Sleepy Derby, in Tasmania's north-east has undergone a metamorphosis with 125 kilometres of purpose built mountain biking tracks known as the Blue Derby Trail Network now drawing 30,000 visitors annually. But before the official trails were built, it was a much-loved holiday destination for people like the owners of Dales of Derby who camped in the area with their young family. With extended family here and overseas, the owners eventually bought land and set about designing a place that could accommodate large groups in modern comfort. Clad in raw Tasmanian oak, the timber is already ageing and blending further into the environment. The interiors feature light, Scandinavian-style plywood. Think of it as your exclusive and sophisticated all-ages Scout camp.
Set on the banks of the Ringarooma River with a soaring bush vista beyond, there's room to move for our 16-strong group who, when they're not on the bike trails, can be found lounging in the outdoor bean bags, playing soccer on the grassed area or cooling off on a rock in the water. It's a five-minute walk or a minute's bike ride into the former tin mining town, whose permanent population hovers at about 40.
Designed by Launceston-based Philip M Dingemanse Architecture and winner of the 2019 Barry McNeill Award for Sustainable Architecture, the elongated single structure references the utilitarian tin miner accommodation of the region. An external covered walkway connects the different spaces with bush views framed in the distance. There's a generous deck with outside barbecue and bar-style seating. Inside, the handsome glass-walled Cheminees Philippe wood heater is the communal area's centrepiece. After a day in the saddle, riders can stretch out on the l-shaped lounge surrounding the French fireplace. Aesthetics aside, Dales is highly functional; from the heavy duty coffee machine to bike storage shed with automated roller door for precious pedals, nothing has been forgotten. Even the midnight dash to the toilet is considered, with automatic lights to guide the young and the not-so-young to their destination.
There are four light-filled and deliberately compact pods - outdoors is the focus here - each with a queen bed, plus two bunk rooms with eight beds each. All are made up with hotel-quality linen and have heating for the cooler months. Two communal bathrooms each contain double vanity, toilet and shower. There's also a wheelchair accessible bathroom including toilet and shower and a laundry with washing machine and dryer which gets a solid workout.
A quality kitchen with two fridges, plenty of bench space and cookware for days makes light work of meal preparation for a big group. A straight-from-the-oven delivery of sourdough and rosemary focaccia made by chef Luke Clarke of the Derby Bread Shed is a welcome supplement. Beer and gin is brought in from Little Rivers brewery about half an hour away in Scottsdale. In town, the Hub offers wood-fired pizza and Two Doors Down serves smoothies made with local berries. Be warned, tree-change dreaming is likely after an afternoon snacking on local lime dusted calamari and Willie Smith's cider under the oak tree of the 1920s Dorset Hotel.
The preservation of the area's mining heritage makes for fascinating side trips, including to the turquoise Little Blue Lake and the towering concrete Mount Paris dam, built almost entirely by hand in the 1930s. In town, the 1800s schoolhouse which is now a museum documents the 1929 disaster when a dam wall burst killing 14 people. The easy Valley Pond cycle trail connects Derby to the pretty town of Branxholm. Also in town on the lake, a session in the country's first floating sauna is recommended.
Group holidays in one place can be fraught, but the supremely comfortable and thoughtfully designed Dales is a welcome place to return and regroup with your gang after a day on the trails or exploring the area.
Exclusive hire of Dales of Derby for up to 24 people costs from $900 a night plus a one-off $400 cleaning fee. Reductions apply for three night stays or more. 5/7 Main Street, Derby, Tasmania, 7264
The design and the details - everything works the way it should.
Trucks rolling through town might wake even the most weary cyclist. Pack some ear-plugs.
Jane Reddy, The Traveller