We hate cycling on paved roads. Whenever it is possible we try to trade the speed of travelling on a smooth surface of bitumen for slower, yet adventures-guaranteeing, gravel roads. We had enough of cycling on the Stuart Highway from Darwin to Alice Springs, and when we realized that there is an alternative road, running parallel to a former railway track (Old Ghan Track), we decided to take it straight away.
After visiting Uluru and Kata Tjuta, we rolled east and later south, to a roadhouse in Kulgera, from where a dirt track is leading to the geographical center of Australia. We had read a lot about the famous Oodnadatta Track and after spending almost a month in different versions of Australian “nowheres”, we were well prepared.
The heart of Australia owes a lot to one of the most interesting roadhouse owners – Adam Plate from Pink Roadhouse of Oddnadatta, who passed away in 2012. Not only being famous of running probably the craziest roadhouse one could find in the Outback, Adam was passionate about hand-painting the series of road signs, that could be found as far as 700 kilometers far from his property.
We had 147 kilometers of corrugated, dust road from Kulgera to Finke in front of us, so we decided to leave as early as possible, to be sure that we can make it in 2 days. Since there is absolutely nothing between the two places, we filled up all of our bladders with precious rainwater that we found in one of the tanks on the back of the campsite and, ready to cycle, jumped on our bikes. After not more than 2 seconds of cycling Mat’s front tire deflated rapidly and the tire went completely off the rim. Nice start!
We had to spend some time repairing the tube (complicated case this time), but managed to solve the problem and carried on. To our surprise, the road was very even! It turned out, that there was a grader operating in that area. We could not be more lucky! Corrugations – small “waves” of sand and gravel are a nightmare for cyclists.
Due to the nature of the soil and strong winds in that part of Australia, it is very hard to maintain a good surface quality of the local roads. When we were lucky, we could find stretches of packed sand, where we could cycle 12-14 km/h. Otherwise we had to push, as our tires were not wide enough for deep sand…
The road to Finke was long and boring. We were happy to finally arrive!
As you might remember from our previous post, we had sent almost 20 kilograms of food from Alice Springs to Finke (Aputula), an Aboriginal community. Even though Alice is only 200 kilometers away, all mail to Finke is delivered by air. We asked in the local shop where our parcel is, and to our surprise, they had no idea what we were talking about! As Mat went to look for the parcel in the community office, Anna started to filter water for the further part of our trip.
Nobody seemed to know where our parcel could be. We called the post office in Alice Springs, but they could not help us. We asked all the people with any kind of a role within the hamlet, but our parcel was still missing. We managed to make friends with the locals, though.
After 3 hours of waiting and trying whatever was possible, we were devastated. Without food we could not continue. We could buy some snacks in the local shop, but it would be at least 5 times as expensive as in Alice. We had no other option than to turn back…
Then, just as we were about to leave, one of the workers from the local office arrived with our box! It turned out, that he picked it up a week before from the airport, and has been driving with it all that time on the back of his truck!
Angry, but happy; resigned at first, but quickly re-encouraged. Strange feelings, all at the same time! We had said goodbye to the idea of cycling to Oodnadatta, and then it was all ours again.
The road was waiting out there, waiting for us:
Almost no traffic, just a straight road, some bushes on the left, some on the right. And sand. A lot of sand.
It was so hard to believe, that in this harsh and hostile environment people and animals can find their home. We were travelling through a fascinating land, where nature was unforgivable to those who do not respect it.
As we progressed towards Oodnadatta, the trees started to disappear, bushes shrunk, and all we were left with was an endless empty, post-apocalyptic landscape. We have never seen anything like that in our life before! There was absolutely nothing to hide under, no water to drink. Just us and the road. Pure adventure!
We felt great cycling this barren land, enjoying every little plant we encountered, the everchanging patterns and slightest fluctuations of colours.
In this moon-like place we encountered one of Adams famous road signs, letting us know, that we have left the Northern Territory and entered South Australia:
There is no better feeling than being in the middle of a total nowhere! No phone reception, no noises.
We had stretches of 200km without a source of drinking water, but every now and then there was a source of muddy fluid – either a water hole, a paddle or a dried out creek with a bit of precious liquid left in its meanders. Aboriginal people could find water (as well as bush food) everywhere. We were limited to what we carried in our containers as well as what we could filter out of the murky soup.
Would you drink it?
Filtering water, even with a gravity filter, takes a lot of time. To fill up all of our containers we needed up to 3 hours!
Small fixtures here and there, flat tires from thorns.
Endless desert, endless sandy, gravel roads.
We used to get up very early, to be on the road before 6am, then cycling until 11am. Around noon it was too hot to cycle – almost 50C degrees, so we had to stop and wait for the temperature to drop. Otherwise even pushing would drain too much energy from us, as well as lead to dangerous dehydration.
The water for the cattle is taken out from the bores – it is stored in large tanks. It is too mineral-rich to be drunk, but perfect for a shower!
After 5 days we have made it from Finke to Oodnadatta, the driest town of Australia!
We paid a visit to the famous Pink Roadhouse!
From Oodnadatta we continued our Outback adventure towards Marree (following the Ghan Railway Track). Slowly, stroke by stroke, step by step, we pushed our bikes forward…