By KIERAN FINNANE
I’ve been travelling the Stuart Highway between Alice and Adelaide for decades and I never tire of it.
It is always a space of mental relief – a break from demanding work – and remains a landscape still full of revelation for me. Perhaps that’s because of letting go, looking for nothing more than taking in what is around me.
The driving itself is not the thing. Indeed parts of that can be tedious, just too long in the car if time is pressing. Downloaded podcasts make a huge difference during these stretches, but what is truly memorable is what opens up before my eyes, especially in the places where we pull off the road to spend the night.
We look for unfenced land (if we can) to get as far from the highway as possible, avoiding the designated roadside stops, which are usually terribly ugly, always way too close to the thunder of roadtrains and often despoiled with human faeces and streamers of toilet paper.
A better maintenance regime and some public education about toileting when there are no toilets would do wonders for the impression these places must leave with visitors. Nothing much seems to have changed in this regard since the agreement years ago between an NT Chief Minister and a SA Premier to boost Stuart Highway tourism.
The one exception I noticed this trip was the sign at a roadside stop in the Banrnidoota area, north of Port Augusta, announcing it to be Kokatha country, done with an artistry rarely seen along the highway.
Getting off the road means keeping an eye out for opportunities well before sundown. I have my favourite spots of course but don’t always make them if our timing is out. So finding a new place after all these years is good.
This winter trip on the way to Adelaide we ended up on land south of Lake Hart, driving until we got to the ‘live firing’ sign, a chilling reminder of how much of this country, either side of the highway is a prohibited area for defence purposes – a weapons testing range, one of the largest and most active in the world.
On the way back a highlight was The Breakaways – Kanku for its traditional owners, Antakirinja Matuntjara Yankunytjatjara people.
I’d only visited previously at the end of a scorching summer day, with the country spectacularly ablaze with light. This time, it was cold and windy and by morning, in a cooler light, we were able to explore a little further this stunningly sculpted and seemingly painted landscape.
UPDATE August 21:
Erldunda Roadhouse is clearly price gouging with its charge for diesel as the frenzied traffic to the Ayers Rock Resort is continuing in the lead-up to the closing of the climb.
Coober Pedy, Monday: 169.9 cents per liter.
Erldunda, Tuesday: 205.9 cents per liter.
Alice Springs, Wednesday: 161.9 cents per liter.
We have invited the roadhouse and Tourism Central Australia to respond and comment.