Words: Will Shaw

Photos: World Trail


Cardwell is a town on Queensland’s Cassowary Coast with a population of less than 2000 people. It’s best known as the gateway to Hinchinbrook Island, which is the location of the popular Thorsborne Walking Trail. It’s about two hours from both Cairns and Townsville. Now there’s a 96km trail network on the agenda, and it could be the next big trail town in Australian mountain biking.

The idea for establishing a trail network to turn Cardwell into a riding destination first came about in a formal way in 2019. The project received strong support during community meetings as a means to boost the local economy. The local council and Queensland Government supported the project with funding, which funded World Trail to create the Cardwell trails concept plan and feasibility study.

World Trail's guide to the perfect Ride Destination.

World Trail’s feasibility assessment of Cardwell revolves around pitching Cardwell to domestic and international visitors as a ‘Ride Destination’. The feasibility assessment references successful ride destinations managed end to end by World Trail in the past such as Derby and St Helens

The Traditional Owners of the land the trails are proposed to be built on are the Girramay Traditional Owners. They’re backing the project, with a spokesperson saying ‘ride where our ancestors walked, Girramay Country.’

The Girramay Traditional Owners are behind the proposal.

In terms of the trails themselves, there’s 96km of trail planned. Cardwell will focus predominantly on green and blue trails, with no black or higher graded trails listed in the feasibility study. The trails will be within riding distance from the centre of town, and there’s 26 individual trails that will be spread across three main riding areas. The areas have been selected due to their elevation, natural features, views on offer, and proximity to Cardwell's township. See below for a breakdown of the three areas.

  • Seven sisters – approx. 130 metres of elevation – close proximity to Cardwell. 
  • Lookout Hill – approx. 120 metres of elevation – close proximity to Cardwell. 
  • Attie Creek – 640 metres of elevation with runs dropping up to 470 metres – furthest from Cardwell but will be connected via trails. 

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Digging deeper into the network plans, there’s planning for a 9.6km Gravity Epic Trail, and 8 Flow, ‘Airflow’, and Gravity trails. The rest of the trails will include 16 Adventure Trails, 1 Wilderness Trail, and 1 Link Trail. Two events zones are planned for the trail network to host large scale events. Shuttle access is being planned to key points, so there’ll be an opportunity for a commercial provider and the ability to get more riding in at the Attie Creek zone with limited time.  

The three proposed zones are linked via trails. 

In terms of natural features, riders can expect classic Queensland tropical rainforest conditions, freshwater swimming holes, and stunning lookouts. Outside of mountain biking there’s attractions galore including the Great Barrier Reef, Hinchinbrook Island, and plenty of local attractions around Cardwell also.

Where to from here?

Now the feasibility study has been released, a business case will be developed so funding can be applied for. The project is costed between 8.2 million – 10.6 million, with $170,000 of additional funding required annually for network maintenance. The feasibility study estimates the jobs created at 97 FTE, which is great news for a small town like Cardwell!

There's still a long way to go until we'll be hitting turns at Cardwell.

The Australian Government has already allocated $500,000 of funding through the COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund to go towards early works. This includes a formal trailhead, pump track, bike wash, car parking, and signage, which will link to the existing informal trails.

There’s still a long way to go before we’ll be ripping turns in Cardwell, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated along the way. If you want to get the full lowdown on what's being proposed, click here to read World Trail's full report.