Otway e bikes provides completely guided and instructed, electric power assisted, bicycle tours utilising a section of the “Old Beechy” Rail Trail in Beech Forest.
Nathan Swain is the creator and operator of the innovative, home grown eco-tourism business “Otway e bikes“. A wonderful example of turning a passion for bikes and love of the land into a way of life. Otway Life spoke to Nathan about how it all came about…
OL: How did you end up in this part of the Otways?
NS: I first rolled into Beech Forest from the east of the township on a fully loaded mountain bike, hired from a newly opened mountain bike, hiking and adventure business operating from Aireys Inlet. After riding through quite possibly the windiest and most definitely one of the most beautiful roads I had then and have still now, ever ridden a bike on, the Turtons Pass at the time an unsealed bush track, after pushing the bike and 35kgs of camping gear up yet another one of those long and gentle, (by appearance only) Otways rolling hills, there I was in Beech Forest I had never heard of the place and yet instinctively and instantly it felt like home. 18 years old and enjoying my first ever paid holidays from my job as a bicycle mechanic at the local toy store in Geelong West. I was a dedicated BMXer and lived and breathed all and only things “bicycle”. Only a week earlier I had been introduced to a fellow bike lover who had recently opened his mountain bike and adventure business and what was then just a passing comment “yeah I’d love to get down there and check it out” quickly became reality and I there I was, kitted out with a 26” Mountain Bike, a tent, sleeping bag and a map of the Otway Ranges along with a suggested, but not exactly followed, four day route that saw me travel the Otway Ridgeline from Benwerrin to Beech Forest and then down to Apollo Bay and back to Aireys Inlet along the Great Ocean Road and from those four days, on through the rest of my life I was to be pronounced in love with our region. This trip, though slightly modified each time became an annual solo event for me offering a chance to really just forget about absolutely everything else and just be in the moment, in the Otways. I was home and I knew I where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.
OL: What was the inspiration behind the creation of Otway e Bikes?
NS: The fantastic Old Beechy Rail Trail passes right by our families’ property in Beech Forest and being a very keen bike rider I watched eagerly as the Old Beechy was reborn from a narrow gauge railway line which operated from 1902 to 1962 become a purpose built bike riding and bushwalking trail stretching 45 km in length from Colac to Beech Forest an enjoyable journey taking in natural rainforest, farmland and timber plantations, and one which I completed many times over a period of years, and then in March 2015 the section through which we now operate our 1 hour guided e-bike tours on, from Beech Forest to Ferguson was officially opened, by this time our family owned 4 electric assisted bicycles and we thoroughly enjoyed taking visiting family and friends on bike rides that they would have not usually participated in, if it wasn’t for the ease and comfort of riding an electric assisted bicycle. As an experienced bike rider, bushwalker, educator and tour guide, I know all too well, that the biggest barrier for the connection of people to the natural environment is of course, access. The combination of the Old Beechy Rail Trail, a passionate, local and knowledgeable tour guide, coupled with E-bikes seemed to be somewhat obvious. Low in impact, high in fun and loaded with opportunities to connect to country, I don’t believe there is any a better way to be introduced to our region than on a guided e-bike tour and Otway e bikes genuinely want to share this experience with our regions visitors.
OL: What surprises have you encountered along the way setting up your innovative business?
NS: All of the surprises that we have come across whilst setting up and operating Otway e bikes have been very positive, mostly concerning the phenomenal and sometimes overwhelming amount of support which we receive from our local residents, the business community, tourism groups and local shire and even state government. So far we have successfully carried out 3 significant revegetation projects on the Old Beechy Rail Trail (with many more to come) with participation from a total of over 70 volunteering community members and school students, along with physical and financial support from Landcare, Planet Ark, Colac Otway Shire, the Friends of the Old Beechy Rail Trail (a not for profit group) Otway SES unit, Lavers Hill and Gellibrand Community house, and the opportunity to participate and support many community ran fundraising events such as “Pete Johno’s Beechy to Gellibrand Good Friday bike ride and the St Marys Colleges’ Garden and lifestyle expo, Gellibrand’s Blues and Blueberry Festival and the Golden Gumboot event on the Old Beechy. It’s surprising how amazing it makes us feel to be able to support such awesome events and receive such invaluable support from our wonderful community.
OL: What are your personal favourite routes through the Otways?
NS: I consider the Old Beechy Rail Trail as the best all round trail in the Otways, for its safe passage, ease of access it’s seemingly endless diversity and also the way in which the Old Beechy was made a reality by active community members, local private landholders, logging companies, Colac Otway Shire, historians, bike riders, bushwalkers and nature lovers, all working collectively, the Old Beechy Rail Trail was always going to have a positive energy feel to it. Also rating as a favourite ride is the Wait-a-While road from Wyelangta to Johanna visiting the beautiful Aire River Crossing along the way, it’s on this road that some of the region’s largest (easily accessible) trees the mighty Mountain Ash stand gracefully and gigantically, some of these giants are estimated to be over 300 years old and have girths of over 10 meters, though the crowns of most of these trees have been violently dislodged in storm events over the last few hundred years, many still however reach dizzying heights of over 70 meters and it should be said that the Mountain Ash – Eucalyptus Regnans (Regnans loosely translates in Latin to royal or ruling) the world’s tallest tree species to have ever lived and currently holding the title of The World’s Tallest Flowering Tree (“Centurion” Located in southern Tasmania and in 2014 was measured at 99.6 meters tall) the Mountain Ash certainly is our regions, and further more for that matter, our country, Australia’s champion flora.
OL: What are your hopes for the future personal, local and global?
NS: We have great plans for Otway e bikes into the future; we are very excited to enter the limited mobility market, with hopes to purchase new equipment to cater for guests of varying abilities. We have our hearts set on an American made 3 wheeled E-bike that has the capability of securing a wheelchair bound guest and their chair between its two front wheels in a set up similar to a rickshaw, and other side by side, 3 and 4 wheeled E-bike configurations to suit families with members of varying ages and abilities.
On a further scale, locally we aim to improve our visitors’ experience of our region, increasing the duration of their stay and creating awareness and establishing connection to country, we also wish to encourage our local residents to holiday locally and explore their own backyard, supporting our local businesses which ultimately support our community and our children. Tourism was recently recognised as Colac Otway Shires largest and fastest growing industry, overtaking and outshining agriculture and timber. Eco-tourism, especially in the small business sector is in my opinion the best way forward for our region; our special environment is our greatest asset. I enjoy my position on a number of local tourism advisory and steering committees and through these networks I wish to encourage and expand the support to small, local Eco-tourism businesses that can offer genuine positive experiences and connections on a more intimate and personal level than the big commercial operators can service, I hope to assist our region to become well known for its small and genuine Eco-Tourism operators and create a culture that not only raises the respect of country by its visitors, also increases the appreciation from our community of its valued visitors.
Globally, I believe our world would be a much better place if we all went out and wrapped our arms around a giant Mountain Ash.
Thank you Nathan – we think Otway e bikes are awesome and we wish you a happy & successful 2017!
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