Back for its fourth running, the Reef to Reef is a four-day stage race taking in some of the best trails and hugely varied landscapes in Tropical North Queensland.
Starting in Smithfield, the race runs up to Davies Creek, goes exploring around Mount Molloy and then returns to the coast via the infamous Bump Track. This year, the race will run from August 17-20, so clear your calendars folks, because it’s time for a tropical riding vacation.
Wait, what happened to the Port to Port?
Before the pandemic, the Australian leg of the Epic series went Port to Port, Reef to Reef, and Cape to Cape, forming what became known as the Triple Crown. With Covid and then a La Nina cycle that brought multiple one-in-a-hundred-year rain events and floods, it’s not been easy for events to find their feet after being forced to press pause.
Ironman had to make the difficult call back in January to press pause on Port to Port once again. This comes the year after the same event was called off the week of because of adverse weather and landslides.
“We did what we could last year to get that event away, and then to have to cancel it the week of was hard. The trails were unrideable, and roads were disappearing down hillsides — it wasn’t safe or doable to run an event (in those conditions),” says Devon Beckman from Ironman.
Unfortunately, it takes a while to recover from this kind of unprecedented wet weather. For example, Mount Faulk Road (the access road to Awaba) was closed above a trail called Faulk Line due to a significant landslide in July 2022 and did not reopen until May 2023 — a month after the event was supposed to run. With the queen stage of the Port to Port going from The Watagans into Awaba via the road that’s slid, this created quite an issue for the course team.
“It took a long time for things to recover, and it got to a point where we would have had to find two new stages, which wasn’t really doable in the area. The race had lost some local support, and combined with difficult trail conditions, we had to make another difficult call. It’s super gutting because it’s an important part of the series, but also, Port to Port has some history — I think it was coming up to its seventh or eighth edition. It was really disappointing,” says Beckman.
Beckman tells us that Reef to Reef and Cape to Cape are running strong, and they are committed to making the four-day stage race work in Australia, and getting those events across the line.
Ok, tell me about Reef to Reef 2023
With all that out of the way, the Reef to Reef is rumbling ahead, and Beckman tells Flow that the event will look similar to last year — which was a ball! If you don’t believe us, check out Mick’s recap from the 2023 race.
“All four states will have the same start and finish venues and similar course layouts — we’re just tweaking things here and there. Both Smithfield and Davies Creek have new trails that have been added in, but the overall feel of the stages will be the same,” says Beckman.
Beckman tells Flow the vast majority of the race will feel familiar to those who’ve raced one of the previous editions, and the event team will be making minor tweaks based on what they learned from last year to help things run even more smoothly.
“It’s things like the time we put between the wave starts to help with congestion, or with (start) timing because some of the stages are quite far — how can we move that around to make it easier on riders,” he says.
It’s still a few weeks before the final course maps will be announced, Beckman predicts they’ll be ready early in July, but here’s what we can tell you about the stage routes.
Reef to Reef Stage 1 | Smithfield
Last year’s stage at Smithfield was 18.5km with 720m of climbing. There are a few new trails close to the trailhead, so we expect those may make the 2023 course. With that said, we’re willing to guarantee Black Snake, Red Belly, and Pipeline will be on the agenda and, of course, Jacob’s Ladder.
Reef to Reef Stage 2 | Davies Creek
Heading up into the tablelands for stage two, Davies Creek subs in scrubby bushland, granite-lined gullies and termite mounds for the lush rainforest.
With a labyrinth of windy trails, 50% of last year’s 39.5km stage was on singletrack. Beckman tells us that a brand new trail replaces a section of farm Ttrack, so that number should be even higher for 2023.
Beckman tells us the stage presentation and rehydration station won’t be at the start-finish area, as the trails here are on Aboriginal land, and alcohol is not permitted. So the food trucks and bar will await you back in town.
“Last year, a lot of riders actually went to Davies Creek after the stage for a swim, and there’s also a waterfall nearby. There’s certainly a lot of watering holes and spots to go for a dip to after the stage,” says Beckman.
Reef to Reef Stage 3 | Mount Molloy
Stage three at Mount Molloy is the longest of the three, coming in at 59km. Starting on the main street of town, you roll onto Wetherby Road, taking in cattle farms and cane fields and then into the lush green rainforest. A stage of contrasts, from dry, dusty farm tracks to the deep dark rainforest, this one is definitely an adventure, so expect plenty of creek crossings and spectacular views.
“We were hoping to add in the two bridge sections that had been on this course in the past. But it’s currently under work and won’t be finished in time for the event, so the stage will be the same as last year,” Beckman tells us.
Reef to Reef Stage 4 | The Triple R
The final stage of the Reef to Reef starts in Mount Molloy and descends the infamous Bump Track to Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas, where a party is waiting.
Serving as the crescendo to wrap up four days of racing in Tropical North Queensland, the last stage can also be raced on its own as the Triple R. Standing for Rural Rainforest Reef 2023 will be the 31st edition, and it’s the longest-running point-to-point mountain bike race in Australia.
Pioneered by Glen Jacobs and Peter Blakey, the race follows more or less the same route it always has, with a few tweaks every year.
“It’s a pretty historic race for Australian mountain biking, and it’s a pretty big one for that local mountain biking community too. We definitely saw a few folks come out of the woodwork last year for the 30th and a couple of guys racing on their old bikes and in the old kit. It was pretty cool, and we’re keen to keep the momentum going,” says Beckman.
What else is there to do when the race is over?
The wonderful thing about stage racing is that when you cross the finish line and head over to the presentation, there is still plenty of daylight to check out the area. Even better, Tropical North Queensland is chock full of things to keep you busy — trust us, you’ll have no trouble filling the rest of your day.
Smithfield is just ouside the heart of Cairns, and while you’ll have missed the boat — literally — on a charter out to the Great Barrier Reef, it’s worth building in a day before or after the race to go snorkeling. It’s one of the world’s seven wonders, after all.
In the meantime, AJ Hackett’s Skypark is next door to the trail network and boasts 16 different styles of Bungy Jumping. Stoney Creek is a little more than a 10km drive from the trailhead at Smithfield to wash off all the orange dust from the stage.
For some carbo-loading L’Unico Trattoria Italiano at Trinity Beach does not disappoint, or some brewskies by the water at Hemingway’s will go down a treat.
From Davies Creek, there is a swimming hole maybe five minutes from the start and finish area and Davies Creek Falls and Emerald Creek Falls are also close by. Be sure to stop at Emerald Creek Ice Creamery on your way back from the trails — trust us. Mareeba is home to one of the few remaining drive-in movie theatres and a double feature is not a bad way to unwind after a day on the bike.
Mount Molloy is a pretty quiet little town, but there is a great country pub and the Mount Molloy Cafe has won several awards for its MONSTER-sized burgers — they also serve Mexican food, what an eclectic mix!
Once you’ve conquered The Bump Track and Rinsed off at Four Mile Beach, there’s also a Hemingway’s taproom in Port Douglas to wet your whistle. If you’re staying on a few days, you can also jump on reef charters from here or head to the Low Isles, which are a bit more affordable, and the tours are only half a day. There’s also Hartleys Croc farm halfway between Cairns and Port Douglas.
How do you enter the 2023 Reef to Reef?
With the race just over a month away, Beckman tells us there is already a decent-sized field, and entries are tracking at a similar level to last year — though he notes they are noticing more people are leaving events until the last minute.
Entries for the 20223 Reef to Reef are open now, head over to the event website for more information or to enter.