Bicycle Network: Ride On magazine
Flinders Ranges by bike
Aboriginal rock engravings, great scenery and good food were among the joys for five friends on a South Australian adventure. Tony Lear reports.
I’m not one of the “up at the crack of dawn to go riding” kind of cyclists, but this ride was different. We had five riders, five bikes, one four-wheel-drive and over 1,200kms to the starting point in South Australia, so a pre-dawn kick-off in Melbourne was a change to the usual morning routine in order to get our Flinders Ranges By Bike adventure off to a flying start. Our first day's drive got us to the charming little town of Morgan on the banks of the Murray River in South Australia which left us only a morning’s drive the next day to get to our first stop in the Flinders, Rawnsley Park.
At Rawnsley Park we booked in to our cabin and unloaded only the minimum of clothes needed for dinner that night as we were going to strategically locate the car at Willow Springs Station, our home for the following two nights. A short drive of about 30kms got us to Willow Springs where we were booked in to the Shearers’ Quarters. We left the car and food supplies behind, finally got to saddle up and rode back to Rawnsley Park down the main bitumen road from where we would start the off road adventure in earnest the next morning. On our way out of Willow Springs we coincidentally came across the photographic team for Tourism SA so if you spot five colourful middle aged males riding with a magnificent Flinders Ranges backdrop in any SA marketing material you will know where we came from.
The ride started in earnest when we rode out of Rawnsley Park on a crisp mid-April morning headed for Willow Springs, some 73km away. The day's ride was mainly on firm unsealed roads and private station tracks although there were a few softer, more technical sections. Highlights along the trail today include Pugilist Hill Lookout, the Aboriginal rock engravings at Sacred Canyon and our final resting point for the day at Appealinna Ruins, a mining and pastoral heritage site. Our weary legs appreciated the comfortable chairs, scenic deck and hot showers at Willow Springs. Our stomachs appreciated the well fitted kitchen where we produced a lovely tortellini carbonara and the cold beer and wine with dinner were a nice touch. No need to do it too rough!
After preparing a breakfast of porridge, nuts, dried fruit, fig jam and King Island yoghurt with plunger coffee we were well fuelled for our next day's ride to Gum Creek Station. We covered about 60kms today, the first half being the most technical section of the FRBB trail. There were some rocky descents, soft sandy sections and lots of washouts to be wary of. To access the Pantapinna track through the Flinders Ranges National Park requires the prior consent of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources so be sure to make contact early and be prepared to be safe, have adequate communications and be environmentally aware if you wish to access this section of the track. We stopped for a welcome lunch break at Guide Hut which is being restored by Friends of Flinders Ranges National Park. A nice treat with lunch was a slice of home-made chocolate paneforte, our bodies certainly needed refuelling by that stage. The track to Gum Creek Station follows a dry riverbed at one point and the track and direction markers were difficult to find after recent flooding. We wandered around a little before finding the path out so riders need to be aware to be vigilant and to think smart in places.
We knew that Gum Creek didn’t have accommodation available for us that night but were able to taxi us back to Willow Springs for another night in the Shearers Quarters which was a good option as we were back with the car and all our gear, food and wine. This time dinner was BBQ’d porterhouse steaks and braised vegetables with Italian herbs and garlic immersed in a home-made tomato salsa, matched with a fine red wine. We may be remote, but as I said, it doesn’t have to be rough. A bonus at Willow Springs is the clothes washing machine, we managed to wash our riding gear each night and ride in fresh gear each day.
After another porridge breakfast to fuel the bodies we were driven back to Gum Creek to re-join the bikes and loop around to Wilpena Pound, another day of 60kms or so. Before we could leave two of us needed to replace front wheel tubes which were flat and full of thorns. The ride to Wilpena Pound offers the most spectacular scenery of the FRBB trail, starting on station tracks and joining the Mawson Trail for the ride in to Wilpena. There’s a stretch early on where there are massive spider webs across the track between trees for several kilometres, holding big fat spiders waiting to catch lunch. We were very polite riders that morning, “no, after you, I insist” was heard often as we traversed spider alley, ducking furiously when webs were spotted at the last second. We didn’t need a vote to decide that the many kangaroo, wallaby and emu sightings on the trip were our preferred wildlife encounters. There were a number of dry creek crossings today and the descent from Razorback lookout into Bunyeroo Gorge was exhilarating. The last 15km of the day was spectacular scenery but challenging riding, mostly uphill with many short, sharp pitches. It didn’t help that it was the end of the third day on the trail and the quads were ready to quit. Riding into Wilpena on sunset was spectacular and a fitting end to the hard riding. Tomorrow was a short day of easy riding to finish and the Wilpena restaurant beckoned.
Our final day's ride covered about 30km, including a long downhill stretch on the main bitumen road so it turned out to be a gentle, enjoyable morning’s ride back to Rawnsley Park. We’d managed to slip up the highway the night before to recover the car and one of us volunteered to drive down to Rawnsley Park from Wilpena, drop the car and ride back up the trail to join us for the final stretch. So it was that five of us rode into Rawnsley Park after four days and about 250kms of challenging but very enjoyable riding.
The drive home saw five weary but satisfied riders contemplating adventures past and challenges to come. Overnight in Mildura and a leisurely drive home saw us back in Melbourne mid-afternoon, eight days after that pre-dawn alarm.
The FRBB trail was a great ride, I’d recommend it to anyone of reasonable fitness looking for a bit of an adventurous off-road ride. We ranged from early 50s to late 60s and managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Preparation is important, plastic pedals off a folding bike not a good idea (fortunately the shattered pedal happened in camp, not when remote), communication equipment vital in case of emergency, puncture resistant tyres proved their worth and carrying extra water is a good idea. You need to watch the odometer readings too so as to catch each diversion of the trail, we missed a couple of turns and added several extra kilometres which our weary legs could have done without. When you pass through, give our regards to Carmel at Willow Springs, she’s a gem!