This article may contain affiliate links for which we may receive a small commission if purchases are made. Thank you for your support.
Australia’s extreme off-road racing experience
The Tatts Finke Desert Race is a unique off-road race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads held in middle of the Australian Outback. The course runs through extreme desert country near Alice Springs to the small community of Finke (Aputula) in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Australia’s ultimate off-road racing experience is said to be one of the most difficult off-road races in the world. Over 800 bikes, quads and buggies compete this grueling race – for 3 days.
Held each year on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in early June, the Finke Desert Race event attracts entrants from all over Australia and around the world. Australia’s ultimate off-road race and one is one of the biggest annual sporting events on the Northern Territory calendar.
The first ‘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. Participants come from right across Australia with a number of international riders joining the competition over recent years.
Today, the race is run along sections of what was the old Ghan railway service track alongside the Old Ghan Railway line. The race crosses the Finke River, winding down a dusty corrugated track through this unique part of the Australian outback. Red dirt, sand, spinifex, mulga and desert oaks line the dusty course of this desert race.
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 competitive rivalry developed between the bikes and the buggies as buggie owners were keen to vie for the winners status.
The Holy Grail of the race is the title bestowed on the outright winner or “King of the Desert”.
For 11 consecutive years the bikes were too fast for the cars despite the gap constantly narrowing. Finally in 1999, a buggy returned home first to claim the winners honour.
In 2005 the title was changed to two “Kings of the Desert”, one for the buggies and one for bikes. Each picks up $10,000 prize money 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 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.
A unique event, Finke is enables people of all walks of life to become involved. The list of volunteers is huge and in all honesty, this race couldn’t run without them.
Alice Springs comes alive at this time of year. The people of Alice Springs are proud to host the Finke Desert Race and many take the opportunity to go camping beside the track to cheer the race goes onto victory.
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.
Its well considered that this amazing desert race wouldn’t be the same without the support of the Alice Springs community.
Read more: 21 Reasons to visit Alice Springs
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 compliance before the race commences.
While scrutineering is taking place its a good time to check out the entrants. All bikes and cars are on display, and it’s a ‘show and tell opportunity for all competitors. Food and drink stalls and official merchandise is on sale.
Approximately 3000 people attend scrutineering at the start line so it’s a great place to get up close and personal with the competitors and their amazing machinery.
Winter in Alice Springs
Weather for the Finke Desert Race is often unpredictable. Generally expect it to be cold when the sun goes down. Be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes, jackets, blankets and a beanie and scarf to keep warm. Remember, it is in the middle of the desert!
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. Brisk!
Where to stay if you’re not camping
If you are planning a visit to ‘do the Finke’, save this post for later.
If you’ve come to Alice Springs especially for the Finke Desert Race, make sure you see everything you can whilst in Central Australia. Enjoy your adventure.
- Olive Pink Botanic Garden – an Oasis in the Desert
- Red Centre Way – the Real Australian Outback
- Uluru – Australia’s most famous Rock
Have you done the Finke yet? Did you go camping along the track or did you just go out to the start/finish line? What was your favourite experience?