Flow acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Narooma and Bodalla Forest, the people of Yuin Country. We honour the Yuin Elders of the past, present and future and their connection to lands, waters and communities.
Derived from the local Yuin dialects spoken by the Traditional Owners of the area, Narooma roughly translates to clear blue waters, and Narooma has this in spades. The beaches here are nothing short of spectacular, but we didn’t send Flow Correspondent Chis Sansom to the NSW’s South Coast to lounge on the beach and work on his tan.
His top secret assignment was slightly more inland, deep in Bodalla State Forest, for something which has been brewing for many months.
Dirt Art has been meticulously digging, shaping, and raking a substantial network of trails, continuing on the hard work of a few motivated locals, who saw what mountain biking had done for tourist towns around the world and thought their idyllic little beach town would be a perfect fit.
We scored a sneak preview of Narooma earlier this year to see what Dirt Art was cooking up a stone’s throw from the coast.
Come along as we ride the new trails in Narooma
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It all started with a case of mistaken identity
Narooma local Georgie Staley and her husband Dave started building trails out in Bodalla State Forest around the time that Derby was gaining steam. The couple who run a handful of shops on the South Coast spent every spare moment they had out in the bush, cutting trails.
They’d assembled about 30km of singletrack and formed a partnership with Forestry Corp NSW to formalise them. Narooma is a tourist town that bustles during the holidays, and then goes pretty quiet the rest of the year.
Travelling through small mountain towns in Colorado, Oregon and Utah, they identified a similar seasonality to their little home on the beach. Knowing that 30km of trails wasn’t enough to even out the flow of tourists, they got to work. The Narooma Mountain Bike Club, in collaboration with Forestry NSW, the Aboriginal Land Council and some of the town folk — riders and non-riders alike — won a $3.9-million grant from the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund.
This would allow the small handbuilt trail network to expand by 65km!
Five zones, five times the fun!
The trail network is divided up into five distinct zones. Jason Lam from Dirt Art tells us each was designed to cater to a different selection of riders.
Stemming from the trailhead is The Playground (originally called the Skills Zone), which offers a connected network of singletrack designed to introduce newly minted mountain bikers to riding off-road.
“Despite the mountain bike trail network in this area being relatively short in length, riders will have several options to extend their overall distance to the southwest. They can achieve this by utilising a series of interconnected trails or by taking advantage of an uplift shuttle service,” he says.
Stemming off the end of The Playground is the Northern Zone, which Lam tells us has been designed for intermediate riders. Flanked on all sides by climbing trails, it also has its own shuttle drop and offers an introduction to the joy that shuttles can bring to riders who may not otherwise have the skills to access uplifts.
“The short 5-minute shuttle from the Primary Trailhead offers an excellent opportunity for newcomers to experience the joy of mountain biking without requiring an extraordinary level of fitness,” says Lam.
Designed around shuttle access, the Gravity Zone offers the most elevation in the network and provides longer spells of uninterrupted descending — that said, Dirt Art has also built a pair of climbing trails here. Beyond just the elevation, the Gravity Zone has been placed here because it has been heavily logged in the past.
“In light of this, the higher impact gravity trails have been intentionally designed in this area to accommodate machine-built flow and jump trails that generally have a wider footprint and disturbance corridor. This thoughtful design ensures that the Gravity Trail Zone can accommodate the desired trail experiences while preserving the surrounding environment and user safety,” Lam says.
In contrast, the southwest corner of the Narooma trail network has been dubbed The Wilderness Zone.
“The zone is characterised by its breathtaking ridgelines and gullies that lead down into Spring Creek, which runs in an east-to-west direction across the Wilderness Zone. There are four trails that provide a multitude of riding options, strategically interconnected at various points to allow riders to customise their journey according to their preferences,” says Lam.
Aiming to provide a remote and gone-bush-type feel, these trails are blue and black. With a shuttle drop-off at The Summit Trailhead, this zone utilises a stacked loop format so that your ride can be tailored to how much gas you have in the tank.
Last but not least is the Trail Riding Zone, which is an extension of the network constructed by Georgie and Dave and has been built to reflect the style of the original hand-built trails. Situated in undulating terrain, this is the zone for folks who like to go out and pedal through a spectacular setting.
Keeping Narooma true to its roots
Narooma first hit Dirt Art’s radar when Construction Manager Tom Mallett was in town visiting family, and popped into Bodalla State Forest to go for a ride — little did he know, he’d be building a network here.
When it came time to design the network, Lam didn’t want the dynamic style of the trails that Georgie and Dave had built to be lost.
“We were inspired by their minimalist style of trail construction, which caters to a diverse range of rider types and abilities. Early on in the project, we recognised this as a key characteristic that we wanted to build upon. Many of the existing trails in the network are comfortably suitable for beginner riders, lacking distinctly challenging or intimidating obstacles or features. However, as riders increase their speed, the trails become more challenging and engaging. This dynamic trail characteristic was of utmost importance to me, and I consistently emphasised it to the trail crew,” he says.
Lam tells us the Northern Zone and Wilderness Zone are where they looked to build upon this rustic handbuilt style while also allowing the trail crew to bring their style and vision to the landscape.
In keeping with that style, Lam also acknowledges the importance of bringing riding experiences that aren’t currently available in the network — or the area. This is where the Gravity Zone’s large format trails come in, as well as the beautifully sculpted berms and progressive tabletops in the Northern Zone and The Playground.
“By combining the various trail styles and experiences across the network, we aimed to offer something unique and fulfilling for riders of all levels, contributing to an exceptional mountain biking destination,” says Lam.
Flow Rides Narooma
Narooma is about five hours on the road from Sydney and three from Canberra, so if you’re flying in, be sure to wave to East Kowen and Sparrow Hill as you drive past.
As the anticipation builds, making your way to the coast, the scenery becomes seriously beautiful.
“The closer you get to Narooma, the more scenic it becomes with some seriously beautiful mountain driving as you reach the coast,” Chris says.
When you arrive in Narooma, the small beach town is inviting. We were there during the off-season, and there was still a bit of a buzz around town. It wasn’t like a ski resort during mud season that turns into a complete ghost town with no people or shops open. There are plenty of pubs and cafes, and we imagine during the warmer months it would pop off.
When we first arrived at our accommodation, we even saw whales breaching.
“This was something I was told happened in May, but hadn’t anticipated seeing. We sat and watched them for half an hour before they disappeared from view. I’m not crying. You’re crying,” says Chris.
Large aquatic mammals aside, we had come here to see the trails and were guided by Dirt Art Construction Manager Tom Mallett and the head honcho himself, Simon French.
Take me to the gravity
The Gravity Zone was at the top of our hit list. On the way up, the diversity of the terrain and the bush found throughout this network revealed itself, and in our humble opinion, it’s well worth a visit to see this stunning, and uniquely NSW forest in its own right.
“The bush was something that really blew my mind — with some absolutely huge native trees and lush greenery down in the valleys. It contrasts nicely with the hard pack and more gravelly upper trail surfaces, which quickly turn into grippy dirt as you descend. This keeps you on your toes and has that Maydena-like feel of transitioning through different zones despite only a ‘small’ drop in elevation,” Chris says.
The trails in the Gravity Zone run the gamut from blue through to double black. Following three distinct ridges, Dirt Art has moved quite a lot of material to create a descending experience like nowhere else in the network.
But the thing is, there is only about 120m of elevation to work with in Bodalla State Forest, and the size and scale of some of the features they’ve managed to put together through there, and the quality of the descending is nothing short of exceptionally clever, and mastery of gravity.
Into the Wild | Riding the Wilderness Zone
A stark contrast to the Gravity Zone, the Wilderness Zone puts its backcountry DNA on show with narrow singletrack and amazing loamy dirt — this was our favourite of the bunch.
With fast straightaways with catches and wide-open dual-line features that showcase the natural terrain. These pedally adventures don’t have to be gnarly — unless you want them to be. A prime example of this is The Tunnel.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ridden. It features three lines at the top through a jagged rock garden, and if you take the high-line you’re sent over, then down a sharp left-right which shoots you through a fallen down tree with a narrow head clearance,” says Chris. “The trail then gives you two options, including a huge rocky step down off to the right and an electric berm to catch you shortly after. The second is a chicaning dirt chute, which spits you out onto the same area below. This was some genius trail building.”
The Playground and Northern Zone
Closer to the trailhead are The Playground and Northern Zone.
Put simply, The Playground is too much fun. The first jump trail we rode with the little shredders was perfectly manicured, grippy red dirt shaped into progressively larger tables as it worked its way down the hill.
“The black next to it ups the ante with a huge hip a few jumps in, and some big doubles with steep but manageable lips. It opens out into a fast, straight section with three shark fins in a row with addictive transitions between. This carries speed for a tombstone of a step-up at the very end,” says Chris.
Then it was up to the Northern Zone to a jump trail named Thunder Birds are Go and the already infamous burned-out car. To date, this is the first time we’ve seen an abandoned car built into a feature like this, and according to Mallett it was sort of fated to happen.
Mallett had come across the car on his commute into the build site on a Monday morning — apparently, some of the locals had a bit too much fun over the weekend. He reported it to the authorities and moved on. But each day, he’d inch closer to this spot where the car remained, albeit now sporting some flashy new police tape.
Months later, just about on top of the rusted-out carcass of a Ford Falcon Ute, he contacted local police to ensure he could continue his work without interfering with a active crime scene.
“Their response was a very short, “We’re done with it. Do what you like with it,” Mallett tells Flow.
“Now, I must admit that my mind had been running wild every time I drove past the old rusting frame on the way to work, so the idea of using it as a feature in the trail had become quite developed at this point. The car had apparently become my problem to deal with — apart from Forestry offering to drag it elsewhere — and so I dealt with it,” he says.
Weilding his 3.5T excavator, he discovered it had more than enough oomph to manipulate the car, and built it into a jump.
“Trail building is all about using the materials that you have at your disposal to your advantage, and so I did exactly that. Some will love it, some will hate it, but I feel as though I made something positive out of something negative. The roof of the car feels sick to bounce a wheel off, too,” he says.
This speaks to Mallett’s approach to the entirety of the trail network, making sure a blue trail is built to the specifications of its grade but hiding a few easter eggs for discerning riders to uncover along the way.
“This means I can ride a blue trail with my Mum and rip little side hits while she enjoys the intended flow of the trail. It also means the trail develops for riders as they progress their skills. More gaps and lines will appear as their speed and ability increase on the trail. These features aren’t just limited to the descents either,” he says.
“The park is absolutely filled with gaps, bonus features, sidelines, and easter eggs. My strong recommendation is to keep your eyes peeled,” says Mallett.
Long Live Steve
A trail network is a living record of the experience the builders have through construction, and often has clever references to the town or tidbits of history in the region.
In Narooma, these range from Puffy Horse, named for a creepy stuffed horse they found way too far away from town and any nearby fire roads, to Chilly & Lime, the chip of choice for the trail crew, and Spaghetti legs, because that’s how your legs will feel at the top of this express climb to the high point of the Gravity Zone.
But a trail called I Love Steve is special for two reasons.
“Steve was my wonderful little dog who came to work with me every day while I was building this trail. Steve has since passed, and so I wanted to name this trail in his memory. So many people loved Steve in his lifetime, and now so many more will love him in the future,” says Mallett.
The other reason this trail is so special is we reckon it will be the most popular in the park. It is a master class in flow, with well-crafted features that create a fluid and effortless ride, gliding through berms and over jumps at speed.
Frankly, if you don’t make it to the bottom of this trail with a smile on your face, mountain biking might not be for you — we hear pickleball is popular.
Like Eden to its south, Narooma is a project spearheaded by the local community. They cut the first trails, built a relationship with the land manager, won the funding, and navigated a mountain of bureaucratic red tape to make these trails a reality. And boy, did they deliver!
Narooma is one of three fresh mountain bike destinations on the NSW South Coast, each offering a unique riding experience and teeing up quite a road trip. If you haven’t already, check out our feature on Eden.
The third project, Mogo, is still under construction by the folks from Rocky Trail Destination and Next Level Mountain Bike.
Photos: Nick “How Good?” Waygood / @nickwaygoodcreative