One of the most difficult off-road courses in one of the most remote places in the world.
The Tatts Finke Desert Race is a unique off-road race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads. The course runs through desert country from Alice Springs to the small desert community of Finke (Aputula) in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Held each year on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June, the Finke Desert Race event attracts entrants from all over Australia and around the world.
Finke is a unique event in that it enables people of all walks of life to become involved.
This unique outback event is said to be one of the most difficult off-road races in the world through remote terrain of red dirt, sand and desert spinifex. For 3 days, over 800 bikes, quads and buggies compete this grueling race.
The Finke Desert Race is known as Australia’s most unique off-road race and one is one of the biggest annual sporting events in the Northern Territory.
The ‘there and back’ challenge
The first race started in 1976 as a “there and back” challenge for a group of local motorbike riders. The course was set to race from Alice Springs to the Finke River and return.
After the success of this initial ride, the Finke Desert Race has become an annual event.
The race is run along sections of what was the Old Ghan railway service track alongside the old railway line. The race crosses the Finke River which is believed to be the oldest river in the world. A dusty corrugated track winds it’s way through this unique part of the outback and over red dirt, sand, spinifex, mulga and desert oaks.
King of the desert
While originally the Finke was only a bike race, its increasing popularity saw the introduction of cars and off-road buggies in 1988.
A rivalry developed between the two and four wheelers, as the buggies were keen to claim the holy grail of the race outright winner or “King of the Desert” as it is known.
For 11 consecutive years the bikes were too quick for the cars despite the gap constantly narrowing. Finally in 1999, a buggy returned home first to claim the honour.
In 2005 the title was changed to two “Kings of the Desert”, one for the cars and one for bikes, each picking up $10,000 prizemoney for their efforts.
Although the bikes and cars no longer race against each other for the title, it is always interesting to see who completes the 460 km round trip in the fastest time.
The Alice Springs community
The people and local businesses of Alice Springs are proud to host the Finke Desert Race and it’s well considered that it wouldn’t be the same without the support of the Alice Springs community.
It is estimated that more than 12,000 people camp beside the racetrack for 3 days (or longer), sleeping under the stars in their tents and swags.
The Finke Desert Race is organised and run by a local committee of volunteers with the assistance of the Northern Territory Major Events Company. Over race weekend, an estimated 300 volunteer officials will assist with the running of the event.
Scrutineering is held at the Start/Finish Line. All competitor’s (bikes, quads and buggy’s) must have their machine and clothing checked and passed for racing.
While scrutineering is going on, all bikes and cars are on display, food and drink stalls are in operation, official merchandise is also on sale. Approximately 3000 people attend scrutineering and it’s a great place to get up close and personal with the riders/drivers and their amazing machinery.
Winter in Alice Springs
Winter in the desert is often freezing when the sun goes down so be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes, jackets, blankets and a beanie to keep warm.
When the sun does break through during the day remember that unprotected skin can burn, so remember to use your sun screen and slip-slop-slap.
Average daily temperature for June is around 20 degrees, sunrise is usually around 7 am and sunset at 6 pm.
It has been known to rain over the race weekend so be prepared.
Have you done the Finke yet? Did you go camping along the track? What was your favourite experience?