Road Trains and Outback Pubs

Larrimah – Dunmara

It was inevitable the time would come and we were sure what it was, no other vehicle on the road could be heard from over a kilometre away: a Road Train. These beasts are 4 times the length of a regular truck (hence the name) and are infamous within the Northern Territory cycling community for throwing cyclist off and even pulling their bikes under as the they thunder past at up to 130 km/h, pulling two or three trailers along the narrow highway.

We watched the massive truck loom closer in our rear view mirror. We knew what to do, we must jump off the road to a safe distance and let it pass. As we watched it approach we were amazed to see it pull out of its lane, it was clearly giving us, a couple of wee cyclists, a wide berth! Nonetheless we stuck to the edge of the road and braced ourselves for the thunderous backdraft as it passed. The cabin passed then the first trailer, and the second, till finally the third trailer passed us and nothing, no lashing from side to side, no sucking draft.

We later realised that riding into the strong south-easterly winds had some advantages, we were upwind and as a result the backdraft from the Road Trains was minimal. Still we knew we had to be vigilant as not all the drivers are able to pull out, as after all, the Stuart Highway is no bigger than a country lane in parts. Luckily, most of the Road Trains seemed to be north-bound and we only had about 5 per day actually overtaking us.

Coming into Daly Waters at dusk, we spotted a road train carrying fuel parked on the side of the road. The driver was busy fixing some pressure cables and we went over to find out a little bit about these men responsible for such incredible loads.

“We don’t understand how you do it, driving on these narrow windy roads with such a massive rig,” we admitted to the driver.

“Well, I don’t understand how you do it,” he replied. “Cycling all day in the middle of nowhere with no shade, water or food!”

The driver, Footie, told us that road trains only exist in Australia, Namibia and Canada where they cover the vast distances between towns. The drivers can drive up to 14 hours a day and  need to have the skills to fix the road train if it breaks down. This particular road train was supplying fuel to the roadhouses along the Stuart Highway. They are the lifeline of the Outback and without them these remote communities could not survive.

Road Train

The Daly Waters roadhouse is one of the most famous Outback pubs and the most popular stopover between Katherine and Tennant Creek. Daly Waters used to be a telegraph station and in the 1930s, there was an important air strip near the pub: Qantas aeroplanes on flights between Sydney and London used to stop in Daly Waters to refuel. Passengers would disembark and be helped across a small creek with the option of taking a Flying Fox across for those wanting to take the express route! They would then visit the pub while the plane was being refuelled. Modern airlines take note.

In those days, the tradition of leaving something behind at the pub began, so there are lots of memorabilia on the walls that were collected over the years, from photos, badges and T-shirts to bras and stubby holders.

The campsite was very crowded, there must have been well over a hundred caravans, and most people had booked the Beef ‘n’ Barra BBQ with comedy entertainment. Even though we planned to celebrate our year on the road here, our budget did not stretch that far. Instead, we treated ourselves to our first meal out in Australia, a delicious Barra Burger.

Barramundi, or “Barra”, is the most popular freshwater fish in the Northern Territory and is on offer almost everywhere. We had really not expected to eat fish in the desert, but it was absolutely delicious. At the time we did not realise it, but in hindsight we were very glad we had this meal out to save our dwindling food supplies.

Daly Waters Pub   Barra Burger

We had miscalculated on a few food items and were already running low on some things such as milk powder, bread and snacks after only 3 days of cycling. In the hope of restocking our pantry we stopped at the nearby Hi-Way Inn, which according to our map was supposed to have a shop. Imagine our disappointment when we found that the shop only sold souvenirs, cold drinks and a few snacks. We did find a loaf of 3 month old bread in the freezer, which saved us momentarily as the next shop marked on our map was still 2 days away.

Wide open spaces

Back on the road we met another cyclist, this time from the Netherlands. He was a lucky chap who had enjoyed sunshine and tail winds all the way since Sydney, frequently covering over 200km per day. “It’s like sailing,” he beamed, “you hardly have to pedal.”

“Oh yes, we know exactly what you mean…” we replied, trying to fight back the tears as we pushed into the ferocious headwind.

We’d planned to take the afternoon off at Dunmara, 52km away. It was a nice campsite in natural surroundings. With our food pantry diminishing fast, a full rest day was not an option unless we found a decent shop somewhere. Otherwise the name of the game was to get to Tennant Creek, and fast. ||


  1. Surely you could make a grappling hook to attach to a truck and get a tow?