Adelaide - Alice Springs via the
Total Distance 1,220km
All distances measured from Port Augusta
If you are starting this journey to the Centre of Australia from Adelaide you will find the first section of your route covered in reverse under Ceduna to Adelaide.
We will leave from the busy centre of Port Augusta at the head of Spencer Gulf and take the Stuart Highway (Hwy 87) northwards with the hills of the Flinders Ranges on our right. There are a number of rest areas along the way chosen for their views of the ranges and for the photo opportunities this presents.
The vegetation starts to thin out as we get closer to Pimba (170km) and the turn to Woomera - home of Australiaís international rocket range. The short detour into Woomera for a look around or even to stay overnight in the adequate caravan park, is worthwhile and the exhibition showing past, present and future involvement with rocketry and space exploration is definitely worth a few hours of your time. It is housed in a quite new building and features audio-visual presentations besides showing the contribution made to the opening up of vast tracts of inland Australia by that remarkable surveyor, the late Len Beadel.
If the sun is out, the pure white of the salt lakes on the next stretch is almost dazzling as you continue north to reach Glendambo (284km) where there are two service stations and a remarkably good hotel built as a modern-day replica of a shearing shed. Surprisingly in such a remote area, the caravan park belongs to the Top Tourist group. Opals from the nearby diggings are on sale at the hotels, they serve counter meals and you can even play poker machines if you like.
There is not much vegetation to speak of as you press on towards the opal mining centre of Coober Pedy (536km). The landscape for a great distance around the town is more reminiscent of a moonscape with conical piles of rubble next to each shaft scattered all over the area. Because of the great heat encountered during the summer months, much of the building has been done underground with homes, churches, shops and hotels all burrowed into the hills to provide a comfortable and pleasant environment.
If you decide to stay and look around there are a number of operators running interesting tours that give a good insight into this unique area. There are plenty of opportunities for buying opal - either raw stones or mounted in all sorts of attractive jewellery.
Just out of town as you continue north, you cross the ëdog fenceí and also the unsealed road to the Breakaways - a few of the tours go there as well. This is where some of the action of the Australian movie, ëPriscilla, Queen of the Desertí, was filmed.
Further north you are supposed to be in the ëRed Centreí but if you happen to be in the area after good rains, it is surprisingly green with a lovely showing of wildflowers in the Spring.
The unending ribbon of highway is broken by the Cadney Park Roadhouse ((688km) and then again at Marla (769km) where a bore provides an excellent supply of water. This is the starting place of the unsealed Oodnadatta Track that goes to Oodnadatta, William Creek and Marree. A surprisingly large and well-stocked supermarket is part of the roadhouse complex that also includes a hotel and restaurant.
After our first fuel and supplies stop in the Northern Territory at Kulgera (947km) we come to the turn off on to the Lasseter Highway for Ayers Rock, the Olgas and Kings Canyon at Erldunda (1,021km) where a large roadhouse complex provides service for travellers going north, south or west.
Just over two hours drive from here will see us entering Alice Springs (1,220km) via the colourful Heavitree Gap that cuts through the West Macdonnell Ranges to provide space for the road, railway and the Todd River.
The Alice as it is affectionately known locally, is a modern, well serviced tourist destination these days and far removed from the pioneering settlement depicted in Neville Shuteís ëA town Like Aliceí. There are supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, churches, a shopping mall, car dealers and even a casino if that takes your fancy. In the early mornings, colourful balloons can be seen gently carrying tourists over the wonderfully clear vista and tour buses are available for trips out into the nearby gorges and hills.