A short story of a long drive back

29 September to 2 October 2019

Yulara to Coober Pedy, 735km

to Port Augusta, 543km

We have never been very good at travelling the same road, on land or sea, twice. Preferring always to find an alternative route but there really is no option travelling south from Uluru. It’s just the Lasseter Highway back to Erldunda and the Stuart Highway back south.

The price of diesel in Yulara was $2.17 a litre so we filled up with enough to get us somewhere cheaper somewhere down the road and we were on our way.

The sat nav’s first instruction was “turn right in 244km”.

Somewhere on our way up to Uluru Stefan had said to me “just look out of the window to the left, that way you’ll have a different view on the way back”! It didn’t help much. The view was almost identical. We got excited when the road surface changed colour and were really bemused about where this driver was towing a tinnie to when we were so very far away from anywhere with enough water to float it.

At Erldunda the queue for diesel was too long and we figured we had enough to get us to Kulgera. The sat nav said “turn left in 480km”

At Kulgera Roadhouse we were disappointed by the Big Beer Can (it wasn’t that big) and filled up with diesel again. At $1.89 a litre we got enough to get us to Coober Pedy.

We were again amused by the conversations between other drivers and noticed a stark difference in radio etiquette between them and what we were used to at sea. They certainly don’t follow the rules we learnt to get our radio licences!

This is how they generally go. (And how they would go at sea!)

G’day mate. (Are you receiving? Over.)

Chuck it back on channel 1. (Please go to channel 1. Over.)

Where ya headed? (What are your intentions? Over.)

What ya doing at the weekend? (**Silence** Social conversation is strictly forbidden at sea!)

What was that? (Could you please repeat? Over.)

Sweet mate, you’ll get round. (I will alter course to port. Over.)

Cheers mate. (Thank you. Have a good watch. Out.)

Hysteria was slowly setting in. We increasingly enthusiastically waved the outback finger wave in solidarity with those travelling the other way when they passed. Any break in the monotony was celebrated. Passing rest stops were scored for their fulfilment of shade, seating, bins and toilets. (Few scored highly on shade and toilets.) Out of range even for outback radio stations we fell back on our own eclectic music collection and found that the full length version of Meatloaf’s I would do anything for love but I won’t do that was perfect for killing at least another 15 kilometres.

Finally at Coober Pedy we took a break for the night and filled Tick with diesel again ($1.65 – that’s more like it!). We put the tent back up in the caravan park in gentle rain, definitely not enough to interrupt our cup of tea or, more importantly, make any difference to local water levels.

We were in town on a Sunday evening, the only night the local RSL is open so we popped in for a quick drink. It’s obviously quite the social hub of the community and was busy with locals and tourists alike. These two locals insisted on posing for a photo!

And then the next morning, stage two of the long journey south started. More desert, more nothingness and some more very poorly rating rest stops all the way to Glendambo where fuel was back up at $1.80 per litre.

We stopped for coffee at the place where sheep and flies make up the vast majority of the population!

Lake Hart, a vast salt lake, broke the monotony of the last section of the journey to Port Augusta and it was even more exciting to find a film crew filming on its bright, white surface. We never did find out what it was they were filming.

Port Augusta was the end of our long drive south and is the hub for all the thunderous road trains that haul their cargo up and down the vast length of the Stuart Highway. It was also the first traffic lights we had seen since, well, driving through the town on our way up to Coober Pedy. The novelty of having to stop at junctions, of junctions at all, was just too much excitement for us and we decided to stay.

In Port Augusta Tick received some long over due attention. He got a thorough wash inside and out at the Car and Dog Wash including some “new car” fragrance which didn’t really smell of much. Since picking Tick up in Yeppoon we have already travelled 10,000 km and he needed a service so we checked him into the local Toyoto service centre for some TLC. Sparkling clean and given a clean bill of health we were ready for the next stage of our trip.

But Port Augusta had a star attraction that kept us there for a few days. Water! We hadn’t seen so much water for ages and it was so refreshing. The town sits at the top of the Spencer Gulf, a long inlet between the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas. Right behind our campsite we had a long stretch of beach, backed by the Flinders Ranges. Stefan was keen to swim but the water was too cold so he settled for a paddle. And all that water also meant the lushest, greenest grass we had seen since Brisbane.

As well as being home to oystercatchers, Port Augusta is a major hub for the freight trains which pull cargo across the desert. From the beach we watched trains come in and out constantly. I counted the containers one was carrying and gave up at about 80! That’s a lot of cargo.

Port Augusta is also home to the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens and it came highly recommended by our friend Anna. Her recommendation for the Indian restaurant at the Standpipe Hotel had been excellent so, on a suitably hot and windy day, we decided to visit the arid gardens too. The sheer variety of plants that survive and provide without any or much water is incredible and, if we are ever lost in the bush, we now have a better idea of what plants might be good for food or drink.

The port has been a major trading hub since it was founded in 1852. The only difference is that road and rail have taken over from the big ships that used to bring goods in and now a Woolworths sit where the ships used to moor.

We visited the Wadlata Outback Centre and wished we had done so before we started our outback adventures because it really put together all the pieces of the big jigsaw of geology, history and sociology we had been collecting along the way.

From the wonderful creation stories of the First Australians’ Dreamtime and their traditional ways of life

through to the legendary European explorers like Edward Eyre and the settlers who took on the outback and its inhospitable landscape, this wonderfully interactive museum brought all those threads together. Oh, and Stefan got to play at being the driver of the massive tipper truck!

Having learnt about Eyre’s epic expedition of 2000 km from Adelaide to Albany, around the Great Australian Bight, it seemed only fitting we should spend some time on the peninsula named after him. That, and our great sailing friends, Anna and Michael, just happened to be heading there too…

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