Road Trip to Adelaide

18 May 2017:

About a month after we moved to Australia, a good friend contacted me to say that she was going to be on a work trip to Adelaide, and could we meet them there? She and her husband and their two little girls were going to make the enormous trip from St Louis all the way to Australia – of course the answer was “yes!”.

Adelaide is more than 1500km from Alice Springs. It takes approximately 16 hours to get there, and it is at the southern end of the state of South Australia. Most people, for those reasons, choose to fly. Not us!

In September 2016, we headed for Adelaide in the little Hyundai Getz. We planned to take two days to get down there, with an overnight stay in Coober Pedy. We’d heard a lot about it – it’s a very small mining town, with an apparently legendarily good pizza place. We were in!

We left midday, after working for a few hours, leaving around 1200. The first notable landmark is the Northern Territory/South Australia border. It’s about 300km south of Alice Springs. The first 250km we’d done a week earlier when we went to Uluru and Kings Canyon, but after we continued straight instead of turning right to Uluru, it was all new territory for us.

South Australia Border

At the Northern Territory/South Australia border

Then, after that border, you drive almost another 400km before getting to Coober Pedy. Along the way, there are a number of roadhouses, spaced out for fuel and food, we stopped in at every one during the entirety of our trip, just to say we had seen them all.  The roadhouse in Marla is one that we explored. It is a bit larger than most, with a grocery store and post office along with the normal restaurant/bar, fuel, and motel. This is a remote and foreboding place though, seeming to be on the edge of nowhere. And later we heard the tale of a coworker who spent four boring (and somewhat agonizing) nights here with his family after blowing a transmission nearby.

We arrived in Coober Pedy around 7pm, about half an hour before sunset. As you’re approaching, it looks like it’s inhabited by giant prairie dogs, who have dug holes up all around the place. As far as the eye can see, there are these giant mounds of earth that have been piled high. In reality, the mounds are the tailings of earnest miners – Coober Pedy is an opal mining town, and each of  these piles of dirt represent mine shafts and hard work.

We had planned to camp, but the camping situation wasn’t great. At the Oasis Tourist Park, which is slightly north of town, you can camp but the campgrounds are basically on a parking lot, and it seems mainly set up for camper vans. Same goes for the Big 4 Holidays Parks. In the end, we stayed at Riba’s Underground Camping & Caravan Park. It was slightly south of town. They offered camping underground in former mining shafts – and we took them up on the offer!

For dinner, we ate at the aforementioned pizza place – a restaurant called John’s Pizza Bar and Restaurant. It wasn’t bad, and for a restaurant in the middle of nowhere, it was actually pretty good. The next morning we had breakfast at Waffles and Gems. The owner is a man who has lived in Coober Pedy most of his life, and if you have time, he has some great stories to tell! Coober Pedy seems interesting enough in and of itself for a weekend trip from Alice Springs. There are a lot of museums that tell the history of the town, both its recent mining history, as well as its more dated Aboriginal history. You can also go “noodling”, which basically means looking for opals in piles of tailings. There are a number of tour groups that will take you on those adventures.

We’re back on the road just before 9am. Our first stop was a place called Woomera. It’s about 380km south of Coober Pedy and was the perfect place to stretch our legs and grab some lunch. It’s less than 130km south of the Glendambo Roadhouse, and if you have a little extra time, is worth a stop. It’s about a 15 minute detour off of the Stuart Highway. The town was established in 1947 in order to support the Woomera Rocket Range. Testing continues to this day, although it is much more scaled back and apparently less manpower intensive. This is largest test range on earth, used by the US, UK, and Australia. Even now, when missile tests are occurring, the Stuart Highway is closed from just south of Coober Pedy to Woomera, sometimes for days. And since this is the only road traveling south, it can really mess up travel plans! If you’re interested, you can find more information about Woomera here.

190km later, after being surprised to see large lakes on the way, we came to Port Augusta. Although we have been logging a lot of hours in the car, we had run reading a book about the Stuart Highway, and listening to podcasts.

After Port Augusta, the landscape changed quite a lot. We also experienced rain off and on, which is why there aren’t as many photos during this period. When we did finally make it to the outer city limits of Adelaide, it was dark and raining quite heavily. In fact, it rained so hard and so quickly that many of the streets were flooded, and we had to carefully navigate our way through to the downtown. But, we eventually arrived at our Airbnb with no problems! Now for the next stage of our adventure – exploring Adelaide!

Here’s a little video of our trip:

Caveat: All of these pictures were taken on my iPhone, so some are blurry, and since most are taken through the windscreen, they’re a little out of focus.


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