7 Days Bikepacking Through South Australia – Part 4

Laura is a town I’ve been through on many occasions. However I have never spent any time there, so with a few hours this afternoon off the bike, it was good to have a wander around.

First, set up camp at the community campsite. That green stuff was nice.

Meet the locals.

You do find some interesting businesses in these small country towns.

After restocking my food supplies, I lounged in my camp chair and read the excellent book I had brought with me (any trip far from phone reception is a great reminder of the pleasures of that older form of entertainment).

I wandered up to the pub for a few beers and dinner. I’ve never warmed to the austere interiors of a lot of Australian pubs, coming from the UK where nearly every pub is in a building at least a hundred years old, these modern spaces leave me cold. However the local old boys banter warmed the place up “Once you take out Adelaide and Mount Gambier, there are literally none of us left in this state!” I have no idea what that was about, but that’s kind of Australia in a nutshell. All the better for it.

Pizza that night, with chilli, olives and anchovies.

Surprisingly that night was the coldest night of the trip so far. Which even with all the vents open, means a serious amount of condensation inside the tent and on the  sleeping bag. I hung them out in the ever faithful sunshine whilst I packed up the next morning.

I had an excellent late lunch at the cafe yesterday, so I thought another good breakfast would set me up for the day. As I perused the menu the chef recommended the special ‘Canadian Breakfast’ of French toast, bacon, caramelised banana and maple syrup. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth at all, but there was something in her eyes when she recommended it that convinced me to go for it.

Absolutely no regrets.

She came out to see how I found it. You’ve gotta love it when someone is that passionate about what they are doing.

This morning I would be leaving the Mawson Trail for a while and heading out through the Beetaloo Valley and checking out the Beetaloo Reservoir. Then heading though the town of Spalding, before picking up the Mawson Trail again through Bundaleer Forest, which should provide an excellent camp for tonight.

Rough maps, Google no likey dirt roads.

Ominous horizon heading out of Laura.

Came to nothing, thankfully. Riding up through the Beetaloo Valley, chaining the bike up and then a short walk,  I got to the reservoir.

As with many of these reservoirs, it has been stocked with native fish. Probably to help promote the health of the body of water, but also for recreational fishing. I’m about as rubbish a fisherman as it is possible to imagine, so I didn’t linger.

Nice Bronco.

The valley after the reservoir is pretty enough too. It was probably prettier before they dammed the river, but that’s another argument.

You always find different properties on these back roads. This had all sorts of turkeys, pheasants and peacocks – all sorts of great christmas dinner options right there.

After of plenty of climb this morning, I enjoyed a few kilometres of freewheeling downhill before popping back out on the bitumen ahead of the town of Gladstone.

The ‘Heritage Rail Trail’ could be called other, less kindly names. As all these towns once had more importance and trade than they do now. However that whiff of decay makes them interesting in their own right nowadays too.

I had been to all of them except Gladstone, as it sits back off the main road. Part of today’s detour was to fix that up.

Gladstone, like most of these mid north towns, if full of interesting abandoned buildings from more prosperous times. Before reliable road transport reduced the need for local services.

Several pubs (of course), one still (just) in business.

This one, not so much.

This one, had at least the front bar turned into a simple cafe. I always try to spend a bit of money in any communities I pass through.

I can struggle down a pastry and a coffee.

Back on the farm roads.

After an hour or so I picked up the Mawson Trail again, and shortly found a familiar spot for lunch. Once again I had been through here in the Cruiser, I recognised the school as I rode up to it.

Over the next small range. I would head into Bundaleer Forest, should be easy to find a nice quiet camp spot in there.

The best laid plans… I managed to lose the track a couple of times that afternoon. My memory of Bundaleer Forest was different to what I was in now. Not so foresty as I remember, and being a Saturday, quite busy. I had to lift the bike over a fence and so de-coupled the trailer for the first time this trip, managing to drop its entire weight on my rear derailleur cable in the process…

Nothing presented itself as a nice campsite. I pushed on. Back on the backroads.

Which eventually filtered down to a 4×4 track. I was hesitant about camping on such an easily accessed  trail, and as you can see the ground off the track was not especially level…

I was past ready to stop, but sometimes that’s just the way it is. The end of the track was some gates to a farmers property. Some properties there seems no issue camping on, some others make it pretty clear that’s not cool. No signs like that here, may as well push on a bit further.

Luckily it wasn’t much further, a flat-ish spot, nestled at a fence corner near some trees presented itself. By now I knew not to be fussy, take the camp-spot.

As I was pitching the tent, a older Hilux came rattling over the horizon – well, I thought, I’ll soon find out if this farmer is cool with me camping here or not…

No need to worry. He was cool and the gang, said camp anywhere you like. He was just heading out to do a couple of hours work, at ten to six on a Saturday night. Don’t say these guys don’t work hard.

In the end, a great camp spot.

Massive menu change that night, RICE with tuna now.

I wandered up the hill to watch the sun drop below the hills. Caught the farmer on his way back, after losing the light. He works two jobs, plus these 400 acres, he rents his other 300 acres. Fire went through in 2013, still fixing up the fences from then. I wonder how many of those things are related…?

I slept well. Although with the big ride yesterday, now both knees were playing up.

No worries, I had maybe another night wild camping, depending what I found today. I had arranged for No 1 girlfriend to pick me up from the town of Clare, in the Clare Valley. I would get there no problem, dodgy knees or not.

Another Pho breakfast. Then another pretty morning ride through the sheep station.

Backroads past another reservoir, and then a detour to checkout another abandoned railway bridge.


Most of the gates in this area were quite ornate for farm gates, and occasionally still had this natty self latching device functioning after, who knows how many years. Although most just had the ever reliable twisted bit of fencing wire as a latch.


In a farmers field I found another cyclists’ broken (aluminium) pannier rack. I can understand that’s frustrating, but don’t just leave it there – that’s the sort of thing that pisses off the farmers who land the trail crosses. Anyway, I strapped it to the (steel) BOB trailer and packed it out.


The trail followed this flood channel from the reservoir down to the small town of Spalding.


There were many, many gates…

At Spalding I found a water tap at the sports ground (always a good bet), and did my bit for the local economy.

This is Milly, she is 12. I love old dogs.

After Spalding I again left the Mawson Trail, there was a road on the map that followed a river, through a small hamlet called Hilltown.

More abandoned bridges spanned the river. This one was on private property.

Amazingly the river actually had water in it. Although it was flowing the opposite way than I expected, funny how that happens sometimes.

The road was mostly arrow straight, whereas the river could be seen meandering through the farmers fields alongside.

Hilltown was exactly the sort of place that could feature in a Stephen King book. I presume this road I was on was once the main road north from Clare. With that now being the bitumen highway 5km to the west, that left this place really just to the few remaining residents. I like finding places like this.

I was hoping there would be somewhere suitable to camp here, or somewhere around here. I fancied another night of wild camping. However, we were now into the busier, wealthier, more populated Clare Valley. The vast swathes of available land further north were firmly behind fences here. So I decided not to fight it, and just head on down to the town of Clare.

Back on the dirt road, something felt amiss, and I realised I didn’t have my maps. I had been carrying them around my neck and over one shoulder and then tucked into my rucksack strap, so they didn’t get in the way whilst riding but were easily to hand for navigation. When I stopped at Hilltown I must have just tucked them into the rucksack, without putting the strap on first. Anyway, with these quiet little places there was every chance they would still be where I dropped them, so I pedalled back, retracing my steps, and there they were. A few metres from where I got back on the bike.

More pretty farm tracks

Brought me out on the Riesling Trail, a winery/cycling/walking trail that runs through the Clare Valley wine region.

I booked into the campsite just south of the town, not a bad spot in itself.

Cooked myself tuna, pesto, macaroni for old times sake and settled into an appropriate beverage.

This was my first bikepacking expedition. Even though I was familiar with all the areas I travelled through, the bike gives you access that you just can’t get with a 4×4. It also gives you a perspective and a connection to your environment, that makes for quite a different experience. Plus you are completely self reliant, there is no carrying 100 litres of water, or a week’s worth of food, so if you enjoy the planning and logistical aspects of a trip, this is bloody engaging!

A quick map to show the start and finish points. I’m guessing I rode around about 550km in total, about 80km (50 miles) a day average (something like Strava is way too power intensive to use on a longer trip, in case you’re wondering why I didn’t use an app to measure). As I decided early on it was going to be about the experience more than achieving a particular aim, that’s just how I like to explore. I learned a lot, and there will definitely be some tweaks for next time. However I was really happy with how it went, and would strongly recommend it if you’re thinking doing something like this. It seems a very appropriate way to travel in the world we are currently in.


As usual after a big trip I start saying things like “that’s me done for a while, I’ve got too many normal life things to sort out…” that never lasts too long though!


Thanks for reading.



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