On the last Sunday in August, Alice Springs holds a sailing and rowing regatta on a dry river bed.
The outback makes you bonkers. How else can you explain the Henley-on-Todd – an annual sailing and rowing regatta held on a dry river bed in Alice Springs?
With pirate ships firing flour bombs, people paddling canoes with sand shovels and bathtubs on legs, you do wonder if there’s more heat and dust than sense in this iconic outback town.
Once a year, the sandy bed of the Todd River turns into a race track for a crazy crew of Flintstone-style boats. You’ll see vikings shooting water cannons from their battle ships and life-savers hauling distressed swimmers from the sand. There are bottomless yachts and white water kayaks, five-person boogie boards and sand skis. Even those wary of water can join the fun - by anchoring boats or shoveling sand into a 44 gallon drum.
The Henley-on-Todd was born in 1962 when Alice Springs local Reg Smith suggested recreating the famous Henley-on-Thames race between Cambridge and Oxford Universities. Despite the town being 1,500 kilometres from the nearest large body of water, the Rotary Club in Alice Springs readily embraced the idea.
It’s not certain whether they were resourceful, delirious or just had a wicked sense of humour. What’s important is that the three Alice Springs Rotary Clubs who run the event today have raised well over a million dollars for local, national and international humanitarian projects.
The Henley-on-Todd is a uniquely silly spectacle amongst world sporting events. The multi-event program attracts local and international participants, many who end up on world TV news in bottomless bathtubs or being dragged across the sand on a boogie board.
Join the imaginary water action or just enjoy the hilarity from the shade of a gum tree. Once you embrace it, this outback madness is a lot of fun.