Just off the Illawarra highway near Tongarra in NSW there is a dairy farm: a fairly decent size dairy farm at 256 acres.
The cows spend their time between milking grazing on the rich green grass, occasionally raising their heads to sniff the air; and sometimes they are startled by a low rumble as an armour clad rider kicks dust and dirt in the air flying past.
Greenvalleys wasn’t always a mountain bike park.
“I went to Whistler around six years ago – I’ve been a few times – but after I came back from that first trip, I thought to myself, why don’t we have something like that here?”
It’s fair to say it hasn’t been an easy run for Nic Haertsch getting his property to the point that it is at now — he could have gone over the bars a couple of times. For six years, (six years!) he lobbied with the local Wollongong and Shellharbour councils to get permission to build on his land.
The vast majority of the project he has funded out of his own pocket. Nic has paid for research into the effect on local flora and fauna, he has paid for vegetation management plans and building licenses…yet he is still restricted as to how much he can use the land for mountain bike events during any given year. It was a constant see-saw…
In February 2014, (a cool $55,000 later) Nic received the permission he needed to start building Wollongong’s first purpose built downhill MTB track. He left his role as a national events manager in Surry Hills and has been living on the property in a caravan ever since working on the track.
Nic commenced building tracks on the property with his group of volunteer track builders. After much frustration dealing with land owners and Councils, Wollongong Mountain Bike Club approached Nic with the possibility of holding Club events at Greenvalleys. With extra hands on deck, Nic and his guys worked hard to get a downhill track up and running ready to hold a NSW state round last year.
One of the conditions of building on and using the land for mountain biking is that it be used only for events. So what do they do? They make an event of it, of course. The WMBC holds regular build days, getting members of the club involved and holding racing events over the weekend to try out the new trails.
The downhill track is over a kilometre long and runs for just over two minutes from start to finish. It’s a tight run with a good mix of off-camber and banked corners. There’s a rock garden section about halfway down that will force the best riders to get on the picks, and it winds up nicely with a series of hips and rollers leading to the finish line.
The WMBC has been holding XC events in Wollongong and Illawarra for over 20 years but recently they have had to find new places to ride as the property they once used has been reclaimed as Indigenous land.
“We respect that it is Aboriginal land. It’s great that we can instead develop our own track on private land,” Nic said.
The XC track has been in development over the past 12 months, and is finally complete, ready to be attacked for their first round of the club cross country championships.
The paddocks across the Illawarra Highway are used as a makeshift campsite for those travelling from further abroad and there are toilet facilities and food stalls set up by local eateries.
The XC course follows a 4.2km loop through dense bush and open farmland. It’s a good mix of hard climbs, flowing single track and fast switch backs.
When we first spoke with WMBC club president Derek, it was impossible for him to contain his excitement.
“The club has been going crazy,” he said. “Absolutely Crazy!”
Derek went on to explain that there has been a real boom in memberships across the board (they are nearing the 200 member mark), but in particular, young guys are going mad on the downhill track. It’s a positive thing to see, kids who might be distracted by other things are doing something that keeps them fit and healthy, and teaches them how to get back up when they’re down too.
At the first round of the club downhill champs they had 74 riders compete, which jumped to 111 for the second. Craig Wynn, the downhill co-ordinator said that around two thirds of those riders are locals from the area. The level of local support they are receiving at events has enabled them to expand their operations quite quickly over the last 6 months, purchasing two new bike trailers and a timing system with club funds (a 16 bike carrier and a 20) making the shuttle ride back to the start of the downhill track quick and painless.
Nic and the guys at WMBC have big plans for the future. They’re working on a flow track and a BMX jump track – Nic says, the likes of which have never been seen in Australia.
In October Greenvalleys will host the East Coast titles, their major marquee event for the year. Last year they had 80 riders attend. This year, they are expecting many more.
Nic is clearly inspired by what he experienced in Canada to this day, and the way he sees it, Greenvalleys has the potential to become a boutique tourism facility in its own right. It’s a bit muddier than your average roller coaster ride, but definitely just as fun.
Upcoming Events that you should get involved with at Greenvalleys:
12th July – WMBC Downhill Champs Round 3
19th July – First XC race on the new track
30th August – NSW State Round 2
13th September – DH WMBC Club Champs Round 4
25th October – East Coast Titles DH, XC, and Flow Races
November (Date to be confirmed) – NSW DH Interschool Champs