Derby are absolutely world class.
Despite his volume control problem, Derek (a lifetime resident of Derby) is actually very enthusiastic about the new mountain bike trail development that’s about to put this place on the world mountain bike map. “The whole region’s been rooted,” says Derek, “it’ll be good to see people coming back to Derby.” And come they will, in their droves, because this tiny little town of 200 people is about to become the epicentre of the fastest developing mountain biking region in Australia.
Derby’s been pretty quiet for a little while now… once upon a time, it was the centre of a tin mining boom that saw its population swell to over 3000 people and brought wealth to the region in a huge way. But when the dam burst in 1929, flooding the mines and killing 12, the town never quite recovered. Mining operations limped on for another few decades, but when the rail line to the town was shut in 1992, Derby slipped into the sleepy state that’s defined its existence for the past 20 years.
But things are about to change. The entire north-east corner of Tasmania is undergoing a mountain bike renaissance, and for the past 12 months, some of Australia’s leading trail builders have been mining the rugged hillsides and valleys around Derby for the kind of gold we like.
We’d been given a run down of what to expect at Derby over the phone by Glen Jacobs of World Trail, but it wasn’t until we hit the ground that the scope and challenge of building trails in this area really hit us. This is a region that had been absolutely ravaged by mining before words like ‘sustainability’ even existed, but over the past 50 years the Tasmanian wilderness has fought back. What you’re left with is terrain that melds man-made and natural features; huge piles of rubble now swallowed by moss and ferns, deep gorges where rivers have been re-routed, tunnels, dams, massive pieces of abandoned mining equipment. It’s the kind of terrain that would have been near impossible to envisage laying a trail through, and Jacobs is the first to admit that it seemed that way at first. But the challenging terrain is what makes this place all the more special – it’s an area you’d never, ever expect to be able to see on your bike, and the trails take you on a real tour of the highlights, both natural and man-made.
The Blue Derby trail development is an ongoing project. Stage 1, opening 7 February 2015, is what we’ve been lucky enough to explore. At a little over 20km, it comprises just a quarter of the total trail that will eventually make up the Blue Derby network, including a mammoth all-day point-to-point ride from the Blue Tier back to Derby, via Weldborough. The trails are of the calibre that we’ve all come to expect from World Trail nowadays (holy hell, we’re a spoilt lot!) – bermed, ludicrously flowy, sneaky jump lines everywhere – with a great natural progression featuring easier trails close to town, getting faster and more involved as you get up into the wilds a bit further.
One of the great things about the Blue Derby trails is that they are literally on Derby’s doorstep – the trailhead is a 200m ride from the Corner Store (yep, the same as you’ll find in Forrest and Mt Buller) which is a 20m ride from the bike wash which is a 10m walk from the pub! You get the idea – it’s all right there. And the whole place has the kind of character that mountain bikers will love too, an authenticity that you don’t get much in the city, and that’s a large part of this place’s appeal as a mountain bike destination.
With a lot more trail development in the pipeline, and the awesome riding of Hollybank and Launceston not far down the road already, we’re looking forward to spending a lot more time in this corner of Tassie in the coming years. If you’re in the region this weekend, get along for the first serving of an absolute trail feast that’s coming our way.
For more information about accommodation options, trail maps, bike hire and more visit http://www.ridebluederby.com.au/