Drama, Grandeur and Colossal Landscapes | West Coast TAS From Above

Isolated, gnarly and picturesque, the West Coast of Tasmania is wild. Comprised of mostly small communities, until the 1930s, there were no serviceable roads, and the only way in or out was by rail or sea.

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When Tasmania was known as Van Dieman’s Land, the West Coast was best known for the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station on Sarah Island, which earned a grizzly reputation with stories of floggings, disease, and even escapees cannibalising their fellow runaways (yikes!).

Fast forward to 2022, and look what we have now! We’re going to try not to use the word ‘epic’ too much in this story because it can literally be used to describe all of the views around the West Coast.

West Coast Tasmania
Wide-open trails on a mountaintop, with the Chamouni Traverse overlooking the water, how good!
West Coast Tasmania
There are only a handful of places in Australia where mountain bike trails aren’t covered by tree canopy — or what used to be tree canopy — but none are quite as wide open as Queenstown.
West Coast Tasmania
Nothing but views from the Summit Loop.
West Coast Tasmania
Lake Burbury flanks the eastern edge of the trail network and creates spectacular cloud inversions

A few decades later, alluvial gold and copper were discovered in the hills around what’s now Queenstown. The exploits of the search for these precious metals shaped the landscape into one in which man-made environments push up against untamed wilderness.

And this rugged region of Tasmania is the canvas on which Dirt Art has painted its latest masterpiece, on the slopes of Mount Owen. Queenstown is only one piece of the puzzle, with Oonah Hill already up and running, and more trails coming in the next range over. So, before we put tyres to dirt (err, um, rock) on the West Coast — stay tuned, that’s coming soon — we’re taking a bird’s-eye view of what this place has to offer. So sit back, cast this one to your big screen and drink in the grandeur of Tasmania’s West Coast.


Mount Owen

Since before the turn of the 20th century, mining has been the beating heart of Queenstown, with resource extraction operations stripping Mount Owen of timber to fuel smelters.

West Coast Tasmania
While the upper slopes of Mount Owen sit above the natural treeline, you can see the effects of the erosion caused by the heavy deforestation.

Mount Owen and the southern aspect of Mount Lyell provide a stark reminder of the region’s past, and large areas won’t sustain anything more than low-level shrubbery. With Mount Owen standing 1146m above sea level, and its neighbour to the north at 820m — connected by the Chamouni Traverse — the moonscape creates a riding experience usually reserved for places where a canister of bear spray is as essential as tire levers or a water bottle.

With the rugged terrain on Mount Owen, the folks from Dirt Art knew it would be challenging to cut trails through this landscape, but what eventuated was even beyond what they expected.

West Coast Tasmania
Looking down at the Waterfall trail from above is a testament to the game of trail building Tetris the folks from Dirt Art were playing, with boulders as large as Toyota RAV4s used as trail features.
West Coast Tasmania
There is some major exposure building in an environment like Mount Owen. Combine that with the hard climate of the West Coast and you have a big job.
West Coast Tasmania
The Summit Loop is a gradual climb designed to slow the rider down so they can fully appreciate the landscape around them.

Simon French from Dirt Art tells us during the construction of the 35km network, they wore through two excavator buckets per machine.

“We’ve never had that before; it was very hard on the gear,” French continues.

But the trail builders also had to contend with 80kph+ winds and rain that felt like it was falling upwards. French tells us that some of his team were wearing their race goggles inside their machines, so they could see what they were doing; and the uniform for trail building on Mount Owen were the rubber slicker suits you’d expect on a crab fishing boat, because Gore-Tex simply wasn’t enough.

But the rawness of this place is part of its charm.

“It’s a really difficult place to build a trail. It’s a difficult place to walk around. It’s kind of a difficult place to do anything, but once you actually get out in it, you’re rewarded with an experience that you’re not going to find anywhere else on a mountain bike,” he says.

West Coast Tasmania
French tells us that there will often be a cloud inversion for sunrise, and all you can see poking through the pillowy cloud layer are craggy mountain tops.
West Coast Tasmania
The lines on a trail map don’t put into perspective the scale of Queenstown; here we have the Welcome to Queenstown trail in front of Mount Owen.
West Coast Tasmania
Much of the trail surface is the white gravely material, however those orange tinges are where the mountainside is so eroded even the gravel has washed away, and all that remains is the clay

The upper section of the mountain is shuttle access only, while the lower loops can be ridden from town without any uplift assist. Ready Orr Not is the main access to the trails and can be ridden as a loop, or connects to Welcome to Queenstown.

North Owen

From the main shuttle dropoff, a pedal across the Chamouni Traverse takes riders to North Owen. As you make your way across the ridgeline, Marble Bluff, Little Eldon, and Eldon Peak come into view, looming large over Lake Burbury. As you hit the switchbacks of the Summit Loop, you’re greeted with sweeping vistas of Frenchman’s Cap, Mount Lyell and Sedgwick Bluff — alternating as you navigate around the hairpin bends.

Dirt Art engineered a number of trails, like the Summit Loop, to slow riders down, and help folks enjoy the scenery  — safe to say, they have achieved that goal in spades.

Zig-zagging along the southwestern aspect of North Owen, the summit loop takes you to…well…the summit of North Owen. Then, just below its geographic prominence, twin spurs, each with its own singletrack descend towards the town of Gormanston in the valley below.

West Coast Tasmania
To the left is Marble Bluff, and the mountain looming large is Eldon Peak. Standing 1,440m above sea level, it’s one of Tasmania’s least visited mountains due to its remoteness.
West Coast Tasmania
The dome off in the distance is Frenchmans Cap. With its distinctive shape, the mountain was often used as a geographic marker for convicts escaping Sarah Island, like Alexander Pearce.
West Coast Tasmania
Frenchman’s Cap is also one of Tassie’s most challenging multi-day hikes.
West Coast Tasmania
The Chamouni Traverse got its name because the Linda Valley was originally named Chamouni Valley or Vale Chamouni, an apparent reference to its French counterpart.
West Coast Tasmania
Here the Summit Loop meets the Chamouni Traverse. The trail to the right contours across the hill and becomes the North Owen Descent. A left hits The Long Spur, and a 180-degree turn heads for the summit.
West Coast Tasmania
The North Owen descent, is a black rated run that loses nearly 500m of altitude in a hurry.
West Coast Tasmania
Stu Gibson tells us he camped out for hours on Iron Blow lookout waiting for that special light on The Long Spur.
West Coast Tasmania
Talk about a crazy change in perspective, this is what The Long Spur looks like as you’re riding it.

Lake Burbury

Remember how we’ve been banging on about how the West Coast is a landscape where man-made environments push up against seemingly untouched wilderness? Would you believe us if we told you that Lake Burbury is man-made?

Fed by rivers from the north like the Upper King and Eldon Rivers, Lake Burbury feeds the John Butters Hydroelectric Power Station and has a surface area of 54 square kilometres.

West Coast Tasmania
Just below the water’s edge, you’ll find a town called Crotty. It was inundated when the King River was dammed.
West Coast Tasmania
When the lake is low, you can see the town’s ruins around this island. There were smelters, pubs and houses in the area, and a railway that connected to Macquarie Harbour.
West Coast Tasmania
This is a few kilometres upriver from Lake Burbury. The forest on the edge of the King River is rugged and untamed, and this is how the whole region used to look.

As a born and bred Taswegian, Simon French has always had a soft spot for the West Coast.

“It’s one of those areas that even Tasmanians don’t get to. It’s quite remote, it’s really rugged and wild, but it offers a European or North American, big mountain experience that you don’t really get anywhere else in Australia,” French says.

Queenstown and the West Coast are a land of contrasts, making for a riding experience like no other. When this project was in its infancy, Dirk Dowling, a Project Consultant for the West Coast Council, told Flow the aim was to build something that kept with the mountain and didn’t fight against it.

From above, it sure looks like that is precisely what the trail builders have achieved. We’ve sent a motley crew of riders to see what the trails look like from ground level. Stay tuned for more.

West Coast Tasmania
Camera clicker extraordinaire Stu Gibson shot this photo of Dirt Art’s Luke Reynolds on the Chamouni Travers. Apparently, Reynolds is not a morning person, and when given the option of dawn or dusk, he chose the latter. But after a few beers at the pub, Stu had convinced him to meet at 5:30am to catch those sweet morning rays.
West Coast Tasmania
Alright, we can’t hold it in anymore. How EPIC does this place look! Watch this space for a full report from our West Coast Odyssey.

Big photos and video: Stuart Gibson

Editing and music: Murray Farrell/Creek Run Media

Tiny riders: Rob Potter and Aaron Stewart

This Flow MTB project was made possible with support from Tourism Tasmania.

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