Tom & Matt’s Four-State Road Trip
Day 17 — Friday, 12th August, 2011 — Coober Pedy, SA, to Hawker, SA


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The (other) end of the Stuart Highway

The Stuart Highway, like John McDouall Stuart, in honour of whom it is named, crosses the continent from Port Augusta (though he didn’t leave from there but from Ceduna) to Darwin. We have travelled it in the opposite direction and today, some time before we reach our destination at Hawker, will have travelled its whole length — all 3,000 kilometres* of it.

From our dugout accommodation in Coober Pedy we are to travel through a large section of South Australia that is described on the map as the “Woomera Prohibited Area”. This is where Britain and Australia did a lot of rocket testing, including some nuclear testing, in the 1950s — a matter that has been of some controversy in the intervening years because of the apparent failure of both Britain and Australia to take proper care of their service personnel during nuclear blasts and, equally, the apparent failure of both countries to take proper care of the indigenous people of the area at the time.

I will leave it to other people to argue the merits of each side of this matter.

* 3,000 km is a little over 1,950 miles.


Prohibitd Area sign 



This is not a photo we took — it has been lifted from elsewhere. But it is typical of the signs one sees from time to time on this road.

Mind you, as Matt and I looked around, we wondered what possible (legitimate) reason anyone could have for leaving the road — there just seemed to be miles and miles (OK, kilometres) of nothing and then more nothing — flat plains with ground-hugging vegetation only. We were quite happy not to deviate, thank you very much.


Flat land 1 




Let me show you what we mean. So far as I am aware, we have not committed any illegal acts by taking these snaps but, as you can see, there’s just not much to look at anyway.


Flat land 2 




Here’s some more of it . . .


Flat land 3 





And some more. This was over an hour after the previous shot.


Flat land 4 




And in case you are sick of looking at never-ending roads, here is one taken out of the side window.


. . . Just nothing!


Morning coffee at Bon Bon Creek 



Not that the trip was boring. We stopped at a little picnic area called Bon Bon Creek (though we could see no creek) for morning coffee. I can see Matt is waving his iPhone about, undoubtedly taking a bit more video which you will see in due course.


House moving 


In fact, sometimes the trip became quite exciting. We saw a police car coming towards us and, as it got closer, the driver gave us a pretty clear signal that we should stop and pull over to the side of the road.

You can see why. Not one but two complete houses were being moved along the road at some speed (I would guess close to 100 kph*) and they were stopping for nobody. Get off the road or get squashed!


Trees on the horizon? 



Could they be trees on the horizon? Yes indeed!

Gradually the terrain developed gentle rises and falls (ie., not dead flat, just ordinary flat) and we even began to see low shrubbery.


We came out of the prohibited zone as we approached the town of Woomera (which we didn’t go into as it was some seven kilometres* off the highway) and we stopped for lunch at a designated picnic area (well patronised by hoards of grey nomads) beside Lake Hart. Here is a panoramic view of Lake Hart which was, indeed, a picturesque spot. Mind you, it is still very much a dry area, even if there has been an extraordinary amount of rain in recent months.

* Seven kilometres is about 4½ miles.

Lake Hart panorama


Wattle (acacia) 


Bearing in mind the desire of at least one reader for pictures of wildflowers, I snapped this bunch of our national flower, the wattle (or, more accurately, the acacia). There are many, many varieties of wattle and I have no idea which one this may be. I am told that it is possible to find at least one variety of wattle flowering at any day, throughout the year.

There has even been a recent controversy over the use of the term ‘acacia’ as, until now, it has been used of trees growing in Australia and also of an entirely different thorny bush that grows in South Africa. The International Botanical Congress, meeting in Melbourne only a couple of weeks ago, resolved in favour of Australia keeping the word, thus forcing the South Africans to find a new word to describe their bush. You can read about it in the article at that wattle link.

And you thought flowers were all gentleness and pleasantness!






Well, no controversy for this one as I haven’t a clue what this little wildflower is. As usual, the ionvitation is there for you to enlighten me if you have the information.


Trilingual warning sign 


Australia tends to be terribly monocultural. We noticed in travelling overseas that most countries have signs in three or four different languages (which makes a lot of sense if you want people to take notice of them) but in this wide brown land we tend to expect everyone to be fluent in English.

So we were pleased to see these signs several times on the Stuart Highway in South Australia — English, Japanese and German. Perhaps one could argue for a different choice of languages but I think it is a pretty good start. I have to say that we also noticed toilet signs in several languages (Herren, Hommes etc.) at some of the places where we stopped, particularly in the Territory.


Distant hills 



Eventually we spotted the thin blue line of hills on the horizon as we got closer to Port Augusta. It was only afterwards that we reflected neither of us had taken any photos in Port Augusta, even though we stopped there for coffee. Don’t know why as it was significant that we had travelled the full length of the Stuart Highway.

From there we drove to Stirling North (a tiny village) and followed the Hawker–Stirling North Road which, surprise, surprise, took us to Hawker, a town deep in the South Flinders Ranges.


Hawker pub 


Initially we tried to get accommodation at Rawnsley Park Station, right next to Wilpena Pound, but were unable to do so — the only time we didn’t score our first choice, they were booked out — but the Hawker Hotel-Motel (our next choice) is only a little over 50 km* from Wilpena Pound and proved to be considerably cheaper than Rawnsley Park Station. Curiously, Google Maps insists on placing it in the corner of a small park whereas it is on the opposite side of the road.

It is a classic old country pub with a public bar, a lounge bar, a beer garden and a dining room (all except the beer garden having very high ceilings), except that it has some motel rooms, some of them to the extreme right of this photo and others (where we were accommodated) behind the pub and facing the street behind.

* 50 km is a little over 30 miles.


Hawker motel 



This is our motel. At the time when I took this snap (perhaps 5:00pm), ours was the only vehicle to be seen. Before nightfall, however, the place was full.

The woman who received us into the hotel-motel was co-operative but blunt:

“Don’t drink the local water. There is clean water in a jug in the refrigerator in your room.

“The dining room is open for dinner between six and seven. Then it is closed.”


So here we are in Hawker for two nights. Tomorrow we are calling a “rest day” but we plan to get as close as we can to Wilpena Pound (about which I will tell you more in tomorrow’s posting). As you are already aware, the time off from travelling in Hawker has given me the chance to do a bit of catching up with these postings. I am hopeful that I may be able to catch up a little further at the end of Day 18 as it will do our shortest day’s travel of the whole road trip, apart from Day 0.

Oh, and Matt has given me another little video to post. It covers (somewhat briefly, it has to be said) the entire journey from Darwin to Alice Springs. So I have added it to the end of Day 13 (8th August), the day we arrived in Alice Springs.



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