Late November in the Victorian High Country; the snow has almost all melted and the mountain bike trails have been primed for the summer season. Riders David McMillan, Ryan De La Rue & Tom Anderson hit the highway with Blue Dirt Mountain Biking and Specialized Bicycles on a road trip to three of the best mountain biking destinations in Victoria: Falls Creek, Bright & Mt Buller.
These three destinations should be on every mountain bikers hit list. On board the latest 2018 Specialized Enduro and Stumpjumpers with the help from Blue Dirt’s shuttle service, see what all the fuss is about!
Join Specialized Australia riders Dave MacMillan, Ryan De La Rue and Tom Anderson for some loose riding at Falls Creek, Bright and Mt Buller, three of the primo destinations where Blue Dirt offer their uplift services.
Grab a coffee, or perhaps an ale (as that’s certainly the theme here), and settle in to watch the full Ride High Country Road Trip
There’s a lot to explore in the Victorian High Country, and so we put our minds to pulling together the road trip to end all road trips. All killer, no filler – seven destinations, each worthy of a riding holiday in its own right, all packed into a week to remember. And so off we went.
We knew little of Dinner Plain before making the snaking drive up from Bright, and what a drive it is too, this would have to be one of the best roads in Australia, with the valleys tumbling away either side and views that go forever. The village of Dinner Plain lies just beyond Hotham, and waiting for in town was Karl Gray, head of the Dinner Plain Riders, and a DP local.
Karl knows he lives in a good patch: the region around Dinner Plain is eye poppingly scenic, and he rolls about 10 metres from his front door into the trails. That’s the beauty of Dinner Plain – you don’t ride to the trails, you’re in them already, they encircle the village.
As we pulled into a trail called Kenny’s, savouring that kind of spectacular afternoon light that bleeds through the snow gums in such an unmistakable way, we learnt more about what’s on the cards for Dinner Plain. There’s already a solid handful of quality trails here, many of which evolved from tracks used by the local cattlemen, but the masterplan for the village is far more ambitious, with over 20km of singletrack in the pipeline. The terrain is classic Alpine, a dreamy mix of grass meadows, gnarled gums and granite, the air so clean it seems to shine.
All the other key ingredients are in place already too, accommodation, restaurants and, importantly, Australia’s highest altitude brewery, the Blizzard Brewing Company, where we headed for a post-ride ale. They say the water they use in their brewing comes from pristine snow melt aquifers; maybe it was just the fact that we’d wrapped up another perfect day on the trails in paradise, but it sure tasted good.
We’re looking forward to following the journey of Dinner Plain over the next couple of years, as we’ve got no doubt this place can cement itself a reputation as a hidden gem of Australian mountain biking. Something tells us we’ll be spending a lot more time here before too long!
For more information of Dinner Plain, or the riding across the entire Victorian High Country, head to ridehighcountry.com.au.
This is a town that oozes charm and history, a mix of quaint and quirky, with wide streets, shady verandahs, smiling old ducks at the bakery. It welcomes you, like a favourite wooden jumper, a comfy, relaxed fit. It’s a feeling we’ve always had here, a genuine warmth, and it’s not just the pastie we’re eating, fresh from Beechworth Bakery pie oven.
The local crew, the legendary Beechworth Chain Gang, extend the same vibe. Out of towners are always welcome to join the Wednesday night social ride, localism isn’t their bag. Even the location of the trails makes life simple; the Beechworth Mountain Bike Park is only a few minutes ride from the centre of town, and it’s all mapped and signposted for visiting riders to enjoy.
It’s a total noodle bowl of singletrack in the Bike Park, a smallish space, heaped with trails, all of it loads of fun. The trail builders have worked with terrain brilliantly, using the rocky granite outcrops to create rhythm and challenge, and the surface is fast and perfectly drifty at the same time. New trails are springing up too, including the cheekily named ‘Don’t Be a Hero Trail’ – a funny nod to the Hero Trail in Bright, as well as a good-natured dig at the trail builder who broke themselves on the trail not long after finishing its construction!
Away from the bike park, there are plenty of less publicised trails too, which might require some local knowledge to unearth. The best place to acquire said knowledge? At the brewery of course! Bridge Rd Brewers lies right at the heart of town, and not only do they produce superb beer and cater for hungry riders, but head brewer Ben Kraus froths harder than a shaken pilsner for mountain biking.
Yackandandah’s new trails are just down the road too, and the locals have a dream to see these two great networks linked up with trails through the great swathes of forest between the towns. It’s a vision we’d love to see realised one day; both of these towns really grab us, and the thought of being able to ride on the dirt between the two is too good!
Beechworth really is a must-do on any road trip through this region, whether you’ve got bikes or not. We guarantee you’ll be charmed, and you’ll keep coming back, just like we do. For more information about riding in Beechworth, or across the whole region, head to ridehighcountry.com.au.
This passionate community has paid close attention to the important elements that have made some of the other towns in the region such successful mountain bike destinations, and then found their own niche in the landscape. They’ve absolutely nailed it too.
Some of the biggest Yack Tracks fans we’ve met have been locals from Beechworth, which lies just 15 minutes’ drive away. Given how great Beechworth’s own trails are, that praise put Yack right on top of the pile for us to visit during our Ride High Country Road Trip.
Yackandandah brings a much needed pure cross-country experience to the Victorian High Country. The riding here is gloriously simple, you don’t need a shuttle, you don’t need a map, you don’t need to psych yourself up, or even be that fit. These are trails built for the pure enjoyment of it all, not for scaring yourself or finding your limits. You can lose yourself (metaphorically -the signage is too good to get genuinely lost) for a few hours; just you and the bike in the bush, with seemingly never-ending, flowing cross-country singletrack. It’s really interesting terrain too, especially in the areas where mining has re-shaped the landscape, with deep gullies, old water races, and caves gouged into the clay.
Are the trails tame? Not when you start riding them fast, they’re not. But they won’t intimidate a newer rider either, and we think that’s going to be real drawcard for this town. Experienced riders can bring someone who is fresh to the sport out to Yack, and both are going to love it. The growth of mountain biking depends vitally on trails like this, and we feel that the High Country is going to benefit greatly from having such a welcoming addition for new mountain bikers. It’s the kind of town and trails that can make someone fall in love with mountain biking.
That diversity of riders who can enjoy trails like the Yack Tracks was on full display amongst the crew of locals who came out to show us around the forest. A mixed bunch – men and women, young and not-so-young, some who were new to it all, and others who’d been mountain biking for 20 years or more – they welcomed us with open arms, and after a loop it was back to the Star Hotel for a drink and a chat.
As a visitor, it just doesn’t get any easier than the experience offered by Yack – it’s real rock up and ride stuff for out-of-towners. In the car park you’ll find a brilliant map board, with four recommended loops mapped out. All the information is there, from distances to elevation profiles and estimated times. There’s no poking through Strava or phoning a local to beg directions, you simply pick the loops that match the experience you’re after, then follow the arrows. It’s some of the best trail marking we’ve ever encountered, and the effort that has been put into perfecting the navigation can make all the difference between an incredible day on the trails, or a world of confusion.
We’re very excited that a region like this, already heaving with great riding, can suddenly have an entirely new, and totally unique, option for mountain bikers. Yack is a real feather in the cap of the Victorian High Country, and a spot that is going to play a big role in ensuring a stream of fresh riders find their feet in the sport. We’ll be back, and we’ll be bringing a few potential mountain converts with us too. We’re sure that Yack will woo them nicely.
Why does this town grab us? Maybe it’s the nostalgia, maybe it’s the setting, maybe it’s the company? Or maybe it’s that Mt Beauty continues to fly in the face of the gentrification of mountain bike trails. Mt Beauty’s trail builders cling proudly to a gritty, raw and downright challenging style of construction, the polar opposite of the groomed predictability that typifies a lot of new trail development. These trails are scratched into the slopes with hand tools, you won’t find any 900mm-wide excavator shaped contours here!
Mt Beauty’s trail builders cling proudly to a gritty, raw and downright challenging style of construction
“It’s us versus technology,” cackled Bernie McArdle, the notoriously prolific Mt Beauty trail builder, when we asked him about his philosophies. The way Bernie sees it, as bikes get better, trails must get tougher, an equal and opposite reaction that ensures mountain biking never gets too easy. And if staving off boredom is Bernie’s aim, then he’s sure succeeding; getting in a rhythm here takes concentration and commitment. The benches are narrow, the trees often tight, the rocks always pointy.
It’s us versus technology.
On our Ride High Country road trip, we met up with one of Mt Beauty’s loudest ambassadors, the irrepressible Paul Van Der Ploeg, for a tour of some of Big Hill’s newest trails. Yes, they’re still building up there, and somehow new nooks and crannies of this landscape continue to be discovered and threaded with fresh singletrack. The trails he had lined up for us were Dragon’s Head and Dragon’s Trail, two recent McArdle creations. Riding these trails is a complex negotiation, a constant balancing act of traction and momentum, played out with plenty of body language. On a bad day, they’ll reduce you to buckled frustration, swearing off mountain biking forever. On a good day, you’re hooting and yelling, eyes like saucers, as you thread the needle, you’re Nino Schuster and Sam Hill rolled into one.
For visiting riders, Mt Beauty’s complex network is now a little less mystifying than it once was, thanks to the recent addition of signposted loops. Choose your colour, follow the arrows. Unless you’ve snagged a local guide, this is the best way to experience what Mt Beauty’s trails are about. Along the way you’ll see countless off-shoots snaking off into the trees – there’s so much trail here, even the locals get tangled up, so we’d suggest sticking to the recommended loops if you don’t have your compass handy.
After your ride, a casual roll down the hill into town will lead you to Mt Beauty’s famed bakery, or cruise on out to the recently opened Rocky Valley Bikes cafe, which is conveniently located directly across the road from the Sweetwater Brewing Company! From a regional perspective, Mt Beauty makes a great launching point for a high country road trip. It sits right at the crux of the eastern High Country’s mountain bike scene; it’s only 30 minutes up the hill to Falls Creek, or jump over Tawonga Gap to Bright.
Falls Creek specialises in the spectacular: of all the mountain biking destinations slung across this region, it’s Falls that always drops our jaw. There’s something incredible about its location, with the Keiwa Valley funnelling up to meet it, Falls sits like the gate keeper to the alpine plains. The drama of the whole scene is enhanced by the gnarled, skeletal fingers of white snow gums, which frame the trails and give the distant slopes a grey shimmer.
But of course you don’t come to Falls Creek for the views alone, you come to enjoy one of the finest mountain bike trail networks in Australia! The rise of Falls Creek in the mountain bike world has been meteoric. It was barely four years ago that the initial humble scratchings of trail building began, but now, with four stages of trail development completed, there’s over 40km of sensational trail to explore, and that’s before you even contemplate the endless backcountry riding that can be done from Falls. When you consider that this place is under snow for a good chunk of the year, it’s an incredible undertaking to have built such a great network in that time frame.
With the opening of Flow Town just a few weeks ago, we feel that Falls Creek has now really nailed its potential. This epic descending trail is one of the best rides in the entire region, and once you tie it into a loop with some of the existing runs, it becomes a run for the ages – 20 minutes of nearly non-stop downhill shredding. For this run alone, Falls Creek was always going to be a stop on our Ride High Country road trip.
Amongst the best aspects of mountain biking in Falls Creek is that the trails all start and finish right in the village, so you can literally roll out your accommodation and be into the thick of it in seconds. This is especially true of Flow Town, which descends from straight from town, ending up at the resort gates after six kilometres of insanely good trail. From there, you can pedal back up the Pack Horse trail, or better yet, jump in a shuttle service provided by Blue Dirt, which is exactly what we did.
With the shuttle running right to the peak of the resort, you’ve got the entire network splayed out beneath you, all funnelling you back to the village where a coffee, lunch or beer awaits. It’s a surprisingly buzzing scene in town too. With the opening of the Blue Dirt Bike Cafe, there’s usually a good contingent of mountain bikers milling about refuelling or using the bike wash, joined by the constant trickle of roadies who’ve taken on the climb from Mt Beauty. You’re not short of places to stay or dine either; QT hotel runs all the way through summer (which is where we called home during our stay) and their restaurant, Stingray, is open all day too so you won’t be scrambling for a meal, as can sometimes happen in the green-season in resort towns!
Also worth a mention is the development of more beginner and intermediate trails right on the edge of the village too, which opens up the appeal of Falls to rider who aren’t interested in tackling the whole mountain. We can see how this place is going to be very popular with family groups in the future with so much kid-friendly riding just moments away from the accommodation.
From Falls Creek, one of the newest mountain bike destinations in Victoria, it’s just a short 30-minute drive back down the mountain to one of the oldest mountain biking destinations in all of Australia, the legendary mountain biking town of Mt Beauty, for a totally different trail experience. There mustn’t be many places in Australia where you can go from riding high-alpine, machine-built flow trail after breakfast, and then be on some of the absolute original mountain bike singletracks in the country, by lunch time! It’s exactly this kind of diversity, all condensed into such a tight region, that has us so pumped on the Victorian High Country right now.
Well obviously you’d want a region that was crammed with places to ride. And plenty of diversity too, because there’s no point in riding the same style of trails for a week. And you’d want a pumping mountain bike culture too, making you feel right at home. And breweries of course, as every good ride finishes with a beer.
In short, you’d want to head to the Victorian High Country. That’s what we did, as we set out for a week of sensational experiences, on our Ride High Country Road Trip.
Our Ride High Country Ride Trip began in Bright, a town that we’re certain you’ve heard mentioned many times here on Flow. It’s a real cycling paradise, for both mountain bikers and roadies; set on the Ovens River, streets lined with oak trees, hills rising on all sides, we can hardly imagine a more perfect little town.
Mountain biking is woven into the fabric of the place too, part of the culture in a way that we associate with towns in Canada or Colorado. Wherever you look you’ll see bikes in utes, people strutting in SPD shoes, riders fuelling up at the bakery or winding down at the brewery (which is owned and run by mountain bikers!). It’s all set against the backdrop of Mt Mystic, home of the Mystic Mountain Bike Park.
The classic pine forest singletrack here has been the drawcard for a long time; technical, engaging trails, weaving across the slopes of Mt Mystic and down to the riverside. When you factor in Bright’s ultra challenging downhill and enduro trails, you can see how the flavour of Bright mountain biking has always been favoured by riders looking for somewhat ‘spicy’ experience.
But lately, the new school of trail building has come charging on in. The traditional nature of the trails is beginning to get a modern twist, with more beautifully shaped machine built trails coming online, bringing some much needed flow to the park. Of course, the ultimate symbol of this progression is the opening of the aptly named Hero Trail – an absolutely masterclass of trail building, and a monster to ride!
The Hero Trail is completely unique in Australian mountain biking – the closest parallel this country has seen yet to experiences like Whistler’s A-Line or Dirt Merchant trails. A flow trail on steroids? Certainly, but that doesn’t come close to conveying the feeling of ripping into a berm that’s way higher than your head and which tries to tear your tyres off the rims, or the buzz of flying off lip after lip after lip at full speed. The step up is kind of like graduating from paddling in the white wash of Bondi to big wave surfing at Maui.
That’s certainly not to say that you have to be an elite level shredder to enjoy this trail. Every jump is rollable, and there are multiple lip options on most to let you move from C, to B to A-lines. And if jumping isn’t your thing, no worries, everyone can enjoy the feeling of hooking into so many perfect corners.
To show us the ropes, it only seemed right to get some insanely talented and passionate riders involved, riders who encapsulate where things are headed for Bright: Kaia Ellis, Aaron Gungl and Phil Roubichard.
At just 13 years old, Kaia represents the future of Australian mountain biking – living at the base of Mt Mystic, shuttling every day, he’s already in the national spotlight as a rider headed for big things. Aaron rides this trail with such ease and style you’d think it has been built to his specifications. And Phil, originally from Canada and with plenty of experience in the bike industry of North America, has seen how trails like this can transform a mountain bike scene across a region.
The popularity of the Hero Trail is undeniable: in the short time we loitered at the trail head, we saw at least six different groups shuttling the trail, and a good handful of riders who’d pedalled up the climbing track too. In a region that already has a huge number of iconic must-ride trails, the Hero stands proud as something truly transformative, both for individuals and for the Australian scene more broadly.
The Hero Trail stands proud as something truly transformative
We think the success of this trail in drawing a crowd demonstrates a coming of age for mountain biking in Oz. Gravity trails like this have largely been seen as a niche offering, but the Hero Trail seems to be telling a story of mainstream appeal from what we can see. It’s certainly taken Bright from a 10 to an 11 in our books!