Unless you have a “Fat Bike” be prepared for a tough slog!
Located in the north-eastern corner of Ngarkat Conservation Park on the border with Victoria, a two and a half hour drive from Adelaide, Box Hill Flat, was, from 1871 to 1894, an outstation of Garra Station and operated as a pastoral station. However, the harsh climate, rabbits and wild dogs all played their part in bringing this farming to an end and now it is a destination for people seeking peace and solitude.
Box Hill Flat is a wetland area of the Mallee district that has been used by the traditional owners for thousands of years before European settlement. Referred to as an “ephemeral wetland”, it is dry in summer, but come the winter rains, it is inundated with water and attracts abundant wildlife.
Having a four day break from work, I had come out to explore some of the attractions of the park.
I knew it would not be a :ride in the park”, research had shown an abundance of sand and difficult terrain, but my “she’ll be right” outlook I had totally underestimated just how tough it would be. When they say four wheel drive only, they really do mean it. Unless you are riding a “fat bike” tackling this route will be a tough task.
Driving in from Lameroo on Baan Hill Road, I parked the car at the park entrance just before lunch and with 14 kilometres to the settlement ruins, I gave myself around two hours to reach this halfway point.
The first kilometre was over hard compacted clay and then the sand began. Ridable at first, but then the soft sections became progressively deeper, longer and more difficult. After more than an hour, I had covered less than four kilometres. At this rate the return journey would be four hours; it would be with to ten!
As this thought began to sink in and I wondered if the loop was going to be possible in the time remaining today, I met three four wheel drives coming from Box Flat and they confirmed the conditions ahead. It was deep sand almost the whole way!
Thanking them and continuing on for a short way, I came to the decision that trying to finish the route in an afternoon was not practical and I given that I was not carrying tent or camping gear, I decided to turn back after only five kilometres covered.
This was where things got worse.
While turning the bike in the soft sand, the trailer became wedged and in doing so, applied too much pressure on the trailer mount which in turn, resulted in the left-hand most trailer mount snapping off the rear bike axle.
The rear bike wheel was now wobbling strangely and any thought of riding further was out of the question.
This confirmed my earlier decision … now my only choice was to return to the car, but this time on foot.
With the rear axle broken and having to walk, I could not take the trailer with me and unfortunately I had to leave it on the side of the track, hoping that another passer-by would pick it up and return it to me before I reached the car.
But as is often the case, these remote roads have very little traffic and in the couple of hours it took to get back to the car, I did not see another soul, and by inference, my trailer either.
Without a spare axle to fix the bike, my three days cycling were finished and I headed over to Pertendi Hut camp site to spend the night and reassess my options.
Which as it turned out became few overnight as the heavy rain set in.
The next morning I packed up my gear and returned home with very little cycling or bush walking accomplished. It was still a great two days, only different to my plans.
- Name: Box Flat Track
- Region: Murray Mallee, South Australia
- Start: Park entrance, Baan Hill Road, South Australia
- Finish: Park entrance, Baan Hill Road, South Australia
- Length: 21km
- Time: 1 day
- Type: Loop
- Surface: Soft sand (90%), compacted clay (10%)
- Difficulty: Extreme
- Suitable for: Only suitable for fat bikes and confident, well prepared experienced loners.
- Hazards: The heat and isolation. Take care in the deep, soft sand and treat the bike with care
- Signage: No signage
- Facilities: No facilities along the route. Take food and water with you for two days in case it takes longer than expected.
- Best Times: Avoid summer as the temperatures will be in the high forties and watch the weather in winter when the conditions may be too muddy to attempt on a bicycle. If you are going to ride this on anything other than a fat bike, start very early in the day or allow two days, with an overnight at Box Flat.