Ride. Connect. Eat. Strum. Rest. Repeat.
World class mountain bike riding with a side of long-table dining and a nod from the resident platypus. There’s much to love about a stay at Dales of Derby.
Rolling into town, Dales of Derby sits gently on the landscape to our left. It’s long, well-proportioned and sleek – like an elite, Lycra-clad cyclist. But at the Dales accommodation, there’s a seat for everyone round the fire, whether talking up a mighty rainforest descent or a tot’s pumphouse track debut.
Once a bustling town home to the world’s richest tin mine, Derby has reinvented since the 1800s and today is hailed as a mountain biking mecca. It’s a little over an hour north-east of Launceston. With some 125 kilometres of trails weaving through temperate rainforest, in an Australian first, Derby played host to an Enduro World Series stage in 2017. Having competed in the likes of Canada, France and New Zealand, the professional riders selected Derby as their top pick. Little wonder the world class series returned two years later.
But we’re not at Dales of Derby to break any downhill records. While the pros gush over Derby, the network of trails is designed with everyone in mind. This fits nicely as extended family vehicles pull into the Dales across the afternoon and toddlers emerge beside big brothers who love nothing more than to tackle trails with names like ’23 Stitches.’
The architecturally-designed Dales sits effortlessly on the banks of Ringarooma River. Those with a penchant for panning, I’m told may have luck upstream. Our main mission is to satisfy one young voice that’s determined to meet a platypus. As we pull ourselves from the river and file inside, the communal space draws us in. Bright yellow light fittings give a splash of colour and a sense of impending joy. The fire is pre-prepared, ready to strike a match and whip up tall yarns from the highest trails. The long timber table begs for as many seats to be filled as possible - there are 11 of us but the Dales’ capacity is up to 24 guests (16 bunks, 4 queens). The commercial-quality kitchen is generously long and capable, promising room for several helpers. By design, everything about this place spells togetherness.
Separating the sleeping quarters from the communal living space is a well-equipped alfresco area, complete with open air barbecue. We share a grin at the gift of fine weather for our evening steaks and continue on to check out the rooms. In between, some of us are dutifully popping bikes into the purpose-built storage area, complete with repair stand and bike hooks. There’s no doubt this Dales place is made for riders. A few tweaks to the back brake can be made while snags are turned on the barbie.
As we pop individual keys into room locks, each reveal is different. There are bunk beds topped with crisp linen, followed by queen-size escapes with Ringarooma views. Although the five-year-old is certain she’s seen a wallaby in one of the rooms (courtesy of two nights camping with her father), we all settle just right and in plenty of time to regather for dinner.
Getting more familiar with our riverside home, it’s apparent the Dales just ‘works.’ There is good reason it picked up multiple awards at the 2019 Tasmanian Architecture Awards. Along with its well styled functionality though, much of its impressive heart is hidden. Tucked away beneath, the Dales is dutifully heating water via solar power to run the efficient dwelling. Invisible genius! It’s the work of owner Martin Dingemanse, founder of Mode Electrical.
Martin’s the type who has managed to engineer solar powered hospitals in Africa, that he can monitor from his Tasmanian home. His wife Margaret and their three children have been to the continent as part of this outreach effort. A close-knit crew, the family touches evident at Dales are reflective of how the Dingemanse team like the gather. Indeed, it was a lack of options when they sought to bring extended family together from as far as Holland that sparked the idea of accommodation in Derby where both Margaret and Martin holidayed as youngsters.
As the barbie fires, our determined platypus-hunter returns to the water’s edge with little success. The rest of us study trail maps that weave across the Blue Tier, a new option traversing 42 kilometres to the East Coast’s Bay of Fires. Following dinner, just as dusk falls, we hear squeals of delight as not one but two shy platypus playfully perform near the banks. It’s highlight enough for us all to turn in for an early night.
Luckily the first to wake are dutiful chefs and our eggs and bacon are nearly to the table. There’s little for me to do than strum a few chords on the resident guitar – enough encouragement for the brekkie to arrive at speed. We’re then off to the trails in every direction. It’s only a five-minute walk, even quicker by two wheels, to the central township. A little further on at the trail head, we part ways.
Most of us enjoy a relaxed morning circling the dam, a relatively flat ride ideal for my mountain-biking enthusiast brother who has a special contraption affixed to his handle bars for his two-year-old son. I’ve often felt no seat could be more terrifying, but this Derby cruise proves to be a giggling delight for his chief navigator. Later in the day, he’ll hit the big descents sans child.
After a quick bite at Two Doors Down, a great little café on the main strip (note, there is just the one main street!) we hit the trails again. A group of us girls decide to challenge ourselves on Flickity Sticks. At 65, Mum takes the turns well as we climb higher through the forest. Although I’m a touch fearful as we gather speed back down, the four of us are all smiles at the base. A combo of relief and elation. We push on to an opening where we take a refreshing dip before heading back to home base.
The Dales seems even more exceptional on night two. Perhaps it’s because we’ve carved new memories out on the trails and our chatter echoes off the walls with heightened enthusiasm. There’s already talk of a return trip and high fives at the thought of tackling 42kms through to St Helens. Perhaps that’s the real enchantment of the Dales – it brings folk together in the moment and equally offers space to dream up new two-wheeled Tassie fun.
It may just be a place where new generations of riders emerge; where mini-riders move from handle-bar home to handling their own bikes. For us, it brought together the family of now and fireside talk of where to next. Cocooned in the Dales, even a marathon pedal to the) East Coast seems a sensible idea. Nothing like some more quality family time – clearly the Dales have worked upon us!
Your launch pad for exploring Tasmania like a local.