The proposal for a Great Forest National Park is an idea whose time has come. The forests to the east of Melbourne contain incredible mountain ash and cool temperate rainforest. The proposed park could draw almost 380,000 extra visitors a year to the Central Highlands, add $71 million annually to the local economy and generate 750 jobs. It would protect the heart of the Highlands, including the catchments that supply much of Melbourne’s water.

Many people and groups are campaigning for the park. Aidan Kempster has been raising profile about the proposal through riding the trails and roads of the Central Highlands. He has been sharing his trips and insights on his website Riding for the Great Forest. Here he explains why he started riding to promote the vision of a Great National Park in the Central Highlands.

Why I started riding for the great forest

I respectfully acknowledge the Taungurung, Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung Elders past and present, the traditional Owners of the land on which I live and travel.

I’ve always had a thing for bicycles. I used to spend my weekends exploring the bayside suburbs where I grew up on my steel frame Schwinn. For a while I even had a job delivering papers before school. I did my first overnight bike trip with scouts, but it was ten years before I went on one again. I spent the better part of 2014 touring Tasmania and the east coast. I was carrying heaps of gear on skinny tyres and aside from replacing tubes I was pretty much useless as a bike mechanic. Thankfully I only had one flat tube the whole trip, though I did go through a set of tyres and two chains. I learned of bikepacking; doing the same thing with less gear on any bike, particularly mountain bikes, and I was instantly intrigued. There were so many quiet tracks without trucks I could visit.

Much nicer to ride than being on a narrow shoulder with trucks roaring past.

Some luck came my way when I found an old Mongoose mountain bike in a garage sale. I saw rack attachments and I instantly knew it was off-road capable. I ordered some new tyres and set about cleaning it up. I’d heard about the Great Forest National Park somewhere along the line, and decided to whip out Google. What I found shocked me. I had understood the park proposal was a no brainer, but it was still seemingly no closer to being declared. Trees were still being cleared for pulp and chip. A forest is so much more than trees, so much of it happens at ground level and below. The area in question contains much of our city water catchments, and creating the park would ensure a continuous forest between them. I didn’t really know much about the area, and neither did most of my city based friends. It was so close to town I couldn’t help but go and check it out for myself.

Launching the ride

I decided it would be appropriate to share my trip so more people hear about the park, so I launched a facebook page. I also realised that I could also use my ride to raise money for a cause. BeardsOn encourage awareness about deforestation and garner donations to plant trees. Every $2 plants a tree. They use beards as analogies for forests, the bigger and bushier the better, I was already primed for the role. They sent me solar panels to use so I could keep my social media updated and in early 2016 I embarked for the first time into the Great Forest National Park on my bike.

I had never even heard of the places let alone the histories of Woods Point, Cambarville, Kurth Kiln, Aberfeldy or The Rubicon. I didn’t know the entire history of Melbourne was built on timber, just how long it had been going on or how big the trees used to be. I had planned to explore the whole forest in one or two months of fairly continuous riding, and took my friend Sam with me for the first week. At the end of a hard week that was a lot tougher than I anticipated, that Mongoose broke after coming down from Mt Disappointment. I was disappointed and felt like I was under prepared for the assignment I had given myself. I had learned there was probably close to 10,000km of trails through the park.

Riding down Mt Disappointment

I also knew that I was going to keep going. I changed my tactic to explore in shorter bursts and do my resupplies in town. In the short term I got my hands on a cheap cross country mountain bike and was back out within a couple of weeks. Everywhere I went I saw things I wanted people to come after me and see. I learned local history and found peace and beauty amongst nature. I was challenged by weather and terrain and found myself stronger and more resilient for it. A more telling question than why I started riding bikes in the forest is why I still do it. The answer to that is pretty simple, I really enjoy it. I firmly believe that the sooner the park is declared, the better off we will all be. It is a great place to ride a bike and I suggest you try it. Afterwards, call your local politicians and ask them to lift their game and protect this beautiful, integral forest ecosystem.

Aidan’s current riding set-up

Read more and discover how the journey developed at