At the end of September Hana flew back to the land down under for a wedding, while I went to a 30th birthday adventure for a couple of my kiwi mates in Madeira. Madeira is a reasonably large Portuguese island located off the coast of Africa at approximately the same latitude as Casablanca, Morocco.
Alex enjoying the view at the top of the island
Madeira is well known as a mountain biking hot-spot and currently hosts a stop on the Enduro World Series (a mountain bike event that is a cross between downhill and cross country where riders must ride up and down tracks but are only timed on the downhill sections). The island itself was formed from volcanic activity and rises from the sea floor some 5000+m to tower 1800m above the sea at its highest point. The island rises rapidly out of the sea and is incredibly steep on all sides with practically no flat land. This is clearly evident when you see the airport runway which is half built on massive piers over the sea. A word of warning about Madeira airport, when it is windy it is considered one of the most hazardous airports in the world. If you are unlucky like a number of our group were you may experience significant delays / cancelled flights either on the way to or from the Island… To get an idea of the crosswinds that pilots sometimes have to contend with search Madeira airport highlights on YouTube!
Part way along Boca Do Risco
Exploring Madeira is amazing as it has a constantly changing scenery. Due to rising rapidly to 1800m above sea level each side and area of the island has its own micro-climate, the north shore of the island is wet and humid with lush rainforests, while the south faces are a lot dryer ranging from dry dusty open grasslands to eucalyptus forest and the occasional patch of dense deciduous forests in narrow gullies. Some valleys end in ravine’s that have cliffs over 1000m tall. One particular cliff over the sea extends over 500m from the beach (the highest in Europe apparently).
Epic restaurants serving cheap delicious seafood with million dollar views over the Atlantic
When not exploring the Island we managed to indulge in the epic seafood at the local restaurants and dabble in our fair share of partying in the old town. The local dishes that come highly recommended include, melon and Madeira Wine (like Port) as an entre, scabbard fish topped with banana, Octopus prepared in vinegar and Tuna Steaks, although we found they often over-cooked the Tuna.
The Baller pad, complete with a swimming pool that Alex and Andrew sorted out for the team!
After the big 30th Celebrations were done and dusted and we had explored the island most people flew home. This left a couple of stragglers to determine if the mountain biking on Madeira was all it was cracked up to be. And the Verdic was…… Pretty damn good! Trail forks has a load of tracks listed all over Madeira; however, we found that the problem for a bunch of people turning up and expecting to be able to ride them on a budget is:
- Madeira is super super steep and to get anywhere you NEED A SHUTTLE, you wont be scrogging up to do the tracks.
- The vegetation grows rapidly on the island, so when the locals are not maintaining the tracks, they get over-grown rapidly.
- Depending on the time of year / weather some tracks can get ridiculously slippery. For example, the locals reckon that the “Porto da Cruz track” needs up to two weeks to dry out enough not to be as greasy as a butchers prick.
Alex FROTHING (check out that face) to get down a dusty dry trail through eucalyptus trees on the southern side of the Island
We found that the best option (if you are on a budget) is to do a couple of days riding with the lads at Freeride Madeira or similar to get a lay of the land and then get a hire car between 3 people so you can session the trails you liked the most. Our favorite trails included: Boca do Risco – a phenomenally flowey trail on the north cost, Blackline Prazeres – an epic flow/tech trail on the south west of the island, the second half of Ribero Frio – techy trail in the forest on the north/center of the island and Avalanche – another trail on the south west of the island that flows down a narrow gut making it quite unique. One other tip – you can catch bus 56 from the central bus station in Funchal to Poiso (near the top of the island) for a couple of euros. This is a great option for a couple of days as you can access quite a few trails with a bit of peddling and end up back down in Funchal at the end of the day.
The following are sample of photos taken from throughout the island:
There are a load of really cool painted doors throughout the old city area of Funchal
Views from the highest sea cliff in Europe
Sunsets, we love our sunsets!
Freeride Madeira put on one hell of a days riding for the lads
One of the tourist attractions is to ride on a cart down the road from the top of the gondola
Danny Tucker wrassling with his bike….look closely
Three bikes in a small hire car…
Note: The top image is of the east coast of the Island, it is extremely barren but so so beautiful!