Craig Tansley discovers speed and snowgums on a mountain bike ride along the Delatite River Trail.
The last time I tried mountain biking my guide congratulated me for falling off more times than anyone he'd ever had on his tour. I lost barely a shot glass of blood - but my pride took a battering.
This time, my guide tells me his best advice is that mountain ash and snow gums, the predominant tree types around Mount Buller, are very hard and he's never seen a mountain biker come off best in a collision with one. He says a lot of other things - like don't squeeze your front brakes too suddenly and watch out for snakes - but it's his "trees are very hard" advice that appears the most useful as I scan the countryside we'll be descending today.
This mountain bike journey down the Delatite River Trail will take us from the heights of the Mount Buller ski resort to Mirimbah at the mountain's base, nine kilometres with a vertical descent of more than 700 metres. The trail will take us about two hours to negotiate and we'll have to carry our bikes through 12 river crossings, descend tight single-track trails through forests of snow gums and even ride the winding two-lane main road down from Mount Buller.
The Delatite River Trail is one of many trails at Mount Buller for mountain bikers, ranging from easy family rides of three kilometres to double black-diamond downhill trails requiring full body armour, helmets and foolhardy participants.
We set off, chocolate foot (best foot) forward, riding through Mount Buller's quiet village slowly enough to appreciate the stunning views over distant mountain ranges.
Cathedral-like snow gums frame our journey and pink and purple wildflowers are blooming. Then the world goes on a slant and the sights become speed blurs. The Gang Gangs Trail is a test of mettle, with hairpin bends and only half a metre of track to stay on, but soon we head into the mountain ash forest where the Delatite River winds its way down. The smells and sounds of the forest are overwhelming; they're senses I use more than sight because most of the time I'm just looking at the ground in front of me. But stopping at the river crossings gives us a chance to look around. It's as pristine here as any alpine setting I've seen overseas.
And that's the best thing about mountain biking: it's like a choose-your-own adventure. This could be the most extreme tourist activity you'll do all year if you allow gravity to do its job but all you need do is squeeze the brakes (not too hard on the front ones, though) and it turns into a meander through the mountain ashes.
Being an idiot alpha male, I've turned my day into an unspoken, pointless race against myself and the other males on the tour. As a result, I miss a lot of the scenery and my only prize is a grazed knee and a face full of mud. But as we pull up at the finish line, it's the near-misses that play over in my head. So I sit down content; sore, scratched and sun-burnt but desperate to do it all again ... faster.
Mount Buller is a three-hour journey north-east from Melbourne along the Hume Highway, take the turns to Yea, then to Mansfield and Mount Buller.
Stay at Mount Buller Chalet for two nights with breakfasts, two days' bike hire and The Delatite River Trail guided tour for $352 a person, phone 1800 285 537, see mtbuller.com.au. Or book a tour and bike hire through All Terrain Cycles on 5775 2724, see allterraincycles.com.au.
Saturday, March 13 and Sunday, March 14, Bike Buller MTB Festival. There is a 25-kilometre cross-country race and the Super-D cross-country downhill. There are also races for children and activities for non-riders. Phone 5261 5511, see BikeBuller.com.