South of Alice – South Australia bound…

We left Alice hoping the rain gods had permanently headed north.

No one could tell us if the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks had opened but with a clear forecast for a few days to come, we pointed Harry Hilux south and headed through Heavitree Gap then turned right at the sign which said ‘Adelaide’.leaving Alice.JPG

As Alice disappeared in the rear view mirror, we set course for our next big adventure.IMG_3688

We passed the side trips and overnight camps we had passed on the way up and it wasn’t long before we hit our first road block… another giant Wedge Tail Eagle sitting on top of a kangaroo carcass, smack bang in the middle of the road. 7710194_orig.jpgHe defiantly stared us down leaving it to the last minute before a loud cry and a whoosh of the wings took him to a nearby tree.

The drive was easy and relaxing as we passed the rugged terrain of Central Australia – red plains studded with spinifex and the occasional eucalypt bordered the side of the highway… and the beautiful Red Centre sunshine shone, a wonderful change after what seemed like days of rain and overcast skies!

 

We called in at Erldunda Roadhouse to refuel and check the road conditions for the Oodnadatta and pick up a copy of the Oodnadatta track brochure – ‘String of Springs’. If your heading along this iconic track it has everything you need to know; plants, trees, landforms, maps and how the watercourses and springs, which you come across are linked to Australia’s two great inland water systems – the Great Artesian Basin and the Lake Eyre Basin.IMG_3701.JPG

We had learned from experience to always expect a delay when a wet road is closed… usually a day or 2 as these tracks can turn into a quagmire after rain, but apparently the Oodnadatta had just reopened for 4WDs only… so it was looking good for us!

From Erldunda is was only a 254-kilometre drive to Marla in South Australia. We had just travelled 200-kilometres from Alice Springs and our plans were to camp at Erldunda again, IMG_3700but with the day still young thoughts of spending the night behind the roadhouse were soon abandoned and we continued south to the border rest area.Dead Car.JPG

During the next stage of our journey we passed signs warning of wandering animals but we only saw a handful of cattle, the occasional eagle feeding on roadkill and a few flocks of birds… and the occasional dead car!

21-kilometres north of the border we came to the Kulgera Roadhousethe closest pub to the geographical centre of Australia and the  southern most permanent settlement in the Northern Territory – the first or last pub in the Northern Territory, depending on which way you are travelling, and a great spot to stop for a break and enjoy a nice cold beer!Kulgera Pub.JPG

Kulgera sits at the junction of the Stuart Highway and the road to Apulta and is the Pitjantjara name for the outcrop of granite rocks just east of the settlement. 

On the road again, we made it across the border and entered South Australia where the speed limit reduced 110-kilometres per hour and we couldn’t miss the rest stop separating South Australia and the Northern Territory as huge signs announced we were crossing from one state to the other.

This rest area was quite large with plenty of facilities including shaded picnic tables, seating, rain water tanks, information signs, drop toilets, garbage bins, plenty of large sealed parking space and tucked well away from the highway.

 

A roadside monument indicated we were crossing the imaginary line and another sign advised us that we could not transport any fruit or veggies from one state to another but with this being Australia, it was still 120-kilometres until we reached the actual quarantine bin at Marla Roadhouse.

Quite a few other campers had already set up camp and were out watching the sunset as we arrived (welcome to our blog Ann and Steve from Toowoomba), and by nightfall we were tucking into our curried tuna and rice and sipping a lovely wine under a beautiful starry sky.

We woke the next morning to another glorious day – a deep blue cloudless outback sky and after a quick breakfast we headed off early towards Marla.

We were now in the driest state in Australia but ironically it had been raining for some weeks and had rained quite a bit judging by the water on the side of the road.

We had been told back at the rest area that the landscape along this part of the highway was without a doubt, the dullest, most repetitive countryside along the highway and having now crossed onto South Australian soil, the red sand, rocky outcrops that characterised the Northern Territory side soon turned to low scrub and stony ground… but the landscape was far from boring, it might be flat but in the distance we could just make out mountains and the vegetation changed markedly from time to time.

We followed the the Ghan railway line that travels from Darwin to Adelaide for some distance and at one stage we crossed over it.

The Ghan was named after the legendary Afghan cameleers who explored much of this route and is regarded as one of the world’s greatest rail journeys offering so much more than an extended train ride. It takes its passenger through the vastness of some of Australia’s great deserts, such as the Simpson and the Great Victoria Desert.

There seemed to be more traffic on this stretch of highway than we had experienced previously – large trucks, caravans and motorhomes, a few motorcyclists and even a lone cyclist – all obviously heading to or from Uluru (Ayers Rock).  

Signs still warned of wandering animals – cattle, sheep, emus, camels, kangaroos but we saw very little wildlife and our next stop was not far along the highway at the Marryat Rest Area a small roadside stop with the only facilities, a few scattered bins and an emergency telephone. It was a bit closer to the road than our last stop but if you are caught short this would be as good a place as any to pull over for the night.

Our last stop before Marla was the Agnes Creek Rest Area, set just off the highway down a short strip of dirt road to a large gravelled area.

There was evidence of many camp-fires and the creek itself was bone dry, but clearly there was enough water to enable gums and other larger trees to grow in this area. There were no amenities here either but again if there was a need to pull over you would be guaranteed of a quiet place to set up camp!

One thing that we have noticed as we travelled South Australia (this trip and last), was apart from the border rest area, the rest areas we had come across were not that well maintained compared to what we had come across in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia… and the last 2 were no exception, both lacked toilets and only 1 had a few scattered bins and both were lined with piles of toilet paper and rubbish!

Continuing on Marla was the first town we came to in South Australia – or the last before crossing into the Northern Territory if you are heading north from Port Augusta.

For us it was the turn off point into the deep South Australia Outback to the Oodnadatta Track.

It was only a small town with a population of less than 100 and is primarily a service town that centre’s around the Travellers Rest Service Station, which comprises a supermarket, pub, motel and caravan park. It was one of those little towns that made us feel we were in a western movie… when a stranger turns up everyone stops to look at you?  

It is also located near the Ghan railway line making it accessible by train with the Ghan, running between Adelaide and Darwin twice a week in both directions.

 

The start of our trip down the Oodnadatta Track was about to begin… a track that runs 600-kilometres from Marla to Maree along one of Australia’s great outback drives!

Stayed tuned for our adventure across the iconic Oodnadatta Track.

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