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Flinders Ranges By Bike

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By Lach - Posted on 04 November 2014

Last month, I was lucky enough to take a few friends on a trip to the the Flinders Ranges in SA. A mate and I took our mtb's and rode most of the Flinders Ranges By Bike (FRBB) loop. Here's how it went....


As I’d researched the ride, I was aware that we needed to register and pay a fee ($40 per rider) to do the ride and access the private property that the track traversed in places. I’d e-mailed Wilpena Pound Resort Visitors’ Centre (where we had booked to stay in the caravan park) and asked where to send the completed registration form, as it was not specified on the FRBB web site ( They had said just to sort it all out on arrival.

As it turned out, we arrived just as the visitor’s centre was closing, hoping to start our ride the next day. When we fronted at opening time the next morning, the attendant in the visitors’ centre knew nothing about the process and had to ring around some of the other participants to get details of what to do and where to find the forms etc on the web site.

We were given a larger format map than the one available from the web site, but not much else in the way of navigational assistance and no instructions about reporting in to anywhere. We did have to designate a person who would be responsible for raising the alarm if we did not reach our proposed destinations in a reasonable time and we had to take a 5w UHF radio. Telstra 3G coverage is patchy, but way better than anything else in that area.

I had downloaded a gps trace of the loop (after much internet searching), and along with the map and the signposting, this proved to be an adequate set of navigational tools to ensure that we stayed on track through some pretty isolated, dry and harsh country.

Not a great start, but we were on our way.

Day 1 – Gum Creek to Wilpena

To get to the start of the first section we had decided to do, we needed a lift about 45 km up the road from Wilpena towards Blinman. We started from the Gum Creek homestead entrance. With no instructions from Wilpena to “check in” with the homestead, and nobody in sight, we headed off on the track.

The morning was quite cool and with a gently downhill run across the grazing property to start with, the long sleeve thermal top and windproof gilet stayed on for quite a while. Particularly at this time of the year, you have to be ready for temps anywhere between freezing and 30+C in this area.

Early morning is the best time to ride from a wildlife perspective. On this early stage across Gum Creek Station, we had to slow down quite a few times for kangaroos and emus running alongside the track. They are unpredictable and need to be treated with caution.

This section of the ride was through mostly farm double track. Very sociable riding mostly as you can ride side by side and discuss the scenery and other stuff, and warn each other about wildlife on the move. There were lots of grasshoppers in this northern part of the loop at this stage of the year as well. They were pinging off the spokes as we rode through patches of Patterson’s Curse that were in full purple bloom. The grasshoppers were leaping high enough to ensure we rode with mouths shut, or at least with teeth clenched through these patches.

After a few kms, we linked up with the top end of the Mawson Trail, a 900 km signposted ride from Adelaide to Blinman. Signposting changed from the yellow FRBB track signs to the purple Mawson Trail signs. After a while, we dropped out onto the Brachina Gorge road and rode upwardly for a couple of kms, before heading off cross-country to Elatina Hut. We had morning tea there before pressing on to link up with the Bunyeroo Gorge Rd. This is an exhilarating descent on a good dirt road with spectacular scenery. We stopped at a couple of the lookouts on this road with wonderful views back towards Wilpena Pound. Watch out for cars on this section as you can really get some speed up.

After lunching in Bunyeroo Gorge, we started on the uphill slog to Wilpena. It ended up being not as bad as the profile had suggested. However, I broke my new chain coming out of one of the washouts and couldn’t get my joining link to bed properly, despite the fact that it had worked on my old chain only a couple weeks before. After flaffing about for a half hour, I gave up and did the last 7 kms walking, coasting and being pushed by my riding partner on the flatter stuff. We got passed by a couple of other guys while walking up one section, but managed to get by them again on one of the downhill sections!

Unfortunately, the bit I ended up doing chainless included the only real bit of single track on the whole loop and some of the best riding. I never quite got back to have another go……

I reported in to the Visitors Centre to let them know we had finished the stage. It was a different staffer, who seemed unaware that we were out there. As they also hired bikes out to tourists, I also asked if they were able to help out with a joining link for the chain, but after checking with the maintenance guys, they said they didn’t have any 10-speed stuff. They did offer the use of one of their rental bikes (for deposit only), if I wasn’t able to fix it, which was a nice gesture. However, the biggest bike they had was a Large hard tail (I ride an XL full sus), and I wasn’t keen on tacking the often loose, rock strewn trails on such a bike.

The next day we did the Skytrek 4WD tour from Willow Springs homestead. Willow Springs are also a participant in the FRBB and also hired bikes out to tourists. They weren’t impressed with Wilpena Pound’s level of support for the program, noting that the Pound had neglected to notify one of the land managers about our imminent entry into their property yesterday.

I asked if they had any suggestions about where I could get some help with the chain. The manager suggested that the Escapegoat Tour guys were staying at the homestead for a couple of nights while running one of the their escorted tours along the FRBB loop and that they might be able to help later in the day. She also mentioned that another rider had been helicoptered out the day before after crashing on the next section we were planning to do. Didn’t mention that to the wives until after we had completed that stage!

As it turned out, the Escapegoat tour guy was back at the Willow Creek homestead when we finished our 4WD day, and was kind enough to give us a SRAM joining link and some tips of how to bed the link in if it was tight. Worked a treat…. Check out

Day 2 – Willow Springs to Gum Creek.

After getting the chain back together, I was disappointed to realise the next morning that the broken chain had also mashed the front derailleur. Not very observant….

After a bit of ineffectual wrangling to try to bend it back into shape, the guide cage broke, so I just set it on middle ring and had to complete the rest of the ride on 1 x 10.

The entrance to Willow Springs is only about 15 km from Wilpena Resort and we were dropped there about 9.00am. After a cruisy couple of kms down the “driveway” into the station, we checked in with the manager there and thanked her for putting us onto the Escapegoat guys and let her know we had a vehicle drop at the other end. We then had the steepest climb of the circuit. Couldn’t quite make it all in middle ring (especially as it was early in the day and I didn’t want to burn all my matches at the start), but it would have been easily spin-able in granny.

This section was also reputedly the most technical of the loop, but it was relatively straightforward double track, with any difficulties related to the loose rocks and occasional rutting. Vigilance was more important than high-level skills. After some descent from the first climb, the track stayed largely on dry ridge sides. At one point we came to a trail intersection, with signposting seemingly pointing in all directions. The gps trace also had the track going in two directions. After consulting the map, we realised it was the turnoff to Skull Rock (which used to be on the Skytrek 4WD track), but we decided against doing the few kms in and out and kept on with the main track.

The trail then descended onto flat lands to cross the Arkaroola Road and continued for quite a while on a flat profile. Had to bunnyhop a blue tongue lizard on the roll-in to one “creek” crossing. It was the only one we saw, although there were lots of shinglebacks (stumpytails) out and about on the tracks and roads.

We stopped at the beautifully restored Guide Hut for lunch, before climbing up over another ridgeline and dropping back down to the Wilpena – Blinman Road near Gum Creek Station, where our car had been left for us.

Two down, one to go.

Day 3 – Willow Springs to Rawnsley Park

After a good look at the route profiles, we decided to do this section in reverse to take advantage of its general downwardlyness in this direction. After all we were there for the scenery and remote travel experience, not just to suffer.

We got dropped again at the Willow Springs gate, but this time headed across the road and onto the double track again. We soon had a navigation issue, with a new fence across what looked like the (faint) old track, and a new track running parallel to the fence. The gps trace had us across the other side of the fence, but we followed the fence line for a while, hoping for some new signage.

After getting to a dead end, we turned back, only to find a couple of Willow Springs guys just starting to cut in a new bit of track from a gate in the fence line across to the old track. We were only about an hour early! Going through the gate meant having to ride about 300m across a spinifex plain to pick up the old track, but the tractor / grader was already cutting the new track through the spinifex as we rode past.

This highlighted the main disadvantage of travelling the FRBB track in reverse – the signposting in the “right” direction is generally before turns / track intersections, and while it is double sided, going in reverse means that the signs are usually after intersections. You just have to keep your wits about you.

We got back on track at the Appealinna Ruins and spent a few minutes looking through the old stone buildings and reading the interpretive signs, before heading up over a hill and along the old Blinman road across to the Bunyeroo Gorge road. After crossing the current Blinman Road, we headed off on some very nice fast double track, which gradually got vaguer and more covered in grass to the point where we were just following a couple of tyre marks in the grass. Missed another turn off (no track at all!), but the gps trace pulled us up and we found the line down across a shady creek where we stopped for morning tea.

The track then came out onto the Sacred Canyon access road, which had a little bit of traffic. We’d driven this section the day before to take a look at the Canyon, but it seemed to have far more uphill bits when on the bike! The detour into the Canyon at the end of the road is well worth the short steep climb to get to the car park, but we headed straight on to the double track again, and traversed some pretty dry country before popping out onto the Martins Wells road and turning towards Rawnsley Park. The road was pretty dry and dusty, but mercifully free of car traffic. We stopped under a shady tree for lunch before a tough little diversion up Pugilist Hill to the lookout for a wonderful panorama of the Pound, with Rawnsley Bluff prominent.

From there it was all downhill or flat to the main road and across into Rawnsley Park where our car was waiting.

All up we’d done about 180 km of the 210km FRBB loop. The “missing link” for us was the section from Wilpena to Rawnsley Park (best done in that direction), but as this was either on the main road or traversed areas that were close to the main road, this didn’t seem a huge loss.

Overall it’s a great ride through some iconic scenery on tracks where that are generally not technically challenging, but with enough variety of terrain and surface to keep you on your toes. There was a race on the loop this weekend (1 Nov), but I can’t find any results to see how fast the winner around the full course.

Next stop was Melrose, where I was able to get the front derailleur replaced at Over the Edge ( before tackling the climbing at that mtb mecca.

Rob's picture

... that is all Smiling

all74's picture

As an ex South Australian that landscape really does bring back some memories. We had our school camp at Blinman. Looks like a great trip. Thanks for the write up.

obmal's picture

this is now on my list!
thanks for the write up and idea

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