Amongst the huge rush of new trail developments that have bloomed across the country in recent years, there has been a lot to get excited about. But the biggest is yet to come. We're talking about Warburton, a tiny town that has just received the largest chunk of mountain biking funding to date.
Warburton is a name that plenty of Melbournites will be familiar with. This little town is the endpoint of one of the country’s most popular rail trails, and its surreal riverside setting and cute Main Street make it an ideal weekend getaway for folk looking for that small-town feel without having to venture too far from the big smoke. But this quaint spot is about to become the biggest name in Australian mountain biking, thanks to a massive $11.3 million investment.
We had the chance to visit Warburton a couple of weeks ago; we’ve been itching to check it out since learning about the plans for Warby earlier this year at the Maydena MTB Destination Forum. It’s safe to say that what we saw completely blew our minds. Here’s why.
Warburton is a little town, with big mountains all around it. With the Yarra River running right through town, it’s a lot like Bright, which many readers will be familiar with. The way it’s tucked deep into the beautiful Yarra Valley makes it feel more like you’ve stumbled upon some Canadian riverside village in the Rocky Mountains. But in reality it’s less than an hour and a half’s drive from Melbourne airport, which means there’s a huge population right down the road, crying out for new trails.
The town is already bike friendly:
Warburton has a healthy cycling scene, thanks to the Lilydale to Warburton rail trail, and it’s already popular with roadies who come out to have a crack at the 1000m vertical of Mt Donna Buang. Gravel riders a treated to some of the best backroads imaginable too.
The plans are huge:
Warburton will receive a minimum of 110km of trails, spread across three separate mountain sides that envelope the town. You’ll come right out of the trails, into the thick of things (i.e. straight to the bakery or the pub). The jewel in the crown is a trail that’s been dubbed Drop A Kay, which takes you from the top of Mt Donna Buang, descending more than 1000m over 27km, right back into town.
From a mountain bike perspective, this is a blank slate:
Much like Derby, the crew behind this development are dealing with a truly blank slate. There’s no legacy of illegal trail building to overcome, and the Yarra Ranges Council crew have seen firsthand, having visited numerous other destinations, what’s necessary, both in terms of the quality and quantity of trails, but also the supporting infrastructure and businesses and how to activate locals too.
The terrain! The terrain!
This area has superb vegetation and topography for trails building. Massive hillsides, towering gums, loamy cold-climate rainforest soils, all centred around the Yarra River. It’s not hard to picture yourself rolling out of the trails straight to the banks of the river, beer in hand.
You’re away from the bustle, but not away from civilisation:
Drawing a comparison with Derby once again, Warburton doesn’t face the hurdles of meagre accommodation, dining and drinking options that plagued Derby initially. The town itself has a decent offering of shops, there’s a lot of B’n’B accommodation in place, and the whole region is heaving with nice experiences like bush walks, wineries, rafting and more.
What about challenges?
The biggest challenge for Warby will be in living up to its potential. This place has the makings of a world class destination, the kind of joint people will fly internationally to ride, as long as they nail the mix of trails needed to cater for the whole mountain bike market. Things are off to a good start, with World Trail having been awarded the contract to build Stage 1, and the Council team are all super passionate about this project. Our fingers are crossed! We’re sure we’ll be spending plenty of time here in the coming years.