Marcelo’s mountain bike mecca
Track builder Marcelo Cardona has put north west Tasmania on the global mountain biking map
The Dial Range of north west Tasmania is a long way from Marcelo Cardona’s birthplace of Colombia. Yet, the industrial designer and fine artist’s life story reads like the turns and berms of his world class mountain bike trails.
Son of Caribbean hoteliers and restauranteurs, Marcelo Cardona had been on the move from the age of two. Crossing continents and collecting an Industrial Design degree along the way, he’s owned a bakery, worked as a professional artist in South America, competed and coached internationally in mountain biking, and built tracks from flow trails to freeride parks. One day in Sydney, he said hello to a lady on the street by the name of Margo Peart. The New Zealand-born anaesthetist would become Marcelo’s wife.
Marcelo and Margo’s life together in Sydney proved hectic. Marcelo’s project management career demanded up to 90-hour work weeks and with Margo’s demanding medical career they relied heavily on a nanny for young son, Titus. Both knew this was not the family life they wanted.
“Our move to Tasmania was a conscious choice,” explains Marcelo. “For a year we travelled in search of a new home. We went to Whistler Canada, Perth, Darwin, Surfers Paradise, New Zealand and Tasmania to name a few. Nowhere was off limits, not even Iceland. We prepared a very careful comparison of New Zealand and Tassie, our top picks. We looked at economy, schools, housing, jobs, income potential, food, safety and more. Tasmania came out well on top, and then we found this land and we were sold.”
The family now live in the Dial Range foothills, a few minutes’ drive from the seaside town of Penguin on Tasmania’s north west coast. Since moving in 2011, Marcelo has built a five-kilometre network of mountain bike trails across his 26 acres that attract friends from as far as France. His private property borders the Penguin Bike Park, featuring 25 kilometres of tracks also designed by Marcelo and built by his trail design and construction firm, Next Level Mountain Bike. Initiated by the Cradle Coast Mountain Bike Club, the park opened in 2013 and just last year attracted over 15,000 riders to the region.
Tasmania has experienced somewhat of an economic boom off the back of high quality mountain bike developments around the state. Developments such Blue Derby, Wild Mersey, Maydena and St Helens, as well as Marcelo’s Penguin MTB Park have attracted tens-of-thousands of visitors to areas with mountain bike trails, injecting millions into local economies.
“These riders visiting the north west are coming from all over the world. They are spending money in cafes, staying overnight, they are investing in our region. I do believe the future for mountain bike tourism here in Tasmania has potential untapped,” explains Marcelo.
Over the past few years Tasmania has increasing firmed as the mountain bike capital of Australia. The variations in terrain, availability of elevation and relative ease to get from one trail network to another has made Tasmania a must visit for mountain bike riders around the world.
“Riders are looking for those edge of the world experiences – tracks less travelled. My friends overseas ask me if there are really wallabies and devils and giant ferns. They think it’s exotic, often locals can’t see what we have here.”
“People in government here have realised there is money in mountain biking and its ability to attract a visitor market as well as local audience,” adds Marcelo. “I was travelling Canada and Europe 20 years ago and mountain biking was already well established. Australia really only caught on ten years ago and I feel here in Tasmania we can serve the industry even better and develop employment in the process.”
Next Level Mountain Bike has grown from a one-man operation to a team of 15 employees operating state-wide with a fleet of five excavators. In addition to the success of his Penguin Bike Park tracks, Marcelo also designed and built the Wild Mersey Mountain Bike Trails, a $4.1 million project in the Warrawee Reserve near Latrobe that will connect the towns of Railton and Sheffield in future stages.
“From the point of view of a foreigner, I originally thought of Tasmania as a place people go to retire,” reflects Marcelo. “How wrong I was. This is adventure island! It’s got mountains and altitude and rivers and waterfalls. For these guys, the chance to ride in a place with this kind of wildlife and accessible wilderness is like a mountain biking mecca.”
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