Mountain Biking in Taree, NSW

Never heard of the Kiwarrak trails? Well if you love flowing MTB singletrack, you should put this one on your ‘must do’ list!Close your eyes and try to imagine over 40km of hand cut, groomed singletrack snaking its way up and down eucalypt-covered hills, weaving through trees and gullies; no crowds, near-perfect riding weather for nine months of the year, a friendly and relaxed riding community, and great food and coffee 10 minutes from the trailhead. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Far from being simply a Utopian dream, what you’ve just visualised actually exists at Kiwarrak State Forest (pronounced Kye Warrick), just outside Taree on the NSW Mid-North Coast. A highly motivated and dedicated group of local riders and trail builders are responsible for one of the best kept mountain bike secrets in NSW. And now, after having it all to themselves for the best part of a decade, they’ve decided they want you – their mountain biking brothers and sisters – to come and share in the spoils of their hard work. That’s just what we did; taking the F3 out of Sydney we managed to avoid the evil temptations of both the Colonel and the Clown to arrive in Taree three hours later, ready for two days of riding, eating, and talking bike stuff with the crew from Manning Great Lakes Tip Riders.

Kiwarrak has a great skills area not far from the trailhead.

Before we get into detail, let’s put that 40+km of trail into perspective; it’s about the same total length as the trail network around Mt Stromlo in the ACT, which was built with significant government funding and a considerable amount of manpower and mechanical assistance. Considering major urban areas in NSW often struggle to access even 10km of dedicated singletrack, it’s pretty outstanding for a coastal region that only has a population of around 50,000. It’s even more impressive when you discover that the vast majority of the trail network was built by just a handful of people; a true community service (and a labour of love) if ever there was one. It’s a bit of an in-joke amongst the Tip Riders that one of the builders, who quite possibly has a little issue with insomnia, is not infrequently found prior to club races grooming trails at four in the morning with a rake and leaf-blower!

Bourke's Bicycles is the go-to place for trail info and spares - you'll find them on Taree's main drag at the southern end of town.

Tipping Point

Trail building in Kiwarrak started fairly quietly around 2004, with about half a dozen locals developing an interest in mountain biking and deciding to put shovel and rake to ground, creating a few loops between existing fire roads and motorbike trails. By 2008 there were around 12-15 riders showing up for the regular Saturday morning ride, and the network had grown to include over 20km of trails.

You'll find the trailhead just near the tip on the way out of town.

After travelling around the state to attend club races in other areas, the local crew were convinced they had trails every bit as good as their neighbours and justifiably wanted to show them off. It was at this point that they started getting serious about formalising the trails and forming a club to both raise the profile of mountain biking in the area and to also run races for those with a competitive spirit. A meeting was casually arranged one night at Bourke’s Bicycles in Taree; around 20 people turned up, and the Manning Great Lakes Tip Riders was formed.

While the bulk of the trails are suitable for riders of all abilities, there are a few far more challenging adventures dotted around the forest.

One of the first steps the club took was to officially approach Forests NSW, who were apparently aware of the trails but content to not get involved. The club offered to remove illegally dumped rubbish from in and around the trails if Forests would pay the tipping fees. This was given the nod and over the course of a weekend they removed eight tonnes of whitegoods, mattresses and other assorted junk. It’s a bit of a sad reflection on human nature that the local tip (aka waste recycling depot) is quite literally across the road from the trailhead—hence the club’s name. This outstanding effort by the riders no doubt played a large part in them securing official approval to use the trails both for casual use and for running events.

From there they hosted rounds of the Mid North Coast XC Series to further build awareness of the riding potential they had on offer. Keen to provide entertainment beyond the racing itself, they’ve had a local band (with equipment powered by generator) play at the race venue, roped-in local coffee and food vans to keep people fuelled and also involved local businesses as sponsors. Apparently one sponsor had a huge inflatable pig floating over the main road, which created quite a lot of interest this year! In the last few months they’ve held their first ‘Super D’ participation event, as well as hosting a round of the Australasian MTB orienteering championships.

If you don't have a guide or time to really explore, follow the arrows on one of the marked 'race loops'.

The Tip Riders see broad community involvement as a key part of the continued growth of mountain biking in the area and have even worked to ensure there’s cycle-friendly accommodation nearby. There’s certainly a lot of effort going into making Kiwarrak an appealing and easy place to visit for a mountain bike getaway, whether it’s to attend a specific event, or just to get away and do in some quality riding.

All Good – No Garbage

By now you’re probably wondering what the trails are like. Well if you love getting your flow on, then the short answer is ‘awesome!’ Although reminiscent of places like Ourimbah and Awaba, the trail network at Kiwarrak is both much longer and also more varied. There’s plenty of smooth, sinewy and relatively flat trails for beginners; there are some steep and at times rocky climbs to bust the lungs; gravity lovers will find plenty of flowing descents with additional entertainment from various trail features and jumps (both natural and man-made); a few skills areas will allow you to practise your skinny-work and there’s everything in between. Whilst there are no super-technical climbs or descents, there’s more than enough challenge to keep riders of any level on their toes.

Rolling in on Peach Tree trail - one of the rockier parts of the trail network.

Despite the diverse mix of trails on offer there’s something that they all have in common—quality. The trails also have a great sense of flow, with one berm or roller always leading you into the next. There’s nothing shoddy about the lines or the way they’ve been built, and they generally make very good use of the natural terrain. While there are a couple of larger hills, the forest is dissected by several low ridges with a number of deep gullies formed by intermittent creeks. These gullies are a real highlight; the trail weaves along the dry creek bed like it’s a dirt-covered half pipe; pump, turn, pump, turn, pump, turn, all the way along. If that’s not fun on a bike I don’t know what is! The faster you ride, the more challenging the trails present, so familiarity certainly doesn’t breed contempt, but rather a whole new level of rider and trail interaction.

It' not all about the woodwork - there's plenty of flow to be found in the forest.

We spent two days being shown around Kiwarrak by a few of the local riders, who kindly took time out to ensure that we got the most of our tight schedule. There were plenty of trails we didn’t get to and virtually none we rode twice (except when we just had to go back and do them again). Bear in mind that many of the trails are also designed to be ridden in either direction, so you could easily spend a long weekend of solid riding there and still have plenty to do on your next visit.

The interlaced nature of the trails combined with the closeness of the trees mean that it’s easy to get disorientated, but you’ll never be more than a few kilometres from the trailhead. Still, a map (or even better, a local guide like we had) will make it much easier to find your way around. If you can’t get either of those you can either set half a day aside and just follow your nose. The area is bounded by a road to the north if you get completely confused, or you can follow one of the colour coded ‘race’ loops which are easy to find, not more than 5km long, and will always bring you back to the main trailhead.

Like the sign says; 'See, wait, saw'. Don't hit this with too much speed or you'll probably soar into orbit! You'll find this gem on the River Trail.

Particular highlights would have to include the Mozzie/Box/Whip section straight out from the trailhead, which will give you an immediate taste of the local trail flavour. There’s the Mayhem/Eureka loop which, as well as having a great sense of flow, traverses through some fairly varied vegetation; from dry sclerophyll to patches of swamp and sub-tropical rainforest.

Heart Rate Hill is appropriately named but as a reward you get to run down any one of four separate ways off the ridgeline; we liked Bower Bird and Icarus, but you’ll not go wrong in any direction. You’d be mad not to have a run or two down Dave’s Gully, through Moab and into Sweet As. No trip to Kiwarrak would be complete without a blast down (and then back up) Skull and Son of Skull, and High Road is fun whichever way you go. Some of the less used trails, like Link, provide more of a rocky challenge, and 3x3 is one of the best gully runs you’ll come across; watch that first roll-in though, it’s a doozy!

Not Riding, Relaxing

When you’ve had enough riding for one day there’s plenty of ways to entertain yourself in the Manning region. Wingham Brush, about 15 minutes away, is a remnant forest of giant fig trees and is home to one of the largest colonies of Flying Foxes in the country; once you get used to the smell of guano it’s a pretty unique place and worth a visit. Wingham itself is rapidly becoming a local artists’ community; it has some great cafés (Bent on Food is especially good) as well as antique stores/galleries where you could easily spend a few hours.

Taree is the regional centre and has all the facilities you’d expect from a large country town. Again there are plenty of places to eat or you could just stroll along the river bank where Croker Oars (used by many of the world’s fastest rowers) start their life. We had lunch at Raw Sugar on our first day; the selection of burgers (including vegetarian) was excellent and coffee and cakes were also good. Tropical Café in Pulteney Arcade kept us well fed and our tastebuds satisfied on day two, however the best food we had was a dinner at Fish-Fish-Fish—this place would be at home in any inner-city suburb and the crème caramel was a stunner. The closest beach is at Old Bar about 15 minutes drive, although on a sunny day it’s perhaps worth the 25 minute drive to the twin-town holiday mecca of Forster/Tuncurry; the drive across the bridge can be breathtaking and there are plenty of beaches, shops and cafés to satiate your other holiday needs.

We came away from Kiwarrak State Forest thoroughly impressed by what we saw; these trails wouldn’t be out of place in a professionally built mountain bike park. The fact that you could ride there all day without seeing anyone else on the trails is just icing on the cake. It’s well worth the trip for a weekend or more. Or you could do a week-long road trip, taking in the trails of the Central Coast and Newcastle before continuing on to Port Macquarie, Kempsey and then Coffs Harbour to get the full coastal-cruise going.

Thanks to Mark, Peter, and the rest of the crew from Manning Great Lakes Tip Riders for their hospitality—we’ll definitely be back!

Nice woodwork on 'Go 201' - one of the new jump and berm filled trails in Kiwarrak.


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