Roughly tracing the path of the Mersey River, from which the network takes its name; the $4.5 million Wild Mersey network, when finished, will span across Latrobe, Railton, and Sheffield with over 100km of trail. Situated just 15 km from the ferry port, it is far and away the most accessible a riding in the state.
“From Victoria, you come into Tassie (on the ferry), and you drive off the boat with your bike, and that’s it. In 15-minutes, you’re riding. You don’t even have to bring a car, from the ferry you can ride your bike to the Wild Mersey trails,” says Marcello Cardona, from Next Level MTB, the outfit which built the initial 16km of the network. “It’s almost like the gateway to Tassie.”
This puts the new Wild Mersey MTB Trails striking distance from Melbourne by plane or ferry, how sweet does that sound, eh?
Watch Christa and Scotty ride the Wild Mersey Trails in this two-part video
Why Wild Mersey?
The idea for the Wild Mersey trail network came about following a master plan put together by the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and the Kentish Council; exploring recreation opportunities on Mount Roland. One of the possible outcomes for the 1234m peak (yes, that’s the actual elevation) and the surrounding area was a mountain bike trail network.
“Unfortunately, with the level of conservation for that area and the distance to any facilities, it was going to be too challenging to put in trails. So we started looking at alternatives, and that’s where we came to the Badgers Range,” explains Chris Clark, Trails Project Manager for Kentish Council.
Laying in the shadow of Mt Roland, the Badgers Range and the surrounding area has a history of industry; from shale oil mines in the early 1900s to rock quarries and pine plantations that are still active today; this locale was more conducive to trail building.
With the crosshairs settled on this new backdrop, Chris Frankcombe, who spearheaded the initial master plan, came across from UTAS to work on the project for the Kentish Council as the Tourism Development Officer. In the meantime, North West Coast locals including Cardona, and current Cradle Coast Mountain Bike Club President Chris Stredwick had been bending Frankcombe’s ear about the potential for mountain bike trails in the area. At the time, there were networks at Penguin and in the Dial Ranges, but the hills along the Mersey River were an untapped singletrack paradise.
World Trail and TRC Tourism were engaged to develop another series of master plans; and the final designs 100+km of single track connecting Latrobe, Railton, and Sheffield townships.
Unfortunately, Frankcombe passed away in 2017 before the first metre of trail was cut. “This was his baby,” says Cardona. “He was not really a mountain biker; he just wanted something for the community — he did start to ride a little bit later on. But, he was so enthusiastic about this (project), it’s funny to have someone who is not really involved in mountain biking, loving it so much.”
The project has been divided into three stages; the first would be 16km in the Warrawee Forest Reserve; the second, a 10km trail linking Warrawee and Railton and beginner loops just outside of town; and the third, which sees singletrack meander into the Badgers Range.
Stage one and two — if you build it, they will come.
Cardona and his crew broke ground on the first stage of the Wild Mersey trail network in the Warrawee Reserve in September 2018, with the first 16km open to ride by December the same year.
While the forest reserve appears to be untouched and pristine, remnants of its mining past can be found in the car-sized tree stumps, and derelict mining infrastructure sprinkled throughout the bushland. It’s also a prime location to see the ever-elusive duckbill platypus.
“It doesn’t have the technicality of other areas, and the terrain is not that dramatic; there aren’t really any big boulders or sharp gullies, but it is hero dirt. I would love to have soil like this on every project, it’s like having a hot spoon on butter — it just cuts and stays in shape,” says Cardona.
With the terrain itself being comparatively mellow, the Warrawee section of the Wild Mersey is designed to be family-friendly. It may not have the headline-grabbing EWS level features of Derby or Maydena; there was a method to this madness.
“There were not as many riders in this region at the time. The idea with this initial stage was not to scare everyone and have them go, ‘it’s too hard I’m going home and never coming back.’ The Warrawee Project, in my mind, was a confidence builder and an opportunity for progression,” explains Cardona.
The trails are situated into a modified stacked loop format, meaning they increase in difficulty as you move further away from the trailhead. Still, the setup caters to groups of riders with different skill levels.
“The most popular part of the network, you climb to the top of Dinsdale Hill, and there are three descents; they all start in the same spot and finish in the same spot — it becomes a bit of ‘choose your own adventure’ when you’re coming down,” says Stredwick. “So even if people are at different levels, they can ride and have fun together.”
The goal of easing the local community into mountain biking has worked; Cardona and Stredwick both say now you can’t drive through town without seeing people on bikes, or bikes on cars and the trails are packed with everything from town bikes with baskets to top of the range dual suspension, and eBikes.
Stage two saw South Australian based outfit Trail Scapes dig the link trail between Latrobe and Railton called the Railton Express, Tasmania’s biggest pump track, and a 5km beginner loop just outside of town.
Being a 10km dual-direction multi-use trail, Stredwick says they have been surprised at the popularity of the point to point trail, which follows the Mersey River and garners about 1000 riders every month. But the real headliner of Wild Mersey stage two is the Green Hornet descent.
“Straight from Railton, it’s a gentle (3km) climb up Teleport and then a 2km descent down Green Hornet; it’s wide open, flowy and fun, and if you’ve got a bit more skill, you just put a bit more pedal into it”, says Stredwick. “I have heard a few people comment that it’s the best beginner loop in the state.”
Stage 3 — the games begin
The benefit of family-friendly trails is immeasurable to the local community, especially somewhere that the mountain biking culture is still in its infancy; but, a destination is not going to attract many MTB tourists with just beginner and family-friendly trails. Clark tells us what’s on tap for the third stage of the build around Sheffield and the Badgers Range will be mouth-watering for those who are itching to dust off their bike bag.
“Up high, the terrain we are working with is incredible, and is lending itself to a lot more hand-built and technical trails,” says Trail Scapes Managing Director Garry Patterson. “We have plenty of good flow style trails at the base of the hills, which are obviously the more accessible trails, but the further you go up into the hills, things start to get super technical.”
The topography and the geology of the Badgers Range lend itself to higher difficulty trails and are proving to be a combustible situation for the trail builders.
“There is a trail called Bonneys Tier that is literally a rock slab with two quarries attached to it,” says Trail Scapes Managing Director Garry Patterson. “It’s pretty cool because we will get to use explosives to cut a trail through, which will be exciting. There are some incredible views, but it’s going to be proper challenging.”
The result of these pyrotechnics will be a 6-8km descent, depending on the final trail alignment, with 400m of descending.
“The trail (to be named) is a 10km loop; you will have views of the ocean and the snow-covered mountains, and it will have at least a 5km descent. We are looking at building a couple more sections which will extend it to about 8km, and we are also trying to get a shuttle road,” says Clark.
Patterson also tells Flow they are planning something unique for the quarry itself, or as he put it, “think Redbull Rampage.”
It’s not just about gravity-fueled fun, Patterson tells us they will be building what they are calling eChallenge climbs, ultra-techy ascents that will test your skills on an e-bike.
“You could just be riding along one of the blue trails, and you’ll see the eChallenge symbol. It’s a little short cut, but you’re going to be climbing straight up the hill, over ruts and rocks — it’s going to be a test even on an e-bike.” Patterson says. “But, I reckon there will be XC whippets that will be all over that stuff as well.”
If all goes according to plan, the first half of the stage three trails will be ready to ride by Christmas, and this last section of the Wild Mersey will have tyres on dirt by Spring 2021.
Who is it for?
Slated to offer 100+km of singletrack catered riders at every level, with its proximity to the Spirit of Tasmania it seems the Wild Mersey trail network is on track to be the destination to put on the list once us mainlanders are allowed back on the Apple- Isle. Many trail projects we’ve heard about in Tasmania talk about being ‘the next Derby,’ but everyone involved in the Wild Mersey Project is adamant they have no interest in doing what has already been done.
“A lot of the projects in Tasmania seem to tilt towards ‘save my town, save my town’ and it seems like everybody fighting each other. But from a rider’s point of view, I think it’s more important for the trails to complement each other — don’t repeat what the other networks have,” Cardona says. “You can build trails sure, but try to build them differently; like Derby style, Maydena style, Dial Range style, and now I think we have Wild Mersey style.
They all have different ways to make the terrain fun, and Wild Mersey is a very different experience than all the rest,” he says.
“There is something for everyone, and I am absolutely confident it’s going to be a must-ride destination. We are talking 15-minutes off the ferry, and you’re smashing up world-class trails on your bike,” Patterson continues. “No other Tasmanian network has that; everything is still at least an hour and a half to get there from the nearest airport or the ferry.”
How to get there:
The Wild Mersey Trail network will span across the Kentish and Latrobe council areas, which are both just around the bend from Devonport. The trailhead at the Warrawee Forest Reserve is about 15km from both the airport and ferry terminal, Railton is about 24km, and Sheffield is a little over 30km.
Where to stay:
There is no shortage of accommodation in Devonport and Latrobe, and the tourist infrastructure in Railton and Sheffield are developing along with the trails. As Railton is smack dab in the middle of all the network if we were booking a trip that’s where the team at Flow would look to stay. There are quite a few AirBNB’s in town or for the full Tassie experience, you can stay at the Railton Country Hotel.
What to do:
If you’re after a bit of local culture why not check out the House of Anvers Museum of Chocolate (which is also a chocolate factory) in Latrobe, Sheffield’s murals or the twisted topiary in Railton. Stredwick also says to check out Reliquaire, a shop full of oddities and treasures that do pretty great fudge.
For something, a bit different, the Wild Mersey is on the doorstep of Cradle Mountain, one of the most picturesque areas of Australia, perfect for a scenic drive.
When it’s time for a beer and some pub food, check out Mackey’s Royal Hotel or the Lucas Hotel in Latrobe. The Seven Sheds Brewery in Railton is also conveniently located equidistant from the trailheads in town, or if in Sheffield you can’t go past the Sheffield Hotel.
Maps, location and more:
Official website – http://www.ridewildmersey.com.au/
Follow Wild Mersey:
Wild Mersey on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/wildmerseymountainbiketrails
Wild Mersey on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/wildmerseymtb/
Producer, videographer, editor, and master of the peculiar – Jasper Da Seymour @jdaseymour
Photographer, backlit beers and platypus documenter – Kristina Vackova @kiphotomedia
Host, shredder and talented platypus spotter – Christa Capel @rideomtb
Smiles, skids and ice cream tasting – Scotty Wellman @scottywellman
Feature writer, researcher and storyteller – Colin Levitch @colinlevitch
Fence jumper, trail builder and guide – Garry Patterson, Trailscapes @trailscapes
This feature was brought to life with the support of Latrobe and Kentish Council.