Australia's premier cycling destination
Photography & Words: Jay French
Riders: Gaelen Slaney and Josh Tanzen
Since our trip to Victoria's High Country, the region has been affected by bushfires. However, we are relieved to report that all of the mountain bike trails, towns, and businesses featured in this article were unaffected, despite some occasional smoke. The area looks forward to welcoming you as soon as you can pack your bags, saying that is the most effective way to support the region.
Rolling down the tree-lined avenues into Bright, you could be forgiven for feeling like you were somewhere else. Generally, Australia is known for its wide-open spaces, beachside cities, and red sand desert, but as you enter the Victorian High Country, you are surrounded by thickly forested hills and winding mountain roads. The township itself bears comparison with many small mountain towns from around the world, nestled amongst tall pines in the foothills. Its quaint shops and quiet main street in stark contrast with Australia’s second-largest city, the bustling metropolis that is Melbourne, with its tall buildings and laneways, only a little over three hours away.
Cycling has become one of the key reasons to visit the Victorian High Country. On the weekends you’ll spot group after group of road cyclists enjoying the diverse scenery, and of course, mountain bikers, coming from all over the state and the country to discover one of the seven areas open to explore. On this trip, we were able to sample three of the seven destinations, Bright, Beechworth, and Falls Creek. Joining us on this trip, two local riders, each from a different discipline, but with plenty of experience on these trails between them. Gaelen “Lenny” Slaney, from a freeride and slopestyle background, and Josh Tanzen, straight off the downhill track. Living close, they were the perfect pair to show us around the area, all the good trails, places to eat and drink and a few local secret spots too.
Day One: Bright
As you ride (or get shuttled) up the access road, the first thing that strikes you is the sculpted jump line that’s easily the most well-known trail when you ask anyone about Bright. The trail, called ‘Hero’ makes its way down the hill parallel to the road, and offers ‘A’ and ‘B’ lines, to help progression. The second thing you notice, which becomes almost overwhelming, is the constant roar of the Cicada’s, pulsing through the trees. The cacophony of these insects develops a ringing in your ears that grows and recedes as you pass through different sections of bush.
Bright offers a wide range of riding. Flow trails with sweeping berms, multiple jump lines for those wanting to part ways with the ground, rough and loose singletrack, and even a decent downhill track for the bigger bikes. They’ve even put in an uphill bermed trail called “Up DJ” which would be a hoot on an e-bike (which are allowed).
After riding you can head down to the river to cool off or go and grab something from one of the local cafes. In our time there we ate mainly health food. Started the day with pancakes, syrup and ice cream, had to try the Bright Ice Creamery, of course, visited ‘The Chicken Shop’ where they serve a fantastic ‘Holy Schnit’ burger and some of the best hot chips I’ve ever tasted (worth the trip just for these). After a huge day of riding, it’s important to know that everything in Bright closes earlier than you might be used to. You want to try and be there by 8 pm latest. However, there was one lone place still serving food when we got down after sunset and that was Il Centro, where we got some of the cheesiest, most stacked pizzas we could have hoped for!
The sound of the Cicada’s in the trees is deafening. You have to shout to be heard in places. They overwhelm the sound of even the most aggressive Chris King hub, and after a while, you develop ringing in your ears. When you leave the forest and go inside where it’s quiet, you feel like something is missing. The Cicada spends the majority of its life underground. When they emerge for their brief adulthood they climb the nearest tree, shed their exoskeleton, and emerge with wings ready to start looking for a mate, which is what all the noise is about. It’s said that the loudest Cicada in Australia can produce up to 120 decibels at a close range. These Cicada’s neither bite nor sting, they just make a real racket! You can see the exoskeletons littered all over the forest, still clinging to trees and branches everywhere.
Day Two: Falls Creek
We drove the winding hill road to Falls Creek from Bright after dark, so the views that awaited us would be a surprise. The trip was only an hour and change, no need to give up valuable riding time for travel. When we headed out the door just before sunrise, the valley was starting to light up and it was obvious that we were in a ski town, with chalets and apartments dotted about the hillside. We knew this one would be worth an early start to catch the sunrise high above the township.
The riding in Falls Creek is dry and loose, with many rock features to navigate. With over 40km of single track here, there is plenty to keep you going. We got started on the trail ‘Thunderbolt’ and made our way around the other trails afterwards. The trails are easily shuttled but the pedal back up isn’t too arduous if you wanted to lap them. We rode one of the newer trails ‘Flowtown’ in the afternoon which does what the name suggests, and is long and flowy with lots of features and jumps taking you down to the chain bay near the entrance to the resort. We were pleased we decided to do a car shuffle for this one.
Falls Creek itself is a quiet place over summer, except for events like Ignition, and public holidays. It would be advisable to bring your own supplies when you come up, in terms of food and drink. There is a supermarket but the hours are limited, you can stock up in Mt Beauty, or Bright on your way. We made sure to sample a few places, trying the waffles from ‘Stingray’ in the morning, but finding almost everything was closed by the time we got down in the evening. We got super lucky however, Lisa, and her dog Skye, from ‘Diana Lodge
’ put on an amazing dinner with all the trimmings for us after we got down from our last trail.
Day Three: Beechworth
We left Falls Creek bright and early to make our way to the historic gold mining town of Beechworth, with instructions to meet at the popular Beechworth Bakery. Again, the trip wasn’t a huge one, just over an hour had us at the meeting point. Lenny took lead and ordered a Beechworth staple called a ”bee sting” which comes highly recommended, all you need to do is work out how to eat it without half of it ending up on your face. We had a look around the township, which does a great job of promoting its rich history dating right back to the 1850s. After a quick lap of the town, we headed off to the Beechworth Mountain Bike Park for an afternoon of riding.
The bike park here is a bit different to the others, it’s not on a mountain like the other two, and at first sight, comes across as being kind of small. But you know what they say, “good things come in small packages” which is fitting for the Beechworth Mountain Bike. Looks can be deceiving, and we were all very surprised at what they managed to fit into such a compact area. At first, when you pull up into the car park, you see a small hill that looks mere meters high, this had us wondering what we might be in for. We were all blown away at how many trails the local mountain bike club (Beechworth Chain Gang – old jail reference there) had built, being smart about the fall of the land, and the way the trails were laid out. What we also hadn’t realised was that the car park isn’t at the bottom of the hill, in fact it’s closer to the top and as you ride down, and down, and down you see that the trails all head off the back of the hill and down the ridgeline to a point far lower than the car park.
The riding in Beechworth is a lot of fun, there are flow trails, downhill trails, jump lines, XC loops, and dedicated climbing trails. The small area boasts over 17km of trail, with over 700m of descent across the trails. There is something for everyone, and by linking up trails you can have yourself a serious ride. There is something for all skill levels, gnarly rock gardens, big jumps, progressive jumps, through to low key XC loops, green trails, and a pump track and skills area. Once you’re done with all that pedaling you’ll need refueling. We were sent along to Bridge Road Brewers. We knew we’d found a bike-friendly spot when we walked in to find a rack of bikes on the wall, and a wall of branded bike kit to purchase if wanted. Heaps of room inside and out, great pub food, and plenty of beverages to try. We started with the highly recommended ‘Robust Porter’ and for dessert, feeling adventurous and as it was the season, we tried the ‘Magical Christmas Unicorn – Vanilla Ice Cream Ale’ (on the Nitro tap for added sweetness). Bold choice.
We’d crammed a whole lot of riding into a long three days, getting up with the sun, and going to bed long after it set, we’d had a taste of just how much could be achieved over a long weekend, with a group of mates, bikes and a car or two. The High Country area has so much to offer for the mountain bike enthusiast. With seven spots, all within short drives of each other, you can pick and choose your riding to suit your mood. There are all different types of accommodation available in every destination. The vibe within the towns is unique, and very pro-bike, with many bike shops around if you need anything (which I did on the first day, so shout-out to Pete at Cyclepath Bright for getting me back up and running). Jump onto Ride High Country
to learn more about the trails, places to see and accommodation. Now it’s time to get back on the road to Melbourne, but not without one last stop past the Bakery.
Local KnowledgeThe Climate & Wildlife:
Victoria's High Country is a place of high mountains, deep valleys, crystal clear rivers, and pristine lakes. Temperatures can change by as much as 10 degrees (C) between the valley and mountain peaks. It is a great place to escape the summer heat, but come prepared as even in the summer it can snow.
The High Country is a haven for indigenous wildlife including birds (king parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, rosellas, and gang gangs are all in abundance) plus there are wallabies, echidnas, kangaroos, and wombats. Those with trained eyes will also be able to spot a koala or two. And did we mention cicadas in summer?
In summer, spectacular wildflowers are on display right across the region, especially the high mountain peaks like Falls Creek, Mt Buller, and Dinner Plain.Bike shop and repairs:
In Bright, both All Terrain Cycles
(MTB Specific) and CyclePath
are located in the heart of Bright and offer excellent service.
While in Beechworth, head to the walls of the Old Beechworth Gaol where you find Beechworth Cyclery
Before driving up to Falls Creek, drop in at Rocky Valley Bikes
in Mount Beauty to grab supplies. At Falls Creek, Blue Dirt Village Bike Hub
has limited supplies of new kit, tubes and other peripherals that you might need.Tech Tip:
With such unique park characteristics across each of Ride High Country's seven MTB parks, you could potentially select a different bike for each destination! If you are a one bike rides all type, we recommend a mid-travel trail bike (130-150mm travel) which will see you equipped to tackle all of the region's trails. If you are exclusively shuttling at Falls Creek and Bright
, an enduro bike would be the perfect weapon of choice.
And oh, keep an eye out for Former World Champion Paul van der Ploeg who frequents these trails.Food and Drink:
In Bright be sure to check out Bright Brewery
, Bright Chicken Shop, while Dr. Mauves
does some great end of ride cocktails.Bridge Road Brewery
is a staple of the Beechworth riding scene, drop-in for a world-beating pale ale and woodfired pizza, or get the famous Ned Kelly Pie and a Beesting at the Beechworth Bakery.
During your ride day at Falls Creek, swing by the Village Bike Café
for homemade pies, sausage rolls and wraps in between shuttles. Head to Frying Pan Inn Bar and Grill
or book at Diana Lodge
for something more substantial.
The High Country is famous for its fresh produce. Stop roadside to pick up a selection of goodies for your trip from the local farm gates. Stanley, near Beechworth, is a local favorite.Must Dos:
Take a dip after your ride in one of the pristine rivers or waterholes.
When riding in Bright, jump straight in Morses Creek post-ride (the park straddles the creek and there are numerous places to swim), head to the Bright Splash Park
in town, or ask a local how to find Sinclairs Waterhole.
Beechworth has the spectacular Woolshed Falls
nearby or you can join the locals at Lake Sambel
in the heart of town.
At Falls Creek
, check out Rocky Valley Lake at the resort or take the short ride to Pretty Valley pondage. The name does not disappoint!
Every good ride finishes with a beer, so grab one from any of the nine High Country Brewery Trail
breweries. Almost all of the brewers are keen mountain bikers who moved here to ride and quench your thirst. If you're lucky, they might even take you for a lap of their favorite trails.
Away from the bike, the High Country has a lot to offer. Not far from Bright is Mount Buffalo
with its spectacular 360-degree views. In Beechworth, history oozes out of the streets, so be sure to visit the Old Beechworth Gaol
which housed the infamous Bushranger Ned Kelly or take an Asylum Ghost Tour held at the historic Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum
. At Falls Creek
, it's all about nature, so watch the Sunset from the summit of Mt McKay or explore the high country cattlemen's huts. Wallace’s Hut is only a short ride from the village.
Pinkbike would like to thank:Ride High CountryAlpine Cycling ClubFalls CreekBeechworth Chain Gang