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Cycling the Mawson Trail slip and slide: part 2

Peter Webber's picture
Camping at Chigwidden Dam on the Mawson Trail. Cycle Traveller

Last month, Peter and Vicki Webber introduced us to the first 484km of their cycling adventure along the 900km Mawson Trail, which runs from the outskirts of Adelaide northwards into the stunning Flinders Ranges. After a somewhat wet and muddy start, we find out how the adventure ended.

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

Bundaleer camp to Melrose: 69km

After a quick blast down out of the Lofty Ranges we hit long red clay straights into a stiff headwind. As we descend the ranges an Old Cocky in a LandCruiser ute draws slowly past with a wave and a big grin; you can see what he's thinking: "These idiots on bikes don't have as much brains as a bucket of sheep feed." We reprovision at Laura and refill our water. A local tells us of three days of foul weather coming, so we opt for the asphalt to Melrose.

On the way we stop at Stone hut Bakery for further calorie upload. Vicki complains to manageress how hard it has been punching into the wind and she replies, "That's nothing! I had a kid at home with tonsillitis last night."

On the Mawson Trail from Bundaleer Camp to Melrose. Cycle Traveller"That's easily fixed, just put the kid outside of a night," I say.

"Can't do that, the dog would eat her," she says.

"So where's the downside to that?"

"The kid would get caught in the dogs throat!"

The wind eventually favours us for about 15km before Melrose and lifts the pace considerably. We roll in and set up camp. The next site along has a couple of mountain bikers who now live near Mildura but prior to that were living in the street where I grew up. Coincidences keep coming.

Melrose rest day: ascent of Mt Remarkable

The tent shakes violently overnight and with gusts of wind sounding like a locomotive and the need for bike repairs, it's an easy decision to have a rest day. The rear cassette on my bike has decided to take a holiday after only 6,000kms. The Melrose bike shop is able to take care of all of our bike requirements and after this is done we do the mandatory ascent of Mt Remarkable – a very pleasant 12km return trip. The weather holds up all day until the afternoon when a shower moves in. With a lot of red clay tomorrow we hope to receive no more rain tonight.

Melrose to Quorn: 65km

It rains most of the night and is still drizzling when we leave Melrose. No possibility of entering the red clay hell today. We take the asphalt to Quorn, which is an easy ride with a nice tailwind. We feel disappointed about the section that we're missing, but given the conditions, there's no point trying. The road to Quorn has a car once every 5-10 minutes and is very relaxed riding. Wilmington cafe is a clear leader in the competition for the worst coffee on the planet, whilst the Quandong Cafe in Quorn is amongst the top contenders with its Quandong Pie and giant chocolate milkshakes.

Quorn to Buckaringa Lookout: 49km

On the Mawson Trail near Buckaringa Lookout. Cycle TravevllerAs usual we are awake to the sound of drizzle falling on the tent. A large dead red gum near our tent is the roost for several hundred Galahs. Vicki's torch beam had freaked them out the evening before and the entire colony had taken flight in a melee of squawking and thrashing wings. Not without a sense of humor, they manage to repeat this performance again at pre-dawn for roll call as revenge for the previous evening. We restock in Quorn and head out on good dirt to Warren Gorge. The sky remains overcast but with a favourable breeze it is a quick run out to Yarrah Vale Gorge with a short but steep climb through the pass followed by a fast descent into the valley and Warren Gorge. Traffic has been heavy today… 5 cars! After a bit of lunch in the Gorge we fly up the road to the Buckaringa North Campsite, to confirm that there is in fact a source of water at the shelter 100m off the road. We climb to the Buckaringa Lookout and set-up camp with a very panoramic backdrop over the Flinders Ranges and Willochra Plains. From our vantage point we watch the occasional car in the distance dragging its dust cloud like some kind of earth bound comet. A really nice day of riding.

Buckeringa Lookout to Hawker: 77km

It is -1°C according to the bike computer when we emerge from the tent this morning to a spectacular sunrise with a beautiful clear sky. The sleeping bags are a bit damp from condensation in the tent so we throw them over a shrub in the sun. A few minutes later the moisture on the outside of the bags had turned to ice. We restock our water at the Heysen Track tank and head off again. Vicki is in the lead while I procrastinate over some photos. I catch up to find she has narrowly avoided being bowled over by a wayward ewe, which crossed in front of her just shy of the front wheel of her speeding bike. I have tears streaming down my face from behind my glasses; it's just above freezing and I'm tearing down a hill on dirt at over 30km/hr. This is great, even if I can't see a thing! By the time we hit the main dirt track we're sweating and strip off the warm gear, after all it must be 4°C by now.

For the first time we see running water in the form of Willochra Creek and cross it where it is about 10cm deep. Local landholder Hugh Proby died here in 1852 in a flash flood. It is said that this little trickle of water runs several kilometers wide in these circumstances. The riding is flat across the Willochra Plain and we have a great ride in perfect conditions. We reach Springfield Road and find it to be freshly graded and smooth. We sight a few emus and roos and find the run to Hawker fast and enjoyable.

On the road to Chigwidden Dam. Mawson Trail. Cycle TravevllerHawker to Chigwidden Dam: 42km

We're late to start with a frost-covered tent and chatty grey nomads slowing our departure. Off again on good dirt that would be impassable with any rain. We rise up steeply for a brief hop and then onto a fairly level but increasingly stony track. We dismount to descend to the other side of the watershed due steep stony conditions, then the track levels once more but remains fairly stony throughout. Lunch at the movie set of “Holy Smoke”, a movie made famous only by Kate Winslet’s nude scene. Chairs, tables, showers, BBQ and lounge all left after the finish of the production. Approaching a water tank, it takes some convincing to get forty head of cattle to get off our track and let us through. We parallel the Elder Range all afternoon and arrive at the Chigwidden Dam ruins at about 2:30pm, so a pretty easy short day. We meet the caretaker of the Winoka property and his wife, who say they had 40 sheep killed last night by dingoes or dogs. They're understandably upset. Other than these two who are on motorbikes, we are passed by no vehicles and see no-one else -- just the way we like it. The dam has some water in it so we are able to filter some for use, but other than troughs and tanks, it's the only water we've seen on the surface all day.

Chigwidden Dam to Rawnsley Park: 63km

The breeze that rattled the tent most of the night supplies a nice tailwind on the first section of track out to the main road, where it becomes a half on headwind for the 14km to Moralana Scenic Dr. It soon becomes a headwind but makes no difference to our speed as the corrugations and frequent photo opportunities are bigger obstacles to forward progress. The scenery is spectacular and often looks very un-Australian with Cypress pines dominant. The dry creek beds are lined with Red Gums, which often achieve great diameter and bizarre trunk shapes for relatively little height. At about the halfway point of the day's ride, Pine Flat, the corrugations loose their novelty and the photo ops abate somewhat; it becomes a bit tiresome out on the road to Rawnsley Park. Dinner at the Woolshed Restaurant is delicious and the bottle of Dusty Dog Chardonnay numbs us suitably for the 1.5km ride back to the tent, which is good as it is -1°C. Later around a nearby campfire we chat to some nomads and discover that one of them knows a guy I met 30 years ago in Casino. Just can't get away from some people, can you!

Cycling to Rawnsley Park, South Australia. Cycle TravellerRawnsley Park to Wilpena Pound: 31km

On the track out of Rawnsley Park we encounter a fair amount of stony ground in dry creek washes, all quite a bit of fun. The tracks become quite narrow in places and the low-rider front panniers are often pushing their way through the vegetation along the track. We have additional security on these in the form of an extra bungee cord around the bottom of the pannier back to the racks. I take a wrong turn and realise Vicki is not behind me, so back along the track I go where I find her having strong words with her bike. The bungee holding one of the front panniers has snapped, one end disappearing into the distance whilst the other is now wrapped tightly around the front axle. A couple of minutes later and all is fixed with no damage – we even have a spare bungee. It is not until we get down to the next gate half a kilometre away that we find out that when the bungee blasted into space it managed to tear off the wireless speedo sensor. No more speedo for Vicki. The track goes out to the highway for a few kilometres, which is pretty dull, before turning off once again on what is some of the most enjoyable dirt we’ve had so far. After a while about eight emus take fright and run a parallel course to our track for several kilometres. They would disappear into the distance only to be surprised once again by us coming around the corner. We’re not trying to chase them, it just ends up that way. Their course slowly converges on our track and by the time they cross our path the stragglers are only 10m in front. Great fun; don’t think they’re as smart as my chickens. The run into Wilpena Pound is pleasant if not anticlimactic as you really have to get out of the Pound to get a view of anything. The place is a major tourist trap. Even the wildlife line up for photos.

Wilpena Pound to Middlesite Water Hut: 31km

The temperature in the Pound before dawn is -4°C. A hard white frost takes a pretty good hold of the place. It's hard to leave the Pound, not because of the cold but because the gate to the track is so tight my bike looks like it needs to take on a Jenny Craig diet just to get out of the place! It's bizarre country through the Pound, much of it Cypress country and there is lots of crushed slate set to a backdrop of big crags; it looks more like Utah than South Australia. The track has become quite technical and we dismount often to avoid deep runnels in the bottom of many of the dry creeks. It takes about an hour and a half to do the first 10km even though we are going predominantly downhill. All of this changes abruptly when we enter Bunyeroo Gorge. Firstly, the road literally follows the creek bed for a while providing an unpleasant riding surface, then rather dramatically drags itself pretty well straight up some hills to give us the steepest riding we’ve encountered so far. We are happy to get to the top and off in the direction of Middlesight Hut, plenty of loose gravel filled creek beds to keep us entertained, the hut appears suddenly and none to soon. It has taken us over four hours to do 31 km. The section from the Pound to Bunyeroo was quite fun but the rest, not so much. The hut is in the middle of nowhere and we are surprised to find the fire still hot as though someone has just left. Later a couple of guys wander through and it turns out we’re not far from the Blinman Road, some other track heads and camping areas, so we’re hardly remote at all.

Cycling to Blinman on the Mawson Trail, South Australia. Cycle TravellerMiddlesite Water Hut to Blinman: 33km

Off again on the final leg of the Mawson. The first 17km from the hut ranges from beautiful dirt to pushing through loose, dry creek beds. The scenery continues to command our attention. We start to see a fair number of big red kangaroos often mixed in with greys. All too soon we hit the asphalt for the final few kilometres to Blinman. The road surface is perfect but completely dull compared with the riding we have just done. There’s no marching band on our arrival at the end of the Mawson Trail at Blinman, so it feels a bit anticlimactic. We treat ourselves to a steak sandwich with the lot and two beers at the pub and get little change out of $50.00. Luckily they both tasted great. A few people come over to have a chat and after a bit more chatting turns out they are good friends with a couple we met on the Bogie River last year and who we also shared a great meal with at Blackmans Gap during our Cairns to Brisbane ride. It’s a very small world. We camp behind the Blinman Pub, which is without doubt the dodgiest place ever to call itself a campsite, looks more like a landscape supplier come dump, but the beer is good and the showers are hot and the pub has a great warm fire. Whilst at the pub the identity of the local post mistress is revealed so we ask her if a parcel had arrived for us. She says it had and immediately sets off across the street to fetch the food parcel we had posted to ourselves. Don't get service like that in the city.

Blinman to Parachilna: 34km

There's no public transport in Blinman, but there is a bus to Adelaide from nearby Parachilna. We depart Blinman in drizzle, move 100m down the road, stop and put on the serious wet weather gear. The route today goes along a dirt road through Parachilna Gorge. We know nothing of this gorge other than it is the way to Parachilna. So not expecting much we head off down the dirt. Most of the gorges we have been through on this trip have been short little affair usually involving a steep climb out, what goes down must go up. Being that Blinman is the highest town in South Australia, we could go down quite a way. As we descend, so does the rain. Signs saying road subject to flooding start to bother me a bit. We cross the bottom of a gully. Then comes another creek crossing, and then more, each one progressively wider, wetter and stonier than the last. In the rain, the country starts to look more like New Zealand and it would be really spectacular if we could see all of it. Corrugations fill with water and we can’t see how deep they are. Eventually, we are spat out of the gorge onto a vast plain, no climbing makes up for the poor road surface. It then about a 10km straight to Paranchilla, bouncing all the way. Paranchilla has a total permanent population of two or three depending on who you talk to. It does however have a pub listed in the top 100 gourmet experiences, with camel, goat and kangaroo as specialties. We stick with the lamb shoulder. Yum. We set the tent up at the Parachilna rural school under an awning for $10.50 including hot showers and a gas BBQ.

Total kilometres from Adelaide: 978km

Sunset at Backaringa Lookout, South Australia. Cycle TravevllerParachilna to Adelaide by bus

Genesis coaches pick us up at 10am at the pub for $135 each, including the bikes. We are the only passengers. It takes about five hours to get back to Adelaide. Graham the driver drops us at the door of our accommodation at West Beach in Adelaide, excellent service.

Peter and Vicki have completed many cycling adventures around Australia. You can read more and find more photos on their blog on CGOAB.

Images from top: 1. Camping at Chigwidden Dam. 2. The road to Melrose. 3. Cycling to Buckaringa Lookout. 4. Pushing up to Chigwidden Dam. 5. Rawnsley Park. 6.South of Blinman. 7. Sunrise at Buckaringa Lookout.


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The Mawson Trails starts about 7km from my front door but it is not the ride that is hard (although it is I am sure), it is finding the time. Hopefully one day I will ride this route. However later this year I intend to ride the length of the Murray and this article has given me a few tips and tricks to keep in mind. Again, thanks for sharing and if you feel inclined, follow along with us as we head out on our next big adventure.

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