Words: Will Shaw

Photos: Sunbird Photography, Eurobodalla Coast Tourism

Driving south from Kiama the landscape shifts noticeably from the yellower northern coastline to a world of lush greenery. Alongside its beauty, the South Coast offers great hospitality, a great climate, and amazing outdoor experiences.

Despite everything it has going for it, the last few years have been tough for the South Coast. It started with the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020, which was the worst bushfire season on record in NSW. Twenty-four million hectares of land was burnt, and 3000 homes were destroyed. Thirty-three people lost their lives, as well as an estimated three billion animals.

The Black Summer rolled straight into Covid in 2020, which hit the tourism dependant South Coast hard and continues to do so to this day. 

Despite the horror run the South Coast has had for the last three years, the region is forging on with rebuilding. A big part of this is kickstarting their tourism economy. If you’re reading this magazine, you’re probably already aware of the fantastic economic outcomes world-class mountain biking can have on a region. 

Rising from the ashes - visiting Fox Creek Bike Park after the Black Summer bushfires.

Local mountain bike clubs and the South Coast’s Eurobodalla and Bega Valley Shire Councils have also seen the potential. Thanks to hard working local mountain bike clubs, State Forests and the two councils, the South Coast will lead the way in NSW when it comes to a world class mountain biking destination. 

What’s coming to the South Coast?

The plans for the towns of Mogo, Narooma, and Eden are quite incredible. Whilst one project with 100km of trail and millions of dollars of funding would be cause for huge excitement, within 2.5 hours and 189km between Mogo and Eden there’s three separate projects going on. The outcome of these projects is around 245km of total trail being built via over 16 million dollars of funding.

The trails in Mogo, Narooma, and Eden are three separate projects. The Mogo trails will be in the Mogo State Forest and Deep Creek Dam areas. They’ll connect the small town of Mogo with Batehaven 13km to the North, which is the next suburb over from Batemans Bay. 

There’s a 155km network planned, with 125km of new trails. The project will be delivered by Rocky Trail Destination as the trail construction project managers and Next Level Mountain Bike as the trail builders. There’s a total of 8 million dollars in funding, which includes 5 million from the Bushfire Local Economy Recovery Fund (BLER). The BLER fund is co-funded by the Australian and NSW Governments. The additional 3 million is from the NSW Government’s Growing Local Economies Fund.  

I spoke with Martin Wisata from Rocky Trail Destination regarding the project, and to say he’s excited is an understatement. 

‘In NSW at the moment there’s nowhere where you can ride for ten days straight, and the kind of project we’re going to deliver in Mogo for visiting mountain bikers and the local community is something that’s been brewing in our heads for some time. We saw that Mogo was one of the most proactive destinations when it comes to cycling already years ago. With adventure experiences and opportunities outside of just riding and situated in a great location, we think Mogo and the South Coast can lead the way when it comes to all-year destination mountain biking in NSW.’

The Mogo project wasn’t led by a mountain bike club, it was the Eurobodalla Shire Council who applied for the funding for the trails.

‘The Eurobodalla Shire Council are really progressive with their vision for mountain biking in the area. There’s no official mountain bike club yet, but we’re talking to people in the area to get feedback, which is really valuable as they’ve been riding in the area their whole lives.’

Narooma is 68 km south of Mogo and is a small town with a population of just over 3300 people. It already has just under 30km of trails located in the Bodalla State Forest, which have been built by the highly active Narooma MTB Club. The plan is to expand the network by over 65km. Narooma MTB Club applied for project funding and were also successful through the BLER fund grants in securing 3.9 million dollars. The project management is being handled by Craig Stonestreet from Natural Trails and Craig Meinicke from Blue Sky Trails, and the trails will be designed and constructed by Dirt Art.  

Georgie Staley is the Club President of the Narooma MTB Club. She says the idea of turning Narooma into a destination for mountain biking is one that was inspired by her and her husband Dave’s travels to small towns that had been transformed by world class riding.  

‘Over many years of travel across different countries we’d seen the positive impact mountain biking can have on a local community. Fruita and Oakridge in the US are two examples. When Derby was first announced, we thought there was no reason why we couldn’t have amazing trails in Narooma to give our town year-round tourism. Whilst we have lots of visitors over the summer, as there’s no real industry in Narooma the town takes a bit of a dive between April and November.’ 

Georgie says mountain biking is the perfect fit to complement the other tourism offerings in Narooma. 

‘Our weather is perfect for riding all year round, it doesn’t get very hot or cold. Mountain biking also sits nicely with the town as most of our tourism is environment based. There’s things like snorkelling with seals, whale watching, Montague Island National Park, and other water activities. With huge State Forests just to the west, mountain biking is a great fit.’

Craig Meinicke says Narooma will be the ideal launching pad for riding all three trail networks due to its central location. 

‘When you look at the layout of the region, all three networks are within 200kms of each other. At present Narooma is probably best serviced for accommodation, however as we have seen at other locations where significant trail networks have been built, demand will drive investment that will see more accommodation, dining, bike shops, and other supporting businesses pop up across the region.’

Eden is located 130km south from Narooma and 189km from Mogo. The Eden Mountain Bike Club (auspiced through the Eden Community Access Centre) were successful in applying for 4.53 million dollars’ worth of BLER funding that will create 56km of trails. Eden is another small town, with a population just over 3100. It’s also the Southernmost town on the NSW coastline. Stan Soroka is the president of the Eden Mountain Bike Club, and he says the trails will be a huge asset for the tourism dependant town. 

‘After 2000 and to the current day Eden has been reliant on tourism, and two major income peaks. Those peaks are Christmas and Easter. If businesses can’t make enough income in those two windows, they struggle with cash flow and employment. These trails will attract visitors year-round, and with our temperate climate Eden will be a great option in the winter when Thredbo is closed for riding and Tasmania is pretty cold and wet.’

The Eden trails will be built in the Nullica State Forest in collaboration with the Forestry Corporation of New South Wales (FCNSW). The 56km of trail across 20 trails are only the first stage of a planned 140km network, but Stan believes stage 1 will be a great opportunity to test their trail management strategies.

‘We’re lucky here in Eden that due to our soil composition the trails won’t require as much ongoing work as trails elsewhere. We’ve got a growing mountain bike club who’ll perform routine maintenance, with professionals called in for specific tasks, which is a similar model to the Jindabyne Trail Stewardship.’

Once again, the two Craigs are handling the project management of the Eden trails, and Craig Stonestreet says there’s been collaboration between the Narooma and Eden projects to ensure they get the maximum value for their region.

‘The fact that all three trail networks are being built on State Forests should not be understated. Forestry Corporation has been super supportive of the developments and recognise the importance of encouraging recreation in the forest and creating economic opportunities for local communities. Detailed track planning is being carried out to ensure that threatened species, waterways, cultural heritage, and other special values are protected in the forest. Importantly, the networks are being designed to account for all the other forest users such as horse riders, motorbike riders and bushwalkers and the future management of the forest including timber harvesting, weed and pest control and prescribed burning. Where possible we are also be using sustainably harvested timber products in the bridges, signs, and other trail structures.’

But When will I be riding sweet trails in Mogo, Narooma, and Eden?

In Mogo, the trails will begin construction through Next Level Mountain Bike very shortly. The full 155km network is scheduled to be completed by mid 2023. Martin says once all the paperwork is in place to begin building, Mogo is going to be a huge project creating long term employment for locals.

‘The start date is imminent. It’s going to be a huge build in terms of manpower and machinery to meet the mid 2023 completion date. Together with the Eurobodalla Shire Council we’re running a program to upskill locals in trail building to turn it into a viable career option. With the experienced team at Next Level Mountain Bike led by Marcelo we’ll be able to identify talented trail builders who’ll stay on to maintain the trails. Part of the project is that we’ll manage the maintenance for the for the first year following the trails completion.’

Martin says a massive project like Mogo benefits from scalability, which is why the timeframe for such a large amount of new trail is relatively quick. 

‘Once you have ten excavators you have a diesel mechanic working full time to keep them all running smoothly. On a smaller build you wouldn’t have that, so if you have any issues, you’re waiting for a third party to assist you.’

The Narooma trails will begin construction by Dirt Art in March this year and are working towards the same mid 2023 timeline for project completion. There’s already just under 30km of trail on offer, the majority of which was built by Georgie and Dave. 

‘The first 30km of trail was essentially just Dave and me doing it. We knew we’d need money from there to expand the network, and that we’d need 100 kilometres plus of trails for visitors to stay and ride in Narooma for 2-3 days at a time.’

Construction also begins in March at Eden, and the trails are scheduled to be completed by mid 2023. At the time of writing the trail building company hadn’t been announced yet, but if you check out the Eden Mountain bikers on Facebook, they’ll have the latest information. 

What kind of trails can riders expect and why would you want to go there?

Trail homogenisation is a hot topic at the moment. Whilst there’s never been more investment into mountain bike trails in Australia, some feel aggrieved at what they perceive to be ‘cookie cutter’ networks popping up across the country. Craig Stonestreet says himself and Craig Meinicke, as well as the trail builders for each location are aware that each network needs to offer individual flair.

‘The plan is that we’re not building the same trails in the three locations. The way the plans look, and the nature of the terrain indicates they’re all going to be very different networks, with a different experience at every location. They started as three separate projects, but all the clubs and councils realise working together is going to achieve the best outcome for the region.’ 

Mogo is the only one of the three locations I’ve ridden personally. There are some fantastic rock formations that will be utilised in trail construction. Mogo will have gravity specific black rated trails, and shuttle options. Martin says Mogo will offer something for just about everyone.

‘For us one of the challenges with any destination is why you would go there over somewhere else? What’s going to make people from Sydney want to drive for four hours to go to Mogo? With Mogo there’ll be a huge variety of trails including shuttles and family friendly riding. Naturally there will be a development of which of the three areas cater to different types of riders. With the mix of three locations and different trail builders on offer, the South Coast is going to have something for the overwhelming majority of riders.’

Alongside a standard shuttle service to access multiple gravity trails, Mogo will have a secondary shuttle service to access a monster descent from Mount Wandera, which is the standout trail in the Mogo network. 

‘There will be two opportunities for shuttling. The first is the long trip up to Wandera, and we’re exploring options to descend from Mogo trig with a more conventional quick shuttle turnaround.’

The descent from Mount Wandera is a whopper. Starting at 690 metres, the trail will drop all the way to Mogo. Martin says the descent will offer riders a unique experience. 

‘Mount Wandera gets me excited about taking you on an adventure. From the top you get an amazing view, and as you drop down there’s huge rocks, freestanding rocks with grass growing on top of them. You’ll be able to ride through them and past them and experience the changing landscapes top to bottom.’ 

According to Craig Stonestreet, riders can expect great diversity from the trails at Narooma too. 

‘The trails at Narooma span a vast area and there’s less elevation than Mogo and Eden, but more peaks. We’re still planning to get numerous 2-3km descents though. Narooma’s landscapes are totally different to the other two locations. The soil has a quartz sort of material that produces a smooth and stable trail tread. There’s also lots of vegetation changes in Narooma, which will make for amazing riding and eBiking as you tackle the longer loops.’

Narooma will still feature shuttle access, a dedicated skills zone, flow and adventure beginner to intermediate trails, and dedicated black gravity trails. Georgie says the different terrain on offer across the three locations is something she’s really excited about.

‘All of the areas are vastly different in terrain and style. Having different trail building companies is also great to provide variety. I’m an Eden girl originally, and this is going to be great for Eden. I know personally the kind of holiday where you can drive a few hours and ride lots of different trails is highly appealing, and that’s what the South Coast will have. Working with Forestry Corp has also been great, we would be nowhere without them. They have been extremely supportive of us, and we know the outcomes of harvesting one day in our area. Our area has been thought out with a process and so if one area is harvested, we will have several other areas to ride.’

Jason Lam from Dirt Art is hugely excited by the unique conditions in Narooma.

‘The guys were super happy with what we found out in the field, except maybe the abundance of leeches and the occasional tick! Our time in the field only confirmed the vast potential there is in the project site - endless opportunities for incredible trail. The massive native trees in that area are incredible and the distinct lack of weeds or prickly blackberries/lantana is a luxury in our profession not to be taken for granted, especially after working in a State Conservation Area recently that was completed infested with kilometres worth of head high blackberry. I am honestly amazed how pristine the site is given its forestry history.’

Eden will feature the most gravity and shuttle friendly trails of the three locations. Craig Stonestreet says riders can expect 6-7km descents. These descents will make full use of the 334 metres of elevation offered by the networks’ peak at the summit of Mount Bimmil, alongside varying terrain types on the way down. Beginner and intermediate loops lower down will  lead riders out to a designated climb for those wanting to access the descents via bike.

Our take on the trail boom on the South Coast

With over 245km of new trails across Mogo, Narooma, and Eden there’s going to be even more reason to visit the beautiful NSW South Coast. Combined with the great riding that exists already in places like Tathra and Bermagui, you might need to take some extra leave to fit it all in! 

There are also the trails within three hours to the west such as Cooma, Jindabyne, and Thredbo. Craig Stonestreet believes there’s a market for both domestic and international FIFO trips to do a loop sampling the best trails Southeast NSW has to offer. 

‘Southeast NSW and the ACT has the potential to create quite a huge product out of Canberra for both domestic and international tourists. You can fly in, ride Canberra, ride these three locations on the South Coast of NSW, and then come back through the Snowies riding locations like Thredbo, Jindabyne, and Cooma.’ 

I can’t wait to see these trails progress, and it looks like I’ll be booking a trip south in mid 2023!

Mogo – Yuin Country:

KM of trails: 155km (30km of existing trail will be formalised)

Start Date: Not confirmed at time of writing 

Expected Delivery Date: Mid 2023 

What riding is on offer? Mogo will offer everything from family friendly trails, to shuttle accessed trails, to the epic Mount Wandera descent in its 155km network. 

Where to go for more details: https://www.esc.nsw.gov.au/council/major-projects/current-projects/planning-recreation-business/mogo-adventure-trail-hub-strategy 

What shire is it in? Eurobodalla Shire Council 

Narooma – Yuin Country:

KM of trails: Approximately 105km (including approximately 30km of existing trails)

Start Date: March 2022

Expected Delivery Date: Mid 2023 

What riding is on offer? Narooma will offer gravity, cross-country, and flow. There’s ever changing landscapes, and longer loops perfect for big days and eBikes. There’ll also be shuttle accessed trails and trails for all levels. 

Where to go for more details: www.mountainbikenarooma.com.au  

What shire is it in? Eurobodalla Shire Council

Eden – Yuin Country:

KM of trails: 56km

Start Date: March 2022

Expected Delivery Date: Mid 2023 

What riding is on offer? Eden will offer riding for all ability levels, including gravity specific trails that will be the easiest to shuttle out of the three destinations. 

Where to go for more details: https://www.facebook.com/EdenCommunityAccessCentre/ https://www.facebook.com/EdenMTBClub/ 

What shire is it in? Bega Valley Shire Council