Exploring Northern Territory, Australia with Bas van Steenbergen & Vaea Verbeeck

May 3, 2019
by Pinkbike Originals  

Featured Destination
NORTHERN TERRITORY, AUSTRALIA
Up Top, Down Under
Photography: Jay French / Words: Liam Mullany





Alice Springs

While 85% of Australia’s population can be found within 50km of the coastline, Australia’s rugged outback is home to the adventurous minority. The town of Alice Springs sits in the heart of the outback, almost at the continent’s geographic centre. Home to the Aboriginal Arrernte people for tens of thousands of years, the town was developed by western settlers nearly 150 years ago as part of a communication stepping stone to connect the north and south coasts. 



Previously, the tourism industry in ‘Alice’ (as it is affectionately known) was largely attributed to its proximity to the famous Australian landmark, Uluru, as it is the only populated town remotely near-by which tourists can use as a jumping off point. 

While this still remains an excuse to bring people into the region, Alice itself has developed a more diverse community built around two-wheeled sports. 

The sheer amount of available land surrounding the town has enabled both mountain bike and motocross enthusiasts alike to explore and develop the terrain, subsequently opening up the outback to a new type of traveller with designs to experience the iconic landscape.

Early morning silhouettes.

Starting off the day with a sunrise spin seemed popular around Alice Springs we encountered many people out there doing it.
Starting off the day with a sunrise spin seemed popular around Alice Springs, we encountered many people out there doing it.
Sunrise and sunset look pretty similar out here but both stunning.
Sunrise and sunset look pretty similar out here, but both stunning.

Iconic sink on a trail. Don t forget a toothbrush.
Iconic sink on a trail. Don't forget a toothbrush.

Vaea charges after Bas through a rocky section.
Vaea charges after Bas through a rocky section.
Bas has a knack of making almost anything look fun to ride.
Bas has a knack of making almost anything look fun to ride.


Trail surface of the desert reliably loose.
Trail surface of the desert, reliably loose.
Bas loads his Hyper onto the ute . This is what Australians call pick-up trucks.
Bas loads his Hyper onto the 'ute'. This is what Australians call pick-up trucks.




In many cases, old kangaroo tracks became the basis for new mountain bike trails that branch out from the town, traversing the hills and valleys through the desert brush.

 Telegraph Station, the main trailhead location in the Alice, gets its name for historical reasons. In the late 1800s, a 3200km telegraph line was built through the heart of the outback from Adelaide to Darwin, linking Australia to the rest of the world. Alice Springs, being geographically central in this route, played a crucial role in the facilitating of this telecommunications endeavour, and several relics from this era still remain.



When it comes to riding, if you’re looking for long, unbroken descents, you'll have trouble finding them here; the elevation of Alice Springs and the surrounding area are primarily undulating and cater mainly towards trail and cross-country style riding. However, the sheer expanse of land allows these type of trails to continue with seemingly unrestricted potential. 

A combination of vibrant red sandy soil and rugged exposed rock form the foundation of most of the trails out here, which can result in riding that ranges from technical to fast and flowy. 

We learned to work with the desert sun, more or less leaning on sunrise or sunset to explore the trail networks while leaving the middle of the day reserved for swimming excursions.



Impressed that the wildlife have phones to make this call. Plenty of Kangaroos out here anyway.
Impressed that the wildlife have phones to make this call. Plenty of Kangaroos out here anyway.

If it can be jumped Bas will jump it.
If it can be jumped, Bas will jump it.

Vaea s mate dropping in for a chat.
Vaea's mate dropping in for a chat.
G day mate.
G'day mate.

Climbing in the desert with little shade staying hydrated is important.
Climbing in the desert with little shade, staying hydrated is important.


Water management is an essential component of sportsing in the outback. Double water-bottle cages and hydration packs seemed to be the norm, and if you happen to be the proud owner of a sunscreen store here in the outback, well… business is surely booming.



To aid the existing work of the devoted local mountain bikers who have banded together to establish the riding scene, the Northern Territory Government is now encouraging the expansion of mountain biking in the region by funding trail development, including plans over the next 5 years for a 200km trail network connecting Alice Springs and nearby Glen Helen. The multi-day adventure would follow the visually stunning gorge, linking the numerous water holes together for ambitious adventurers. 

As the trail network and infrastructure expand over the next several years, Alice Springs hopes to attract more visitors who are ambitious to explore the outback outside of an air-conditioned tour bus. Between the current riding scene and plans for the future, the region seems keen on establishing itself as a renowned hub of the sport within Australia. 
Two mountain bike events to check out if you're in the Alice in the Spring include Outback Cycling Easter and The Redback.


Mid day recharge it s pretty hot out in the desert in the middle of the day - a good time to go and relax and have a bite to eat.
Mid day recharge, it's pretty hot out in the desert in the middle of the day - a good time to go and relax and have a bite to eat.
Brain freeze
Brain freeze?

Vaea drives into Bas s backlit roost.
Vaea drives into Bas's backlit dust.

Vaea giving the camel some pats.
Oh hey.
What you looking at
What you looking at?

Red light reflecting off the red sand makes for a beaut palette.
Red light reflecting off the red sand makes for a beauty palette.

Deciding where to ride next.
Deciding where to ride next.
The dry conditions out here seem to preserve some things whilst taking their toll on others.
The dry conditions out here seem to preserve some things while taking their toll on others.

Dropping into a rocky set.
Dropping into a rocky set.

Trails making the use of the natural terrain like this chunky slab.
Trails making the use of the natural terrain like this chunky slab.

Long evenings are a great time for riding in Alice.
Long evenings are a great time for riding in Alice.


Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park



Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park doesn’t feature any mountain biking, but some experiences transcend the need to have two wheels under you.

 Uluru is one of the most iconic visual icons of Australia. Just southeast of Alice Springs (by “just” I mean 5.5 hours by car or an hour by plane - but by some standards that’s a slightly inconvenient beer run), this giant monolithic rock sits in the middle of the Australian Outback.

It’s a surreal sight: one giant chunk of sandstone buried up to its neck, iceberg style. 

To come all the way into the heart of the Red Centre and not make the relatively quick detour to Uluru and sister-formation Kata Tjuta would be regrettable. 

Even if just for a day to catch the setting or rising sun cast the famous dark red glow onto the face of the sandstone, seeing this geological oddity in person is worth the effort.



The geological oddity of Uluru.

What does this view remind you of
What does this view remind you of?
Vaea pushing up in the last light.
Vaea pushing up in the last light.

The last rays of red light fall across the desert just before the sun dips.
The last rays of red light fall across the desert just before the sun dips.

Unreal light.
Unreal light.
Bas and Vaea take in the sunset before riding down in the twilight.
Bas and Vaea take in the sunset before riding down in the twilight.


Stunning clear sunsets and sunrises every day out here.
Stunning clear sunsets and sunrises every day out here.





Darwin / Top-End



Stepping out of the airport doors in Darwin between October and April, you will be greeted by a wall of humidity—and we were. 
If you head to Darwin between May and September however, you'll find the conditions to be dry with an average temperature of 32 degrees. Darwin lies on Australia’s Northern coast, and stands as the country’s most northern capital city in the region aptly referred to as the ‘Top End’.

The quintessentially Australian image of salt-water crocodiles patrolling the murky waters is most alive here, with numerous signs along the water’s edge warning ill-informed swimmers or overly curious tourists to think twice before venturing into the shallows. While some of the crew psyched themselves up with Steve Irwin compilations of animal wrangling on YouTube, the promise of encountering the world’s most powerful bite more or less kept us from getting barrelled in the Australian surf.

 When the opportunity to level the playing field with an inch of plexiglass presented itself, however, the travellers were somewhat emboldened in their position and decided to roll the dice.


Bas and Vaea get up close and personal with a BIG croc.
Bas and Vaea get up close and personal with a BIG croc.

Bas meets his first snake of the trip. Fortunately this one wasn t sitting on the trail.
Bas meets his first snake of the trip. Fortunately this one wasn't sitting on the trail.
Baby crocs it s not the top end if you don t see some crocs.
Baby crocs, it's not the top end if you don't see some crocs.


In the heart of Darwin, a cage diving experience may err on the side of touristy, but of literally going eye-to-eye with salt water crocs was unquestionably visceral. Not unlike the scene from Jurassic Park where the cow is lowered into the velociraptors enclosure (and is promptly eviscerated), you climb into a plexiglass cylinder and are carried out and over the enclosure containing a pair of the 8-foot long dinosaurs before being dropped and semi-submerged. 

While the crocodiles have, at this point, learned to pay less attention to you than the chicken carcasses that are being dangled overhead, the sheer power and sound of a snapping jaw with more strength than a T-Rex triggers something deep within your own lizard brain.


Wouldn t want to come across this fella by a watering hole.
Wouldn't want to come across this fella by a watering hole.

Waterfalls in a hot place look so inviting.
Waterfalls in a hot place look so inviting.




Litchfield & Nitmiluk National Parks

A few hours south of the city (and slightly out of reach of the coastal humidity), both Litchfield and Nitmiluk National Parks offer a more mountainous setting to the Top End. Deep spring-water fuels impressive waterfalls which cascade and cut through the mountains, and we spent the hot mid-days swimming in these oasis’s while working on our Northern Hemisphere tans.


While the region has yet to establish official mountain biking trails, over the next several years, the Northern Territory Government plans to invest tens of millions of dollars in the development of trail networks. These trails will link waterholes and traverse the mountains surrounding the gorges, which are protected in these parks.

 The plan aims to encourage mountain biking as a viable tool for exploration in this region, especially here where the elevation supports a wide variety of riding styles.



Litchfield views.
Litchfield views.

More trails are planned in this area for the future. Stay tuned.
More trails are planned in this area for the future. Stay tuned.




Darwin


During World War 2, Darwin was among Australia’s first line of defence for an attack by sea, and a few remaining bunkers and outposts still remain along the north-facing beaches. 

One of said beaches, Lee Point, stands as the exit point for a small network of trails which the locals have worked to develop and legitimize over the past several years. While the minimal elevation change might thwart the area’s ambitions for a world cup downhill race being held here, the interweaving network of hand-built corners, jumps and technical features attracts a devoted following of riders. The multiple sections of downhill trails roll seamlessly into the climbs to fuel rounds and rounds of hot laps.



An essential component of riding in the top end is weather management. During the wet season, storms can roll through off the ocean and dump considerable amounts of rain in a short amount of time, catching you off-guard and leaving you soaked for the sky to then immediately clear. Although best viewed from indoors, the shows that the lightning can put on are spectacular. Dry season will see clear skies daily, with an average temperature of 32 degrees with minimal chance of rain
.

The local riding association “Darwin Off-Road Cyclists” abbreviated as “DORC" (who seem to have fully embraced the humour in their acronym) organize local rides and races throughout the Top End for skill levels ranging from beginner to advanced. 




Tropical storms gather over Darwin.
Tropical storms gather over Darwin.

Rain falls fast and heavy up here.
Rain falls fast and heavy up here.


Bas rips through the forest like he was on rails.
Bas rips through the forest like he was on rails.
Wet trails like velcro for tyres.
Wet trails like velcro for tyres.


It may be raining but the temperature doesn t change. It s still HOT.
It may be raining but the temperature doesn't change. It's still HOT.

Vaea chasing Bas through the tropical forest of Darwin
Vaea chasing Bas through the tropical forest of Darwin

Vaea chasing Bas through the tropical forest of Darwin
Same same.

Bas van Steezebergen.
Bas van Steezebergen.

What a way to end a ride where you can come out right onto the beach and see this.
What a way to end a ride, where you can come out right onto the beach and see this.

More beautiful sunsets. Different to the desert ones.
More beautiful sunsets. Different to the desert ones.

Overall, the mountain biking scene in the Northern Territory is well on its way, and over the next several years, the trail infrastructure is set to expand greatly. With devoted riding communities already in place to show travellers around, the country’s uppermost region is poised to welcome those looking for a unique Australian experience on and off two wheels.




Local Knowledge

Getting here: Darwin International airport is a gateway to Australia for international flights from across Europe, North America and Asia with regular daily intrastate flights operating between Darwin, Alice Springs and Uluru. For long-haul travellers, international carriers operate flights from the UK and Germany, the US and Canada. Asia’s proximity to Darwin makes it extremely easy to hop over to places such as Singapore, Malaysia, China and Indonesia. Domestically, you are able to fly from most capital cities direct into either Darwin or Alice Springs.

The Climate & Wildlife: Australia’s Northern Territory can be one of the most spectacular and unique locations in the world, but can also be harsh and unforgiving and requires the utmost respect for the weather, Landscape and Wildlife. Ensure you are prepared for these three things and you will have some of the best riding experiences. Take extra water with you wherever you go – by the time you are thirsty dehydration has already set in. The landscape is vast, don’t wander off track too much as it could be hard to regain your bearings. And remember, we don’t just have some of the cutest animals on the planet (cue adorable baby Kangaroos), we have some of the most dangerous. Generally speaking if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you however try to keep your eyes out on the track when you are riding in and around Alice, and stay away from the waters edge when you are in Darwin (unless otherwise signed).

Bike shop and repairs: In Alice Springs there are 4 bike shops, Smith St Velo Bike Shop, Ultimate Ride Bicycle Centre, Penny Farthing Bike Shop and Outback Cycling. You can hire bikes from Outback Cycling and the staff here will be able to give you some great local advice on all the trails!

In Darwin there are a couple of bike shops in the city, Cycle Zone and Deadly Treadlies and then further out towards the northern suburbs is Bikes to Fit as well as Blue Cycles. No matter where you are, there's bound to be a bike shop for all your needs.

Tech Tip: To reduce punctures from pesky thorns riding on the Alice Springs Trails, ride tubeless with lots of sealant. Carry a pump, tube and multi-tool when you're out riding.

Local Mountain Biking Clubs: Central Australian Rough Riders run the roost in Alice Springs! A friendly bunch of riders that love all kinds of mountain biking whether it be hard core downhill, endurance or just leisurely rides through the outback. In the Top End, Darwin Off-road Cyclists reign with the fun acronym of DORC. These guys are running events throughout the year, and welcome visitors so check their website for upcoming events.

Food and Drink: Alice Springs has some funky cafés but the obvious choice is the Telegraph Station, which acts as a café, trailhead, park, and a historic landmark! They make the best milkshakes, and the homemade vanilla slice is to die for. Carb load in the evening at Casa Nostra or for some great meals and entertainment try Monte’s.

Darwin’s food scene is very underrated and will pleasantly surprise you. Try the waterfront precinct for anything from an Irish pub meal to 5 star dining. In Darwin city itself, you’ll find tapas, Greek, Asian fusion and excellent pub meals for lunch and dinner. But don’t go past a feed at some of their local markets. Parap, Nightcliff and Mindil Beach Markets offer a huge variety of cuisines so be sure to check when they are running.

Must Dos: When you are done with the trails, you can’t leave without exploring a bit of the other highlights of the NT. Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park should be high on your list as should Kakadu National Park. Both hold a strong representation of NT's Aboriginal culture, unique landscape and amazing wildlife.

In Alice Springs take a camel ride, jump on a buggy and explore the West MacDonnell Ranges. In Darwin, take a harbour cruise, visit Litchfield National Park and explore Nitmiluk Gorge. There really are endless things to do in the NT and you’ll want to extend your trip so you don't miss out!

For more detailed information, visit Tourism Northern Territory.


Alice Springs mountain biking trails
Darwin mountain biking trails


Pinkbike would like to thank Tourism NT, Outback Cycling, Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife, Central Australian Rough Riders and Darwin off-road cyclists.

This project has been presented by Tourism Northern Territory. To learn more about biking in Northern Territory, Australia or to book a trip, visit Tourism Northern Territory


MENTIONS: @pinkbikeoriginals




49 Comments

  • + 35
 CU in the NT
  • + 4
 Got a beer coozy from Kulgera pub that says "C-U-Next-Time".
  • + 1
 The little description on the home page
  • + 18
 don't forget to swing by Wolf Creek, the locals are killer, you'll find it hard to leave
  • + 3
 there is no way I could relax riding in Aus. I'd be worried about the 101 things that could kill you lurking around every corner. Other than the tedium, it's basically why I don't road ride.
  • + 7
 @rrolly: dude, we got lions, bears and wolves. Plenty to worry about over here.
  • + 15
 @probikegeek: I'm from Oz but live in Canada now, and i tell all my Canadian friends the same thing. In Oz if something wants to kill you, you can just squish it, in Canada if something wants to kill, it's going to f*cking EAT you!
  • + 2
 @Vernon2145: The best part of MTBing or hiking is stopping for a swim to cool off, especially way off in the backcountry. How exactly are you supposed to cool off in AUS if you live in an area that has snakes n crocs?
  • + 12
 @motard5: quickly.
  • + 7
 @rrolly: I'm originally from Hamilton, Ontario and have been living in Alice Springs for 6 years now, riding for 3 of them. The trails here are so amazing. On my tours I could probably count on 1 hand how many times myself or a guest has seen a snake... then it usually gone in a flash. Winter time is perfect for riding, no snakes and Alice Springs has no crocs. Pretty much all you'll see is wallabies and kangaroos. It's really incredible and way less frightening then anything you'd come across riding in Canada.
  • + 1
 @Jayrayoz: No waaaaaay ! I thought that place would be full of snakes and spiders ????
  • + 2
 @probikegeek: You never have to worry about wolves. The bears you can see and hear, and they usually take off. The mountain lions, well, ok you got me there, if they want you, you're toast. They just really rarely want you. But how are you supposed to avoid the snakes and spiders and other crazy creatures if you don't know where they are???
My nerves would be shot!
  • + 2
 @Vernon2145: I have the same response as an expat living in Canada. I have survived plenty of 1:1 encounters with snakes and spiders but doubt my ability to wrestle a bear.
  • + 3
 @mailman: or my ability to fight off a blood-thirsty pack of giant Ontario mosquitoes
  • + 1
 @Vernon2145: cept for the Tiger, Great White sharks and Crocodiles
  • + 1
 @gunners1: Haven't come across too many Great Whites biking...
  • + 2
 @mailman: I have in Vancouver at the beginning of the season. scary stuff.
  • + 15
 I've been to Uluru a couple of times and it really is a big fucken rock in the middle of no where.
  • + 3
 seen one rock, you've seen them all - just don't let Tourism NT know. Seriously though, it is pretty spectacular.
  • + 1
 @swindelhurst: visited it and to be honest i would have rather of seen darwin or the parks north of uluru
  • + 10
 Things that are probably never gonna happen, 1. Me being able to ride like Bas 2. Me being able to ride live Vaea 3. Me swimming with gators 4. Hyper bikes being available to the public !
  • + 12
 *crocs
  • + 11
 verva vanderveeen rides with vam bergenberg.
  • + 4
 I feel like this article would have been better if they could have got a "real" photographer... I mean lets just say it's all a little amateurish and leave it at that...






















NOT! HOly Shit those were some amazing pics.... Smile
  • + 3
 Great feature - was just in Darwin for work last week. 36 degrees at the end of April! And I whinge about Brisbane heat... If you want Rampage-esque terrain and one of the best National Parks in Aus - check out Karijini NP in Western Australia.
  • + 1
 Didn't they ride in Katherine? I thought that was pretty amazing terrain when driving up Stuart Highway (Alice Springs towards Darwin). Devils Marbles is pretty amazing too, though it would probably take quite an impressive trials rider to make anything out of that.
  • + 4
 Superb video @liammullany and sensational shots @FRNZ . That opening Uluru drone shot...wow!
  • + 1
 Cheese mayte
  • + 2
 Some amazing early mornings and evenings shots
and the weather is now prefect!
see "easter in the alice" locals racing, rocking and partying in the Outback Australia
  • + 3
 NT has the best advertising campaign.


ntunofficial.com/products/cu-in-the-nt-stickers
  • + 4
 Just another Hyper bike to look at.
  • + 3
 When is hyper gonna start selling non bmx or non BSO bikes? They look so damn cool!
  • + 1
 Gotta say, I'm surprised that with THAT MANY photos across all the different trails there is not a single one of Vaea riding a trail in front of Bas.
  • + 2
 My wife hates when I ride behind her...poppin off everything, jumping, almost wrecking, or wrecking, etc. I think she's scared I'll hit her or pressure her to go faster, or she just wants to keep an eye on my ass, literally, jk.
  • + 7
 Just for continuity for the video Smile
  • + 1
 What is your point with a comment like that? What are you getting at?
  • + 0
 @dirtyburger: I reckon that Vaea can outride 99% of people on these boards, male or female, and I didn't understand why she was always relegated to the second position, and why there are no shots of just her riding but there are a few of Bas. It seemed odd, and unlikely to have been the case if it was two guys riding. That's what I was getting at.
  • + 1
 @Whitecollar: does anyone care...they are too chill...nice to just ride. No reading into anything needed!
  • + 4
 Absolute bangers @frnz!!
  • + 1
 The vid was great! I love showing off my local trails to interstate and international riders, so much Single track so close to town. Come and check it out!
  • + 2
 Great article, gotta get up to Alice soon, heard good things and this confirms it.
  • + 4
 queue Hyper comments
  • + 1
 Honestly there is only one place for lunch in Alice and that's loco burrito???? one of the best burritos I've had WORLDWIDE!!!! ,You'll have to come back.????
  • + 1
 Too bad I'm heading back to Europe without having being able to climb Uluru ! Will be officially forbidden october this year
  • + 1
 those two with bare knees? hot weather etiquette? Indecent dressing, If you ask me
  • + 1
 that's how pornos start. bikes crocs and sunsets.... ppppffff pinkbike be ashamed.
  • + 1
 I MUST know what this song is! It is fantastic.
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