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A Boat Race On A River With No Water...

Updated on May 5, 2012

You couldn't ask for a better day... vivid blue sky and sunshine... expansive stretch of sand... the early birds had staked their spots, hours before the start... the crowd begins to swell, spilling down the river bank. The excitement was palpable, as the anticipation grew. The gentle breeze fluttered the pennants and flags, whilst the boats jostled where they were moored. Children with their parents, girlfriends and boyfriends, mates with mates, aunties and uncles, grandparents too, all here to celebrate the one and only "Henley-on-Todd Regatta".

Australia is well known for some iconic attractions, but it is the festivals and events that add another dimension to ones holiday memories and experiences. Lucky for all of us, Australia has plenty of annual festivities and events, with the Northern Territory offering some unique one of a kind activities, from viking funerals to frog racing. Then there is the Beer Can Regatta held from the famous Mindil Beach in the Top End, and if that is not enough there is boat racing along a dry river bed in the heart of Australia.

Longest running Northern Territory iconic event

The Henley-on-Todd Regatta is one of the Territory’s longest running iconic events. Located in Central Australia, in the beating heart of Alice Springs, this annual event offers the chance for locals and visitors to participate in a memorable internationally renowned event. You can dress up, create your own boat and start the days activities with the parade through Alice. Then with your family, friends or work colleagues, enter any one of the race events, no experience necessary. Where else in the world could you enjoy a boat races on a dry river bed (the only time it was cancelled was when there was too much water in the river, with the event having to be cancelled due to flooding!).

Everyone is welcomed to dress in outrageous attire, from sassy navy lasses, to pirates, vikings and wenches. Maybe a bit of punk is your call, or something that you made as wearable art. Outrageous outfits are wonderful addition to the festivities and great for the parade, but a tip from the veterans, if you are in any of the races, you might make sure it is practical for running in.

Mini yacht, maxi yacht, rowing four and more...

The Henley-on-Todd offers a fabulous selection of races from Bring Your Own Boat (every year we see some creative vessels, some more seaworthy than others), White Water Kayak and the challenges of the Oxford Tubs. If you like to be carried, you could enter the Bathtub Derby, although you will definitely get wet, when they fill the tub. You can try your foot coordination in the Sand Skis, this definitely means your team need to be insync. There is the Surf Rescue, where your "lifesaver" paddle/shovel the surf ski along the rails to pick up the damsel-in-distress (lucky damsel).

Then there is a race where one of your team members get to relax during the race... the Boogie Board. This race is where your crew tow you on the board, over the waves (and the sandy waves can get rough), around the slalom course to a turning buoy, and back to the finish line. Of course you might end up laughing and falling off, whilst trying to get the sand out of your mouth.

For those with a bit of muscle (both the ladies and the men), there is Anchor the Boat tug-of-war. There is the Mini-yacht, Head of the River, Rowing Four and Mixed Maxi-yacht, requiring stamina, speed, coordination and team work. There is lots of hilarity when there is a man or woman overboard. If you are a soloist, you can try your hand at Sand Shovelling or the hamster wheel (Tour d'Todd).

Then when you think you have seen it all, the highlight of the days event is the "Battle Boat Spectacular". Three battle boats (the navy, the pirates and the vikings) churn through the river sand. Flour mortars and high powered water cannons scream through the air. If the wind is right, even the spectators can covered with floor and water.

Many locals here in Alice Springs have family and friends visit them in August from around Australia and even overseas, to participate and enjoy this event. We invited our friends from Sydney and Uluru join us, they even participated in some of the races, although they just missed out on a win, being beaten by the navy boys.

So why not get a group of people together, book your holiday to Alice Springs, make sure you register your team, select some races that you want to be in and get in some pre race practice.

There is plenty of space along the river bank, beneath the shady River Red Gums, with many an early bird staking the best viewing spots early. You are reminded to please don't forget to bring your sun screen (known here in Australia as "slip slop slap"), hat, shades and water. There are always a number of stalls including those selling refreshment.

An Upside Down River

The actual boat races are held in the Todd River, close to the town centre. Normally a dry river bed, such rivers in Australia are known as 'upside-down rivers'. Yet if you dig deep enough, you can often find water following the line of the river bed. This is evident by the magnificent Australian River Red Gum and other trees growing along the river course, the tree roots growing deep enough to tap the water source. The Indigenous People of Australia were skilled at locating places along a seemingly dry river course, where water was close enough to the surface for them to dig down to reach it.

The birth of the dry river boat race...

So where did the idea of a boat race in the middle of a desert region come from. It was in 1962 that Reg Smith and his compatriots at the Alice Springs Meteorological Bureau proposed they hold an actual regatta along the lines of the famous Henley-on-Thames Regatta in England. The idea was taken up by the Rotary Club of Alice Springs and despite the fact that the town was 1,500 km's from the nearest large body of water, in true Territorian style, it was never seen as a problem. So an annual race was born, with local, Australia wide and international participants.

The Henley-on-Todd is a fund raising charitable event, run entirely on a volunteer basis by the three Rotary Clubs based in "the Alice". With some great local sponsors, the entire proceeds - well over a million dollars have been raised over the years and allocated to local, national and international humanitarian projects.

The Henley-on-Todd always welcome more involvement and sponsors, so if you want to sponsor and help a worthy charitable cause whilst having fun, get a team together to participate. What better way then to get involved with one of Australia's greatest iconic events.

So book your calendar for the next Henley-on-Todd on Saturday August 18th, 2012.

Moments from the Henley-on-Todd

Surf Rescue
Surf Rescue
Bath Tub Derby
Bath Tub Derby
Participants in the Bring Your Own Boat
Participants in the Bring Your Own Boat
Bath Tub Derby
Bath Tub Derby
Viking in the Anchor the Boat
Viking in the Anchor the Boat
Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia
Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia

Winners and Grinners




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    • Ausemade profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Australia

      Its like having lists... a to do list... a must finish list... and a tick, I have done that list... :)

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 

      7 years ago from Space Coast

      There is always something left undone.

    • Ausemade profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Australia

      Oh, I think us Australians would want our own star... :) glad you enjoyed the article, we do have some funny things down under, although I have yet to enjoy and participate in the Beer Can Regatta and the Viking Funeral which is held up north in the area we call the "Top End".

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 

      7 years ago from Space Coast

      I enjoyed this so much. Y'all are crazy. Are you sure you aren't Americans? How about it . . . you and Puerto Rico could make it 52 stars on the flag.

    • aboutaustralia profile image


      7 years ago from Newcastle, New South Wales

      What a great hub! Love your pics, it looks like an event not to be missed. We will have to get out to the Alice to enjoy this amazing sight. Voted up, tweeted, and g+1. Love it! Sharon


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