Review Topic: Overview
Last time we went for a drive in this hallowed place, it was only Sydney to Adelaide, a one day event of a thousand miles. Well I reckon its time for a drive again, this time from South to North, so as the apparently well known (in the U.S.) Alabama Slammer says, "lets hit the road".
This time we are going to make a few changes. For a start we are going in a Ford Futura. We could use a Holden Commodore. Both cars are Australian designed and built for Australian conditions. For the motoring enthusiast they are each about one and a half tons, 16 feet long, seat five very comfortably and are able to cruise all day up to 120 m.p.h. with ease, in almost any temperature. At the same time they are very economical with 30 gallon fuel tanks and we can expect 18 - 20 miles per US gallon.
We are taking this precaution because our route is going straight up through the Outback on an excellent paved road, but there may be some interesting little detours along the way. Not including the detours, we have just on two thousand miles ahead of us, so everyone - bathroom now thanks!
Okay, the first leg is pretty easy - Adelaide to Port Augusta, only two hundred miles, it will take about three hours by the time we clear the Adelaide Area.
The city of Port Augusta population 15 290 is known as the crossroads of Australia., the spot where Flinders stepped ashore on March 10, 1802 during his mapping of the coastline. Didn't do a bad job either, which I told him.
Port Augusta is a modern busy centre with a large power generation plant and railway workshops.
After a quick look around, its a fast hundred mile dash to Woomera. No longer in much use, it was the site of atomic bomb testing by the British in mid last century, much of the area still being highly radioactive. Now its main use is as a low security holding area for illegal immigrants. They escape regularly but there is no hurry to pick them up because they don't have any idea where they are so they just walk around the Outback in ever diminishing circles. This area is particularly desolate and there is not even anything to hide behind. I suppose the exercise does them good and don't worry they are picked up before they die of thirst.
A small aside. Locations with names such as Woomera are named from Aboriginal words, in this case meaning "throwing stick". This is an aide to the throwing of a spear.
Having said g'day mate to some of the 30 or 40 inhabitants, we're off to Coober Pedy, 220 miles this time and no bathrooms girls.
Coober Pedy is big, with 2,000 people and is Australia's largest and oldest opal mining town, known the world over for the unusual underground lifestyle its inhabitants have been forced to adopt to escape the fierce summer heat.
Its most notable feature is the moon-like landscape of opal mines, holes in the ground dug by several generations of miners and simply left there untended after being discarded. Everything is underground in Coober, including the Motels.
Even though we have only covered 500 miles today, Coober Pedy is a good place to stay. We can sample underground living, talk with the locals who are particularly friendly and it doesn't hurt to have an easy first day. - tomorrow will be different!
All day all we have seen out the windows is basically flat ground to the horizon. Trees and grass are scarce. Despite that there is something wonderful about it that I can't begin to explain.
And by the way - never drive in the Outback in the dark or at least for an hour after sunrise or before sunset. The risk of hitting a kangaroo or cow etc. is just too great. Any one of these animals will easily completely destroy a car, bull bar or not, and all too often the occupants. The night is left to the big Road Trains which have been explained in earlier reviews.
As the sun rises next morning under a brilliant blue sky, it's time to pack the car, refuel and head up the highway 80 miles to Marla.
Marla has a population of about 75, including 24 Police. (My brother was Senior Sergeant in Charge until a few months ago). From here we can continue up the main highway or detour onto the "Oodnadatta Track", 140 miles of rough dirt road. Driving over the corrugations, I have to strike a fine balance between a comfortable speed and rolling the car.
Oodnadatta has a population of 200 and is one of the few remaining outback towns that hasn't lost its character to the great God Progress. Its name stems from the Aborigine 'Utnadata' meaning 'blossom of the mulga.'
Oodnadatta is the starting point for trips into the Simpson Desert and the road from the highway passes through the Painted Desert. All very nice but extremely remote and not without it's dangers. We are expected to advise Marla Police of our travels and Oodnadatta Police of our proposed return. This system saves many lives - if something goes wrong along the way they come looking as soon as we are overdue.
However, on this occasion we will bypass Oodnadatta and continue to Alice Springs, the City in the Desert with a population of about 25,000. We have just left South Australia and Alice Springs is the halfway mark of our trip.
The good news is now we can pick up speed. South Australia has a limit of 70 mph, the Northern Territory no limit, so 90 - 100 mph would be appropriate.
So fuel, bathrooms and away we go to Tennant Creek, 180 miles in two hours tops. The Tennant, as its called, is a small mining town, not much to see so down goes the accelerator and we can put in a quick 500 miles, 4 hours to one of the most delightful areas you could ever see.
First Mataranka Springs, the clearest clear water imaginable at the temperature of a hot bath lures travellers off the highway. Spousy just has to play "whale" for an hour here and actually it is pretty good. Just up the road is the town of Katherine, the first time the tropics are really noticeable. Many people stay here for days or more - the lush green grass, tropical trees and a huge Gorge full of crocodiles is a real contrast after 800 miles of dead flat desert. See it to believe it - I am afraid its one of those.
Once spousy has finished wallowing at Mataranka Katherine is a great place to stay for the night and really a day or two. Go see the wild crocodiles up the gorge, but not on foot - please. Those critters bite - big time!
The last leg is around 250 miles into Darwin. Up and down small hills all the way (the first hills we have seen on the entire trip), tons of lush tropical undergrowth, stinking hot and humid nearly all year round since we are pretty close to the equator.
Darwin is the Capital city of the Northern Territory, population around 50,000. Everything is new, lush and well laid out because the whole place was totally destroyed by a Cyclone in the 1970's. There is much to see and do and we can make some decisions about the return journey.
First of all, what did we miss that is within a few hours drive of the highway. Briefly Andamooka population 402, is South Australia's youngest outback opal mining town.
Uluru, the worlds greatest monolith (fancy name for rock).
Innamincka, which grew around a hotel that serviced the early drovers who brought cattle down the Strzelecki Track. It is on the banks of the Cooper Creek.
Marree population 380 is a service centre for the enormous cattle stations in that area, many a million acres or more.
Roxby Downs population 2,500 established in the early 1980s to accommodate the staff of the giant uranium mining operation at Olympic Dam.
Along the Oodnadatta Track, William Creek is South Australia's smallest town - population about 4. The irony is, it's surrounded by one of Australia's largest cattle properties, Anna Creek Station.
To put the size of these million plus acre Cattle Stations (Ranches) in perspective, lets look at Texas. Now Texas is very big, no doubt about it. I have no idea how many ranches there are in Texas but only 18 of the larger Cattle Stations would fit in the entire State!
Now we missed a great deal, but by the time we look around Darwin and assuming we took the same return Journey the whole event would have taken at least a week. I estimate to see all of this would be about a three week venture.
We could return via Perth, 4,300 odd miles or Brisbane 3.600 miles - it all depends on available time.
Lastly, want to see the "real" Outback. Nothing better than the Canning Stock Route. The route is one of the classic four wheel drive adventures - and one that must not to be taken lightly. Navigation is difficult due to huge sand dunes, sometimes many miles long, and other difficult terrain, and it is very, very remote. Relocating the track after avoiding the sand dunes can be quite difficult - but essential. The entire "track" is too long for most vehicles to carry all of their own fuel so it is common practice to arrange for aircraft fuel drops every so often.
This is an interesting road - because there is no road. Just markers and the driver just drives anywhere best suited between them. The length of the track is therefore a bit academic, it varies so much , but in the region of 2,500 and could easily exceed 3,000 miles.
Just imagine the amount of fuel needed, for a four wheel drive mostly grinding along with all four wheels engaged. Fuel costs normally around $5- per gallon out here but considering special airdrops I hate to think what the cost would be, especially as up to 600 gallons is required! If something goes wrong expect no help for about two weeks, unless able to make radio contact.
You would be most unfortunate, or fortunate as the case may be, to see another human the whole way and I am sure it would be one of those life events never forgotten.
Whose coming for a drive?
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