Bikepacking the Edge of the Outback

Route on ridewithgps.com
Words & Photos by @TyDomin
Illustration by @leeleebefrank

In those mid-2020 uncertain times of border closures and social distancing, we scoured the maps for more COVID-friendly options within NSW and decided the desert was a good bet. So we headed west, this time far west to the Barrier Ranges (Broken Hill). No weight weenie-ism here, too much water means relaxing times in the desert (or so we thought), so I chucked the rack back on the bikepacking bike and we loaded up.

Broken Hill to Eldee Station

Broken Hill is one of our favourite places and one of the closest and easiest desert/outback experiences to the east coast of NSW. The 30km one way ride along the old rail line for lunch at the Silverton Pub is a must every time we visit, so I extended that ride another 250km to take in the open space to the west of the Barrier Ranges. We stayed two nights at Eldee Station (booked online) so that we could explore the Barrier Ranges properly, a significant portion of the ranges belongs to the station so it is the best and easiest way to get the appropriate permissions to explore; plus there’s cold beer and meals to make a three night trip a little simpler if you so desire.

We loaded up with 14L of water for what was to be 36hrs of dirt, sand and corrugations on the edge of the never never. That was not enough water. Five hours spent at 12kmh into a fierce headwind with temps between 36-39°C (local forecast was 33 degrees at Silverton) meant that by the time we turned east and away from the wind we had already drunk half of that and weren’t comfortably hydrated.

The day was supposed to be a chilled 80km and a wild camp, but in order to resupply water we decided to push the 120km to Mt Gipps Station to camp. When we arrived the storms on the horizon had the station owners recommending we keep moving lest we be stuck for days until the roads and creek dried out. So into the night we rode and enjoyed the sound of rain on the roof of a mud free hotel room after 160km (and severe flooding the following day).

All up, with exploring, we rode 267 km. A good plan starting at Broken Hill would be 70km to Eldee Station with lunch that day at Silverton Pub. Two nights (minimum stay anyway) at Eldee to explore the ranges; we ended up doing a 30km loop – slow going everywhere so don’t underestimate the effort required. It is then 160km back to Broken Hill so you can either break that into two clean 80km days, ride 120km to Mt Gipps Station to camp or ride 160km all the way back to Broken Hill as we did.

Notes

There is no water apart from a dam on the junction of Wilangee and Mt Woowoolahra Roads (no idea of the water quality), and importantly, we didn’t see a single car for 120km.

There is Telstra mobile/data service within a few hundred metres of each station (Eldee/Wilangee/Mt Woowoolahra and Mt Gipps).

Surface is as photographed, sure you can do anything on a gravel bike… slowly, but virtually none of the Barrier Ranges exploration would be doable as all the 4wd trails are linked by soft sand and very rough rock, so you’d miss out on the best bit.

Thorns aplenty. 

Night-time temps ranged from 5-20°C while we were there in September.

Flies and mozzies, lots of them.

Just as beautiful as any beach, rainforest or snow-capped mountain.

A great option for a short trip away to experience the outback and perfect practice at surviving the desert bits of the next RTTR/TD/TA etc.

Get out there before it gets hotter than what we experienced.

Bonus route

While out west we also spent two days at Lake Mungo as a quick overnighter on the way to Broken Hill. We left the car at the info centre and camped at Belah Camp. Only a 70km loop but every Aussie needs to visit that place, the land of the Paakantji, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngyimpaa people for over 50000 years, every 5km is unique!