South Australia’s Mawson Trail is one of the longest and best mountain-bike trails in Australia.

Story By Andrew Bain

Sir Douglas Mawson's fame is founded almost entirely on his Antarctic endeavours. It was there, on January 8, 1912 – a century ago – that he landed at Cape Denison, beginning two years that would write his name and the Australasian Antarctic Expedition into immortality.

The bulk of Mawson’s lifework, however, took place in very different lands. For 30 years, as a professor of petrology at the University of Adelaide, he divided much of his time between Adelaide and the Flinders Ranges, studying the Precambrian rocks of South Australia’s ancient mountain range. It’s this little-known aspect of his life that is celebrated in the name of the Mawson Trail, a 900-kilometre mountain-bike trail from Adelaide into the heart of the Flinders Ranges, tracking through lands much travelled by him.
Following roads, fire trails and farm tracks between Adelaide and Blinman, the Mawson Trail provides a unique look at South Australia’s Mid North, shunning main roads for gloriously empty tracks.
“I think the Mawson is one of the iconic trails of Australia,” says Christian Haag, CEO of Bike SA. “It traverses some pretty unique and ancient landscapes.”
Among these landscapes are some of South Australia’s most-prized tourist destinations. Out of Adelaide, the trail bumps across the Mount Lofty Ranges into the Barossa Valley before switching to the Clare Valley and the living museum that is the town of Burra. Near its end it skirts Wilpena Pound into Bunyeroo Valley with its grandstand view onto the northern wall of the Pound.
“There’s no doubt that with the diversity of topography, landscape, visitor experience, towns, heritage, food and wine, it’s very much unique,” Christian says. “It’s harsh and it’s rugged, certainly in the northern areas, but that’s an intrinsic part of its beauty. In the southern areas it’s more ‘boutiquey’ – it goes through wine and food regions and it’s a little bit more mellow in the challenge it presents to the rider.”
The idea for the Mawson Trail was first mooted in the late 1980s in response to the growing number of cyclists riding on the Heysen Trail, the famous 1200km walking route from Cape Jervis to Parachilna Gorge. From the outset, the Mawson Trail was conceived as a cyclists’ version of the Heysen, with its course mirroring – and often intersecting with – the walking trail and making use of its existing facilities, such as huts and campsites.

This story excerpt is from Issue #80

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2012