Grail of trails: Mountain biking in the spectacular Daintree

In the northern reaches of Queensland, a mountain biking nirvana weaves its way through an ancient landscape.

Bikes at sunset in port douglas
  • Tracey Croke
  • July 2018

Mention mountain biking and most people think of – well – mountains.

Typically, they picture ranges in famous locations such as Whistler in British Columbia and Chamonix in the French Alps; iconic destinations where biking disciples congregate in search of the Holy Grail of trails.

Australia might not have the mammoth peaks of other continents, but what it lacks in jagged ice-crowned pointy parts, this country makes up for with deep gorges, seemingly bottomless ravines and escarpments left over from when the continent was still attached to Antarctica.

For a complete change of scenery, mountain bikers should head to Tropical North Queensland – a paradise of lush rainforests, fantastical creatures and kangaroo-fur nipple warmers. The latter being proof that even in the tropics, it gets chilly in the winter months.

A couple carrying their mountain bikes
A couple carrying their mountain bikes

There, you’ll ride through a scenic time warp – a rainforest tens of millions of years older than the Amazon, chock-a-block with giant fig trees, ancient carpet ferns and sky-scraping waterfalls tumbling into pristine pools. Among flora that dinosaurs once munched on, you might catch a glimpse of some of the region’s rare and curious creatures, such as the prehistoric cassowary.

If it sounds like fantasy, you’re right. Anyone who’s seen the movie Avatar will know of Pandora; an earth-like moon of floating mountains, alien wildlife and bioluminescent plants. And it’s rumoured that Avatar designer, Dylan Cole, found inspiration in these lofty Queensland rainforests.

Back in the real world, when you hit the volcanic clay earth of Tropical North Queensland, you’ll be riding through a sacred region of legends and champions who put Australian mountain biking on the world map.

In the 1990s, local rider Glen Jacobs built a network of trails from his backdoor into the rainforest. “They were a bit different because they had to cope with thrashings from tropical storms and half-metre wallops of rain,” Glen explains.

Ride through the Daintree Forest
Ride through the Daintree Forest

The sign-writer turned professional trail-builder is world renowned for his sustainable creations and has created hundreds across the world.

Back on home turf, Glen’s original trails grew into several networks, which now stretch from Cairns all the way to the Cassowary Coast. Today, there are 700km of mapped and marked trails to choose from, catering to everyone from total novice to expert rider.

Nothing pleases Glen more than watching families and beginners whoop with joy, while experts test their mettle on World Championship descents. “Mountain biking is for anyone who loves the outdoors and the thrill of the wind rushing by,” he says.

Taking a break on a mountain bike ride
Taking a break on a mountain bike ride

But the Tropical North’s shrine to mountain biking isn’t done yet. A new multi-day trail for bikers and hikers is in the pipeline, and set to be one of Australia’s star attractions.

Once it gets the thumbs up, the Wangetti Trail will weave its way from Palm Cove to Port Douglas – a reach of 76km. It’s a precious zone on earth where two World Heritage sites meet: the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

“Where else on the planet can mountain bikers ride a trail with such world-famous beauties side-by-side?” asks Glen.

Some might call it the Holy Grail of trails.