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The Red Centre

17 October 2023

Words & Photos: Jamie Nicoll & Anja Foley

Jamie Nicoll and Anja Foley are on a three month overland adventure from Brisbane - crossing west then north through three major deserts in the 'Red Centre', before looping back via the Kimberleys and Cape York in the Northern Territory. With their Jamie-customised Toyota 4WD as the mothership there's plenty of classic Oz outback camping and exploring new, unusual and just damn good places to ride. This second instalment is around the Red Centre before they embark upon the 2000 km Canning Stock Route.

Alice Springs

Riding the Red Centre is spectacular. The ancientness of the rock, mountains and stories really touched us. This part of the country is traditionally owned by the Arrernte people. Their greeting for the mountain bikers is "Werte. Nheuhe ampere anwernekeuhe-whenge Arrernte-mape-akeuhe Mwerre arlte arrpe-aneuhe-tyathe Mwantye-arelheme. Kele."

Translated as "Welcome to Arrernte country. Have a good day and be aware of what’s around you. Thank you."

We definitely took note of what was around us. An astonishing amount of rocky orange lit mountains shaped like caterpillars that looked like they were all crawling towards Alice Springs. Indeed, from an indigenous historic point of view Alice Springs is the meeting place of the caterpillars. However, don’t be fooled, the riding is nothing like the motion of a caterpillar.

Telegraph Station

After settling into camp on an old camel farm just outside of town, we received an invitation from Clint and his group of mates who meet up every Thursday for a ride out. Oh, little did we know. This fun bunch of guys all seem to be into XC racing, ideally on single speeds, wearing brightly coloured pineapple shirts. And that’s how they tackle their local trails at the Westside.

The Eastside and Westside Trails form a part of a large mountain biking network just a stone's throw away from the city centre. As there is not a lot of elevation gain, Clint and co ride at high speed, keeping up their pace at all times over rocky flat sections, up rocky climbs and down rocky descents with off-camber slabs.

Once we reached the high point just before going down Flying Doctors, they pulled out several cans of beer - a tradition that started during lockdown - and we all watched a glorious sunset over the surrounding hills.

After finishing our loop, Anja huffing and puffing - hardly able to keep up with these keen beans - we rode straight into downtown Alice to the best pizza place and yes, more beer. We chatted and shared ride stories till late that night, feeling like we had reconnected with some long-lost friends. Cheers to Clint, Clarke, Chris, Nick, Josh and Nate.

Yeperenye Trail

In between fixing a leaky auxiliary fuel tank, ordering a new solar controller and getting a satellite comms device sorted, we managed to do quite a bit more biking around Alice. Yeperenye is a sweet wee walking trail 8 km north east of town. It runs between the famous Emily Gap and Jessie Gap - parallel to the Ross Highway.

There is an extremely beautiful and icy cold rock pool at Emily Gap where we parked our car. We rode the 16 km round trip along this mainly flat single track at a leisurely pace, stopping at the many informative signs telling us about the local history, flora and fauna. We foraged a few unripe local bush tomatoes and almost lost a tooth biting into a hard nut, that the indigenous locals use to grind into a type of a flour.

Trephina Gorge

About 80 km north east of Alice Springs along the Ross Highway is this amazing hike-a-bike adventure trail. Pretty sure the Ridgetop trail is open to mountain bikers, we never saw a sign telling us otherwise. Apologies if that is not correct. We started our loop with a swim at the John Hayes rockhole, and then straight into an uphill ride (a push up for Anja), up up up many hundred stone steps. The stone masonry work on trails over here is of very high quality.

Once on top of the first climb we sampled the beautiful views over Trephina Gorge Nature Park. Carrying our bikes up the second large climb caused us to break out in a good sweat. The sun was starting to set by now, tinging everything around us in hues of red, pink, yellow and orange. Such a delight for our senses.

We made our way across the ridge, realising we still had a bit to go and would probably need to use our head torches despite the rising moon. Through spikey bushes and more cool rock and stone work, we fumbled our way down towards the gorge. A beautiful night sky, no wind and fabulous riding made us glow with excitement and left us with a sense of a real adventure by the time we made it back to the car after 17 km of backcountry riding. This was definitely our favourite ride so far.


335 km south west of Alice Springs is Australia’s most iconic natural landmark. A large sandstone formation, Uluṟu glows bright red at dawn and dusk due to its high iron oxide content. Rising 863 m altitude and 348 m above the surrounding plains, it is a magnificent sight.

We were awed cycling the 10+ km around its base one evening under the full moon. Both Uluṟu and nearby Kata Tjuta are sacred to the local Aṉangu people. We imbibed the sacredness as we rode. Despite this being a busy tourist destination, we had the whole place to ourselves which made it extra special. Travelling by bike around Uluṟu is a great idea. It is a flat and easy pedal. If you happen to not be travelling with your own bike, you can hire a cruiser on site from our friend Nick who we were riding with in Alice Springs.

Riding the 'walking trail' around Kata Tjuta was a bit more challenging, and required good rock riding skills plus a keenness to carry our bikes up to the Karingana lookout in between the steep and narrow gorge.

We had such a blast. So it's a bit sad to be leaving the Red Centre of Australia as we head off on our next leg, tackling the 2000 km Canning Stock Route - the most remote 4WD track in the world.