Good mates Amanda Blyth and Claire Castle share many things. Energetic and friendly personalities, a passion for family, and love of the great outdoors. These thirty-something go-getters are the dynamic duo behind Mountain Biking Flinders Island – a fledgling new enterprise encouraging both visitors and locals alike to get out and explore the island on two wheels.
These busy mums take a lot in their stride. Between them they’re juggling young children, work commitments, family businesses and cattle farms. Whilst the prospect of a new joint venture would have weakened others at the knees, Mountain Biking Flinders Island launched itself onto the scene in 2018 with enviable enthusiasm.
“We do make a good team,” starts Amanda. “Taking this step together has been great. Claire is the confidence behind this business, especially in the beginning. She made me realise that sometimes you just have to take a bit of a risk and not overthink things too much. I’m pretty proud of what we have managed to establish in a short space of time and so grateful that the community have been so supportive.”
Nodding in agreeance, Claire adds, “I don’t think there would be too many other places where you could say ‘Hey, we’re going to start a business and we need your help’ and the entire community would step in behind you. But that’s exactly what happened here. All our bikes are sponsored by local Flinders businesses. Without that, we simply couldn’t have purchased them and gotten things off the ground in the first place. It’s pretty special.”
“I think the community could see our passion and understood that we’re here for the long haul. They know that we’ll look after the island and were very happy to help us get things up and running.”
Infectious personalities make Claire and Amanda ideal guides for a day’s riding on the island. Smiles, bright laughter and a fun loving streak provide them with the knack for making guests instantly at ease, whilst a head for safety keeps everything squarely on track. “Our biggest markets have emerged as family groups or older couples travelling together,” explains Amanda. “But what matters most to us is that people come and appreciate what we have to offer here on Flinders Island and that they’re comfortable with the experience we deliver.”
“You certainly don’t need to be an athlete or a cyclist to enjoy this,” agrees Claire, gazing out over the turquoise waters of Franklin Sound. “We encourage our riders to take everything at their own pace. We have people walk sections, spend an hour at the beach to have a swim on the way, or stop and enjoy the wildlife as things happen. We cater for small groups and, put simply, our time is theirs. Every tour is unique and we’re just here to make sure everyone is happy and safe.”
“We have a whole island as a back yard…. it’s pretty incredible to be able to walk out your back door to explore this. No matter what the weather, Flinders always has our hearts.”
“Our tagline, ‘Keeping it real’ really captures what we stand for,” Claire continues. “We love it here – the lifestyle, the community and the environment – and we aren’t here to change any of that. We’re about letting others share in what we have and about creating time and opportunities for people to enjoy it.”
“Sometimes we describe it as ‘learning to be remote’,” explains Amanda. “Basically our philosophy is about slowing down, getting outside and enjoying things. We see tourists drive up to a beach and not even get out of the car and go for a walk. To me, that’s such a shame. In a place like this there are endless things to explore and there’s so much to be gained from a day outdoors. Sometimes I think we’re losing the ability to do that and need to relearn how to be away from technology and stimulation and lose ourselves in remoteness.”
Amanda and Claire offer a chance to explore the soul of Flinders Island. It’s a celebration of everything the island stands for. Rolling farmland, pristine beaches, rugged mountains and variable weather. “Yeah, you never know what’s in store,” grins Claire. “But that’s how we like it.”
Bikes sink easily into the course yellow sand of a Flinders beach. There’s no real clock here and you can afford to sit and ponder the variegated blue waters while you slowly devour a fresh apple muffin. A dip, if you dare, will do wonders to reinvigorate you for the next leg of the ride.
Mountain Biking Flinders Island currently offers three different tours. The ‘Ride Strz’ takes guests on remote tracks around the back of Mount Strzlecki and offers spectacular stop offs at remotes beaches and waterside lookouts. ‘Cycle2 Rock n Sea’ visits Marshall Bay and Mount Tanner, covering an extensive area in a short amount of time, whilst ‘Down the white gravel road’ is an easy pedal beneath the hills – flanked by farmland and with stunning ocean views to enjoy.
“Some gourmet treats are always included,” explains Amanda, “Along with all the gear you need, a water bottle, national park fees and pick up and drop off from Whitemark. It’s pretty easy…you just turn up and meet us and the rest is sorted.”
When lunch is included it’s a hearty spread of mouthwatering delights, often enjoyed in a vineyard by the coast. Think freshly cooked bread, salads and quiche, and all manner of local condiments and sweet treats – just the thing to appease those weary joints.
It’s a recipe that has already put this this energetic pair on the map, with the Tasmanian Tourism Awards proclaiming the business one of last year’s finalists. “That was a real thrill,” says Amanda. “It was fantastic to know we are on the right track and what we are doing on Flinders is resonating with others.”
As fourth and fifth generation locals, these girls have seen some changes on the island in their time. “I spent my first few years here and then left at age three, only to return in my early twenties,” explains Amanda. “It’s the perfect place for families and our young son is loving life here just as much as we do.” Claire agrees, “I grew up on the island, leaving for high school and university, and then returning later with my own family. I remember the night I called my husband and told him to bring a couple of bottles of wine home. He thought something was wrong, but when I explained I wanted to move back to Flinders he was in pretty much straight away. He loves the outdoors too and is always up for anything.”
Claire comes from the Bowman line, of Bowman General Store fame – a local institution in Whitemark. “I tried to avoid Bowman’s for a long time,” she sighs. “I wanted to find my own way. But I do work in there and I love it.” Laughing she adds, “It must be in my blood, something about enjoying the community contact.”
Claire and Amanda joke about how Mountain Biking Flinders Island came into being. “I was riding past Claire’s place one day and she was out in the garden,” starts Amanda. “A casual offer to come in for a coffee turned into a brainstorm and within 15 minutes we had the basis of a plan. Of course we spent much more time fleshing it out from there.” Their eyes meet before Claire explodes with laughter, “I don’t think my husband even thought I was serious for quite a while.”
“We just put our heads down and got stuck into it. The next six months we were buried in planning and paperwork,” explains Amanda. “Obtaining all the necessary paperwork was a huge undertaking but we were very committed to doing things properly.”
Flinders is truly a mountain biking paradise. With vast open expanses of flat gravel roads, fire trails, and rarely used sandy bush tracks, there’s no shortage of places to explore. “We like to take people to out of the way places that are remote and inspiring, but it’s equally rewarding to spend the day with guests who are just happy to amble along our wide open roads and chatter. There really is something for everyone,” says Amanda. “What is important for people to realise is that it’s pretty raw here. When we go around the back of the mountain we’ll often come across fallen limbs and swollen creeks. That’s all part of the fun, we just take it easy and everyone gets through safely.”
“We believe that if tourism is done right here, things will be fantastic,” says Claire. “As a community we really need to have a clear and sustainable vision. There is certainly opportunity to grow tourism on Flinders but it’s important to do it in the right way so we can conserve what makes this place special. It’s one of the reasons we settled on mountain biking as this is a business that has very minimal environmental impact and is one that allows us to provide a unique experience to very small groups of people. We love spending that time with our visitors and really want to do the right thing by the island.”
“We’re just happy for things to grow organically,” grins Claire. “We’re not looking to be huge, we’re just happy for people to come to us, rather than being out there seeking publicity. There’s nothing glossy about us!”