Red Centre (Film)

In his latest film, Mick Turnbull recounts his final scouting trip on the Red Centre, a new two-week bikepacking route through the heart of the Australian Outback. Watch it here with Mick’s reflection on creating the route and a handful of additional photos…

Words, photos, and video by Mick Turnbull

Danielle and I met in Alice Springs almost 15 years ago. Back then, climbing was our thing – bikes were for commuting or riding to the pub at night. Weekends revolved around finding a shady gorge or sneaking in 6 a.m. climbs to beat the pummel of the sun. We viewed the Red Centre through rock goggles.

While Danielle was busy with work and PhD life, I returned solo to see the place through the lens of a bikepacker. It was my first time riding solo since a brief stint in the Tour Aotearoa in 2018, and it was also my first time documenting a trip solo since I took up filming. Being both the key character and the camera operator on this ride had pros and cons. The pro was that I didn’t have to negotiate with myself to turn around and ride back up the hill to get a better shot (thanks, Danielle). The con was that I might get carried away without Danielle to remind me that there was riding to be done and not make camp before dark (it happened).

“I love the sound the tires make as they go across the dried-out mud..”

Central Australia is typically a delight in winter, with cold nights but average daytime temperatures around 19°C (66°F) and little rain. Leaving the Tasmanian winter’s short, cold days, I was looking forward to warmth and sun. The forecast looked dubious, but I was told that the mud wasn’t the bike-stopping, derailleur-snapping, peanut-butter kind you find on the Mawson Trail or Oodnadatta Track, but the slow and gritty variety. So, after arriving in Alice, setting up my bike, and saying hello to a few old places and faces, I set off.

Due to the continuous rain showers, the road between Hugh Gorge and Owen Springs on day three was slow and sloppy. With three-inch tyres, it was ridable but exhausting – like grinding uphill all day, but without the reward of a descent. Approaching Lawrence Gorge, the thought of a campfire became my focus. With all the rain, I knew I’d need firelighters. I greeted the only people I’d seen that day camped in the dry riverbed, and after a moment of surprise and the mandatory exclamations about “what the hell I was doing out here by myself,” they gave me some firelighters. I set up camp and fire in the dry riverbed, soaking in the warmth.

Red Centre Bikepacking Route, Australia
  • Red Centre Bikepacking Route, Australia
  • Red Centre Bikepacking Route, Australia

Arriving in Rainbow Valley a few days later, some campers from Alice were visiting for Territory Day. Dogs and native animals alike fear the holiday, the one day of the year when you can (legally) set off your own fireworks, typically after more than a couple of beers. To avoid the constant drizzle, I set up in one of the picnic shelters and was treated to a private fireworks display, with all involved retaining their fingers.

The next day was the wettest and coldest of the trip with a max temp of 7.6°C (45°F). With no trees to shelter under, by mid-afternoon, I was soaked and freezing, I decided to stop earlier than planned at a station campground up ahead that promised a dry place to sit and pitch a tent. Alas, it was closed. I grumbled, but the lack of audience made it somewhat unsatisfying. Thankfully, the rain stopped soon after, and my bikepacking mood-meter swung back into higher digits.

Red Centre Bikepacking Route, Australia
  • Red Centre Bikepacking Route, Australia
  • Red Centre Bikepacking Route, Australia

Riding into Maryvale Station the next day, a 4WD ute pulled over to greet me. Once again, a typical Outback exchange followed. Daryl asked where I was going; I told him jokingly, “Tassie. Am I heading in the right direction?” After an expletive-laden outburst that roughly translates as what the hell are you doing out here by yourself?, he phoned his partner Sue and shouted, “There’s some crazy **** on a bike, ***** of a *****, but he’s okay.” Earlier in the day they’d seen my tracks weaving through the mud, trying to find the best/fastest line and decided I was drunk or had maybe stolen a bike. After this mild abuse, Sue asked me what I wanted to eat, opened the shop (usually closed on a Monday) prepared lunch and a coffee, and let me buy supplies for the ride to Chambers Pillar. Farewelled by further affectionate swearing, I pedalled off, well-fed and with food for the next two days. This rough hospitality is characteristic of the Territory: people stopping for a chat to see you’re okay, offering water, opening campsites, and letting you join a meal with their tour group.

It can be a bit nervy riding a “new” route – especially in an arid landscape where other humans and water might be equally scarce. Regardless of how thoroughly I’ve prepped, once I start riding, the inevitable mental commentary begins: perhaps I should have carried a couple more litres of water or should’ve asked more about that road. The doubts can be exacerbated by varied advice, which I need to remind myself is contextual. Opinions on the track condition are dependent on the weather, tire choice, and fatigue. Corrugations can be less painful on a bike than a 4WD, especially with the liberty and freedom to change lines. But with uncertainty comes the adventure and surprise of something new unfolding before you. The delight of a sunset, the relief of a smoother-than-expected track, the trust required to take the advice of a stranger. Always worth it.

  • Red Centre Film
  • Red Centre Film

Filming Equipment

  • Camera: Panasonic GH555
  • Lens 1: Panasonic Leica 10-25mm f1.7
  • Lens 2: Panasonic Leica 50-200mm f2.8 – 4.0
  • GoPro: Hero 11 Black
  • iPhone 12 mini
  • Light: Lume Cube 2.0
  • Microphone: Rode VideoMic NTG
  • Microphone: Rode Wireless GO
  • Tripod: Joby GorillaPod 5K
Red Centre Bikepacking RouteSparsely populated, diverse in landscapes, and rich in culture and history, Central Australia is a remarkable region to tour by bike. The 1,027-kilometer Red Centre route entails two loops from Alice Springs/Mparntwe and meanders through a landscape of desert plains, weathered mountain ranges, rocky gorges, and Aboriginal cultural sites. You’ll witness outback sunsets, camp in dry riverbeds, and stargaze under some of the clearest skies in the world. Find the full route guide here.

Further Reading

Find more from Mick Turnbull below...



Bikepacking Videos

Route Reports


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