Mountain biking in Derby, Tasmania: Luxury biking in the bush

This is the little town that could. Once a buzzing tin-mining centre, less than a decade ago Derby, snug in the tall-timbered hills of Tasmania's north-east, was almost a ghost town. Then along came the mountain bikers, a local council with some vision, some federal funds to back it and now you have the equivalent of a surf town in summer or a ski town in winter.

The surf breaks or the ski runs are mountain bike trails and by all accounts, they're among the best around, designed and created as they were by a team including Queenslander Glenn Jacobs and his company World Trail. In the bush, he is to mountain bike trails what Frederick McCubbin was to canvas.

And to look after the riders in Derby, the town buzzes with shuttles, cafes, specialist shops and specialist knowledge. There's even been a real estate boom of sorts and accommodation built at virtually every level and budget.

Maybe the best of that accommodation - although you'll never find it without a drone or a guide - is the Blue Derby Pods, more about that when we pedal our way through the bush to find it, something like stumbling through the wardrobe into a Tasmanian eco-Narnia.

Charlie Edis, my guide, or "experience leader" for Blue Derby Pods Ride, assures me it is all "just like riding a bike" as he fits me to my Specialized Stump Jumper mountain bike, a machine so far removed from the Malvern Star I learnt to ride on, it is, as he says, "like a space ship compared with what they used to be like."

The Stump Jumper is a dream to ride with dual suspension for comfort, simple gear shifters and even a third shifter on the handlebars to drop the seat and its post when the going gets willing. On the downhill ride, you want the seat out of the road.

We start with an easy lap around the lake to get to know the bikes, then try some climbing and wind our way up a trail called Axehead for a picnic lunch by the stream at Trusty Trout Falls.

They've had some fun naming the trails around here, with blue, or intermediate routes like "Deadly Bugga" and "Berms 'n Ferns" and black or advanced/expert rides like "Kumma Gutza" or "Air Ya Garn", filled as it is with jumps and bumps.

After lunch, we cruise along a trail through the forest, eucalypts soaring way above, cross a 4WD track and all of a sudden, there in the bush is base camp, the off-the-grid, out-of-the-way parcel of beautifully designed glass and timber pods that sit at the heart of the Blue Derby Pods Ride.

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Its founders, passionate Tasmanian mountain bikers Tara and Steve Howell, describe it as the "first and only five-star mountain biking experience in Australia," and it's a fair call.

The accommodation pods are perched in the bush like treehouses and at first glance seem to just contain a great big bed, but it's a smart design that makes the bed a lounge and the window a giant viewing screen into the forest. A central building has the bathrooms and bike storage and an airy kitchen/dining/lounge with big glass doors to slide open to the deck and embrace the bush beyond.

The quality and creativity in the design is matched by the food - simple but sophisticated with local ingredients wherever possible and that goes all the way through to the bread, butter and beer. The meals at Blue Derby all stand out, but maybe the best of them is lunch on the rocks down by the Bay of Fires. First we have to get there.

Having found some legs for the riding, we hop aboard the Pods' shuttle and make our way to Poimena at the Blue Tiers after breakfast. This is where the Blue Derby trail network combines with that of the neighbouring shire to form a 43-kilometre ride, starting at 816 metres and winding all the way down to sea level at the Bay of Fires.

We have wisps of cloud whipping around the peak on a cool mountain breeze and after a quick look over the hills and out to sea from the lookout, get on the bikes and get moving. "The dirt here is so rich you could eat it," says Steve Howell and that may be true, but it's also perfect to sculpt trails from.

The riding is extraordinary - winding away under tree ferns so big you feel like one of the little people, belting through berms like a bobsledder and then cruising along under giant eucalypts; the trees getting higher as our altitude falls lower.

I don't doubt better mountain bikers than me could make the trip to the coast between breakfast and lunch, but after 12 kilometres, Edis, who has guided me through the bush to a rest stop, suggests we hop aboard the shuttle, lest the lunch become dinner.

I have no problem with that, and as we close in on the coast, the cloud clears, the day warms and it is into the sea for a freshening swim at Swimcart Beach on the southern end of the Bay of Fires, then up to the rocks nearby for lunch.

There is no wind, the sun is shining and the water clear with a small swell crashing on the sand for background rhythm. Up on those fire-coloured rocks is a lunch of local seafood with oysters, scallops and octopus shining amid the salads and some fresh-baked sourdough, helped along with wine and beer that was also nurtured to life in these parts.

Such abundance seemed justified after the ride, but it's still a rare treat to find a combination where you can sit back then sleep in luxury, all the time perched in the bush, wake to a chorus of birds and then pedal through that extraordinary landscape for lunch on the coast. As experiences go, the Blue Derby Pods Ride shines - little wonder its founders have received awards in tourism, adventure tourism and innovation for it.

THE DETAILS

THE TOUR

Packages include return transfers from Launceston, accommodation, meals, drinks, guides, mountain bike and gear and shuttles when riding from $2050 a person for three days and $2850 for four days.

TIMING

Tours normally run from spring to autumn but Blue Derby Pods Ride also offer a three-day winter experience from $1850 a person.

FLY

Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar all fly direct to Launceston from Melbourne and Sydney.

MORE

Traveller.com.au/Tasmania

bluederbypodsride.com.au

See also: COVID-safe and comfortable: Tasmania the great escape from the pandemic

See also: Six of the best undiscovered highlights of Tasmania

Jim Darby was a guest of Blue Derby Pods Ride.

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