Australian Bicycle Camping Fact Sheets

Central Australia :

Uluru , Katajuta & the MacDonnell Ranges

Marcus Micheaux & Grace Newhaven

2000/ August 13


This fact sheet is intended as an introductory guide to cycle camping in Central Australia. The region is a remote but highly developed conventional tourist destination and general tourist and promotional information is readily available from mainstream sources elsewhere. This fact sheet assumes the reader has, or will have, access to those sources.

 Note : Aboriginal place names have been reintroduced recently in certain localities, so that some places may be known by two names eg Uluru (previously Ayers Rock) Tnorala (Goss’s Bluff ) Kata Tjuta ( The Olgas). The Finke River was known as "Larapinta" to the Aborigines. The Western MacDonnell's are known colloquially as the "West Mac's".


Central Australia is one of the world's most ancient geological regions. Millennia of sedimentation are now exposed on the surface as a generally flat, sandy, semi-arid zone. The sand collects in corrugations as "bull dust", a fine powder derived from the erosion of the underlying clay. For the cyclist, this produces a sometimes demanding surface. Animals in the region include "big red" kangaroos on the plains, and the smaller euros in rocky areas. While this is an arid climatic zone, travellers to the region are often surprised at the amount of vegetation. There are some gentle undulations, with picturesque views.

 The best cycling season is spring (July to September), warm and dry with day time max 32C, night min.0C, no rain. At this time of year, daylight is generally about 12 hours. Winds in August from SE, E & NE. Hot summer season begins in late Sept. Many unsealed clay roads may be impassable after rain. As in other arid areas, rain may be not be entirely predictable. Be prepared for cold nights all year.


Aboriginal history in this area has been dated to 22 000 years. The Ananju Pitjantjatjara people are the traditional owners, now joint managers in some places with the Federal government's "Australian Nature Conservation Agency".

Europeans first explored Central Australia during the survey of the Overland Telegraph Line in 1871, linking Eastern Australia to the rest of the world. The permanent springs found at the pass through the MacDonnell Ranges near the Telegraph Station were to become a village named "Stuart" ( after the explorer) until 1933, when the popular name of Alice Springs was officially adopted. Alice Springs became the supply centre and later the major railhead in the Northern Territory . Despite a goldrush in 1902, and the arrival of the Central Australian Railway ('The Ghan') in 1929 , the population was still less than 500 by 1933.World War II and the expansion of the pastoral industry accelerated development.

The population is now over 25 000 with an annual growth rate of nearly 6 per cent. Now recognised as the 'Centre of Australia', Alice Springs owes its modern popularity to a booming tourist industry.


Map of the Northern Territory (Royal Automobile Association (RAA) - ( Scale 1: 1 210 000.) Shows services, including some "rest areas", Aboriginal lands, National Parks etc. Very small print ! A$5.00 .Tel 1800 244 060 .

" Bicycle Touring in Australia" (1991, Leigh Hemmings 175 pp with index) medium size format. Detailed route guide for "the Red Center Circuit". ISBN 0 7318 0197 0

HEMA Map of Central Australia covers a wide sweep of the region. Scale   1:2 000 000 ( A$6.95 ) ISBN 1 875992 58 8

"4 X 4 Tracks and Unsealed Roads of Central Australia" is a free pamphlet, intended for four wheel drivers, but informative & useful for bikes . Central Australian Tourism [agency]Cnr Gregory Tce & Hartley Streets. PO Box 2227 ALICE SPRINGS NT 0871. Tel 1800 645 199 or (08) 8952 5800. E:

The RAA's guide to the region "Outback South Australia & Central Australia" ( Stuart Nicol , 1994) is a comprehensive guide with index & bibliography. 300 pages A5 format paperback. 600gm. ISBN 0 909697 23 X 

Australian Geographic Magazine Central Australia Map ( Scale approx 1: 1 210 000 ) Glossy style with highly detailed historical information. Published in 1991. Useful in conjunction with a more recent map. PO Box 321 TERREY HILLS NSW 2084

NT Dept of Lands & Housing : Topographical Maps PO Box 1596 ALICE SPRINGS 0871 (Tel 08 8950 3739)

AUSLIG (Australian Survey & Land Information Group) produces 1:250 000 maps Tel 1800 800 173 . PO Box 2 BELCONNEN ACT 2616

Alice Springs Information Centre PO Box 2227 Alice Springs 0871 (Tel 08 8952 5199)

NT Parks & Wildlife Commission manages the National Parks of the West Mac's & produces a free timetable of useful explanatory talks presented by Rangers at the different Parks, under the title "Walks & Talks in Parks ". Contact Alice Springs 8951 8211 ~ West MacDonnell Ranges 08 8956 7799

Parks Australia is a Federal agency responsible for the management of Uluru and Katajuta. Tel Uluru : 08 8956 2299

Central Land Council ( Aboriginal Lands) PO Box 3321 Alice Springs 0871 Tel 08 8951 6320 fax 08 8953 4343

NT Government Tourist Commission PO Box 2532Alice Springs NT 0871

National Parks Field Guides "Uluru, Kata Tjuta & Wattarka" (1995 Anne Kerle) ISBN 0 86840 055 6 / Dewey A919.4291

Lonely Planet's "Guide to the Australian Outback" has some limited information on bicycle touring.

The OZ Travel site is a good general background to the region

There is an interesting link site for Alice Springs at

www sites on bike travel in this region will be listed progressively at the "Australia links" section of

Perth to Darwin via Central Australia , by bike 

Bike shops :

Penny Farthing - 3/39 Nth Stuart Hwy tel 8952 4551

Centre Cycles - Undoolya Rd. /


Getting there

from Adelaide

by bike

via the Stuart Highway : 1500. Km / via the Flinders Ranges and the Andado Track : 2000 km +

by rail

the "Ghan" train from Adelaide. A$188.00 economy class + bike $40.00 unboxed. Tel 132 147

by bus

A$135.00 + bike $20.00 at least ( partly disassembled ) http :// There are sometimes valuable discounts for advance purchase. Be careful to see your bike is stowed carefully.

by air

direct to Alice Springs or Yulara from most large airports in Australia


 Roads & traffic

The main characteristic of the traffic environment here is the small number of vehicles relative to the long distances - there will be plenty of room for most drivers to pass you easily and as a biker you will have the road to yourself for much of the time. Some traffic can be too fast - there is no maximum speed limit in the NT - however only a small minority of drivers drive above 90 km/h .

The main highways are mostly quite safe, traffic relatively light - during the off season at least - and even triple trailer drivers are generally considerate. A mirror will be essential though-- even very large trucks can be hard to hear if coming from downwind. Road shoulders on the highway are generally of adequate width but may sometimes be loose gravel - foreign cyclists particularly may find this road environment unsettling at first. Occasional big tour busses may be less responsible.

In the West MacDonnell's, the Namatjira Drive is sealed between Alice and Glen Helen : traffic is mainly slow tourist sight seers. On the roads to Yulara and King' s Canyon, there will also be a lot of medium and large tour busses, some with gung-ho drivers, as well as a myriad of camper vans.

There are no caravans west Glen Helen. The roughest track is the detour into Tnorla (Goss's Bluff).

Generally, isolated 4 X 4 tracks like Mereenie Loop are corrugated , stony and sandy ( sometimes all at once ) making bike travel very slow and tiring in some places, with occasional deep sand drifts. In some places, fine sand collects in the corrugations as "bull dust holes", the deepest of which may be up to 150mm (6") deep. These might well wreck a bicycle wheel if you hit one at speed.

If the Meerenie loop is too difficult, it would be easy enough to find a ride with a utility or campervan - the road has considerable traffic, say three or four vehicles an hour during the day.

A recorded message on Central Australian road conditions is available on 08 8952 7111 / 08 8922 3232 or phone Emergency Services during office hours on 08 8952 3833.

See also Northern Territory Department of Transport & Works -


Some tourists, particularly foreigners, are unaware of the different qualities of water available in the region. In short, water in taps usually comes from deep underground " bores" - artificial springs - and is entirely safe to drink, though the slightly salty taste may be difficult at first, something like thin milk. Bore water is usually available freely, at least in cyclist size quantities.

In some places, rain water is collected from the roofs of buildings, and is also quite safe ( this surprises many northern hemisphere visitors, who fear atmospheric or chemical pollution). Rain water has a pleasantly neutral flavour. As it is a rare commodity in a desert, be grateful if it is available, and use it very sparingly.

On the Stuart Hwy and the other main roads, bore water of drinking quality is trucked in to storage tanks at "roadside stops", not predictably sited but on average about 150 Km apart, and marked on the RAA map( eg on the Luritja Road, near Angus Downs HS, connecting to King's Canyon Road.) These are generally reliable, but not 100 % - some caravanners see fit to fill their 100 litre-plus containers here, rather than in more appropriate sites, and the tanks may be dry when you arrive on your bike !

At most TPCC camp sites, bore water is provided on tap. There are also permanent waterholes at Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek and Glen Helen. TPCC advises boiling this water. The waterhole at Redbanks is of dubious quality due to tourists swimming and algae growth.

Elsewhere, windpowered pumps provide a slightly salty but drinkable water from below ground, but are not completely reliable, and not recommended. There may be some cattle dam water near Tnorla, but this is not reliable in summer.

In places, no water is available for up to 150 km, eg the gravel-and-dirt Mereenie Loop. A waterbag may be useful.

Rehydration fluids are generally available at stores in the region, and are recommended. Note that Puritabs and iodine are not effective with water affected by algal blooms.


The cyclist needs to be quite flexible here, and plan well in advance - or eat a lot of junk food ! Limited and basic grocery supplies are sometimes available at widely separated roadhouses and other settlements (below), which also sell high fat fast foods , usually expensive and of poor nutritional value. You might also consider a food parcel from Alice Springs to, say, King's Canyon.

In an emergency, you could try Aboriginal settlements, but these are generally off limits to non-Aboriginal people. The longest distance between food supplies would be between Glen Helen and King' s Canyon.

In many places, restrictions on "take away" alcohol mean you may have to pay expensive bar prices, with only beer in bottles or cans available. An alternative is a bottle of sherry brought from Alice Springs, decanted into a plastic bottle.


 Free camping is both possible and necessary at many places in this region, and is quite easy - simply wheel your bike off the road at a likely looking site. In most places, the bush only five metres from the road will be clean and pleasant as a campsite. You should ensure it is the same when you leave - bury any waste you can't take with you. Some car-based travellers are amazingly indifferent to the mess they leave behind, and most "used" campsites are at least unpleasant and often disgusting.

Be wary of thorns, (look for the " Crown of Thorns" type) and do not attempt to ride your bike through any vegetation or risk multiple punctures. ( Be sure to use good quality tyres & tubes and pack a good number of patches !)

There is free camping also at Curtin Springs roadhouse, but it's dusty and dirty, as are most of the "rest areas".

PWC maintains pleasantly low key camp sites in West MacDonnell Ranges, usually with permanent tap water, operating by a self registration system, at around $3.00 - $ 6.00/person.

 There are commercial camping grounds at Yulara, King's Canyon Resort, and Alice Springs. Reasonable value in the circumstances.

 However, in some places, eg National Parks, Aboriginal land, roadside rest areas etc, camping is expressly prohibited for environmental or cultural reasons. Due perhaps to the excessive environmental and cultural impact of motorised tourism in the region, camping is not permitted at Uluru ,Tnorla, Katajuta or inside King's Canyon . Camping – even for bicycle travellers, unfortunately - is also not allowed on Pitjantjatjara and Lurlitja lands. Camping is prohibited also on the Mereenee Loop - meaning the cyclist needs to complete the 130 km unsealed section of the Loop in a single day ! Some cyclists report having been refused the necessary permits at Alice Springs tourist office, and perhaps at King's Canyon.




Three * camp site ( $12.00 pp , grass, fridges & free gas BBQ ). Full supermarket & shopping centre. PO 7D. Library with www access ($8.00 / hr) and word processor. Bar services only ( beer $3.75). Airport. 1000 people work at Yulara - it's a real town. Aboriginal managed tours 08 8956 2123


nil, no camping

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

nil. Emergency rain water tank, ingeniously designed!

King's Canyon

resort, campsite $12/pp , cheaper second night. Basic, expensive grocery, EFTPOS , bar etc. Be sure to take the canyon map from the resort, as there are none distributed at the site.

King's Creek Station

no groceries. Hot foods, dusty camp site, camels & helicopter rides. Ask for bore water, perhaps offer a small donation, as water is quite limited here.

Stuart's Well          

roadhouse, limited groceries, camp site

Curtin Springs

Roadhouse/pub, free campsite ( dust & dog shit). Meals, very limited supplies. Friendly. Named ,by a socialist pioneer, for the Prime Minister of WW 2.

Mt Ebenezeer

dusty camping, roadhouse, no groceries, pub, restaurant, cabin accomodation. Friendly enough. Help yourself to water tap.


roadhouse, very limited groceries ( look in both shops), swimming pool, pleasant grassy camp site ( $6.00 /pp). Not otherwise helpful.


store, police, no camping

Ormiston Gorge

National Parks HQ & camping site ( $6.00 / pp). Rainwater tank, no food. Dingoes howl at night.

Ross River Homestead         

tourist supplies, accomodation

This fact sheet was produced by grassroots cyclists, using published advertisements and direct enquiries. No responsibility can be accepted for changes or errors. Printing this document.

Users should always confirm details by telephone wherever possible. Services may have been closed or withdrawn since publication.

Other Bicycle Camping Fact Sheets in this series include

Central Australia | SA Kangaroo Island | SA Flinders Ranges | North Queensland

| WA Kimberley | Stuart Highway | NSW Central West | NSW Sydney to Canberra |

| NSW Hunter Valley | Nullarbor Eyre Highway | Qld/ NT : The Plenty Highway


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