Imagine riding through an ancient landscape, pedaling between towering gorges, resting by pristine natural waterholes and jumping over rocks as old as time itself.  This is the Red Centre Adventure Ride, a multi-day mountain bike adventure catering for all experience levels in the heart of Australia.

The first step in planning this exciting new concept ride came through TRC Tourism’s development of the Northern Territory Mountain Bike Master Plan.  A piece of work that required the collaboration and support from Aboriginal Traditional Owners, government agencies, mountain bike clubs and the tourism industry, our final plan was rewarded with an NT Planning Institute of Australia Award for Planning Excellence of a large project in 2016. The Master Plan presented clear mountain biking opportunities and priorities for the NT to consider, with a Hero Experience earmarked for Central Australia.

Why Central Australia?  The township of Alice Springs makes an ideal hub for mountain biking experiences, with attractions and services only a bike ride away from some of the most amazing landscapes and terrain on earth.  Alice is framed by the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges, with the West MacDonnell Ranges stretching over 160 km in length alone.  Most of the West MacDonnell Ranges are part of the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park, jointly managed between the Park’s Traditional Owners and the Department of Tourism and Culture, NT Parks, Wildlife and Heritage Division. The Park’s remarkable cultural and natural attractions, the breathtaking landscape made internationally famous by Alfred Namatjira’s paintings and the existence of a multi-day bushwalk made it the perfect location and foundation on which to design a concept ride.

But, would it work?  In 2017, our heads and wheels were spinning as we were offered the opportunity to lead the design for this exciting new concept ride. The first question we needed to answer was about the feasibility…would a concept like this actually work?  Our study revealed that already around 11% of all domestic travellers undertake bicycle or mountain bike activities while on holidays, with two thirds of these riders stating the cycling experience was their main reason for travelling.  Around a quarter of the domestic riders join “a cycle tour where you camp or stay overnight along the way”. In addition, there are around 15,000 local mountain bike riders who are already living in the NT[1]. This sounded pretty reassuring to us!  We then profiled each of our rider segments to better understand what they needed to help them choose the Red Centre Adventure Ride – planning, booking, arriving and access, own bike or hire, independent or on tour, how long, how difficult, how many days, what type of accommodation and what other services, facilities and experiences were they expecting along the way?

The Vision – Working side-by-side with Park staff, Traditional Owners, Mountain Bike and trail construction experts we then developed our Vision for the Ride:

The Red Centre Adventure Ride is Australia’s best outback multi-day ride recognised for its rich and
immersive experience of the magnificent Red Centre landscape and its Aranda culture,
and for making a positive contribution to local communities and businesses.

As with all of our projects, it isn’t just about our visitors.  ‘What?!’ we hear you cry incredulously.  Tourism planning is also about creating inspiring solutions for local people and place they call home. As a national park on Aboriginal  land, it was important we worked together to understand the aspirations of Traditional Owners, presented opportunities for economic and social benefits on their country and maintained the protection of the Park’s cultural and natural values.

So…what was the concept? With the feasibility and Vision in mind, the Red Centre Adventure Ride Concept was designed to offer cyclists across a range of abilities an unforgettable journey through the unique and impressive landscapes of the Northern Territory’s West MacDonnell Ranges. Adhering to the International Mountain Biking Association best practice standards in trail design, the concept will see riders select from a range of 1-6 day experiences, cycling up to 210 km west of Alice Springs, riders will encounter natural attractions including Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, the Ochre Pits, Ormiston Gorge, Redbank Gorge, Mt Sonder and finally, Glen Helen Gorge.

In addition to using existing services, there will be a range of accommodation types including new accommodation development ranging from on-trail luxe camps to basic facility campsites, along with off-trail options such as Glen Helen Homestead. The luxe camp accommodation will be exclusively-sited on new bush sites nearby the trail at Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole and Glen Helen.

Riders will be able to choose from fully supported, guided and packaged trail experiences, inclusive of high end catering and luxe accommodation through to self-guided, independent camping experiences.

When will we be able to do the ride?  We are proud to advise that under the Turbo Charging Tourism initiative, the NT Government has committed $12 M to implementing this game changing project.  We presented an irresistible cost benefit analysis together with a solid 3 year implementation program to make this project shovel ready for the next phase.  Oh, and did we mention the Red Centre Adventure Ride also won the 2018 NT Planning Institute of Australia Awards for Planning Excellence in Large Projects.

What did we learn?  Here are the top ‘10 Things You Need to Know About Planning an Award Winning Adventure Ride concept’

  • Align with existing strategies, plans and financial commitments – this way you are delivering on promises already made
  • Meet the aspirations of stakeholders from Government, Traditional Owners, industry, business and community members – it’s important that everyone is onboard from the get-go
  • Capitalise on existing attractions and infrastructure that can be used towards immediate start-up and upgraded/extended into the future – no need to reinvent the wheel!
  • Focus on existing markets and target market expectations – this needs to look at the whole visitor experience cycle as it aligns to the different market demographics. Who are they, what do they need, why are they coming, where are they going already, how do we deliver?
  • Ensure best practice of industry standards – other organisations have already done the hard work in preparing these tried and tested standards, it also gives the project authenticity and credibility
  • Have strong and comprehensive research backing an implementation plan that is attractive for government and business investment – the data needs to prove if you build it, they will come!
  • Measure and demonstrate viability and cost benefits – investors want to know there is a return on their investment with sustainable economic benefits particularly for local regions and communities.
  • Protect the vital natural and cultural values of the landscape – without this, there would be no experience.
  • Provide sustainable economic opportunities for Traditional Owners and the local community – the ability to live and work on country and maintain traditions, and a chance for visitors to immerse in and connect to cultural landscapes.
  • Have a logical and achievable implementation plan and investment prospectus – make the project investment worthy and ready to go.


We wish the NT Government the best for implementation, the team can’t wait to be some of the first riders to undertake their own Red Centre Adventure ride.

For assistance with all facets of tourism planning or an epic adventure trail in your destination, get in touch with the experts at TRC Tourism – our backpacks, hiking boots and bike helmets are at the ready!

[1] Tourism Research Australia, Growing Cycling Tourism in Victoria, December 2015