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The Mawson Trail, South Australia

A road-bike approximation of the Mawson trail route, 2000 Km, with detours. October 2019

The Mawson trail is a mountain bike route from Adelaide to Blinman, deliberately avoiding paved roads.

It is a marked trail for mountain bikes, using unpaved roads and trails, from Adelaide to Blinman, about 1000Km north in the Flinders Ranges. The trail is named after Mawson, who was a geology professor at Adelaide university and is famous for his exploration of Antartica and surviving an involuntary over-winter stay on the ice. Mawson also researched the Ediacran fauna found in the north Flinders ranges near the Blinman trailhead.

I used my folding "road" bike with skinny wheels so I tried to avoid rougher roads and switched to paved roads a lot. I had tried to ride this in January a few years ago, but the day temperatures in summer were over 40 C and I was frying and decided I would have to do this in autumn or spring. Winter would be too cold for me! As I flew into Adelaide in late september there was a southern ocean cold-front and the weather was bad, so I stayed with my friend Jeff for a day and started on a cold and overcast saturday morning. At least there was no rain, but that night i arrived in a town holding a festival and the place was booked out. Eventually someone helped me to find a late cancellation at some luxury apartments, somewhat expensive but I just paid the price - it was better than dying!

Next morning was still overcast and cold, with some minor rain and I hid under a big tree for shelter for a while. The afternoon weather cleared up and late in the afternoon I found a bed in a pub in the world's smallest town (Farrell Flat) near "nowhere". Two other people arrived and they were traveling by horse and cart around the Clare wine district, about 10 Km a day. So I am not the slowest form of transport! I then tried to follow the trail but there were many large sharp rocks and my tyre blew out. I always carry a spare tyre which i installed, but now I decided to stay on paved roads until I could get another tyre. However there are no bike-shops anywhere in this region, so that was difficult. I detoured to Peterborough to visit a steam train museum which was interesting, the only place in Australia where 3 different gauge railways met and freight had to be transferred between trains for many years until we standardized Australian railway gauges.

Next day I found a bike-shop in Melrose and bought a new tyre so I was able to use some gravel roads with care. The weather was warmer, the scenery pleasant and I met some other cyclists riding the trail, it was good riding. The last day was 110Km of paved road to Blinman, through the ranges with nice scenery although with some hills and headwind. In the afternoon as I rode a number of motorcyclists, many on Harley Davidson motorbikes, passed me, 30 I counted! SHIT, there is only one destination on this road which we are all going to and the motorcyclists surely have accommodation booked while i do not. I was heading for a disaster. The trailhead township of Blinman (4 houses, a pub and a bakery) was full with nowhere for me to stay. The bakery owner helped me by calling a homestead 5 Km down the road where they had van parking spots for tourists. They had a room in the shearer's quarters which I could use. It was basic with no bedding, but I could get a shower! Normally I do not carry a sleeping bag on my tours, but I had decided to do so on this trip because of the isolation of the destination. This was a wise decision as that night I used my very lightweight tropical sleeping bag to stop me from dying. It was not cosy warm, but much better than freezing in the 4 C night! (Shearer's quarters do not have heating or cooling!) I explored the nearby Parachilna gorge next day, slowly on very rough roads before turning south and riding  back to Adelaide. I detoured over to the coastline at Moonta to stay with my brother Trevor for a few days before returning to Adelaide. And I blew another tyre, good thing I always carry a folding spare tyre.

After 3 weeks of sometimes cold and always cool weather with a little rain, I returned to Darwin at 3 am and rode back home in the cool night. But it was actually damned hot here at 40 C the last few days and it was a shock to transition from "too cold" to "too hot" so suddenly!

It was a pleasant trip of 2000 Km cycling and meeting friends and some family. My ride used the trail as a guide and used a lot of paved roads as my 37mm wide 20" diameter tyres could not manage rough roads. But I did ride and enjoy some gravel road sections, despite having 2 tyre failures!


Route Mapmawson trail cycling