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2017 World Champs Excitement and Good Times Exploring Cairns, Australia 1

With World Champs right around the corner, Sven Martin, Duncan Philpott and Boris Beyer sample some of the adventure and riding that the Cairns area has to offer.


Story by Sven Martin, photos by Sven Martin and Duncan Philpott

While we get to travel all around the world chasing World Cups as photographers, at times, it's not all that glamorous a job. Sure, it beats been stifled up in an office all year, but in essence you are taking photos of other people having fun riding their bikes, usually hiking down a hill most of the week with a heavy bag on your back in mud, snow, rain, dust or in the case of Cairns, Australia, home of the 2017 UCI Mountain Bike World Champs, 100% humidity with massive spiders lurking in the woods.

During mid-summer with back-to-back races, we are lucky to squeeze in a ride once a week between travel and editing. Traveling and seeing the World through work and bikes has always been the goal, but often the "fun and bikes" bit takes a back seat to the work. Coming to Cairns is the exception.

Giant Clam off of Fitzroy Island, Great Barrier Reef.
Aussie do-it-all photographer, Tim Bardsley Smith, with a huck from the 15-meter plunge up Freshwater Creek at Crystal Cascades.
Mick on the World Cup course in Smithfield MTB park. A tropical rain forest DH track like nowhere else in the World.

The break between Val di Sole and World Champs allows us to put some of the fun back into the travel and rather than hop on a plane buried behind the computer on the way to the next race, we were able to experience what makes Cairns such a great tourist destination. The whole point of traveling is to experience different cultures and places. Even if a place has the best mountain biking in the world, if that;s all it has going for it, then a visit can become stale.

Photo and Tourism Tropical North Queensland hosted a few journalists to see what else the region offers for visiting mountain bikers. Cairns and The Great Barrier Reef is the most popular regional destination in Australia for international visitors and the only place with two World Heritage areas side by side – the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rain forest. It's warm, tropical climate means you can tackle the array of mountain bike trails at any time of the year and enjoy a refreshing swim afterwards. Water. This would be the recurring theme during our romp.

You're probably familiar with the Smithfield trails that host the competitive DH and XC events but in tota,l there are another 60km of dedicated bike trails there and the center hosted the National Enduro Championships. We were keen to check out what else was on offer.

Kuranda Scenic Railway. Hard to believe they built this railway over cliffs, waterfalls and through tunnels in the 1800's.
Keeping the locals stoked!
Not reccommended, but, could a blow to the head really do Boris any more harm?

Barron Falls

Our first outing was a trip up to the impressive Barron falls. Sitting 329 meters above sea level, the falls drop 265 meters. However to get to the beginning of our morning's, ride we would be traveling via the old Kuranda Scenic Railway, built in the 1800’s as a supply line to reach the gold fields. There were some incredible engineering feats crossing cliffs faces, waterfalls and chasms. I'm not sure what they were thinking when they built this, but it's pretty standard for the Aussies - tough nuts. We were joined by Mick and Tracy Hannah as well as Andrew Neethling and Glen Jacobs, who probably knows more about this area than any living soul and is largely responsible for most of the riding and trail initiatives in the region.

Douglas track. A long, undulating fire road liaison before we hit some sweet, techy trails in the rain forest.

We had a mellow cruise down the range on Douglas Track. The most memorable part was watching Mick on his DH bike (tight cluster, big chainring) out-climb the whole group who were on trail bikes. I thought there was going to be a heart attack, chain snap or hernia or all of the above, but no, just another training day for Mick.

While Boris may have not intended to get quite this sideways, the super-slick, rain-soaked clay made for a hell of a lot of fun among friends.

After some time we dropped into a sweet mix of slippery singletrack and rooty rain forest. Despite the wet conditions, it was a blast. Maintaining speed and flow with enough momentum to cross the roots light-footed or at right angles kept us concentrating and on our toes. Covered in mud and soaked from the rain, it was perfect timing for some white river rafting to clean off. It's Australia and there were some fun, sketchy moments in the numerous rapids, both in the rafts and overboard.

Duncan takes the plunge. I wonder if the fear was higher or lower without his glasses.
So much fruit - half of which we had never seen or tasted before.

Concluding the day but keeping the theme of water running strong, was some dinner at AJ Hackett where Duncan and Boris drew the lucky (or unlucky depending on your disposition) straws which meant they were due for one more dunking; this time at the end of a 150ft bungee cord.

Atherton Tablelands

Peta Mullens is pretty handy both off-road and on-road!

The following day we headed out to the Atherton Tablelands to ride the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike park. About an hour out of Cairns, it features over 50km of trails. The region has a dry volcanic soil with a lot of loose rock surfaces, but is still grippier than our rain forest ride. Atherton Tablelands is also a little cooler than Cairns with less humidity being higher up on the dry side. Built by Glen Jacobs’ World Trail crew, the climbs are mellow and fun, and the trails super-fun and flowy when pointed down, making the most of the 300-meter drop. Some descents are undulating and longer, others short, steep and sweet with plenty of jumps and berms.

photo by Tim Bardsley-Smith

While riding we bumped into a crew of XC hard-tailers, and despite the rocks and jumps, they had no trouble on any of the trails, making this a place for any bike and variety of skill level. There is a handy shuttle road accessing the steepest trail with the most direct vertical drop, so if you want to do laps with a heavier bike, that option is available, too. We ended the day with a swim in nearby beautiful lake Eacham, spotting a crocodile AFTER our swim, probably eyeing up Duncan's healthy bones.

We felt a bit like Robinson Crusoe for our day out on the Reef, based on Fitzroy Island. You can ferry in for the day or stay overnight on this small island of Paradise.
Looking for dinner.
Corral beaches have a slightly erie feel to them when you consider these were all living organisms once.

It was time to relax after a couple days of back-to-back riding and extreme activities like cliff jumping, wakeboarding and body surfing. We did what most visitors do when they come here, experience the Great Barrier Reef. The skies were sunny and the waters calm. The day was spent on Fitzroy Island where we had most of the day to go snorkelling, take a glass-bottom boat reef tour, kayak, stand up paddleboard or simply laze on the beach or by the bar. We saw spectacular tropical fish and beautiful coral reef literally just a stone's throw away from our towel on the beach.


World Champs this week is what will bring attention to Cairns this week, but there is plenty of exploring and riding to be done as you plan your next MTB vacation. Bring your bike and swim suit and get ready for adventure.

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