Words and photos: Travis Deane

The South West region of Western Australia has been exploding with great places to ride over the last decade. Locations like The Pines, Compartment 10, Linga Longa, Middle Earth and the Creek trails are considered some of the best places to fling mud into your mouth in the state.

With the recent release of the South West MTB masterplan and its goal to increase the network to over 500 kilometres, one could be forgiven for thinking that trails are sprouting up in this area just like the iconic wildflowers. Unfortunately this is far from the case and the success of the Dunsborough Country Club and Meelup Reserve trails networks is testament to the diligence and lateral thinking of a very special group of local riders who kept going year after year.

Read on, you now have a very good reason to stop off at Dunsborough on your way to the trails at Margaret River.

Ten years ago it looked so easy. Backing onto the town of Dunsborough was the Meelup reserve which had previously been used for a variety of uses - including borrow pits and dumping grounds. But as the town matured the locals enjoyed the area and with its high vantage over the town it gave stunning views to the sea. There was a network of informal trails in there and the local riders thought it would be good to formalise them.

Local opposition was entrenched and so the struggle began. In the 10 years it took to formalise the network an Adventure Race was established and became the largest event of its kind in the world, bringing millions of dollars into the local economy - only to move elsewhere, partially because of land access issues to trails for the MTB leg. Locals got desperate and talks began with the local country club and a partnership was struck with mountain biking joining the activity list inside the grounds of the country club.

Locals joined the country club and built 11kms of trails around the edge of the golf course. Interesting rock structures test rider’s nerves and balance, and in recent years a pump track and advanced jump track (think big doubles) has been added to the amenities (as well as croquet, tennis and bowls).  It’s not hard to see why this country club is a multiple award winner for excellence (and the beer is cheap too!).

With this development, Australia’s largest multi-day MTB race - the Cape to Cape - was able to use these trails as the finale to Stage 4 and the finish line on the club’s golfing green. The irony is that the 1,400 odd competitors are often so flogged after four days of riding that they struggle to appreciate the last 6km of sweat and singletrack to the finish line. Blasting down ‘Fireys Descent’ - a regional classic - would have barely registered for some fatigued riders.

If you’ve ridden these trails in the Cape to Cape, it is worth riding them again with fresh legs. Visitors are asked to pay $5 registration at the country club to access the country club trails (valid for several days). 

The Meelup trails on the other hand were often accessed by parking at a gate off Cape Naturaliste Road, opposite Endicott Loop (although both networks of trails back onto each other). It was then a mellow ride up the fire road before a bevy of options off the ridge. The regional classic was ‘Brown Street’, a tight, engaging track that snaked and weaved down the hill and back up again.

In the recent redevelopment of this area by the club and professional trail builders, they have modified this classic and we’ll let the locals argue over their beers about the pros and cons. The modern Meelup trail network has been rebooted with 5+ trails and approximately 7km of trail, with talk of another 14km of the same being built in the near future.

It isn’t made with XC racing in mind. This is mostly machine built, wide flow trails with big berms, jumps and lots of rock structures. The rock structures here were always interesting and adding machines has allowed them to become a lot bigger. If you like the trails at Compartment 10 in Margaret River, then you’d probably like these trails, although advanced trails like ‘Happy Myles’ (named after one of the long time local MTB advocates, Myles Happs) do make you work to maintain flow with some challenging structures.

A new trail which has quickly cemented itself as a local favourite is ‘OMDB’ which keeps the flow and the speed better with jumps and pumps galore. Again named in salute of the struggle the locals had in getting these trails in, ‘OMDB’ or ‘Over My Dead Body’ refers to an opponent of the trails who insisted that was the only way they would be built. Despite my best journalist prodding, the locals wouldn’t tell me under which exact jump her body is buried.

 

Technical Nature

The Dunsborough Country Club trails work as a long continuous loop around the edges of the golf course. This for the most part feels like an XC race course. Hand-built, it is mostly medium pace, tight and fun. However it offers more than that with lots of interesting A-Line structures often beautifully constructed by a jigsaw of rocks.

It’s enjoyable for all levels. There is also a pump track and advance jump line (big doubles) next to the clubhouse. The Meelup reserve trails probably fit into the new Flow trails category. Wide, machine-built for modern enduro/trail style bikes with slack head angles. They’re fast, with berms to help maintain speed for jumps, but the trail can also be unpredictable to keep new riders guessing what is around the corner.  

You’ll Need

A modern trail bike will be suitable for both areas. The single most important choice is tyres. Those with an XC style rig will be better suited to the country club trails (but still capable of riding Meelup). Those with a bigger bike will enjoy the Meelup trails more, although neither areas are steep up or down.

This area is slippery in the dry, even by WA standards. Wide tyres with low pressure is wise. Widely spaced high knobs increase penetration into the pea gravel. If you are pushing the jumps and berms on the Meelup trails, proper protection including pads would be in order as there are some big structures and high speed and the ground is slippery. This area can be hot and dry so make sure you bring water.  

Distances

The XC loop from the country club is about 11km depending on what bits you do, but you only climb about 130 metres. The Meelup reserve currently has around 7km of trail, with double that planned - bringing Meelup’s total up to 21km (again without much gradient to climb and descend on).  

Local Knowledge

It’s all about the tyres you roll as we’ve already mentioned. Getting on the trail after a bit of rain helps with the grip on the loose pea gravel as these trails are slower in the dry. There are some locals who are very concerned about orchids, so make sure you don’t go stomping around the bush and stick to the trails. Check with the local shop about group rides or Fat Duck Cycles in the nearby Busselton who sometimes offer group rides.

Best Time of Year

Pretty much any time of year except summer. Spring with the wildflowers in the Meelup reserve is stunning. 

While in the area

There is so much singletrack to ride nearby. Secret Whicher, Middle Earth or all the trails at Margaret River. Some of Australia’s best surf spots are only minutes away at places like Yallingup. Whale watching is popular in this area. Places like Bunker Bay are great spots for a coffee and to get your toes in the sand. Meelup Beach is just around the corner and a brilliant spot for a post ride recovery. Or just to admire one of the finest swimming beaches in Western Australia. 

Local Bike Shops 

Bike Shed Dunsborough, 1/10 Clark Street Dunsborough

Local Club Contacts

Cape Mountain Bikers: capemountainbikers.asn.au

Ratings

Technical: 3

Fitness: 2

Cross Country: 3 

Trail: 4

All-Mtn: 3 

Downhill: 1

Jump: 4