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The mapping continues as we reach Coober Pedy

Simon Parker's picture
Cycling along the Stuart highway, South Australia on the Red Centre bicycle touring route. Cycle Traveller

The past few weeks have been an awakening of the senses. From the abrupt grandeur of the Flinders Ranges through to the sublime scenery of the Outback, it's been a grand tour despite being just weeks old.

I'm writing this from the opal capital of the world, Coober Pedy, a subterranean outpost bursting forth from the usually parched expanse of Outback Australia. I say usually as a healthy dose of rain recently has given the town's surrounds a distinctly green tinge. Like an iceberg, much of Coober Pedy's charms lie beneath the ground, with around 50 per cent of locals living in houses gouged from the earth. It's unique, no doubt, and its desolation has helped shape the character of those that live here – industrious, straight-forward and entrepreneurial.

Reflecting on the past two weeks since my last blog, Alia and I have learned quite a bit about The Red Centre Route and where it will flow from Adelaide. If you end up following it you'll get a smorgasbord of scenery and terrain from the delightful and quaint towns along the hills north of Adelaide through to the aforementioned Flinders Ranges and then up along Central Australia's transport backbone – the Stuart Highway, or Explorers Way – that forges its way to Darwin.

The northerly and westerly winds haven't been kind to us, gusting up to 45km/hr at times, but it hasn't sapped us of our enthusiasm. We've had to adjust where we'll get to each day, with daily distances ranging from 64km up to 156km, largely dependent on the wind direction. Traffic for the most part hasn't been an issue, both from a safety or volume perspective. Drivers, mostly holidaymakers towing caravans, have been generous with the space they've given us as we've pedalled our way north. And, yes, even the road trains have been cautious around us. Where we see the possibility of trucks passing us in both directions at the same time we simply slow down and edge into the gravel shoulder; it can take hundreds of metres for one to slow right down, so it's safer for everyone if we jump off the road for a few seconds.

Woomera, a defence force town located adjacent to the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA), a missile testing range more infamously remembered for being where a number of atomic bombs were dropped in the 1950s and 1960s, was a welcome stopover point. Like stepping back in time, the town shows clear evidence of being a child of its generation. Largely simple, non-descript houses, and lots of them. Clean, quiet streets. Empty stores and buildings also pervade; reminders of an era when 7,000 people lived in the town, now occupied by just hundreds. No traffic jams on these streets.

It was a story told to us in part by Vince, the manager at the local Eldo Hotel, a former mess hall turned into a culinary oasis within the town. He had stopped and given us soft drinks a day earlier while we were on the Stuart Highway, a nice touch repeated later in the day by a couple who insisted on giving us a few mandarins and pears. Genuine generosity, whether it been people like Vince or the flocks of Grey Nomads as they head north for the winter, is never far away even in the most remote part of the route.

We're glad we rode the 8km off the highway to stop in Woomera, as an evening spent sipping beers, watching the sunset, and tucking into a generously-sized and tasty dinner at the Eldo was what the body – and mind – demanded. And who can deny that, soaking up what the Red Centre Route has to offer.

Cycling north from Woomera took us through a surprising variety of landscapes, from what most might expect: flat and rather featureless plains through to red sand-drenched hills laden with shrubs. Gentle grades have been the norm, yet it's not uncommon to suddenly find yourself with grand views from the top of a plateau that crept up unannounced. And on the occasions that you get the wind gusting at your back and your legs seemingly moving without effort, it's time to sit back and be a passenger, savouring the views as they glide by.

There are also enough times to savour the silence, with traffic generally easing in the afternoons as you chase the sun towards your next camp site or town.

The next phase of our Red Centre Route test ride takes us from Coober Pedy to Alice Springs, around 685km and two or so weeks distant including time for sightseeing. I'll let you know how it goes. 



Thank you for letting us read about your journey.

I am planning a similar route, so I was just wondering how you went going through the Woomera prohibited area where you are not allowed to leave the road? Did you just do sneaky camps near it?

Alia Parker's picture

Have fun!

Yes, we stayed in town at the southern end, but there's no other choice but to do a sneaky camp along the way. There are plenty of areas with bushes close to the road so you don't need to venture far away.

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