Day three of our West Australian Road Trip: Pemberton
Words: Mike Blewitt Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith
Western Australia is a state rich in resources. For those of us in the east, we can't always appreciate how many of those resources are suitable for mountain bikers. From fast and loose pea gravel trails, to hand and machine sculpted red dirt trails beneath Karri trees, and of course beach side trails above an azure blue ocean, the variety on offer for mountain bikers in the west will surprise anyone who hasn't visited before. We were invited to the south west and given a local's tour of some of the great trails in the region, and once on the ground we learnt that there is so much more to come.
After riding in Dwellingup we hit the road south, deep into the Southern Forests. Highway One took us through Bridgetown and then Manjimup, and we were soon amongst the towering Karri forests as we turned onto the Vasse Highway towards Pemberton, and into misting rain.
The Southern Forests are incredibly fertile, with rich soils and good rainfall. The farmland is highly productive and local farmers grow a broad variety of produce. Pemberton has switched from being a timber town to a town that curates mountain bike trails. We unpacked, showered the Dwellingup dirt off us and hit the hotel for a pub meal – would you believe the first on our trip?
The next morning dawned a little damp, but the beauty of Pemberton's tall trees is the canopy it creates. Not only is it far cooler in the forest than elsewhere on a hot day, it's also a bit drier under the trees on a rainy day!
Pemberton was a town that thrived on the timber industry, but as mills shut down, the need for tourism arose. The Camp School near the river pool in town pulled in school groups, and the mountain bike trails were the ideal complement. Mark Hudson was one of the driving forces behind the planning and implementation of the Pemberton Mountain Bike Park by writing the proposals and securing funding to employ trail builders. So there are machine built flow trails, but also raw hand-cut singletrack as well. Pemberton has a truly diverse mix of trails in a relatively small area. Hudson still works tirelessly at promoting and improving Pemberon Mountain Bike Park, along with the help and organisation of the Pemberton Visitor Centre.
We meet up at the trail head, ready to be guided through with Mark Hudson. Devin Stafford is also along for the ride, not many people miss the opportunity to ride at Pemberton.
“We get a whole range of people coming to Pemberton,” said Mark Hudson as we start the climb up the hill. “Because we are a bit further away people usually come a few times a year.”
As we climb the hill Mark points out the bottom of some trails, and the steep entry points down the hill for some others. “We have run gravity enduro, downhill and cross-country events here,” adds Hudson. And it's not hard to see how – the mix of trails is really diverse. Through the trees I can make out a huge jump line, while also seeing a super steep trail up to my left that drops onto our climbing trail.
“The benefit of events is that lots of people will come back,” adds Hudson. “They will bring friends and family and that's one of the good things about Pemberton, kids and their parents will come down.”
We reach a trail head and the inevitable decision making process begins. Over the back onto some hand cut, rockier trail? Down the main line with the wall rides and jumps? Or push on further to the back? You're never short on options at Pemberton. And that's one of the reasons why the mountain bike park brings in a variety of riders, even just for a day or weekend, from Margaret River, Busselton, Albany or Bunbury.
In the end we slip and slide down a rocky hand-cut trail. With a broad mix of riders our pace differs. Devin Stafford is a top rider on the Western Australia Gravity Enduro (WAGE) scene, and also one of the riding buddies for Sam Hill. Devin is quietly spoken but really rips on the bike, and we all do our best to match his steeze on the wet trails. Some with more success than others.
While Pemberton has hosted such a variety of events, it really is a trail riding dream. The climbs are never too hard, but the range of descents on offer are really varied. We get to ascend on either doubletrack or fun climbing singletrack, before shooting down tight trails, or through banked corners and over built jumps. We negotiate rocks and steep chutes, and tackle built wooden wall rides and features.
As the skies clear a little the warmth of the October sun makes the more exposed trails super grippy as the slightly slippery surface becomes hero dirt. We listen to Mark and Devin's suggestions of what trail to ride next, and we all try to keep up with the ever enthusiastic Tony Tucknott, before hunger does take over and it's time to ride to lunch.
Pemberton is a small town and our lunch stop is a short pedal away, on the other side of the main street, at the Pemberton Wood Cafe Gallery and Cafe. Our meal is almost completely from the local area, which Mark explains should be no surprise in the Southern Forests region.
“There is really good food here, with over 50 kinds of fruit and vegetables grown in area. Farms in the Southern Forests are a major supplier to Western Australia and overseas,” explains Mark Hudson. We dig into the food, demolishing share plates as they appear, and ordering coffees and milkshakes to fill the hole that a few hours of trail riding creates. The setting we are in is stunningly beautiful, and really lush compared to what many might associate with Western Australia.
“The farms are very passionate about what they produce. Just over the hill, a truffle farm produced $2.5 million of truffle from 5 acres. This is a clean and green area and very diverse.”
As it's a late lunch we opt to clean up and head back to our accommodation at the Eucalyptus House, and take a moment to chill out. It is one of the downsides of a road trip like this. There's enough trail at Pemberton to stay out all day, and ride the next day too. But we're cherry picking the best of the best, and have to leave some of the trails for next time. After showering and chilling on the couch, the call is made to head to the Gloucestter Tree. It's a tall tree (yeah, they all are) that rises above the canopy and was used as a fire spotting location. Now, it's a tourist attraction! The tree can be climbed but be warned, the lower section is open air and even the top section has no real safety apparatus except some external wiring. It's a bit of a work out getting up there, but the views across the forest are sensational!
Where: About 3.5 hours south of Perth, on the Vasse Highway
Accommodation: See if you can book Eucalyptus House, otherwise the Old Picture Theatre.
Riding style: Just about everything! Bring a cross-country, trail or enduro bike and you will have fun.
Trail surface: Loamy hero dirt and hard packed red dirt
Don't forget: Your swimmers for a dip in the pool.
What's on? The Karri Cup is nearby in April. The G83 ran in November with an 83km starting and finishing near the Gloucester Tree.
More details: Head to the website for the Pemberton Visitor Centre