Take a look at what could be one of the most iconic MTB trails in Australia!
Words: Cameron McGavin Photos: Phil Warring
World Trail Director Glen Jacobs is a busy man. So busy we’ve had to bring our interview with him a day forward and squeeze it in over an impromptu evening meal. Tomorrow he’s jetting off to meet with the Tasmanian government to talk turkey about various developments in that state. He’s got new projects stacked high on his desk that he can’t tell us about. Time is of the essence.
There’s one project, however, that Australia’s top trail-building guru and only MTB Hall of Fame inductee is just itching to share with the wider world – the upcoming Wangetti Trail.
Wangetti Trail isn’t the only new wilderness mountain biking experience on the Australian scene or Jacobs’ plate. World Trail’s 44km wilderness trail from Blue Tier down to St Helens on Tasmania’s east coast is nearing completion and will be up and running this year.
But Wangetti Trail has a special significance for Jacobs. When completed in 2023, it will trace a path through his own backyard, the stunning coastal and hinterland scenery of Tropical North Queensland.
The Big Reveal
World Trail released its detailed design for the Wangetti Trail alignment in April ahead of the build and other commercial tendering processes kicking off. The finished trail will span 94km – 15km longer than originally envisaged – between Palm Cove north of Cairns and Port Douglas, and Jacobs says it’s going to blow visitors away.
“We’re sandwiched between two World Heritage sites, we’re bang in the middle,” he says. “Some parts you go along and you think you’re on the top of the Grand Canyon, you’re looking down to coconut trees on the beach and up there are big rock bluffs. Hartley’s Creek at Wangetti Beach itself is special, it’s just beautiful.”
Jacobs is on a roll now describing the many delights that are in store for riders.
“A hell of a lot of lookouts, a hell of a lot of features, beachside stops, suspension bridges, big gorges, huge stuff.” he says. “And all the critters, the Cassowarys, kangaroos, just everything. There’s a waterfall called Spring Creek and it just drops away towards the ocean and there’s Port Douglas in front of you. Nobody knows it’s there, there are no walking tracks to get to it, and now here’s this trail coming.“You know that whole sense of arrival, that big reveal kind of thing? That’s gonna happen.”
So the Wangetti Trail will put you straight in front some of Tropical North Queensland's most knockout scenic delights, but what about the riding? Being both dual-directional and having to cater for walkers, a certain level of aggressiveness has had to be sacrificed.
“We’ve only built trails that are single-directional but this is dual-directional and has to allow for hiking, too,” says Jacobs. “That means designing it a certain way because if you had it balls-out, steep and going crazy, well, you’d have to come up that as well and you don’t want that.”
Jacobs reckons the final alignment lands on just the right balance between giving riders thrills while allowing them to really soak up their surrounds.
“What we wanted was a flowing, pump-style trail with good line of sight around each corner, one that’s enjoyable,” he says. “It’s not a footpath but it’s not aggressive, either – it’s a wilderness-style trail that will allow you take it all in, and you’ll want to absorb the terrain you’re in because Tropical North Queensland is like nothing else.”
Now it just comes down to who builds it. Jacobs hopes it will be World Trail but that decision will ultimately fall on the Queensland Government.
“We hope we do get to build it but you never know,” he says. “There are a lot of trail builders in Australia, though I don’t think there are any with our long experience and knowledge working in rainforests.”In any case, construction starts soon, with work on the Mowbray North section near Port Douglas scheduled to begin in September.
The full Wangetti Trail has been designed to be completed in two to three days by mountain bike or around six by foot. There will be public campsites and privately-operated eco-accommodation at five locations along the trail.
These facilities, plus a range of mooted commercial tour, transport and other opportunities along the route, mean riders will be essentially able to enjoy whatever kind of adventure they can dream up, from hard-core to lazily indulgent.
“You can stretch it over quite a few days, you can do a day’s ride with the family or if you’re someone like Cadel (Evans) you can just go, ‘Bang!’,” says Jacobs. “Or you can just do a morning ride. A really cool one will be Palm Cove to Ellis Beach, it’s only 8km, you can go for a ride, come back to Ellis Beach and there’s a bar there and it’s on the beach.
“You can do it with a tour group and they’ll look after you or you can get a lodge and there’ll be food there and you’ll have your beds for the night.”
The Wangetti Trail – even if it’s not built by World Trail – will be the realisation of a thought bubble that goes all the way back to Jacob’s childhood.
“It started with sitting in the back of the car as kid, bored, looking out the window going, ‘Ooh, I wonder what’s out there?’,” he says. “Up here (in Cairns) you’re either out on a boat or you’re driving along that road looking at the scenery going, ‘Jeez, isn’t that wonderful?’.”
When Jacobs started riding mountain bikes the dream of a trail between Palm Cove and Port Douglas crystallised, then was pushed to the side for decades. Then came the chance conversation that has ultimately led to it becoming reality.
“A couple of my friends mentioned to me one day, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to ride from Palm Cove to Port Douglas?’ and I said, ‘I’ve been thinking about that my whole life, I should go and talk to somebody about it’. I ended up talking to one politician, then somebody else and somebody else, and it’s all just happened.”
Jacobs has already given more than your average bloke to the Tropical North Queensland and Australian mountain-biking community but he’s tipping Wangetti Trail might just be his ultimate legacy. “Wangetti Trail is going to be – and I say this quite openly – like nothing else in the world,” he says. “It’ll be truly spectacular, it’ll change mountain biking in Australia.”