Waterless Regatta in Alice Springs: The Henley on Todd

We have been grey nomading through the Northern Territory of Australia for a while now so it is time for some fun facts before we get down to more funny business when I tell you about the only waterless boat race on the globe.

  1. Alice Springs has the largest number of art galleries per capita than any other town in Australia.  Maybe it is because the numbers of Indigenous Australians who live in this desert regions are an artistic and creative people.
  2. In 2014 National Geographic voted the region one of the best in the world and placed it on their ‘must see’ destination list.
  3. Nevil Shute’s book A Town like Alice is set in the area.
  4. The golf courses here are world class so the desert status of the region have not held them back.

The region and Alice Springs has been on my list for many years and to be travelling through the desert scapes that are exquisite is dreamlike.  Others have written much about the town and have done it better than I could so here is a little frivolity that welcomed us to the town.


We were lucky enough to arrive in Alice Springs in time for the Henley on Todd Regatta, a uniquely Territorian event. Promoted as quirky, fun and full of great characters it did not disappoint. The regatta is like no other and has become an iconic event held on the dry sands of the Todd River in this picturesque town. The regatta’s history began with the idea of replicating the famous Henley on Thames in England. The fact that Alice is 1, 500kms from the nearest large body of water did not deter the race organisers from pushing ahead in 1962 to establish an annual event. Since then the regatta has run every year except one when it was cancelled because there was water in the river.

Pirate Ship Nauteus: One of the three contestants in the Battle-boat Spectacular

The battle boats are powered by 4 WD vehicles hidden under the superstructures. “Driven by nautical ratbags and crewed by a motley assortment of Vikings and Viqueens, Pirates and Naval ratings”, the battle for supremacy and the winner’s trophy takes place on the sand in the Todd’s dry river bed. The festival is a fun day out made more enjoyable with great organisation and commentary from a number of humourous radio announcers and others equally gifted with the gift of the Aussie gab.

Figure 1The Viking Boat with their Viqueen in command from her seat facing forward

Members of the public are encouraged to design and BYO (bring their own) boat which many did. There were two teams from the local college with their boats which performed well in many events. For the children, there were several ruby duckie races: kids step into their flotation duckies and run around the orange barrels, first back to base is the winner. Each child received a certificate for participating in their event that ranged from entry level running races, egg and spoon challenges (boy that took me back) and sand-shovelling contests. On a hot day with the wind blowing in our direction we really needed our shower to wash away the flour, from the big ships’ coloured flour and bomb-filler.

HMAS Courage – Last Year’s Winners

The Navy’s entry, HMAS Courage were last year’s winners and battled it out against the Pirates and Vikings. However, success two years in a row was not happening for those aboard the Courage conceding the trophy to the Vikings. Funds raised at the event go towards a different charity and the 2017 charity is the Fred Hollows Foundation, and the campaign to eliminate blinding trachoma in Indigenous Australia. It is a mad-cap charity event and we loved being part of the 54th year celebrations.

Alice, you are beautiful.


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