Tamborine Mountain is the Gold Coast’s little slice of Bavaria. The eclectic little village on top of the mountain has a distinct German influence in the murals on the buildings, the architecture of the houses and the fact that there’s an authentic cuckoo clock shop on the main drag. These little stein-clicking settlements are a bit of a throughline in Queensland, with Montville in the Glass House Mountains displaying similar Bavarian heritage.
But hidden up in the mountains above the coast is a piece of mountain biking history. The Old Tambo DH dates back to the 1990s and has roots in some of the most prominent riders to come out of the region — Kovarik, Panozzo, Sharples, Ronning and Dalton, to name a few.
It wouldn’t be right to come to the Gold Coast and ignore such a piece of riding history, so we jumped in the car and headed inland towards Tamborine Mountain to check out the Old Tambo DH.
Watch the video here
- Where The Green Meets The Gold, Riding On The Gold Coast | Part 1 Nerang, QLD
- Where The Green Meets The Gold, All-Year Riding On The Gold Coast | Part 2 Boomerang Farm
- Where The Green Meets The Gold, Riding On The Gold Coast | Part 3 Glossy Back Reserve, QLD
Up the mountain, we go
The Tamborine, in Tamborine Mountain, has nothing to Stevie Nicks’ instrument of choice. Instead, the name comes from the anglicised version of the Aboriginal word Jambreen from the Yugambeh language, which translates to wild lime, referring to the finger lime trees you’ll find around the mountain.
The story of Old Tambo begins in the early 1990s. At this time, if you wanted to ride downhill living on the Gold Coast, it meant driving up to the Sunshine Coast — a four-hour commute each way.
“There was a guy who use to live up here (on Mount Tamborine) named Michael Preston, who use to import Mountain Cycles Bikes at the time. He decided he’d spend the time that he would have been driving to the Sunshine Coast and back building,” Mark Skroblin explained as we pedalled up to the original starting point.
What at the time would have been called the New Tambo DH was not a solo job, and Kovarik, Panozzo, Sharples, Ronning and Dalton picked up where Preston left off, all playing a role in the development of this trail. In 2014, the Gold Coast Council brought Trailscapes and Trailworx in to give it a once over for it to become a fully sanctioned trail.
On the map, the 3km black descent looks like a bit of an outlier, sitting there by itself on the slopes of Tamborine Mountain.
The drive up Tamborine Mountain alone is worth the trip, and it’s a super popular route with our lycra-clad, curly bar riding cousins. As you journey up, your surroundings shift from coastal forest and open Eucalypt to lush green rainforest. You know you’re headed in the right direction when you start to see the little chalets that look like they’ve been plucked straight from Rothenburg ob der Tauber, complete will Lüftlmalerei (facade murals) that appear to have been dropped into the deep dark jungle.
Riding into history
The trail technically starts at the gate to the National Park, but the original starting point is a bit further up the road. This section harkens back to the original trail builder’s vision with tight hand-cut goodness, a few old wooden features, and kicky little jumps. Skating through the thick, dark green jungle, either side of the trail is crowded with vines and bines competing for space and climbing up trees, but the path through it all is well-worn.
It’s a quick hit that takes you to the parking area where you’re likely to see most people starting from — because that’s what it shows on Trailforks.
Climb through the gate, and you’re underway
Straight off the bat, you’re met with a log drop after a short traverse. Carry a bit of speed here to make the landing because there is a depression right below the downed tree — maybe it’s a natural hole, or perhaps it’s compacted from people coming up short for 30 years.
Then it’s onto the fire road for a short climb to the next section of the trail. This fire road runs parallel to the Old Tambo DH all the way to the bottom, so there are plenty of spots to bail out if you want to session a bit of the trail or need to cut out early and head for the top.
Don’t be fooled by the lovely landscaping around some of the corners near the top of the trail because the Old Tambo Downhill is anything but manicured. It’s not washed out, rutted, or in bad shape — a testament to the quality of the trail here, especially after all the wet weather we’ve had in southeast Queensland — it’s just old school and natural.
The top section is high speed, and the trail gets increasingly rough as you work your way down. There aren’t any massive features, but it’s rugged, and you can send some of the jumps to the moon. I’d be shocked if you make it to the first flat section of the trail and your fun-o-meter (i.e. O-Rings) hadn’t extended to full power.
The character of the trail evolves
After a little over a kilometre, the elevation profile eases off, and becomes more undulating before it drops off again. It’s here you’ll find a few rock gardens that will rattle your eyeballs lose in their sockets, and some classic janky features.
In the transition section and during short climbs, lift your head up and look around. The forest quickly changes from tangled and lush, to eucalypt trees sprinkled through what feels like an open meadow of native grass, and even a bit of tightly packed sheoak saplings.
You’ll hit the fire road again for a short liaison to the next section of singletrack. From here, the character of the trail switches drastically. Up high, the surface was consolidated. The soil was compacted, and all the rocks and roots were firmly embedded into the dirt. Not anymore.
As you work your way down, the rock becomes increasingly shaley, and the trail surface gets loose. This is the old-school descending trail you’ve been dreaming about.
The ribbon of rock and dust before you locks into the fall line and throws away the key. Loose and rocky, feather your brakes lightly because a lockup will end gravel rash, but so will overshooting the small catch berm at the bottom of the chute.
Where there are B-lines, they’re packed with long sweeping corners, which are, of course, littered with rocks and roots — this is a black trail, after all.
Just as quickly as the fun has begun, it comes to an end. The Gold Coast MTB Club runs shuttles here occasionally, and if you timed it right, load up your bike and take advantage of the 20-min recovery in-store. If not, it’s time to give that 52t cog a workout. The bottom section of the Old Tambo DH is the steepest, and a few sections feel like trying to scale a wall, but as you make your way towards the top, the gradient mellows, and you can catch your breath.
And before you know it, you’ll be back at the parking lot, ready for another lap.
Immerse yourself in the culture
At face value, any other 3km trail out in the middle of nowhere might not be quite enough of an attraction on its own — of course, not every trail is the Old Tambo DH.
But given where Tambo is, with the surrounding national park and the kooky town just above it, no riding trip to the Gold Coast would be complete without it.
This is a pretty special part of the world. Spend the morning riding your bike and the rest of the day exploring everything else Tambo has to offer.
Tamborine National Park is the third oldest national park in the world, and sees remnants of the shield volcano which formed Mount Warning, the Border Ranges, the McPherson Range, the Lamington Plateau, the Springbrook Plateau, and of course, Tamborine Mountain.
Below the plateau summit, there are subtropical rainforest habitats and eucalypt forests, which support populations of Albert’s lyrebirds, green catbirds, glossy black cockatoos, marbled frogmouths and more. In the waterways, you’ll find platypus and short-beaked echidnas are rummaging around in the undergrowth. In fact, the Tamborine Mountain escarpment hosts 85 per cent of all the animal species and 65 per cent of all plant species found in the City of Gold Coast area.
Tamborine has 12 walking tracks under 3km to places like Curtis Falls, and there are Glow Worm Tours at the Cedar Creek Estate.
In town, there are artisans, kooky shops and tonnes of great food everywhere you look. Have a beer at Fortitude Brewing, grab a schnitzel and a sausage at The Bavarian, and take a bottle of Five-To-Five Gin home from the Cauldron Distillery. And the fudge, oh man, the fudge. Let’s just say our entire crew was on a sugar high the whole way down the mountain.
This is the final instalment of our series exploring the Gold Coast. Did you miss the first three? Not worry, be sure to check out adventures through Nerang, Boomerang Farm and Glossy Black Reserve.