The landscape was black. A recent back-burning operation at First Turkey Mountain Bike Reserve had jumped its containment line, leaving the trails in an otherworldly state. As the sun started to peek over Mount Archer, soft morning rays began to trickle through the unburned canopy, bathing the ground in shades of yellow, orange and green. The charred landscape around me and the unlit hill in the background, set against the intense splash of colour, felt a bit like being in a Bob Ross painting.
As Mick rolled past, the light caught the dust stirred up by his rear tyre, and I completely forgot about that extra hour of sleep I thought I needed. There is an electric buzz that runs up my spine when a photo like this appears on the back of the camera, and it felt like I’d grabbed an electric fence with both hands and possibly a few toes. I ran over to Mick to show him what we had just captured, and I could see the charge run through his body — this was the shot we had been after.
Watch the video here
Then I heard it, a deep rumble. The reverberation of a rider descending the trail above us. They came thundering around the corner and dropped into a rocky staircase at such speed, I could hear their tyres cry out for mercy. The first rider of the Rockhampton Mountain Bike Club’s gravity enduro was on course — it was time to heckle.
We had been exploring Rockhampton for the last four days, and between the calibre of the riding and the characters we met along the way, this will not be a trip we will soon forget.
Rockhampton is situated almost equidistant between Brisbane and Townsville, claiming to be the beef capital of Australia and is home to seven ‘Big Bull’ statues. We had come to explore the singletrack traversing the slopes of Mount Archer and a new network in the neighbouring town of Mount Morgan.
Mount Morgan — the new trail network.
Since we were last in Rockhampton back in 2017, an entirely new mountain bike network has been constructed in the neighbouring town of Mount Morgan. We wanted to see it, find out why it was built, who it is for, and is it worth the time?
Every time Mount Morgan came up in conversation, words like ‘quirky, interesting, and unusual’ were thrown around, but it didn’t take a spiritual medium to divine what wasn’t being said, so I will come out and say it. Mount Morgan is weird, and that’s why I love it.
The singletrack around Dam No. 7 only opened in December 2020; the trail map is comprised of blue and green squiggles, though the locals hinted that there was a black trail or two somewhere out the back.
The official trailhead is near the dam wall, with all the facilities for a pre or post-ride chill; however, thanks to a few suggestions and some Google Maps sleuthing, we found a back entrance that deposited us on the far side of the network.
Rolling up the fire road, the cold air was biting for Queensland, and as we crested the first rise, we caught our first glimpse of the Dam. The early morning fog was lazily drifting across the water, and the birdlife was in full song. Fueled by only a PowerBar and terrible pod coffee, I did a double-take spinning through the sizeable berms on the first climb; it felt like we were ascending a descending trail. We later learned that it’s a two-way trail, but this is the direction most people ride it — we would soon understand why.
The sun-kissed the prehistoric fronds of the Cycad palms, and the grass trees flowed with the breeze — this trail was beautiful and wholly unexpected.
Cresting over the top, the surprises came thick and fast. Techy rock gardens, jumps and drops whizzed past. We were riding them blind, and they were tricky, but the trail builder clearly prioritised predictability with great visibility, so we let the brakes off and let it run. As we descended further, the scrub became thicker, the grass trees taller, and the vibe more prehistoric.
Back in town and going hunger flat, Mick and I searched for sugar, caffeine and calories. Mick holds a special place in his heart for old pubs and Queenslander style houses, so when we drove past the Leichhardt Hotel, it was never a question of if we were going there, but how long we would spend inside.
It’s here we met Karl. He and his partner moved to Mount Morgan two years ago and purchased the Leichhardt Hotel. Opened in 1891, the Leichhardt Hotel is a mainstay of Mount Morgan with walls that would have seen many things.
The pub and its patrons are a little rough around the edges, but once the townsfolk worked out we were mountain bikers, they peppered us with questions about if we’d ridden here or there or heard of trails in this place or that place — again wholly unexpected. I’ve been to towns that look like Mount Morgan, where mountain bikers were about as welcome as an outhouse breeze; the locals here met us with warmth and genuine interest.
As we were packing up and getting ready to leave the Leichhardt hotel, Karl mentioned that ‘ol’ Graeme’ from across the road has a collection of classic bikes and is in the process of building a bike museum. “Go and see him; he’ll just be sit’n there,” Karl said.
In addition to his love for old pubs and Queenslander houses, Mick also has a soft spot for classic bikes. As we wandered across the road, and a vintage Vitus 979 with Kaz Cycling Team stickers was peering through the window, and it was again not a matter of if but how long we would spend inside. “Bonded aluminium bikes, errrrrrhmagawwwd,” gasped Mick as we approached.
Graeme owns an antique shop called Collectables and Memories, packed to the brim with trinkets and classic wares. Hidden away is a sizable collection of bikes, ranging from a Gary Fisher Joshua Z to a custom TT bike Darrell Llewellyn built for his first wife. There is quite a lot of history there in Graeme’s back room, but I’d recommend waiting until his museum is up and running before you ask for a private tour.
After a chicken sandwich on very white bread, we turned our attention to the east side of the network leaving from the trailhead at the dam.
With a mix of exposed rock and flowy singletrack, I could hear Mick hooting and hollering behind me; we were having a ball.
Karl told us he sees more footprints than tyre tracks out there, and he’s not wrong; pushing into the berms, they felt brand new, there are not many wear lines or brake bumps yet. So, if you’re reading this, get out there and ride these trails, people!
By the time we made it back to where we had started, Mick and I spent 20 minutes on play-by-play recaps, giggling about two-wheel drifts, airs taken a little too big and rip-roaring rock features. Mount Morgan had almost been described to us as a waste of time, a box we needed to tick — this assertion is downright untrue. Sure, the trails aren’t tricky enough to run an enduro, but that’s not what it’s designed to be, nor is that a bad thing. We had a ball ripping around the dam; it just needs more traffic to bed in the trails.
Gobble gobble, it’s turkey season at First Turkey Mountain Bike Reserve.
Jake Keleher from the Rocky MTB club reckons there have been trails around Mount Archer for nearly 30-years, and the original trails were named for the colour of the dirt — Goldy, Blacky, Whitey, you get the idea. But it wasn’t until the early 2010s that First Turkey became First Turkey.
“We’ve had the guys from TrailWorkx come up and put in a big whack of trail, and we’ve had Evan come down from up north (Ground Creations) and I think Trail Scapes as well. So a few different trail builders have come through and really stamped their mark, and that’s all just happened gradually over the years,” says Keleher.
It doesn’t take many runs at first Turkey to see each trail builder’s signature on the mountain. I can’t tell you which trails were built by whom, but portions of the network have a different style, using the terrain in distinctive ways, and yet they are subtle enough that it doesn’t feel disjointed or piecemeal. This is due to the trail node format; an arterial climbing trail leads to a hub where multiple descending trails originate. The locals built it this way from the start, and with everything well signposted, it means TrailForks can stay in your pocket.
Mick had been to Rockhampton once before back in 2017, but that may as well have been in the cretaceous period, so we were both Rocky rookies.
We arrived early in the morning to the sun glimmering through the mango trees and a full parking lot. The locals were already here en-mass.
“Is that a Minion on an XC bike?” Mick asked, pointing at the gravity spec rubber mounted on the front wheel of an otherwise World Cup ready bike.
“I know, it’s because of the trails here,” our new friend Sil laughed.
In my travels, I’ve learned the best primer for the style of riding at a given destination is to take note of what tyres the locals are running. If someone on an enduro bike is running the lightest available casing of an aggressively treaded tyre, it’s probably pretty flowy. If the XC riders are running robust EXO+ casing Minion tyres, you’d better be on your A-game.
We had a good belly laugh about a 10kg bike where most of the weight was in the tyres themselves, and then we found out why.
The first descent we rode was one of the smoother and flowy trails in the network, though I still managed to burp my rear tyre on a hard landing. The berms are well worn, providing the support needed to slingshot yourself out the other side without having to touch the brakes, and the jumps are low consequence and predictable. With one of the smoother trails still rough enough to rattle a filling loose, the chunky jank felt a bit like a high-speed Rubik’s cube, navigating an ocean of square rocks and wheel traps, problem-solving your way through the lumpy surface. One wrong move and your steak is cooked well done.
Rocky’s greatest hits: Fishing, beers, steaks and the zoo.
When our mate Trav is not running fishing charters in the Fitzroy or off the coast of Yeppoon, he’ll be out on the river chasing Barramundi or Red Emperor offshore.
The Queenslander has never left his home state; though he concedes he may have ‘snuck a toe into NSW’ at one point. He tells us he has plans to buy a sailboat and leave the ways of the landlubbers behind. The old salty was our skipper with Hooked Fishing Charters for an afternoon out on the river with our fish finder searching for barramundi.
It didn’t take long to ascertain that we are much better mountain bikers than anglers, though Trav did teach us a pretty nifty technique for unsnagging fish hooks and lures from the deep.
If fishing is not your thing, the Rockhampton Zoo is located next door to the Botanic Gardens, and it is free.
Our recommendation for the best sunset spot in Rockhampton would be the Mount Archer Lookout. The elevated walkway offers unobstructed views of the Fitzroy River to one side and the rest of Mount Archer National Park to the other. We met some friendly locals up there who even invited us to join their picnic.
For the foodies and craft beer connoisseurs, Headricks Lane is the brewery in town. Located in the heritage-listed John M Headrick & Co building that has stood since the 1880s, it’s right next door to the Australian Brahman Breeders Association — you can’t miss it.
And then there is the historic Criterion Hotel, which is quite literally the profile picture of Rockhampton on Wikipedia. Established in 1867, the pub has been owned by four families and has maintained its classic charm.
Why take your mountain bike to Rockhampton?
Rockhampton is a trip we won’t soon forget. The trails, the people and of course, the weather.
I should note that riding to shoot, versus riding to…well…ride, is quite a bit slower than a regular pedal, and in our four days in Central Queensland, we only had the opportunity to explore a portion of each park and did not ride a single trail twice. But with 25km of trails at Mount Morgan and 35km at First Turkey, Rockhampton is a great long weekend riding getaway, and I can’t wait to get back.
We learned there may be more trails on the way, with the hillside to the north of First Turkey slated for expansion, and the Blue Dog, a blue trail from the top of Mount Archer into First Turkey, running adjacent to the DH bike worthy ‘Dawg’.
Being in Central Queensland, the temperature was chefkiss.gif perfect. The early morning chill provided the extra motivation to shake out the cobwebs and get to the top of the climb, and by midday, when the sun was high in the sky, it didn’t feel as though you were riding trails that should have been named “the surface of the sun” or “are you sure this isn’t molten lava.” For an escape from the depths of winter in NSW and Victoria, Rockhampton rates high on our list.
The local mountain bike community welcomed us in and took pride in their trail network. There are trails for everyone, from roadies dipping their toes into 2.25in tyres and suspension, to gravity riders who rumble through rock gardens at such a pace that even the rocks are scrambling to get out of the way.
Over four days in Rockhampton, we had a top time running around and immersing ourselves in the culture of the town and mountain bike scene. We were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed ourselves very much, with the trip out to Mount Morgan a highlight for us both. Mount Morgan’s terrain was so different to what we usually ride at home, and the whole experience of seeing a part of remote QLD was really interesting. The trails at First Turkey in Rocky are brilliant, the level of riding on offer is worthy of a visit.
While not a typical tourist destination, Rockhampton has a lot to offer and we loved how close we got to its core in only a few days. Cheers, we’ll be back!
Mick and Colin.
Who, where, what, when and why of Flow’s trip to Rockhampton.
Here’s what you’ll need to plan a trip of your own.
Finding the trail networks in Rockhampton and Mount Morgan
The First Turkey Mountain Bike Reserve is located on the edge of town and boasts 35km of trails. Mount Morgan is about a 45-minute drive south on the Burnett Highway and sees a network of green and blue trails.
Eat, drink and stay
The Criterion Hotel is a mainstay of Rocky, offering steaks, comfort food and a great atmosphere — we enjoyed it so much we went twice. Headricks Lane is a little more upscale, with beers brewed in-house on tap and a full menu of tasty delights. We also had a delicious meal at TruFusion Indian Bar and Grill — make sure you try ‘The Devil.’
Stay with bikes in Rockhampton
We parked up at The Edge Apartments Rockhampton, very central and convenient overlooking the city, above a few great restaurants, and great views of The Fitzroy River and Mt Archer where the trails are. Can recommend!
Things to do in Rockhampton
The Rockhampton Zoo was a highlight for us; we’re hoping the meerkats will be around the next time we come to town. Located next door to the botanic gardens, it’s completely free to visit, and they are regularly running keeper talks.
Our day out on the river was spent with Hooked Fishing Charters; if the other guides are even half as good as Trav, you’re in for a good time. They offer fishing charters on the Fitzroy River and off the Capricorn Coast.
More info on mountain biking in Rockhampton
For more information on Rockhampton, links to the trail networks and a rundown of everything there is to do in Rocky, head over to the Explore Rockhampton website. To stay in the know about what’s happening in town, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
This project was made possible with the support of Explore Rockhampton.