Day 11: Live update – Odometer 18751km. You know that you’re in the Coober Pedy opal mining region of the Stuart Highway when the flat plains transform into a landscape of dirt dumps scattered everywhere. I’d have to do a proper tour of this area in the future to check out the opal mining operations and the underground structures in town; an interesting part of the country.
Rookie mistake #11: Just because you’ve ridden a road once in the past doesn’t mean that it will be the same old trip. The same path can be seen from a different point of view.
My highway journeys of the past were heavily centred on covering large distances within a day. Particularly on this part of the Stuart Highway, which I had previously travelled on with the Ducati 1199 Panigale in 2015, I dreaded the thought of endless straights across a monotonous landscape. In raw figures, it is a darn long 930 kilometres back down from the NT/SA border to Port Augusta, the closest regional centre at the end of the Stuart Highway. With apparently not much to see, one may think that it would be a journey that they’d rather forget. Even I thought that this was going to be the most boredom inducing section of this trip.
However, the highway is not so uninteresting if you take the time to absorb the atmosphere at every tea break. Particularly if you have the opportunity to stop at your own free will without worrying about time constraints, the complete opposite of what I had done all too often throughout my journeys on the old Ducati, you’ll be able to at least acknowledge the uniqueness of inland South Australia. It helps greatly if you’re a keen photographer, as you’ll likely discover geographic features in this state that you would otherwise not be able to observe elsewhere in the country.
For such an arid region, bird life is plentiful. My breaks along the Stuart Highway had been accompanied by varieties such as the wedge tailed eagle, the black falcon and the superb fairy wren. Of all bird types, the Australian raven, a type of crow which is found pretty much everywhere in Australia, was the most prominent, constantly on the lookout for roadkill to devour.
The abundance of salt lakes and sand dunes in the dry inland regions is a very stark contrast against the green, fertile, wine-growing regions that surround the Adelaide basin, the state’s capital. The Simpson Desert is a distinctively South Australian attraction, where thousands of large sand dunes beckon the keen offroader. Lake Eyre is another stunning place where the barrenness of dry plains meet the shores of massive salt lakes, made even more amazing when the rare torrential rains from the upstream river systems rejuvenate the drought stricken plains into an oasis of life. Lets not forget about the 1100km-wide Nullabor and its coastal cliffs that break up the vast treeless plain. South Australia is an amazing place for the avid adventurer.
Although I couldn’t visit any of those three aforementioned places as part of this whole trip, the landscape that is seen on the Stuart Highway is still a worthy consolation prize. The geographic influences of the more prominent state attractions are still discernible, with the extensive flats, the sandy hills and salt lakes. There’s a lot to see particularly for those travelling on the road for the first time with fresh eyes.
Coober Pedy is the largest inland town on the Stuart Highway route. The town is the state’s economic centre of the opal industry, where white opals as well as the highly prized black opals have been mined and traded for over a century. The town is still best known for its opals to this day, and the local economy is heavily built around this industry. For those yearning for an urban stop along the way, this is the place to be.
In any case, wherever you travel in regional Australia, you will be faced with covering long distances. Even if you are travelling across areas where you have already visited, there is always an opportunity to see something new by taking a different approach of seeing things. The best way to spend your time when travelling on roads such as the Stuart Highway is to put on a minimalist mindset. When you understand that less can actually be more, you will realise that the supposed visual barrenness of the desert is in fact a grand venue where simplicity forms the underpinnings of mental renewal and inner peace.
Basic Statistics for the day:
- Route: NT/SA Border (Stuart Highway), Marla, Coober Pedy
- Total distance: 510km
- Range of temperature: 7°C to 29°C
Expenses for the day:
General map route: