2020 has been a bumpy ride for most people but communities in bushfire affected areas have done it especially tough with many still trying to pick up the pieces after a devastating bushfire season. The series of evacuations, lockdowns, and border closures they've faced this year has left businesses unable to operate for months on end and reduced the flow of tourists to a trickle.
By showcasing the riding destinations in some of these areas we're hoping to bring a few dollars back into town by enticing you, the MTB community, to gather up your mates, load up your bikes, chuck in an empty esky and go ride there!
"Flow MTB on one of their many trips to the Vic High Country. Image courtesy of Flow MTB"
As mountain bikers, we all love exploring new trails and we're known as a demographic that likes to hit the town for a feed and some drinks after a day on the bike. Luckily for us, some of the fire-affected areas are home to some pretty sweet trail networks, with great local produce, breweries and wineries, as well as plenty of activities to keep the non-riders happy.
Simply visiting these areas for a few days and doing what you love can bring in some of the dollars these communities desperately need.
"Rent the beds, eat the food, and drink the drinks. Image courtesy of Feast High Country"
Bring Your Empty Eskies
There have already been some great initiatives created to encourage people to pay a visit. The Empty Esky campaign popped up on the socials at the start of the year and the good news is that it’s still going strong. The campaign encourages people to visit fire-affected towns throughout Australia to stock up on local produce, and it's been awesome to see so many people coming together to get behind the idea.
You can find out more about it on Instagram (@emptyesky) or their website.
Victoria's High Country
To kick off the series we're starting with my adopted hometown of Bright and the surrounding areas in the high country of Northeast Victoria.
We chose this area as our first location to cover due to my first-hand knowledge of the region, and because the density of trail networks, non-riding activities, and amazing local produce make it a great bang-for-buck destination for MTB'ers and their friends and families to visit.
Let me start by acknowledging that we weren't the worst affected area by a long shot. Most of the region's towns managed to escape the flames due to the awesome work of the emergency services and some lucky reprieves with the weather. What affected the area the most was the lack of tourist dollars coming in during the busiest time of the year. The impact on the local economy was massive — even before the pandemic hit.
The good news for you is that all the towns, their awesome trail networks, and their breweries survived the fires intact and they are primed and ready for you to visit.
"There's plenty of elevation in those hills. Image courtesy of Flow MTB"
Flow MTB and Ride High Country
If you've paid any attention to the awesome content created by the guys at Flow MTB you'll know that they absolutely froth on the trails in NE Vic. The videos they've produced over the years through their collaboration with the team at Ride High Country were the catalyst that triggered my move down here from Canberra a few years ago.
Flow MTB and Ride High Country have been nice enough to let me use some of the assets they've created over the years for this article so a big shout out to them for that!
I'm pretty sure this is the actual video that finally convinced me to pack my bags and get down here. Definitely worth a watch!
Ride High Country is just one of a bunch of sites managed by Tourism Northeast (VIC) and they have tonnes of info to share. Have a click around for a thorough rundown of some of the things you can get up to in the region. You're sure to find enough ammo in there to convince your non-riding partners and friends and family that they really do wanna come and visit!
Mystic MTB Park, Bright
"Mystic has a variety of trails to satisfy all levels of rider. Image courtesy of Flow MTB"
My adopted hometown, and home of the MTB National Champs for the last few years. Mystic is renowned for having what some consider to be a World Cup level DH track and the top of the park is home to some steep and technical gravity trails that will test the best of riders.
Further down you'll find the crowd favourite Hero and Shred Kelly flow trails, as well as some techy XC loops. The bottom of the hill and trailhead areas have a bunch of green trails, a pump track, and the whole network is just a short pedal from town along some fun and family-friendly riverside trails.
- Tomahawks (get the broccoli. Seriously!)
- Dr Mauve (tasty tapas, cocktails, and a selection of beers)
- Gumtree Pies (Expand your horizons past bog-standard meat pies)
- Bright Brewery (great pizza, vego options, and yummy beer)
Big Hill MTB Park, Mt Beauty:
- Riding Type: DH, Enduro, XC
"Big Hill MTB Park offers spectacular views and even more spectacular riding. Image courtesy of Flow MTB"
The trail map might look like some kind of spaghetti monster and it's hard to know which way to go sometimes, but the trails at Mt Beauty are awesome. The network has evolved organically over the last 30 years, and everything but the climbing trail has been cut by hand. It's rough, raw, and techy, and it's easy to see why so many locals have gone on to become national, and even world champions.
While it's possible to link together some amazing loops and ride for hours without riding the same thing twice, you're pretty much guaranteed to get lost if you haven't ridden there before. Snag yourself a local guide if you can, or follow the coloured markers for one of the suggested loops to get a good taste of what's on offer.
"This way for tasty beers. Image Courtesy of Feast High Country"
The brewery in town is pretty new, having only opened their doors in late 2019. These guys would be really doing it tough without many tourists around during their first year in business so check out the Crank Handle Brewery as you roll into town for a select but steadily increasing range of beers on tap.
- Stockpot (great pizza and yummy noodles)
- Settlers Tavern (possibly the best parmigiana on earth, great vego options)
"Falls Creek has descending trails that take you from above the treeline down through lush sub-alpine rainforest with perfect dirt. Image courtesy of Flow MTB"
The trails up here start up above the treeline and you'll find a mixture of grippy dark soil and rocks, lots of rocks. Staying light on your bike and carrying speed is the aim of the game as most of the trails aren't particularly steep and can be pretty physical if you go too slow and get hung up on the rocks. Harness your inner Troy Brosnan and ride light and you'll be fine!
Blue Dirt run shuttles every weekend from late November to late April and every day from late December to late January so they'll do all the hard work to get you to the top of the mountain.
- Village Bike Cafe (great coffee, pies, and a solid selection of beers from regional breweries)
- Milch Made Cafe (great coffee, smoothies, all-day breakfast burritos, and home-baked goodies. Vegan and gluten-free friendly)
- Riding Type: XC, Trail
"Fresh air and views for days at Dinner Plain. Image courtesy of Ride High Country"
The trail network up here is fairly small, with only a handful to choose from, but they have some super fun trails that riders of all skill levels will enjoy, making it a great place to hit up with the family.
The beautiful alpine surroundings make it worth the 1hr drive up from Bright and it's normally a few degrees cooler up there as well which makes for a refreshing change on those super hot days.
Food: Operating times can be quite limited over summer so you'll want to double-check what's open before you head up.
While we'd love to see you all out on your bikes and supporting these communities, please be sure to stay abreast of the situation as it unfolds and be aware of any COVID regulations in the areas you're visiting. If you travel to a state that has mandatory mask regulations in place, please don't get cranky at the staff in a shop or cafe if they ask you to put on a mask or to see your ID. They're just abiding by the rules, as should you.
Even if you're not able to visit in the short term, the trails will be waiting for you and these communities would love to welcome you back whenever you can make it.