I’ve been drooling over trail construction images posted to World Trail’s Facebook page for what seems to be forever. From my home in Victoria I wondered if I’d ever ride their trails in Far North Queensland, some ~3500km from Castlemaine. But driving up to Queensland to stay with my folks in the Burdekin district meant Atherton and Cairns were now just one weekend road trip away…
A sunrise drive up the Palmerston Range makes for a great introduction to the Atherton Tablelands, a fertile plateau that sits 500m-1280m above seal level south-west of Cairns. Mount Bartle Frere (1622m) dominates the early morning landscape where lowlands littered with sugar cane fields, banana and paw paw plantations gradually give way to lush rainforest as you climb towards the Tablelands.
Not having ridden since Douglas and Pallarenda in Townsville I was twitching at the thought of the fresh FNQ trails that lay ahead. Via Rotorburn I’d been able to hook up with Atherton local and MTB’er Jeff. After a breakfast of champions at the local Macca’s Jeff lead the way to the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park at Mt Baldy, which sits directly behind the town and only ~2km from the main street. The trail head is easy to find. Turn off the Atherton-Herberton Road onto Rifle Range Rd (opposite the Chinese temple, there is a sign to the MTB park). Veer left onto the dirt road, continuing past the gun club and onto the trail head. You can’t miss it.
Over the course of the morning we pretty much rode every trail in the park. It was a luxury to cruise along with Jeff as he pieced together green and blue trails, and shared the history of the trails along the way. Our loop took in #2, #6, #7, #6, #2, #4, #11, #5, #4, #9,#3 & #2. Now that might look confusing but the reality is that Atherton is super easy to get around thanks to great signage but more importantly directional trails. Once you leave the trail head all you need to do is go with the flow… and there’s no shortage of that!
The blue trails created by World Trail are especially sublime, with climbs rewarded by flowing descents. Ridgey Didge (#6), Bandy Bandy (#7) and Waterfalls(#11) are especially cool, but the biggest rollercoaster in the park by far is Ricochet (#9), an old local downhill run transformed into a All Mountain screamer by World Trail. Currently the only way to the start of Ricochet (#9) is a ~2.5km grind up Herberton Ridge Rd (or shuttle), and that’s probably a good thing in terms of acting as a trail filter.
Jeff left Ricochet until the end of our loop which meant grinding up the climb in the hot midday sun, but what a heck of a way to end the ride. Ricochet starts off with a handful of fast flowing turns, traverses briefly before dropping into the bermfields – a series of massive, beautifully shaped berms and rollers. The bermfields generate awesome rollercoaster like feelings of positive and negative G’s as you’re catapulted out of berms, light over roller, changing directions before being squashed into the next berm. It’s great stuff and not something I’ve felt to that extent riding anywhere else. The trail then opens up enough to allow you to get on the gas as much as you’re game to over roller after roller. Ricochet leaves you wide eyed and wanting more. Be warned though it may just reset your berm dial!
I’d semi planned on riding the XC trails at Davies Creek in the afternoon but the morning at Atherton had me wanting more of the same. It was too hot to go straight back out and ride though, so after grabbing lunch at Gallery5 in Atherton I drove down to Malanda for a swim at the idyllic Malanda Falls. Tough way to cool down hey!
The afternoon mission at Atherton was to ride Beady Eyes (#9 Link), the one section of trail we’d missed in the morning, along with another run on Ridgey Didge (Trail #6), Bandy Bandy (Trail #7) ending the day with a final run down Ricochet (Trail #9)… WHOOT WHOOT!
As a budding trail builder it was also an opportunity to take a closer look at work that had gone into the trails. From the extensive rock armoring to deal with the region’s massive annual rainfall, to the numerous rock chairs with views, to the funky roundabout trail junction – the skill and passion of the World Trail guys is undeniable. What’s also impressive is the minimal disruption to the bush on either side of the trails, especially given how recently trails such as Bandy Bandy were completed.
The Curse of the Last Run
Grinding up Herbert Range Road as the sun sank low in the sky I had to laugh as I realized there was serious ‘last run of the day’ potential. You know, the last run you want to do but shouldn’t as chances are it will end badly. Fatigued and loaded up with camera gear it’d be fairly dark by the time I got down Ricochet and back to the van but who cared!
The run down was great fun… until the last minute or so. Don’t know what happened. I think I just lost focus and zoned out, and found myself ploughing the ground with my left side. Coming to an abrupt halt and realizing nothing was broken I had to laugh again… damn you last run of the day 🙂
All up I had a great day at Atherton. One day isn’t anywhere near enough however to get the most from the network as trails such as Ridgey Didge and Ricochet reward familiarity. It’s no wonder the locals are proud of what has been achieved, and with many more trails scheduled to be built Atherton is well on its way to becoming an Australian MTB icon.
Terrific rollercoaster feel… load through the big berm, unload over the roller, change of direction, load through next berm.