Ipswich and surrounds just might be the hidden gem for mountain bikers in Queensland.
Words: Will Shaw
Photos: Gerard Lagana
First settled in 1827, Ipswich is the one of the oldest towns in Queensland. At one stage it was a prime candidate to become the capital of Queensland due to its easy access to the wool suppliers of the Darling Downs and proximity to the coast. Nowadays, Ipswich is a real taste of the country on Brisbane’s doorstep, but also a rapidly growing city in its own right with one of the fastest growing populations in Australia.
The Greater Ipswich area was a bit of a grey area for me before visiting. I knew Hidden Vale Adventure Park (HVAP) is the biggest privately owned trail network in Australia (with 117km of singletrack there currently and plans for more in the future), but I didn’t know that Ipswich has the most trail on offer of any local government area in Australia! Where are all these trails you might be asking? Who do they cater for?
I had the same questions, and the answer is that Ipswich has something for everyone. HVAP is the jewel in the crown, but there’s also the weatherproof Castle Hill trails, plenty of riding at White Rock and Spring Mountain, a great trail loop at Hillview Drive, and endless kilometres of fire trail for XC or gravel riders. Speaking of gravel, Ipswich is also the start (or end) point for the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail, which is the longest Rail Trail in Australia at 161km – making for a big trip out and back!
Hidden Vale Adventure Park – The jewel in the crown:
Driving from Ipswich to HVAP feels like a real step back in time. As Ipswich’s historic charm fades into the distance, you get a real taste for the Queensland countryside as you pass through quaint towns lined with classic Queenslander houses and people taking life at a slower pace. By the time you roll up to HVAP’s gates, which are shared with the adjoining Spicers Retreat, you feel like the city and even the hustle and bustle of Ipswich are long gone.
HVAP’s 117km of singletrack was predominantly built by World Trail. This shines through with the flowy, well integrated network on offer. Located around 40 minutes from Ipswich, or 80 minutes from Brisbane International Airport, HVAP has something for every rider, group, and family. I spent the first two days at HVAP riding with one of Australia’s best multi-discipline riders Ben Forbes, and YouTuber Luke Radley. Luke says that Hidden Vale is the pinnacle of Southeast Queensland riding.
‘There’s so much on offer at Hidden Vale. They’ve got the longest descents in south east Queensland, shuttles, and definitely the best views from the top of 500 Above! If I was recommending a Queensland riding trip to someone, I would say Hidden Vale is a must ride.’
There’s also the option to arrive at HVAP via helicopter, which is a luxury option but a truly incredible experience. It’s a 20-minute flight from Brisbane, and not only will you get amazing views all the way out, but you’ll also get a bird’s eye view of the huge trail network on offer at Hidden Vale, as well as the highest point of the property and highest mountain bike trail in south east Queensland (SEQ) – 500 Above.
When you get to the base building at HVAP you’ll be greeted by one of their enthusiastic team members. Hayden Brooks is the Park Manager at HVAP, and he says the trails, shuttles, and rentals have exploded in popularity in recent times.
‘Whilst HVAP has always been the base for iconic events such as the 99 Bikes Epic and Merida 24HR, now there are more and more people coming out to ride the trails on a day-to-day basis. Our shuttles are pretty much always booked out on weekends, and we’ve never been busier on weekdays either. We’re expanding our rental fleet every year, and with the addition of eBikes more and more people are giving riding a go who otherwise might not have,’
Due to the sheer size of HVAP, shuttling the trails as well as the use of eBikes is becoming very popular. HVAP’s most popular shuttling option is the $60 per person ‘HVAP 5’. The shuttles are provided in custom designed Can-Ams, which is an experience in itself as the drivers are able to negotiate the steep and at times rough access roads to deliver you straight to the best trails.
The trails you ride in a HVAP 5 experience are Devine, 500 Above, and the trio of Skyfall, Trailer Thrash, and Snappy Turtle. Depending on your riding ability and fitness, riding this trio of trails and then back to the entrance will take between 2-3 hours. If you’re keen for more, I’d also recommend Treedom, 007, and Happy Gilmore right next to the main base has some great jumps and flow. Luke says Skyfall is possibly his favourite trail of all time.
‘Skyfall is my favourite trail at HVAP, and maybe even my favourite trail of all time. The dirt is incredible on that side of the range, and the trail flows so well that you can go pretty fast from your first run. There’s some fun jumps and lines for more experienced riders, but most people will be able to roll down it also.’
Whilst the existing trail network, hire fleet, shuttle options, and accommodation is already fantastic at HVAP, they’re not resting on their laurels. They’re currently in the process of building a brand-new campground, hire, and shuttle facility at the bottom of 500 Above and Devine, which will make shuttles more direct. This will mean more laps in less time, and there’s plans to build more top to bottom trails down to the campground, giving riders even more trail options with the most vertical metres on offer in SEQ.
‘It makes sense to build the new 'Bubbling Springs' campground at the bottom of 500 Above and Devine. From there the shuttles will be more direct, and we’ve got plans to put in more trails for all ability levels also,’ says Hayden.
Riding and staying at Hidden Vale Adventure Park:
There are a few accommodation options for a visit to HVAP. At the luxury end of the spectrum, Spicers Retreat Hidden Vale offers a mix of restored Queenslander style cottages that are situated metres from the trailhead. On site and within walking distance is the two hatted Homage restaurant, which uses ingredients sourced from within the 12,000-acre property.
If you’re headed to HVAP with a big crew, the Hidden Vale Cabins could be a good shout. Located right in the thick of the trail network, the Cabin's site features four cabins and eight individual rooms, with a site capacity of 18 adults. Priced at $1699 per night with Long Weekend and School Holiday pricing of $1999, it’s a great option if you’ve got lots of riding buddies or families keen to come along. This could be the ideal spot to celebrate a birthday or achievement with family and friends.
Despite being off the grid, the Cabins feature a large entertainment area with a BBQ, cooktop, and sink to prepare meals, as well as a storeroom with a fridge and freezer. I stayed at the cabins for the first two evenings of my visit, and we had food delivered from Spicers that we cooked up ourselves. I can’t recommend this more if you’re staying at the cabins, as the food was waiting in the fridge when we got there, and it was some of the tastiest meals I’ve ever eaten.
Castle Hill – trails for all occasions:
Another key selling point for a riding trip to Ipswich is Castle Hill, otherwise known as Blackstone Reserve. Castle Hill is a compact network located only minutes from Ipswich’s CBD, and the trails here hold up extremely well in wet weather. As Ipswich local Noah Davidson told me ‘I once rode here when it was literally flooding in Ipswich, and it was all good.’ Castle Hill’s wet weather resistance is due to the area’s rocky soil and slope of the hill, that allows water to run off it as soon as it hits the ground.
With around 70 metres of elevation on offer, there’s multiple trails to pick from at the top, as well as access to other areas of the network. My highlights were World Cup and Phils. World Cup is less intimidating than the name suggests, and this flowy blue trail is great to session, as you can pick up more speed every time you ride it. Phils is a bit more technical, with a classic hand cut feel to it that rewards maintaining your speed and flow through tricky turns and steeps.
‘The good thing about Castle Hill is that there’s something for everyone, and there’s also every style of trail in a compact space. You can ride flowy trails, steep trails, and technical trails in a short space of time and within a pretty small area,’ said Noah.
If you’ve headed to Ipswich with the family there’s plenty on offer at Castle Hill, just like HVAP, with several green and blue trails that can be put together to form a loop as long or short as you like. There’s also a centrally located skills park only a couple of hundred metres from the carpark with some jumps and a pump track.
‘The skills park here is great, there’s something for everyone with some pretty gnarly lines if you’re up for it,’ says Noah.
Closer to the carpark there’s a trials skills area where the likes of 2015 Trials World Champ Janine Jungfels hones her skills.
Janine Jungfels’ Ipswich:
Janine Jungfels is one of Australia’s most successful cyclists. An Observed Trials World Champion, three-time world championship medal winner, and the winner of 6 Trials World Cup events, Janine has made the most of limited resources in her cycling career.
A few years ago, Janine moved to Ipswich, buying a property with a bit of space to setup her own trials course (you can witness her skills over at @janinejungfels on Instagram). Janine says she enjoys the relaxed country atmosphere Ipswich provides.
‘I do really like living in Ipswich. I’m definitely not a city slicker, so it’s nice to be out here but still have the city and everything else close by.’
With Trials being such a niche sport in Australia, Janine has always had a proactive attitude to getting new riding spots over the line. She spent a week and a half helping design and construct the trials riding area in Logan, and whilst she only spent 3 days building the trials area at Castle Hill with two family friends and the Ipswich City Council, Janine says what’s on offer is pretty good.
‘It’d be good if the trials area at Castle Hill was about double the size, but what they have there is definitely fun to ride. I’ve done a fair bit of riding there and friends of mine come from Brisbane and the Gold Coast to ride. The thing with Trials areas that use rocks like Castle Hill is that once you’ve used a machine to move them into place there isn’t any maintenance that needs to be done from then onwards, so I don’t see why they couldn’t expand the trials area in the future.’
Whilst Janine doesn’t do a heap of mountain biking, she’s excited to explore the plethora of options on offer in Ipswich.
‘I’ve ridden at Castle Hill, and you can definitely see that mountain biking is flourishing in the area. I haven’t made it out to Hidden Vale or Hillview Drive, but they’re both on my hit list!’
Where else can you ride?
As I mentioned at the start of this article, Ipswich City Council actually has the most kilometres of trail of any Local Government Area in Australia. There are more great trails at White Rock, Spring Mountain, as well as a family friendly XC loop in North Ipswich called the Hillview Drive Circuit.
In addition to these other mountain biking options, Ipswich is the start (or finish) of the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail (BVRT), which is Australia’s longest Rail Trail at 161km from Wulkuraka to Yarraman.
Explore the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail:
The 161km Brisbane Valley Rail Trail follows the disused Brisbane Valley Rail Line that commenced construction at Wulkuraka in 1884 and finished at Yarraman in 1913. The trail traverses farmland, forests, and quaint country towns, and the elevation gain over the full 161km if ridden from Ipswich (Wulkuraka) is around 1100 metres. There’s a café stop approximately every 25km as well as bike friendly accommodation in the towns the trail passes through.
Aside from being perhaps Queensland’s fastest multi-disciplinary rider, Ben Forbes also owns Forbes MTB Courses and Forbes MTB Hire, and he says bike hire for the BVRT is becoming more and more popular.
‘The demand for bike hire to ride the BVRT is huge. It’s really nice because you can ride with people you might not normally be able to ride with, such as elderly family members. The rise in eBikes is also great for this, and the nature of the BVRT means you can ride as little or as much of it as you want with great food and accommodation options along the way.’
Cafés, restaurants, and accommodation providers have embraced the surging popularity of the BVRT. Whilst the trail is open to walkers and also horse riders, it’s bike riders aboard all sorts of bikes who’re flocking to the trail in droves.
Ipswich is around 40 minutes’ drive from Brisbane International Airport, which has regular flights running from both capital cities and regional airports daily. Hidden Vale Adventure Park is another 40 minutes Southwest from Ipswich.
The riding in and around Ipswich offers something for every level of rider. Whilst HVAP features predominantly green and blue trails, there’s plenty of optional gaps and trickier lines on offer to keep more advanced riders on their toes. Castle Hill has the full spectrum of trails from technical blacks to family friendly greens, and if you’re into more adventure style riding than the offerings at White Rock and Spring Mountain should float your boat.
All the usual stuff you want to take riding with you. It gets pretty hot in Ipswich in summer (it is Queensland after all!) so sunscreen, plenty of water, and avoiding the midday sun are all good ideas. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s probably nowhere better in Australia to be riding in winter than SEQ in general.
There’s over 300km of trail in the Ipswich region, with the following areas offering the most riding:
White Rock: 35km
Spring Mountain: 35km
Flinders-Goolman Conservation Area – 24km
Castle Hill: 19km
Hillview Drive: 6km
If there’s a high chance of rain on the forecast, you’re better off planning to ride at Castle Hill than HVAP. Whilst a slight amount of moisture at HVAP turns the usually loose dirt into Velcro, any more than about 5mm of rain makes the trails unrideable due to their predominantly clay nature. Luckily Castle Hill’s rocky soil and steep slope can handle any amount of rain, so you’ll never be completely washed out in Ipswich!
BEST TIME OF YEAR:
You’ll be able to ride in Ipswich all year round. The shoulder seasons will provide a nice middle ground between the heat of summer and cool mornings and evenings of winter.
WHILE IN THE AREA:
Ipswich is one of the oldest cities not just in Queensland, but across the whole of Australia. As such, there’s plenty of history spread out throughout town, as well as lots of great dining and entertainment options. In July Ipswich hosted SPARK Ipswich, which is an 11-day city wide event celebrating the people, places, arts, and culture of Ipswich. Head to the Ipswich City Council website to see what’s on when you’re planning on visiting.
LOCAL BIKE SHOPS:
There’s plenty of great local bike shops in Ipswich. There’s Switch Bike Co as well as Giant, Trek, and 99 Bikes stores.
Out at HVAP they have a workshop as part of their main hub, as well as bike and eBike hire ranging from $95 - $140 per day. Shuttles start at $60 per person for the HVAP 5 experience.