You’ve seen it on social media, but what’s it actually like to ride Maydena?
Words: Colin Levitch Photos: Nick Waygood, Colin Levitch
Maydena Bike Park has a name now known around the world. My first day at Maydena was to cover the Gravity Enduro National champs. Nick Waygood and I had driven over from St Helens in the north-east the day prior and we were slated to shoot the event then hang around for a few days to explore the park before heading back to the mainland. Neither of us had previously been to Maydena, or Tasmania for that matter, and had no idea what to expect.
We ran into fellow photographer Ryan Finlay as we were headed up the mountain, and knowing his way around the park Ryan helped us hatch a plan to divide and conquer to shoot the race. "To get down to your stages you will have to ride down Skyline and Pandani," Finlay said to me as the crowded shuttle putted up the mountain. "They are technically greens, but they are definitely more of a 'dark' green."
At the summit, the door of the van slid open, and the Tasmanian climate immediately made itself known with grey skies and spitting rain, the wind was blowing a gale from the backside of the mountain. We were prepared with foul weather gear, but some of theracers who were aiming to carry as few things as possible resorted to black rubbish bags to create a barrier against the elements.
We unloaded along with some of the competitors on the day and as we rolled through the wooden arch near the top; it became immediately apparent that Finlay's description was right, these trails were anything but a leisurely cruise.
Only about an hour and a half from Hobart, Maydena is situated in Tasmania's rugged south-western corner. Leaving the city, you follow the River Derwent towards its headwaters before veering off to trace the path of the Tyenna River towards the small mountain town. The road twists past towering hop farms, with the vines rising at least 10m off the ground; as you travel further upriver, the settlements become sparse, the trees older and the mountains taller.
This section of Tasmania looks out of place in Australia, and the landscape looks more like a scene from the 122nd Meridian west in Canada's Fitzsimmons range or across the Tasman Sea on the South Island of New Zealand rather than Tasmania.
Maydena's roots are in forestry, with the settlement built as a base for logging operations in the Florentine Valley to supply the newsprint mill in Boyer, while also serving as a hotbed for silviculture research in the early 1900s.
As it happens, it was also arboreal interests that first brought Dirt Art's Simon French to the small town in 2008, when Forestry Tasmania invited him out to Maydena when the state was looking to develop tourism in the area. This initial reconnaissance didn't bear fruit, but the way Abbots Peak rose above the small village caught the trail builder's eye and a few years on when the local council again put a call out for proposals to develop the region the crew at Dirt Art already knew the potential.
"We had spoken to people in the government about there being real desire to do something with the site, and there was already some infrastructure for getting to the top. There is a lot of elevation, and most importantly a lot of elevation going straight into the town, meaning the trails could start and finish basically on the main street," says French.
Maydena has earned a reputation for its steep, technical trails, and gargantuan jump lines that dwarf what you'd find in most places around Australia. Maydena Bike Park isn't one of those trail networks where every inch of singletrack needs to be scrutinised and signed off and approved by the local council. During the proposal process Dirt Art put together extensive plans to develop large areas rather than pinpointing individual trails; allowing the builders more autonomy to shape the trails to what the terrain dictates, rather than some bureaucrat from the big city.
"It certainly doesn't mean we can do whatever we want; we have a pretty rigorous framework we follow. But, it gives us the freedom to scope out new areas within those developments to put in new trail without going through months of approvals every time we want to turn soil," French continues.
Check out the nearby St Helens Trail Network!
With 820m of vertical drop, Abbots Peak has plenty of elevation to play around with, and Maydena is no doubt a gravity destination. A quick look at Trail Forks shows the spider web of trails stays firmly planted in the fall line.
On the dirt at Maydena
As I arrived at the first stage I was to shoot, I pulled up on the landing pad above the iconic white-barked Regnans Eucalyptus trees that line the upper section of Sticks and Stones which was Stage 2. The race volunteers who were stationed at the start warned me the singletrack dropped off after the first corner as they set me off ahead of the racers.
From the top, I could see a short section of trail that looked pretty mellow before a bend where the trail disappeared into the trees; appearing to contour along the side of the mountain.
"How steep could it be?" I said to myself.
As I rounded the corner, I let out an audible' fwooooaaahhh,' as my butt buzzed the rear tyre and my brakes squealed in a futile attempt to counteract gravity. The trail did not contour along the slope, and just as I had been warned, the narrow ribbon of deep brown dirt dropped off, following the fall line into a sharp off-camber left-hander — I could hear laughter coming from the starting area permeating through the trees as I descended.
And this type of hang onto your helmets, steep, loose and technical riding is Maydena Bike Park's bread and butter. French tells us the initial concept for the park was for an Enduro audience, modelled after the bike parks you find in North America and Europe.
"It's the nature of this hill," French laughs. "This style of bike park is hugely popular elsewhere in the world, but it's pretty young down here. There has been a big shift, not only in the bikes themselves but people who used to be XC riders are focusing more on enduro. There wasn't really anywhere for them to go, and with the elevation, we had the opportunity to build something for that audience."
There is no doubt you've seen images on social media of the mammoth berms and even bigger machine built jumps, but a large portion of the network is hand-cut, with the trail surface left to be loamy and natural. The sheer variety in the type of trails you find at Maydena is truly impressive, and that's thanks in part to the size and elevation of Abbotts Peak with at least four distinct ecosystems on its slopes. But regardless of the colour associated with the trail you'd like to ride, it has been designed through the lens of an enduro bike. French tells us all the builders at Maydena Bike Park are riding enduro bikes, and you can tell with the way the trail contours and approaches obstacles.
"The trails are up there with some of my favourite runs around the world," says Newcastle's Joe Killen, who raced the Gravity Enduro National Championships, and joined us for a pedal the next day. "Not many people would expect a mountain bike park in Australia to be able to compete with somewhere like Queenstown and some European alpine resorts with the elevation, steepness and the length of runs. Plus there is pizza and cold beer waiting for you at the bottom."
Maydena Bike Park has earned itself a hair-raising reputation, and in an open face helmet and knee pads, you can feel a bit underdressed squished in next to a busload of riders sporting full face helmets and armour. While Maydena's roots are gravity fed gnar, that's not all the network has to offer. Don't get me wrong: it's not the place for someone who's never ridden knobby tyres, but the network has plenty of less formidable trails that don't require a full face and hanging from the ragged edge.
"We recognised gravity riding was a smaller part of the market, but it was part of the market that didn't really have anywhere to go in Australia," French says. "But the long term vision has always been to build out the lower slopes with beginner-focused trails."
In fact, Dirt Art is in the process of purchasing a large parcel of land at the bottom of the mountain to improve the options for beginner riders and families. But, even now, you don't need to be a full #endurobro to enjoy Maydena Bike Park, and there are still 52km of green and blue trails in the network. From the top, Regnans Ride allows you to link together green-rated trails like Skyline, Pandani, Green Room, Tyenna and Homeward down the entire 820m vertical drop the mountain has to offer — keeping in mind these are still 'dark' green trails so, steep sections, jumps and rocky obstacles are to be expected.
The newly completed Wilderness Trail is Maydena's latest route designed for a wider audience. It's technically a (dark) blue, but the difficulty is largely determined by how long you can let gravity do its thing without reaching for the brakes. Descending nearly all of Abbotts Peak, with only three trail crossings along the way the Wilderness Trail is comprised of Vista, Middle Earth and Outerlimits, traversing the Maydena side country, making a b-line for the boundary of the bike park and staying away from the rest of the network for the majority of the ride.
Being a top to bottom run, you experience the entire ecosystem of Abbotts peak, with the bench cut singletrack starting near the craggy summit before snaking through towering Tasmanian Oak and Pandani Palms. As you descend, the ground scrub morphs into ferns, and the moss becomes greener, the soil loamier.
“I don't think you can get much more wilderness unless your bush bashing,” laughs Killen after taking a low hanging Man Fern straight to the eye.
Even though it's only about 5km in length covering the mountain nearly from top to bottom with only a few trail crossings, it feels like you're riding through an untouched environment, and nearly emulates a backcountry riding experience.
Coming into Maydena, its reputation played heavy on my mind, and full disclosure I was intimidated. In the few days we spent at Maydena I quickly learned you don't go there expecting a leisurely ride. The trails are technical, and some can only be described as intentionally janky, designed to test your skills.
Just like the rest of western Tasmania, Maydena is wild, and you go there for an adrenaline rush, to push your limits and even scare yourself a bit. There aren't many places in Australia you can truly scare yourself and find that limit of your skills and the traction of your tyres — there are even fewer places in Australia where riders from all levels can achieve this feat. But this is precisely what Maydena offers, and best of all you don't need a passport or a visa to get there.
Need to know:
Short term accommodation comes mostly in the form of online bookings, though there are a few quirky options like the Maydena Mountain Cabins which keep alpacas on the property that are said to be pretty friendly — it has a pretty spectacular view to boot. There are also plenty of camping options including the Left of Field caravan park in National Park.
There aren’t a whole lot of places to eat around Maydena, and your options are essentially at the bike park, or the National Park pub about 15min down the road — so come prepared with the supplies you’ll need to get through your trip. There are grocery stores in New Haven, which is on the way if you’re driving in from Hobart.
Maydena is also VERY hard on brakes — the mechanics in the rental shop tell us they spend 90-percent of their time bleeding brakes and replacing brake pads on the rental fleet. The rental shop has some basics for sale, but bring spares, especially if you’re not running SRAM or Shimano brakes.
This February, it snowed in Maydena and the following day was warm with hero dirt. What we are getting at is that the weather is just as wild as the terrain, and some come prepared with clothing to suit blazing heat and snow flurries.
Leave your bike at home
Maydena is designed around the capability of an Enduro bike. If your stable doesn’t include something with upwards of 150mm of rear suspension, Maydena has a fleet of Trek bikes available for hire.
Half day $59
Enduro pass (single uplift) $40
Climbing pass $15
Find more options HERE
Maydena Bike Park will be opening for the 2020/21 summer season on September 26th 2020. Stay up to date by following Maydena's socials below -