Jenn Rajher is on a mountain bike shredding tight corners between jagged rocks and a sheer-drop cliff. My guide from Outback Cycling, Rajher is perennially up ahead of me on the Arrwe trail, here in the Northern Territory on the outskirts of Alice Springs. Meanwhile I have to pause to take a photo of the stunning view. Again.
But Rajher’s enthusiasm is contagious. This Canadian-born now-Alice Springs resident came to Australia on a one-year working holiday visa and never left. She now works full-time hosting guided tours through the town’s raw undulating landscape.
“I saved Alice Springs for the last stop of my trip because I knew I wanted to spend a few months working in the outback,” she says. “It was an unknown to me and I absolutely fell in love with the town. Going camping on the weekend, hiking the Larapinta Trail, driving to waterholes, and the whole community vibe and spirit of the town are just a few of the reasons I still live here.”
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We’re mere moments from the Alice Springs city centre, but there’s not a soul around and views for days. Mount Gillen looms in one direction, and as we cycle on higher we catch Heavitree Gap in the distance too. We’re spinning up dust along the rough terrain – all rocky outcrops, dry shrubs, red dirt and some serious thorns that your tyres have been pre-slimmed in preparation for, just in case.
The main trailhead here is at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, but we’ve kicked off from Outback Cycling’s store in Todd Mall where people can hire bikes, shop for gear or get their wheels serviced. From here there are 28 kilometres of handmade singletracks to explore through national park and on crown land, ranging from flowy beginner trails to super technical. Each is marked with signposts to guide your ride.
Rajher had never considered mountain biking until witnessing a display of fearlessness on the trails of Alice Springs, or Mparntwe, as it’s known in the local Arrernte language.
“I saw this girl absolutely charging down the rocks at high speed,” she says. “I've always loved adrenaline sports and activities, so as soon as I saw that, I knew I had to try it.”
The Ilentye Track along the Todd River is perfect for beginners, with gentle gradients set along one bank while ghost gums and rocky quartzite rise to the right. You’ll often spot galahs here, with “ilentye” translating to galah in Arrernte. The Arrwe (wallaby), Tyape (edible grub) and Apwelantye (black kite) tracks vary in length and include some technically challenging terrain designed for those “MTB” riders with a bit of courage and skill. On these tracks, the rock gardens, switchbacks and plentiful natural obstacles will keep your adrenaline up, while also allowing you to soak up this rare scenery and solitude.
The most technical descent is a mosaic of boulders and small jagged rocks over-running the skinny dirt tracks. “I can do about half,” says Rajher. As part of the Tyape Trail, mountain bikers can also ride a small section of the Larapinta Trail – a 223-kilometre bushwalking and trekking trail from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder.
In the dry season (if you have some skill), you can careen straight across the dry sandy riverbed of Todd River to the opposite bank, where the Alice Springs Telegraph Station resides. Each tour can then pause here for an iced coffee and piece of the Trail Station Cafe’s homemade vanilla slice, before learning the history of this heritage site.
There are litanies of unmarked trails local guides can take you along, too. “Alice Springs is a mountain biking mecca,” says Rajher. “All up there are about 150 kilometres of singletracks around the town, to the west and east. It's much safer having a local guide take riders to unmarked tracks, as it can get disorientating if you are out there alone for the first time.”
Because winter is a crisp average of 25 degrees Celsius out in this desert climate, mountain biking is an all-year-round sport. Come summer, the midday heat is avoided, but mornings remain brisk. This season is also when overnight tours kick into gear. These night tours take in longer distances, with riders heading out through the West MacDonnell Ranges and camping in swags under the stars by a campfire.
There’s also the idyllic Simpsons Gap Bike Path, which winds its way from Flynn’s Grave (seven kilometres from Alice Springs’s CBD) along the foothills of the West MacDonnell Ranges. This 17-kilometre trail careens through native scrub and flora to arrive at the entrance of Simpsons Gap. Pause for a picnic and take the short walk to “the gap” itself to admire the striking gorge.
When you’re not tackling slippery boulders or peddling long and hard to reach vast empty plains, you can also simply hire a town bike for cruising around the urban streets. It’s the locals’ way to get around. Glide between the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens and Araluen Arts Centre, or enjoy a relaxing afternoon idly cycling along the easy four-kilometre riverside path. Here you may spot the black-footed rock wallaby, or the kangaroo-wallaby cross, the Euro, or Arenge.
Of course it wouldn’t be cycling without a post-ride beer and feed. We recommend Monte’s Lounge in town.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with NT Tourism.