Celebrating the start of second season... The Examiner Story
It is often said that from the little things, the big things grow.
But in the case of one of Tasmania’s most unique and successful tourist ventures, the size of the vision is best kept small, niche and utterly impressive.
Since launching in in April last year, Blue Derby Pods Ride has set a new standard for boutique accommodation, matched with an equally unique experience.
The vision of Tara and Steve Howell, the couple combined their passion for mountain biking and the Tasmanian outdoors, to make their dream a reality.
Nestled in the secluded bushland of Blue Derby in the state’s North East, the project combines a three-day mountain bike experience with uniquely crafted pod accommodation.
Led by personal guides, small groups are taken on an adventure into the heart of the Blue Derby trails, before finishing their days at The Hub – a central area for wining, dining and bathing after a full day of cycling.
Hidden away and overlooking the Cascade Valley, the setting serves as the epitome of escapism and is combined with a culinary experience as equally thought out, and almost exclusively made up of local Tasmanian produce.
Now almost 18 months on from opening, Ms Howell said it was all systems go as the venture heads into its second season.
“It is going really well. We are just about to enter our second full season and I think we are all really excited to see how it all unfolds,” she said.
“We are definitely entering our busiest time of year, but we have been able to stay open all year round and through winter, which has been really positive.”
Nestled deep in bushland, Blue Derby Pods Ride offers guests uniquely crafted pod accommodation.
The project was first announced in early 2015, and was given the green light to start development work in July that year.
Blue Derby Pods Ride was among the first expression of interest tourism projects for the state’s North, for developments in national parks and the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Areas.
With a passion for tourism and a partner equally enthusiastic about mountain bike riding, Ms Howell said the project was the combination of an idea, a leap of faith and finding a purpose.
“Steve has always had a passion for bike riding. We saw an opportunity and we are both so passionate about promoting Tasmania and showcasing what we have here,” she said.
“We started talking about this about six years ago, and then it took about three years for it to actually take shape.
“I think we could see the opportunities for mountain bike riding experiences all over the world – why not Tasmania.”
While tourism in the state has almost doubled in recent years, so too has Tasmania’s reputation as a top mountain bike destination.
Unofficially dubbed the biking capital of Australia, the reputation of Blue Derby alone has proved marketing gold for the venture, attracting both international and mainland tourists.
In 2017 Tasmania experienced an 18 per cent growth in international tourists – the highest rate in Australia.
For Blue Derby Pods Ride, Ms Howell said the majority of their marketing had been targeted to mainland Australia, particularly the eastern seaboard.
However on pure reputation, the venture continues to attract visitors from all over the world including the UK and US.
And with more and more visitors now seeking an experience, rather than just a destination, Ms Howell said Blue Derby was the perfect fit for a niche market.
“People can still see there is a real market for mountain biking in Tasmania,” she said.
“That area has received a lot of positive growth, especially in recent years.
“I think we were probably a big part of that. I think at the time we were being quite forward thinking.
“We could see this vision and the vision for Blue Derby.”
And the results are paying of.
In April this year Ms Howell was recognised in the Tasmanian Young Achiever Awards, taking out the Tourism and Hospitality Award for her work founding Blue Derby Pods Ride.
She was also named Trailblazing Innovator at the Northern Champions of Tourism awards in November last year, with Blue Derby Pods Ride also named a finalist for best new business in the 2017 Tasmanian Tourism Awards.
Ms Howell said she was proud of what the project had been able to achieve, in a considerably short amount of time.
“I feel like we have definitely stayed true to the original vision we had for this project, and fortunately that has been received really well,” she said.
“We are attracting the people we hoped to and they are mostly from outside of Tasmania.
“For us what we offer is very niche – we are talking about eight people per group, with local guides who are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about what they do.
“I think what we have created is exactly the type of tourism Tasmania should be offering, but there is a balance.
“There is a tipping point and for us, as soon as we lose what makes us unique, it defeats the purpose.
“We have always been very focused on our experience remaining niche and small, and I think we have done well to stay true to our original ethos.”
Looking ahead and reflecting on the success, Ms Howell said the best part of the experience was the feedback from customers – often described as “life changing”.
“We have certainly learned a lot, as any new business would going into its second season,” she said.
“We aren’t planning on making any huge changes, but I am sure will continue to learn as we go along.
“We are constantly tweaking things along the way and making improvements, but our focus continues to be giving our guests a moment, that will hopefully stay with them forever.
“That is something I think we are the most proud of. We have guests who tell us this experience has changed their lives.
“It might be the start of a new adventure, or a goal they have set themselves.
“To be a part of breaking that cycle of monotony, taking them outside of their comfort zone and breaking that cycle, it can be really empowering. That is really the best part of it, for us.”
Jessica Willard - The Examiner