Hot on the Trail - Gawler to Riverton via the Mawson

Hot on the Trail – Gawler to Riverton via the Mawson


(Or – how to drink 7 litres of water, 2 Pepsis, 1 iced coffee, 3 beers and still not piss.)


On the 7.21 train from Adelaide to Gawler on Sunday morning I had the distinct feeling I was the only passenger who had been to bed the night before.

Bless these youngsters and their energy, or maybe just their drugs. Whatever; I found their collective ability to walk steadily in high heels at that hour impressive.

My plan was to take the Bobridge Trail from Gawler to Tanunda, and then pick up the Mawson Trail and ride that to Riverton and relax overnight in the pub before continuing to Burra and then looping back. This report covers day 1 to Riverton – roughly 100km.

The Bobridge does not seem to come up as a bike path on any of my mapping apps, but it’s not too hard to find, as it follows the old railway line out of town. It’s a nice bitumen surface all the way, and even gets a bit interesting around Jacobs Creek, with a few twists and some nice sections away from the road.

All-in-all, it’s a pleasant 30km that had me at the Tanunda bakery in good time, and chatting to some local roadies about how hot it was going to get later that day.

The Mawson Trail follows the main road from Tanunda straight through Nuriootpa; very boring and un-Mawson. The departure from bitumen, when it does occur, is satisfyingly auspicious; at a T junction past Nuri the the highway goes left and right, while you, my worthy friend, travel straight ahead on dirt.

Hot on the Trail - Gawler to Riverton via the Mawson

After all that bitumen it’s nice just to be somewhere quiet. The roads are not particularly special, though, until the other side of Kapunda.

This day was hot. My Garmin was telling me 38 from about 10.30, and over 40 by 11.30. I had to check it for accuracy when I got home to be sure it wasn’t exaggerating. Tooling along gently it did not feel that hot and I was disinclined to believe the numbers until I realized that the water from my bidon was much hotter than my body temp. It was difficult to find any pleasure in drinking it, and hard to eat.

Because of this, the déjeuner de choix in Kapunda was largely Pepsi. Gatorade was also on the menu at the the servo, and in retrospect that may have helped, as I was already a bit nauseous from trying to pump more and more fluid through a parched mouth into an already full gut.

Enough of the whinge. The Mawson from Kapunda to Riverton is more than worth the price of admission. It follows standard gravel roads for a while before climbing on dusty clay. This is the spot where I decided to have a gentle lie down on the track: caused by a soft surface, a lack of concentration and a bit dizziness. A good reminder, actually, to take a rest for a few minutes and force some a bit more solid food in, before tackling the descent on the other side.

Hot on the Trail - Gawler to Riverton via the Mawson

Following this there’s a brief section on bitumen, and after that the Trail becomes 100% goodness. It starts with nice gravel winding through gums and then gets even better.

Hot on the Trail - Gawler to Riverton via the Mawson

After a few kays it switches to unmade vehicle track that keeps on going. Undulations, nice curves, lots of trees. Nothing too difficult to ride, unless it’s been raining heavily, in which case prepare to push. In fact, pragmatism is needed in the wet. It may be best to stick to gravel alternatives if the first climb on clay can’t be ridden. There’s quite a bit of damage to the tracks where people have forged their own paths at the side in attempting to get through. On a good day though, this section is just ace.

Hot on the Trail - Gawler to Riverton via the Mawson

On my ride I was saved by the weather.

After the tantalizing sound of thunder for some time, finally it rained and the temp dropped from low 40s to low 30s in about 15 mins. It didn’t cool the water in my bidon though, and I had the new experience of drinking hot water while it rained cool on my face.

The last 15 km or so to Riverton are different, but also in a nice way. It’s from higher country to lower, and there’s something grand about viewing the sweeping plains and knowing your destination is all downhill and along good dirt roads. I had the added bonus of seeing another big patch of rain move across the hills and drench me as I contemplated my arrival at the Riverton pub.

Hot on the Trail - Gawler to Riverton via the Mawson

My summary of the day: I got lost a couple of times. I lost my judgment in the heat. The day was marred by nausea that I could have managed better. What I assumed would be a very easy ride was made tricky by the conditions. When riding alone a bit of extra caution is needed, as there’s no one next to you to say, “you’ve lost the plot, dickhead.” I was still slightly nauseous the next day, which was annoying at the time, but those memories soon pass, leaving just the ride.



All images: David Hume