Blue Derby Network, Derby, Tasmania
A tiny town in a Tasmanian forest is fast becoming known as a cult travel hotspot for hikers, bikers and wildlife enthusiasts.
By Georgia Rickard
Published: 11 April, 2017
Looking to visit somewhere different this year? Put the tiny town of Derby on your list. This unlikely travel hotspot, in the middle of a Tasmanian forest, is one of Australia’s best underground travel destinations right now. And with the unveiling of its world-first forest sleeping pods experience this month, it’s about to become a lot more popular.
THE UNUSUAL STORY OF DERBY
Derby isn’t your typical travel destination. Once a mining boom town (Derby was the world’s biggest exporter of tin at the turn of the 20th century), the area suffered a catastrophic flood in 1929, and the town never recovered. By 2014 it was home to a rundown collection of old workers cottages and a population of just 200 people. “It was a very quiet, quaint little country town that you might stop in for a coffee but would otherwise drive through,” says Tara Howell, co-founder of the area’s new sleeping pods experience. “It had one main street, one cafe and a town hall that didn’t get used. Nothing much really ever happened.”
THE TRAILS THAT SAVED THE TOWN
A local named Tim Watson was determined to turn the town’s fortunes around. Derby is set amid some of Tasmania’s most spectacular scenery, and Watson was sure its mountainous terrain would provide a wonderful setting for adventure activities. Could the town be turned into a sporting hotspot? Watson sought the counsel of Derby’s then mayor, Barry Jarvis, who was also keen to improve the town’s fortunes. The two of them plotted and schemed, eventually coming up with the idea of creating mountain biking tracks. At the same time, Tara and Steve Howell, a couple from the other end of Tasmania, were searching for a place to create a mountain biking travel experience that would combine luxury, wilderness and their unusual accommodation idea, when they happened upon Derby. The fate of this little town was set to change.
LAUNCHING THE BLUE DERBY NETWORK
It was February 2014 when the four minds eventually met, at which point Watson and Jarvis’s cycling trail concept – now known as the Blue Derby network – was already being developed. Comprising more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) of cycling trails, which wind through deep eucalypt forests, quintessential Tasmanian bush, majestic rocky gorges and past cascading rivers, the network was opened to global acclaim. “It’s a world-class network,” says Glen Jacobs, director of World Trail, the company that built it. (He should know – over the past two decades, World Trail has created more than 400 trails in 20 countries; the Blue Derby network is the company’s pièce de résistance, he says.)
Cycle paths range from easy tracks suitable for those who’ve never mountain biked, to Olympic level, with a round of the prestigious Enduro World Series being held here, an honour only open to eight locations on Earth. Tara says: “When we saw the town’s vision for the mountain biking trails, we knew it was exactly what we were looking for." She and Steve set to work.
BRINGING THE PODS TO LIFE
This month Tara and Steve’s dream has become a reality, with the opening of the Blue Derby Pods Ride, a guided, luxury experience “for anyone who loves fresh air, excellent food and wilderness, and can ride a bike – you don’t have to be a mountain biking expert,” Tara says. A maximum of eight people are permitted on the experience, which combines daily cycling guided trips through the Tasmanian wilderness with sustainable, chef-prepared meals featuring local produce, and the real star of the experience: luxury, architecturally designed sleeping pods that seem to levitate over the forest floor. “When you sleep in the pods you lie under a huge, slanted glass window, looking up to the stars and the sky and the forest canopy above,” Tara says. “It’s a really unique experience.”
Indeed, the whole experience has a childlike wonder to it, she says. “You ride your bike, you have all your food made for you, you sleep in these amazing small-space, treehouse-type pods, everything is organised by someone else… it really feels like you’re a kid. Being here makes life simple again. It’s quite magical.”
THE REINVENTION OF DERBY
The reinvigorated town of Derby is also worth spending some time in. “The trail network has redefined the town,” Jacobs says. “Prior to its opening, no one in Derby had sold a property for almost a decade; now the market is hopping. There are restaurants opening up, the post office has been redeveloped, there are people everywhere, there’s a vibe. Our staff have personally bought homes here, so they can be in the area permanently. It’s unbelievable.” With a further 80 kilometres of trails set to open in stages over the next couple of years, the town has still more to look forward to – and so do its visitors.
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