This is a trip report from a four day solo bikepacking adventure through South Australia.
Starting at the country town of Burra, in the Mid North of the state, back to my home town of Adelaide. The long way.
First a quick introduction. My name is Anthony, I’ve been back riding bikes just under two years, after a long hiatus. This is my second multiday bikepacking trip. I did a seven day excursion last year. I’ve always done a lot of outdoor type things, hiking, travel and 4×4 exploration.
Let’s start with a couple of maps:
This is the approximate route, as usual google doesn’t like dirt roads and tracks, but you get the idea.
Then a broader picture of where we are in the country as a whole. Burra is the red marker.
Now, unlike last time, where I was mostly following a set route (the Mawson Trail). This time would be more, choose your own adventure. This is how I like to explore, not quite sure what you are going to get, or how you are going to get there. This uncertainty often leads to frustration. However, the cool things you discover along the way, do feel like your discoveries. So, it was pick things that look interesting on the map and go that way.
Speaking of maps. For this trip I had invested in the Gaia GPS app for my phone. After trying a few different apps for the last year or so, as the Hema mapping I used in the 4×4 just isn’t detailed enough for bike/foot exploration. The paid version of Gaia gives you a South Australian topographical map, in about as much detail as you can get in Australia (I still have the ipad and Hema as a backup GPS, plus ye olde paper maps and a compass).
A good map makes a world of difference, and I actually changed my intended plan slightly a few days before leaving. After studying the map and deciding that there was more around the Burra area I wanted to check out, so I mentally added another day up there and decided not to go as far south as originally planned – however, as usual the plan was only loose and anything and everything (or nothing) could be changed along the way.
Firstly there was some outback pub opening business to attend to. A friend was back in town from interstate to travel up to Carrieton, where her friends had bought and renovated the local pub. Did we want to help celebrate the opening? We didn’t need much convincing.
The new owners asked me to give them a ‘soldiers five’ around their pub kitchen. I used to cook professionally, I could see they were a bit intimated by the commercial cooking equipment. I tried to reassure them that although it might seem a bit intimating now, once you get used to it you’ll love it. It’s designed to make life easier when you’ve got to feed a lot of people. Tools for a job. I imparted what knowledge I could (it’s been a while) and left them my number if they had any other questions. They’ll be alright, they want to make it work – that’s half the battle.
Some fermented liquids were consumed.
The next day we meandered back south. The lads dropped me off in Burra, before heading home.
Right, time to get to it.
Heading out of Burra, the first of many churches on this trip.
I had a rough plan to take the dirt road to the west of the range of hills that lie south of the town and then take one of the tracks through those hills I could see on the map, and camp at a good spot I knew on the eastern side of the range.
I knew access would be an issue, especially this far south (and therefore relatively densely populated). No matter how good your mapping it rarely shows what is public access and what is private property – remember what I said about frustrations of travelling like this? No worries, this is nothing. Once you’ve done this a while you normally have a Plan B (and C and D). So a short backtrack to the outskirts of the town and took the next road along, slightly further west.
Agave going feral along the way.
I knew I would have a few km to knock over before the next possible track through the range on the map came up. So I started cranking them out. The road was nice and quiet so not too bad a way to settle into the trip.
Another thing I would see plenty of this trip, ruins.
The Mid North is a great area to explore through, plenty of pioneer history and just enough variation in the landscape to keep things interesting.
I arrived at the next possible track through the range.
No worries, I wasn’t out of options yet. Please note, this range of hills looks mellow and rolling from here, barely a range at all. It looks like that from almost every outside viewpoint.
The next junction, there was a road heading east I could take.
A few hundred metres down it I came across a lady farmer, her son and dogs. I confirmed that this road does at least go through, eventually to Robertstown. “there’s a fork that’ll take you to a park and a locked gate, you don’t want to take that…” so of course, that’s what I wanted to take.
No, ‘NO BIKES’. So, again for the first of many times I split the bike and trailer and hauled them over the gate.
The perimeter track seemed to correspond with my map, and it’s not like I had any other choice so I just followed that.
I came across an old shearing shed. I presume this conservation park is a repurposed sheep station.
Some effort has been made to replant some trees here (bottom right above).
I had my first break here since leaving Burra, a couple of hours ago. I had made a conscious decision to fuel (eat) differently this trip, compared to the last trip – I had brought no carbohydrates with me, I had only fat and protein based foods, so I hooked into the homemade kangaroo jerky.
Let’s understand, this is not a frequented park. I was confident I wouldn’t see anyone now, maybe the odd adventurous bushwalker. However, I was basically on my own. No worries, I’m prepared for this sort of thing – I’m running basically the same set up as I was for the previous trip, so that’s over four litres of water and plenty of food, sat phone and a PLB. Of course, shit can still go bad, but I’ve got some top cover.
Good, ‘cos the hills were coming at me.
At the crest I got an idea of what I was dealing with. Looks like nothing from the outside, right?
Properly barren and remote in the middle. Just like the Flinders Ranges (which of course this is what this range eventually becomes). Buckle up.
Crap selfie for your time, looking chuffed like usual.
A bit further on I came across this cabin.
Door locked. I just feel it’s a shame you can’t access these facilities. Not open slather, we all know where that ends up, but some sort of permit scheme…? I’d love to spend a long weekend up here.
I arrive at a junction. By now I’m way off the map, whatever track they mapped back in the – who knows when – is long gone. I just take the fork that seems to head in roughly the right direction heading further into the park, though the range.
This section particularly reminded me of parts of the Flinders Ranges. The white gum trees, the stony dry creek bed.
Another familiar sight from the outback, colloquially known as spinifex grass. This area recovering from a fire.
A mixture of pedalling and pushing saw me drag the rig up the next hill, coming to another junction. Again I took the option that seemed to head in the direction to go through the range.
The scenery was exceeding my expectations. I hadn’t known what to expect in here, but I didn’t expect it to be this dramatic, or feel so remote.
A bit more climbing and I came up against a fence. That wasn’t a concern, the lack of track beyond the fence was. I had a good scout around but couldn’t see any way it continued. This was the view looking in the direction I wanted to head, still plenty of ground to cover.
Bit of fossilised wood I found whilst wandering around.
Nothing to do but head back the way I came and take the other fork at the junction. These were probably originally station tracks, with no requirement to continue over the fence, probably a different property. Bush-bashing through the range would be a great adventure, not today though…
I followed the other track through. Same end result. No fence this time, but no defined way through.
As you can see the shadows are getting longer. I had been a few hours in the park now. It was getting to that time to start making decisions about camping for the night. I could see on the mapping that I wasn’t that far from the Heysen Trail – South Australia’s premier long distance walking trail.
So I decided that rather backtrack all the way out, I would just follow the GPS to that track. The country was open enough at that point, and the light was still good. Leaving the trails is always a risk, but almost everything about this activity is a risk assessment one way or another. So a careful km or so across the scrub, and bang on target.
So I followed the Heysen till a junction where the walking trail headed back off into the range, up a steep incline.
Now, I was very conscious of how badly I had over exerted myself on Day 1 last time. So I decided to give up on crossing the range today and get to somewhere to camp. I didn’t know what land I was on, but fair to say it belonged to someone. So I just kept following the fence line, knowing the eventually I would hit a road.
Down there somewhere!
Breaking Bad type cabin on the edge of the property. Mr White didn’t appear to be home.
Final fence crossing.
Ok, so we’re not trespassing anymore. However I’m not exactly overwhelmed with options for a suitable camp in this area. I don’t have any big miles left in my legs, after the steep hill climbs today. I spy a cemetery on the map a few km away, should be peaceful at least…
The cemetery turns out to be a great option, or at least the carpark area next to it. Fenced in, so now chance of getting run over. This remaining wall from some ruins, will provide a bit of a wind break as it’s a bit breezier out here in the open – although I pitched the tent far enough away just in case the wall decides that this night is the night in the last few hundred years, that it’s had enough of being a wind break.
I get the tent up as the sun goes down. Salmon curry for dinner. Tired but no too beat up, and in good spirits. I take a 1.5L bottle of water to bed, like a party animal.
Good start. Certainly a few challenges, but already this feels like a good adventure.