People have been riding mountain bikes on the slopes of kunanyi/Mount Wellington just outside Hobart for years. However, of the extensive network of trails that traverse the lower slopes, including the storied North-South descent, there are only 4km of purpose-built mountain bike trails, with riders permitted a few of walking trails — in addition to a substantial network of community built singletrack.
As part of its Ride the Mountain master plan, the City of Hobart will be expanding its network on the lower slopes. All up, the council is hoping to build 27 new trails adding up to 37km of new singletrack, with the first stage seeing three brand new trails, and a fourth unsanctioned trail being legalised and improved.
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How we got here?
Overlooking the city of Hobart, kunanyi/Mount Wellington offers 680m of vertical from The Springs lookout — where the North-South descent begins — down to the Cascade Brewery at its base.
Over the years, there has been a boatload of development plans looking at expanding and improving the trails on Mount Wellington; ranging from an Epic Trail, to a massive gravity descent from the summit, and all manner of trail networks, each has been abandoned for one reason or another.
“Historically, the mountain has lots of formal walking trails. The first formal mountain bike trail was the North-South Track, which must be over ten years old. Beyond that, there hasn’t been a lot of development on the mountain itself, or a lot of acceptance for mountain biking on existing walking trails,” says Simon French from Dirt Art, who put together the development plan.
All the trails that mountain bikes are permitted to use, but aren’t purpose-built weren’t necessarily the best for shared use trials — they’re often quite fast, lots of blind corners and also heavily utilised for walking
“This is the first time there has ever been any level of major master planning for mountain biking on Mount Wellington. The North-South was a major development, but we’ve never really had the opportunity to look at Mount Wellington as a potential destination for mountain bike riding, this is a huge shift for the sport in the city,” says French.
Mount Wellington is the darling of Hobart, and many people have strong opinions about what should or should not happen on its slopes — as was evidenced by the recent cable car debate. Some of this is warranted, because of the number of cultural heritage sites and some fragile species sprinkled across the foothills. However, there is a common misconception that kunanyi/Mount Wellington is a national park.
“We (the City of Hobart) own the eastern face of Mount Wellington. It’s under Wellington Park under a trust agreement, where they provide strategic direction to activities and development. But the management, the construction and development of assets, and the land itself belong to the City of Hobart,” says John Fisher, the Bushland Manager with the City of Hobart.
Fisher says the City had been waiting for the trust to provide guidance on what to do with recreation on the mountain and its patience ran out. So the city forged ahead and created a mountain bike plan for the mountain.
What’s going to change?
As it stands, multiple user groups are recreating on the same trails, which can sometimes cause friction when people forget their manners — we’re not just talking about mountain bikers. French tells Flow that on the whole, interactions between mountain bikers and everyone else are pretty positive on Mount Wellington, but it wasn’t being managed as well as it could be.
“All the trails that mountain bikes are permitted to use, but aren’t purpose-built weren’t necessarily the best for shared use trails — they’re often quite fast, lots of blind corners and also heavily utilised for walking,” he says.
So the City of Hobart turned to the community to ask what it wanted. Fisher tells Flow they conducted a massive amount of consultation; in the ballpark of 3,000 emails, 1,800 survey respondents, and brought in experts and clubs to say what they thought was possible on the eastern slope of the mountain.
Throughout the consultation process, the city found that 92-per cent of mountain bikers, 52-per cent of walkers and 72-per cent of runners were satisfied with the plan. Interestingly, the trail runners were the most enthusiastic about adding more trails to the network of all three groups. But the main takeaway was everyone wanted to remove potential conflicts between the user groups, and there was more need for beginner trails on the mountain.
The result is the Ride the Mountain Plan, which outlines 27-trails over 37km that broadens the offering with more trails for every level of rider.
“We wanted to stitch together a wide range of mountain bike experiences, not just mad keen up and down, but families, people doing training, people doing long distance (rides),” says Fisher.
Connecting the North-South track
Of those 27 trails, the city has received state and federal funding for the construction of the first four, top priority trails in the plan.
Marcelo Cardona from Next Level Mountain Bike, which won the tender for the design and construction for stage one, tells Flow that part of their work is to increase connectivity.
“The North-South Track is fantastic, a detailed labour of love, but it’s very hard to get to — you almost need to shuttle. So instead of riding (up on) roads, you will be able to singletrack your way to the North-South Track,” says Cardona
I think Hobart has a lot of potential; you have trails out the door, you have the altitude, you have the views, and you have activities for non-riders.
“Things have been done by the locals here and there over the years, but without (looking at) the bigger picture. So it’s (the Ride the Mountain Project) is trying to formalise that bigger picture, that will work for the benefit of most — you get the gravity, you get the altitude, you get the views,” he continues.
Foot sports and mountain bikers, managing the interactions
One of the main points addressed in the Dirt Art plan, and reiterated in the community consultation, was the need to find a better solution for fast and slow-moving user groups. In the case of Mount Wellington, there is a relatively simple solution to avoiding conflict.
“The climb tracks are dual-use, dual-direction for walkers. Obviously, when mountain bikes are on the climbing track, you’re going slow, and it’s certainly okay to share (with other user groups). It’s not dangerous because nobody is going fast,” says Cardona. “But the descents will be mountain bikes only. That is the most important part for safety.”
Cardona also tells Flow while these dual-use trails are being designed with mountain bikers in mind, they haven’t forgotten about the walkers.
“Hobart has such a wide community of outdoors people, all these trails need to work, and it needs to look nice. Sometimes a mountain biker doesn’t see the details in the rock work because you’re moving faster, but the walkers do. The walkers notice that the rocks are covered in moss and not flipped upside down with the dirty side up,” says Cardona.
He also tells us that certain features specifically for walkers, like shortcuts through uphill switchbacks, will be built into these climb trails.
The Cascade Brewery
The Cascade Brewery in Hobart is the oldest surviving brewery in Australia, having been established in 1824. Located at the foot of Mount Wellington, the brewery owns a substantial parcel of land in the foothills.
“It acts as a conduit from South Hobart up into the mountain, and you almost can’t avoid crossing Cascade Brewery land. They do have a formal trail, but it’s for walkers only, and isn’t really suitable for mountain biking,” says French.
The brewery land also has a well-known network of user-built trails within its borders, that are extremely popular among the locals. With these trails being anything but underground, the city is trying to work with the brewery to sanction them, and bring them up to a more sustainable spec.
“We would like to get into a position where we could work with other landholders, like Cascade, to bring that network into our pattern, and most importantly those two ridges that Cascade own, which form the best linkage back into the city,” says Fisher.
Who is it for?
When we look at the vast majority of trail development in Tasmania — and Australia wide — the main goal is to attract tourism dollars and infuse and build the businesses like bike shops, restaurants etc. — Hobart already has all of that in droves.
“I think Hobart has a lot of potential; you have trails out the door, you have the altitude, you have the views, and you have activities for non-riders,” says Cardona. “The non-riders element is quite important, and they will have plenty to do if a rider goes up the mountain for the afternoon.”
While a large part of it was focused on local recreation, not fostering tourism infrastructure, French points out that if everything Dirt Art put into the development plan is realised, it should make for a two or three-day ride destination.
Mountain bikers are spoiled for choice when it comes to riding in Tassie, and Mount Wellington is in a prime location to complement the other destinations on the island.
“Everywhere else in Tasmania has been getting the goods except Hobart, so it’s good to get something in one of the big population centres. But, it’s also one of the major arrival and departure points,” says Marcelo Cardona.
Fischer continues, “We don’t want to be Maydena, and we don’t want to be Derby. We want to be in that sort of middle ground, where people in the city, or people who come to Hobart, can go off to Maydena and have a great day out there, and then come back and hang out for a day or two back in Hobart, because we have really great trails on the mountain.”
When will these trails be built?
Stage one of the Ride the Mountain project is running full speed ahead, and Cardona and his team are preparing to start digging.
Because there is a lot of pressure on this project and the public will scrutinise every move they make, Cardona joked that they would measure five times and cut once, to ensure that everything is up to scratch.
“We need to measure two more times before we start building,” he laughs. “The trails have been marked, and we just need to finalise a few things. If all the permits and everything has come through, we will start building at the end of this month (November).”
If the weather cooperates and everything goes according to plan, Fisher tells Flow the new kunanyi/Mount Wellington trails will be ready to ride by the middle of next year.