5 Reasons Why: Finke is a Must-Do

10 months ago | Words: Peter Whitaker | Photos: Andy Wigan

Five reasons why the NT’s Finke Desert Race ought to be high up on your adventure bucket list…


From every compass point in Australia, the Red Centre lies at the end of our greatest adventure rides. From the northeast, there’s the Sandover and Plenty – of sand – Highways. And from the southwest, the legendary Gunbarrel or Great Central Road will spear you past Kata Tjuta and Uluru on the way up to Alice. But it’s from the southeast, where most of us live, that you get to enjoy some of the magic rides through the Flinders Ranges before heading up the Oodnadatta Track for a halfway beer at William Creek. Or for a real adventure, head to Birdsville then take the French Line across the Simpson Desert to the pub at Mount Dare. For wimps, there’s always ‘The Ghan Railway’.


With over 500 competitors, the Finke Desert Race is Australia’s biggest international motorsport event. But unlike MotoGP you don’t need a big wallet or a bigger pair of bazookas to get close to the action. At Friday night’s scrutineering, everyone is a VIP with an AAA pass. The teams assemble to meet the fans and discuss their plans to do better than last year; they can mill about with guys like Ben Grabham and Toby Price, who both want to put their Katos well in front of the Hondas of Todd and Jake Smith. It may be the start of winter in the city but in the Red Centre, it’s blue sky from horizon to horizon, from sparrows to happy hour; after which, you should be round a blazing campfire with a belly full of rum.


Whilst Alice always welcomes travellers, it’s a bloody long way between Bondi and Broome. There’s no surf break and even their famous Regatta is held in a dry riverbed. All year round, Alice enjoys the car rallies, variety bashes, 4WD clubs and the never-ending stream of grey nomads in their Winnebagos and caravans. But June is moto month. For almost 40 years, ‘Finke’ has been the marquee event of the year. A weeklong celebration of doing it in the dirt – on two wheels or four. Have a beer at Toddies Tavern or chow down on kangaroo, emu and crocodile at the Overlander Steakhouse. Or just hook the genny up to the fridge somewhere down between Deep Well and Rodinga and put on your own spread.


Diehard Finke fans all have their own ideas on where the best spot to enjoy the race is; but none will tell you their secret. The Saturday prologue is a must if you want a great overview of the event and a close-up of the Grid Girls. Then you’ve got over 220 kilometres of track to find the best vantage point. Wherever you choose, remember the riders are doing better than 40 metres a second and the track is barely four metres wide. It’s unlikely you’ll see much deviation from Grabbo, Price, Green or the Smith boys, but whilst all the competitors believe they’re in total control, some of them also believe
in fairies. So please take care testing out your new GoPro extension poles when you’re trackside.


A single day’s ride around Alice will run you past some of our continent’s most amazing scenery. You don’t even have to leave the blacktop for a run along the MacDonnell Ranges and up past Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm and Glen Helen Gorge. Is your whip shod with knobbies? Then head for Finke National Park, Palm Valley or Chambers Pillar. Alternatively, head out to Kings Canyon and Haasts Bluff or skirt the Simpson Desert out to Old Andado. Then head down to Ebeneezer, share a beer or two with the locals and hope to score an invitation to ride on some of their private stations. Soak up a bit of local knowledge and, who knows, you might be back the following year with a number on your bike.

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