Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Travelling to Adelaide from Alice Springs

Most of us who live at Alice Springs agree; you have to get out of the place at least for a week or two every year. Why? Because The Alice is a small, isolated township (Population 25,000), with limited retail opportunities and the sights, although beautiful, are visible 24/7/365. We simply need an occasional change of scenery, climate, and some retail therapy. 

When you go to the "Big Smoke" there are many more retail opportunities, some different sights and sometimes the beach. The nearest beach to Alice Springs is at Adelaide 1500 km away, so it's not a weekend run, but okay for a week or so.

This week we are visiting Adelaide for two reasons; to visit the annual Caravan, Four Wheel Drive and Camping show and also to have a break from the rigours of work and sameness of Central Australia.

The drive down the Stuart Highway can be fairly monotonous, especially when you've done it a couple of hundred times. You spend hours just watching the same type country flick by at 130 km/hr in the Territory and 110 km/hr once over the South Australian border. On this trip, I thought I'd focus on some of the signage and a bit of geographical/historical background for readers ... something a little different.

The northern or outback parts of South Australia are known to be part of the driest state in Australia. Much of the land mass is covered by salt lakes and the high salt concentration excludes in some places and limits in others, the type of vegetation. The rectangular shaped state can be divided into three distinct parts. The southern third, much of which is is a green belt with good tree and grass growth and where most of the population lives. The capital city of South Australia, Adelaide is in this area. From Port Augusta north, the land has fewer trees and growth and much of it is what we call gibber plains (flat plains with rocks lying across the top). North of Coober Pedy (these are very approximate descriptors) there are thousands of square kilometres of short, native trees that get by on small amounts of water.

Coober Pedy is world renowned for its opal fields and also some other recent mining ventures which I am told are copper mines under development. It's a dry, dusty place with a thriving population of miners and public administrators. Many of the residents live underground and there are several underground hotels/motels that tourists flock to for the experience. Further south and east of Pimba is Roxby Downs and one of Australia's uranium mines.

In the middle of the gibber plains exists a huge area of Commonwealth (government owned) land that forms the Woomera Rocket Range (a woomera is a stick used by Aborigines to help add distance to their spear throwing). During the Fifties our friends the British exploded at least one nuclear bomb in the area irradiating a large area and a few Aborigines who had missed being gathered beforehand. The land is still radioactive and therefore declared as a Prohibited Area by law. Thousands of rockets were fired all about the place as the Defence Department tested them. Some of the infrastructure is still left standing.

Strangely, as you drive along the Stuart Highway you find that a part of it has been turned into a runway for the Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft to land and take off, presumably to meet ambulances carrying injured from traffic incidents. Most traffic incidents are roll-overs when people doze off at the wheel. In an effort to counter people driving for extended periods, nice little stopping places are provided by the governments. Some have toilets, sheltered covers and water and a few barbecues. At the end of day, groups of caravaners stop for the night and sit about sipping merlot and pina colado ... or maybe tea and coffee.

Double click on the photo strip at left to see a few things I saw enroute.