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10 Reasons to cycle the Opals, Missiles & Vino section
The latest from the Trans-Oceania cycling expedition
I have had the opportunity to make a ‘guest’ appearance on the 2014 Trans-Oceania this year and was assigned to the Opals, Missiles & Vino section running from Alice Springs in the centre of the country to Adelaide on the coast of the Southern Ocean. We had no riders joining the expedition in Alice, although a few were leaving, so I was a little concerned about what kind of experience I was about to have.
I should not have worried, and while I haven’t ridden the other sections, I have no hesitation in presenting, in no particular order, my personal 10 reasons to choose this section to cycle in 2016.
#1: Lunch at the Over the Edge bike shop/cafe in Melrose
Unanimously voted by the cyclists as the best lunch stop on the Australian portion of the Trans-Oceania, this stop had it all: bike shop selling high end components, amazing coffee, cool t-shirts & jerseys, sitting happily in the shadow of picturesque Mt Remarkable. And it felt even better after climbing up out of the Outback through the Horrocks Pass (see #6).
#2: Solitude on desert rides
On most of our daily rides, we are constantly distracted by a variety of things; smartphones, traffic, houses, pedestrians, etc. In the Outback, however, with the exception of a passing road-train or the odd kangaroo (see point #5), you will have endless hours to contemplate the larger questions in life. No emails or calls will interrupt your deep meditative state. Just hop on your bike, start pedaling and let your mind wander. You never know where it might take you.
#3: Bush camping
When you arrive at the end of the day to an empty field you may anticipate missing wifi, toilets and potable water but after you set up your tent and sit down with a cold beer (there are limits after all) in hand and begin to chat to your fellow riders all these concerns will fade away. You will curl up in your sleeping bag and gaze up at stars that seem so close you could just reach up and touch them. And in the morning, as a bonus, you can enjoy the sunrise (see #4).
#4: Sunrise and sunset
Almost every morning and evening you will be treated to a gorgeous visual display as the rising/setting sun lights up the heavens. The variations are endless and you can sit there mesmerized as the show continues for up to an hour. And best of all, it is free!
#5: Kangaroos & Emus
What more can I say – where else can you see these amazing animals at the side of the road for weeks on end? Sometimes you can see them on the distant horizon while at others the Roos may bounce along beside you for a few hundred meters.
#6 Horrocks Pass
After a few weeks in the desolate Outback, the rest day in Port Augusta and a view of the water is a welcome change. But the real thrill comes once you head east and begin the climb up into the Flinders Range. The road winds up into the hills and the scenery becomes greener. Large trees appear and golden fields of wheat (see point 7) gradually emerge. Despite the effort, the elevation gain will bring a huge smile to your face.
Once you climb Horrocks Pass (see point #6) and pass out of the plains/Outback, you will enter into a wonderful world of Australian wheat. Huge sunburnt fields of golden winter wheat hugging gentle rolling hills – such a change from the arid red sand deserts that started the section. Sheep, cattle, kangaroos peeking out from green fields, dry creek beds, pumping stations and single-story brick farmhouses.
The Clare Valley specializes in Rieslings and, strangely enough, the stage that passes through the area spends almost 50kms on the appropriately named ‘Riesling Trail’. This allows the riders to visit the numerous vineyards adjoining the route for tasting without worrying about cars. It also allows you to noodle around the cool and vibrant town of Auburn. Remember to bring a pannier or two to carry your purchases to camp.
#9: Coober Pedy
Big surprise here. What could a town of 3,000 souls stuck in the middle of some of the most desolate terrain on earth offer? Actually quite a bit; mine tours, amazing Greek food, liquor restrictions, an otherworldly landscape, beautiful opals, friendly and unique characters and more. You must visit.
#10: Painted Desert
While not directly on the Trans-Oceania route (yet), it is worth using your rest day in Coober Pedy to drive out to this absolutely gorgeous area. You are guaranteed to have quite the adventure if you make the attempt, and the scenery is absolutely surreal. Find four friends, set your alarm for 03:30…and bring two jacks.
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