From stark, wide-open expanses to the rugged gorges and rocky riverbeds of Arkaroola, this year’s BMW GS Safari Enduro had it all.
Around 100 riders from all corners of the country, as well as several internationals, gathered at the seaside town of Streaky Bay for a taste of classic Aussie outback adventure.
There was a real buzz in the air as the event kicked off with a welcome function and rider’s briefing on a Sunday evening, with around 40 of the group on their first BMW Safari.
The opening leg would prove to be a big day, the route threading north between Lake Gairdner and Lake Everard on remote and sometimes sandy tracks before reaching the town of Kingoonaya, some 300km later, for a refuel and lunch break.
The afternoon route took the old Stuart Highway past a few stations and an abandoned and slightly eerie rocket range that used to track rockets launched from Woomera back in the day. A couple of the stations in the area have the odd rocket lying around as well as a large bunker, built by the Australian government in the 1960s for families to hide in during rocket launches. Coober Pedy was the final stop of the day, where many spent their first night in underground accommodation.
The following day was a fairly straight forward blast towards Lake Eyre but there was to be a few unexpected treats along the way. The BMW Safari team arranged an early mine tour for those who wanted to go underground, before riding off into the absolute flatness of the outback roads.
The weather was perfect, cool and sunny, and the desert was greener than usual from the recent rains with purple desert flowers lining some road sections.
Arriving at the classic outback town of William Creek some of the group bumped into iconic Australian adventurer Dick Smith who had landed in town for lunch on his way to Alice Springs. Dick spent some time chatting and having his photo taken and was interested to know where we were heading. He told a great story of how watching Charley and Ewan on Long Way Round inspired him to drive a Ford truck and trailer on a similar route around the world. Dick actually bumped into Charley totally by chance at the end of his trip while he was parked at Ayres Rock and they chatted about their adventures and have become friends since.
Dick also gave riders the heads up that the biennial outback festival called Dream Earth was taking place up the road at the Oodnadatta tracks desert art location called Plane Henge; he had been there the previous night partying with the group. A festival was the last thing you would expect to be riding through in the middle of the outback, but anything can happen when you are on an adventure.
The final stop for the day was at the Muloorina Station campground located between Maree and Lake Eyre, where some took the opportunity to ride the moderately sandy 46km track to Lake Eyre itself and take in the lookout views and plaque to commemorate Sir Donald Campbell’s world land speed record in the 1960s. The camp was set up adjacent to a tropical-like lagoon where the station owners provided a hearty feed and riders enjoyed a drink or two at campfires before an unexpected fireworks show.
After two days of classic baron outback scenery, riders headed south past the historic ruins of the Farina township and into the rugged Arkaroola Ranges, the northernmost part of the Flinders Ranges. This is where an optional hard route took the group up rocky tracks and riverbeds, the back way to Arkaroola Village.
Arkaroola is an incredible area, not as frequented as other parts of the Flinders area but with plenty to offer adventure riders. The group gathered around the pool as the sun put a glow on the rugged hills behind for the daily briefing followed by a BBQ dinner.
On offer the following day was a series of loops in and around the Arkaroola area before returning for a second night. It was clear that the technical terrain and rugged scenery was a highlight for many in the group. The atmosphere and rawness of the area really made an impression.
One of the loops was to Lake Frome, where the final sandy section caused some in the group some challenges. The cameras were rolling as some riders flopped in the sand while others showed how it should be done. All good stories and laughs for the evening’s festivities.
After two memorable days based at Arkaroola riders saddled up for a similar technical ride south towards Blinman and Wilpena Pound in the centre of the Flinders Ranges. The route bypassed the main dirt roads for a technical route through the Nantawarrina Indigenous protected area, again testing riders with its narrow and rocky tracks and riverbeds. After taking over the highest town in South Australia, Blinman, for a lunch stop, the route headed to the Flinders Ranges ‘must do’, Bunnyroo Road and concluded at Rawnsley Park Station, adjacent to the iconic Wilpena Pound crater. Again it was a chilly night for the campers in the group, waking up to a crisp and frosty desert winter morning.
After an incredible week of riding it was the final day, where riders headed east to Broken Hill… but not by following the standard path. The day didn’t start off going to plan with Craig, one of the lead riders, tagging a roo and coming off his bike. Grant Evans, the event manager and fellow lead rider engaged one of the participants to join him in marking the remainder of the course. At the same time the Safari Doctor “Smithy” received the call and headed to the accident site to give Craig the once-over. Luckily the injuries were not too serious, with a broken collarbone and cracked rib.
The final day was proving challenging as another incident took place not far up the road. Wayne had T-boned (pardon the pun) a cow and really made a mess of his F 800 GS. Fellow Safari participants took care of him until Smithy arrived and, apart from being knocked out, Wayne was luckily uninjured, but very sore (both riders would make it to the farewell function that night for some laughs and pain relief).
After passing by Martins Well Station and the Erudina Woolsheds, the main route headed south before diverting through two massive, million-acre stations. The station tracks were technical and sometimes sandy, causing some challenges, but the finish line was near. The family at the Kalabity Station put on an afternoon tea stop and fuel top-up for participants, really showing their outback hospitality, with all funds donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. From there it was about 50km of dirt and a short blast up the Barrier Highway to Broken Hill.
Riders pulled into town with just enough time to spruce up for the farewell dinner and festivities. The atmosphere was great as everyone reflected on an incredible week on their trusty GSs. Apart from the incidents on the last day the week went like clockwork.
Several prizes were given out for various achievements through the week and it was also announced that over $4000 was raised for the Royal Flying Doctors Service throughout the week by the generous and appreciative group. As with every Safari event, many friendships were made and riders celebrated an incredible week of adventure riding through some amazing parts of the country.