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Red Centre and Finke Desert Race

The Oodnadatta Track took its toll on the Ranger. With no caravan lights, a quick trip to Alice Springs was required to replace the wiring loom that feeds power to the van. ARB came up trumps as always, getting us back on the road for the weekend. As it turned out, the next heavy rainfall caused the Todd to flow, but we are yet to be in Alice for this phenomenon.

Our next adventure took us out to Uluru. The weather turned on us again, but between the showers of rain we saw both Uluru and Kata-Tjuta looking moody and imposing. The campground was overflowing at Uluru, and the campsites along the route were all well-utilised. This gave the area a feeling of civilisation in the Outback, but that feeling dissipated and gave way to reverence as a dingo wandered into camp at dawn, reminding us of what was in store for our trip through the Red Centre.

Heading towards Kings Canyon, the weather was still unpredictable, but there was no shortage of Hema users both in camp and on the road. We took time out to do the rim walk at Kings Canyon. While this is a challenge regardless of fitness, Wal toughed it out to see the splendour that is the Canyon. Again there were dingoes in the campground, bold enough to steal a carton of milk from right under the nose of a seasoned camper.

Leaving Kings Canyon on an overcast Monday morning, we opted to take the Mereenie Loop Road. With storm clouds gathering we hustled a little faster than we might have preferred, but still revelled in the beauty of the area, including some wild brumbies enjoying a waterhole. The track was in very good condition despite the heavy rain that had fallen, with only a few small water crossings, all with solid bottoms.

We were also continually amazed by the carpet of green that is supposed to be the Red Centre. The rain gave us an opportunity to see a different side to the region altogether, which is something most people would only associate with areas north in the Top End. Through the gorges and peaks of the West MacDonnell ranges we finally experienced some breaks in the cloud, giving us glimpses of red rock, still in a sea of green. While we enjoyed every moment in this beautiful part of the country, it was time to head for Alice Springs and the Finke Desert Race.

We found out that when there’s an event on in remote areas, a day makes all the difference! Alice Springs was brimming with anticipation, as visitors and locals alike prepared for the big race. The news of 2016 was that Toby Price, winner at Dakkar, would not only defend his bike title, but also compete in the four-wheel division. Our first experience was over 5000 people enjoying the vehicles, the trade, the food stalls, and the hype, despite the cold. The first full day - the prologue - saw a large crowd again as competitors vied for grid position.

Positions decided, Day 1 is when all vehicles depart Alice and race to Finke. The day started with an icy wind, making the 3 degrees feel like minus 3. This didn’t deter the diehards, with a small crowd there long before the first car departed at 7:30am. By 10:30am the cars were all away, then it was time for the bikes to line up.

Knowing this, we were wondering how Toby managed both events, given that both headed to Finke on Sunday, then back to Alice on Monday. It turns out that a helicopter stood by to ferry him from finish to start each day! In what is a gruelling physical event and a challenge to the team of mechanics looking after each vehicle, Toby finished second in his maiden four-wheel event and again took out first place in the bikes, which was a huge feat given the line-up of seasoned competitors that made up the remaining place-getters.

For those of us (and there were many) who wanted to stay close to the event while it was on, camping was allowed right along the entire track, as landowners generously allowed both competitors and public onto their property. Locals plan bigger and better camps each year, even taking the lounge along for comfortable viewing. Conversely, just a swag is equally acceptable and just as much fun, such is the camaraderie and inclusive atmosphere of this amazing event. Our recommendation is whether or not this is really your thing, the Finke Desert Race is a worthy experience to attend if you are in the area in June.

While in Alice Springs we took the opportunity to have the van serviced, as keeping our equipment in top condition is paramount to a trip with a schedule. It was also time to visit the hairdresser, the dog groomer for Max and top up on supplies.

The one thing missing from our van was somewhere to store firewood for those cold nights around the campfire. Wal finally fashioned an excellent solution and now says it is his second favourite accessory after the satellite TV. I must say we are both enjoying the ease of collecting and storing firewood and campfires are more frequent now!

We are ready to head out of the unseasonal rain and into the northern heat, with the Darwin Caravan, Camping and 4WD Show our next destination before starting the Kimberley leg of our around Australia adventure.


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