Where The Green Meets The Gold, Riding On The Gold Coast | Part 1 Nerang, QLD


Every year, droves of folks stream through the Coolangatta Airport, searching for some sunshine, surf and roller coaster thrills at the theme parks. But the Goldie is shaping up to be quite a riding destination, with a few historic riding spots, a burgeoning slate of gravity parks, and a buzzing local riding scene. So, Flow grabbed our bib shorts and some boardies to see what riding on the Gold Coast is all about.

In a normal year, even in the depths of winter, you’re just about guaranteed sunshine and shorts weather, but 2022 has been anything but ordinary. By May of this year, much of South East Queensland had already exceeded its average yearly rainfall. This unprecedented precipitation has pushed a number of trail networks past their breaking point, and we’ve seen more accounts of destruction and storm damage than we care to remember.

There has been one trail network whose name has been notably absent from the tales of trails destroyed by rain bombs and supercells. Where the green meets the gold and a stone’s throw from the white sand beach at Surfers Paradise, is Nerang. It’s not necessarily a wet weather riding spot, but the singletrack traversing Nerang National Park always seems to come up well after damaging rains hamstring other networks around South East Queensland.


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Anton Cooper came out to race at Nerang a couple of times before the Comm Games in 2018 to learn the course. It almost paid off.

Nerang was catapulted onto the world stage in 2018 when the Gold Coast hosted the Commonwealth Games. Dirt Art was commissioned to build a World Cup-level XC track to test the world’s best, and it has since been a regular stop on the National XC circuit, also hosting the 2022 Oceania Champs — the place Bec McConnell kicked off her 2022 winning streak.

But the Comm Games race track is only a tiny sliver of Nerang, and just beyond the first rise, there are 60km of trails meandering through dry rainforest, open eucalypt and vibrant green subtropical rainforest.

The home of cycling on the Gold Coast

The Nerang Cycle Centre is home to mountain bike trails and also has a velodrome and criterium track

With the crit track, a velodrome and mountain bike trails, the Gold Coast Cycle Centre is the beating heart of bikes on the Goldie. Depending on the day, you might have an XC race or an enduro out in the forest, you may come off the trails to see roadies going full pelt on the criterium track or fixed gear bikes chasing a moped around the velodrome.

Across the road is Just Ride Nerang, which has spares galore, bike rentals, a full-service mechanic, and a bangin’ cafe called Cadence — the milkshakes are to die for but are best enjoyed post-ride.

 

Just Ride and the Cadence Cafe are literally right across the road from the velodrome.

To the uninitiated, Nerang can seem a little bit impenetrable from the car park, but that harkens back to the roots of this network. You see, the trails in Nerang weren’t originally commissioned by the council or Queensland Parks and Wildlife. They began as wild trails constructed by singletrack fairies under the cover of darkness. And to ensure their hard work wasn’t immediately shut down by rangers in khaki pants, the entrance was only obvious to those in the know.

Thanks to the hard work of the Gold Coast Mountain Bike Club, the trails in Nerang have been progressively sanctioned, and the cover of darkness is no longer needed. To get to the trails, you cross the criterium track and make your way through the gate. Once you’re in, the fun begins.

The not so obvious trailhead

From this three-way intersection, a right turn will take you across a creek and over to the Comm Games 3 loop, a rad little warmup to get your legs ticking over. Kicking off with a short climb, it’s mostly smooth with a few pinches, and you’re rewarded with a fast flowy descent — berms, jumps and speed, not a bad way to kick off a ride.

The proper trailhead is actually just up the hill from the entrance to Nerang National Park. There are a handful of trails right at the front, but you’ll want to hang a left and head up the fire road.
With all the rain that’s hit South East Queensland, the creek at the bottom of Comm Games 3 and Casuarina has been flowing strong.

Going straight, followed by a quick left puts you on the freshly rebuilt Casuarina Grove Circuit. This 3k green loop never strays far from the trailhead and offers an accessible taste of what lays over yonder.

But a left inside the gate, and a quick spin up the fire road takes you to the tiled entryway to Nerang, aptly named Exit trail.

We weren’t kidding about the tiles. These intricate bathroom tiles dumped here by someone have been welcoming riders to Nerang for years.
I see the sea! Off in the distance is the iconic Surfers Paradise Skyline.
The crit track and the velodrome sit at the front of the Gold Coast Cycle Centre.

The loam at Nerang is a little different

In a typical year when Southeast Queensland isn’t on track to double its annual precipitation, Nerang is a dry, dusty trail network, pretty much all year round, and there is a running joke among locals about Nerang loam.

This isn’t the deep, dark, rich chocolate cake you find in North East Tassie or the Victorian Alpine. Oh, dear reader, Nerang loam is rocks, and there are lots of ’em. Embedded deep in the soil, rolling loose in the middle of trails, big slabby ones, small gravely ones, Nerang has no shortage of geology in all of its forms — which is probably why there is a rock quarry out the back, but I digress.

Masters World Champ Sharon Heap sampling some of Nerang’s loamy goodness.
More of Nerang’s finest loam.

With such a sprawling trail network, and the maintenance program run mainly on a volunteer basis, through a collaboration between GCMTB Club and QPWS, the trails in Nerang forest are raw and rough. There are only a few machine-built sections throughout the network, and these are the more recent additions; Nerang is a hand-built trail fiend’s paradise.

A testament to those original trail fairies, the singletrack along the outer edges of the network may go years without a touch-up, yet they never seem to get worn out. At the same time, these very trails out in the bush see enough riders that they’re never inundated with leaf litter or debris.

Working their way into the network, most riders will take Happy Valley or Goanna to Elevator to access the further reaches of Nerang.

Blue-rated Happy Valley can be ridden as a loop for a quick hit, and it’s also a direct way to head out the back.
The gnome tree is arguably Nerang’s most famous landmark. Found at a natural stopping point along Happy Valley, it’s been here for as long as we can remember. Keep an eye out as your ride, because there are gnomes sprinkled around the forest.

The 1km climb up Elevator gains nearly 100m in elevation before it connects with Baileys, hoisting you into the back of the network. This is where the adventure begins.

Navigating the backside of Nerang

Most of Nerang is open eucalypt and dry rainforest, but out the back, things change. Here there is a warren of skinny hand-built trails twisting and turning their way up and down the hills. One minute you’re flying through wide-spaced trees, and the next, a sea of lush green ferns lines the edges of the ribbon of dirt in front of you.

Whether you’re in for a complete Lost Worlds loop around the outer reaches of the network, or a shorter jaunt on Super Loop or Never Ending Story is more your speed, bring plenty of water and make sure you have Trailforks on your phone. This area of the Nerang National Park can be a little disorienting, and you are a long way out.

It’s a hike to get out there, but these trails are well worth visiting for the scenery alone.

There is so much ferny goodness in the outer reaches of Nerang National Park.
From about halfway up Elevator, you can see Burleigh Heads on the horizon.
The backside of Nerang is a tangle of tight, hand-cut trails. You could spend days out there and not ride the same loop twice.

GCMTB Club and Parks co-design project

While there are some rip-roaring descents full of rocks and root balls at Nerang, for the most part, you’ll find XC trails here. There are a few black lines on the map, but by today’s standards, that rating might be due for an update.

The network was missing a true black trail, and thanks to a co-design project between the GCMTB Club and QPWS, Nerang has its missing link — Taipan.

Constructed by Trailworx, Taipan is fast-moving, with a severe bite. Kicking off with a sandstone squirrel catcher, confidence and speed are required just to enter the trail, and it doesn’t get any easier from there.

The ever-stylish Tobi Thompson navigates the squirrel catcher like he built it — because he did. Taipan is a proper black trail, and the gap jump at the start is there to prevent riders who may not be ready for a trail like this from getting in over their heads.
This rock slab about halfway down Taipan and is a key feature on the trail. The photo doesn’t do justice to how steep this thing actually is, and it takes a bit of puzzling to work out the best way down. Pro tip: it’s the high line.

With nasty rock gardens, drops, and a seriously tricky rock slab, Taipan will hit you with its fangs if you’re complacent. The trail is still relatively fresh, and as it wears in, more Nerang loam and roots will find their way to the surface, gradually becoming rawer and more technical.

This co-design project also included massive restoration efforts on Casuarina, Baileys and B+Bs and a complete redesign of Comm Games 1.

Having a dedicated race track at Nerang is fantastic for events, but it also provides sessionable runs to dial in suspension or work on skills.
Trailworx fixed up a few places that were perpetually washed out on Comm Games 1, and revamped a good portion of the trail features. The speed is faster, the jumps are bigger, and the smiles at the end are vastly wider

Apres at Black Hops

The Gold Coast is already a well-established tourist destination with more restaurants and watering holes than you can shake a surfboard at. Between the waves, the beach, and the theme parks, there is no shortage of things to see and do.

Even during the winter, Nerang stays pretty warm. After a big day shooting, Trav is ready for a swim and a cold drink

We had a couple of big days out at Nerang, and after being dragged all over the forest, our motley crew had worked up quite a thirst. So we loaded the bikes and set sail for a favourite watering hole, the Black Hops Brewery — well, Black Hops II, to be exact. Started by three Gold Coast locals, the original brewing facility is in Burleigh Heads. What began as a little hole in the wall with a few taps, has expanded into a massive operation with three tap rooms in South East Queensland, and their liquid deliciousness in stores across the country.

Located in Biggera Waters just north of Nerang, we set sail for BHII, where the lion’s share of production now takes place. After we’d thoroughly rehydrated, the BH crew invited us to check out how the beers are made and took us for a walk around the facility.

Black Hops II always has a food truck and live music most weekends. You’ll often find the crew from Flow’s Queensland HQ here.
The folks from Black Hops showed us around the brewery, and gave us the inside scoop on a few tasty drops they have in the works.
Black Hops is arguably best known for its eggnog stout and has a full range of your more standard craft beers. But where the brewers really hit their stride is the more experimental stuff, like Front Yards, a Cucumber and Mint Goze. Take our word for it; it’s delectable

Nerang is only one very small part of what the Gold Coast has to offer for mountain bikers. Stay tuned for the best gravity park on the coast, a hidden gem and a history lesson in mountain biking on the Goldie

How to ride Nerang?

While the signage at Nerang has improved tenfold in the past couple of years, it’s not the easiest trail network to navigate and even locals who have been riding here for years get turned around occasionally — make sure you’ve got Trailforks on your phone. There is so much singletrack to explore, but since holiday time is limited, and nobody wants to spend it lost in the woods, here are a couple of local’s loops to keep you entertained.

Nerang Quick Loop

If you’re out for a quick hit and have about 90min of ride time this loop offers a small tasting paddle of what the forest has to offer. At the end of this ride, we’ve sent the route down Taipan, the new black trail. Taipan starts at the same place as Three Hills which is a rough and rocky blue descent and ends at the top of the Comm Games course. For a flowy finish, head left down the fire trail and take your first left to get to Petes.

Nerang Medium Loop

With a slightly different approach, this loop takes in a number of the trails that Rocky Trail Entertainment uses for its Super Flow events, with an extension out into the back of the network. The return hits the newly revamped B+B’s and Comm Games 1.

Lost Worlds

Lost Worlds is an epic adventure through Nerang National Park, and explores the outer reaches of the network. Bring your pedalling legs because you’re going to need them. This is the true Nerang experience, skinny hand-cut trails, rooty technical climbs, ferns, epic scenery and plenty of Nerang’s unique loam.


This is the first in a four-part series exploring the Gold Coast. Be sure to check out our adventures at Boomerang Farm, Glossy Black Reserve, and Old Tambo.