Travelling Australia - Journal 2009
17 June 2009 - Erldunda to Alice Springs
We had stayed connected overnight but were in no hurry to get moving since we had only 200 kilometres to go to Alice Springs. Traffic on the Stuart Highway was very light with a preponderance of caravans. As on every day on this highway we had noted the very low number of trucks or road trains; UHF channel 40 used for chat between truckies was so quiet we occasionally checked the radio was still operating.

We stopped several times along the way for photographs. Two of the stops were at dry rivers, first was the Palmer River running through typical Red Centre red sand lined with gum trees.
Major Mitchell Cockatoo Major Mitchell Cockatoos were feasting on grass seed beside a rest area north of Erldunda.

Palmer River The Palmer River runs through red sand.

The second river was the Finke River with more conventional pale coloured sand. The Finke River rarely runs full of water but is usually a string of waterholes; where we stopped a solitary pool in the riverbed contained water which was less than crystal clear. The Finke River rises in the MacDonnell Ranges near Glen Helen and flows 600 kilometres to its end in the Simpson Desert somewhere north of Oodnadatta. During extraordinary rainfall, water from the Finke continues into the Macumba River and onward into Lake Eyre.

After crossing the Finke River the road negotiated several chains of rocky hills lying across the run of the road. The highway usually went between outcrops and hills so it avoided any need to climb, or followed a route over the lowest hills. We stopped at Mt Polhill Rest area for lunch. In the Northern Territory the rest areas have useful signs saying how long (usually 24 hours) a traveller may stay in that rest area.

Arriving in Alice Springs we made our way to the Stuart Caravan Park where I had booked before we left Casino; and just as well, this park was full. We were assigned the site we had occupied in 2005. This was a drive-through site with concrete slab and difficult to get the EuroStar into because of its length and the tight turn needed to clear an adjacent row of cabins; once the van was in place it was a good site.
Finke River waterhole The Finke River is reduced to a series of waterholes after the wet season; soon even these will dry up.

Finke River bed The bed of the Finke River is fine gravel and sand, different to the red sand of the Palmer River nearby.

After basic setting up we drove into the shopping centre for some needed items. The Northern Territory has not yet followed South Australia in banning plastic shopping bags so we were able to stock up on these bags which we use for garbage in the caravan.

Reaching Alice Springs was the end of about two weeks driving along the Stuart Highway from Port Augusta with several side trips. There were several points of interest about this highway; the road itself is mostly a good quality two lane highway climbing very gradually from Port Augusta to Alice Springs (sea level to about 570 metres; not a steep climb and only obvious using GPS readings or a topographic map). There are few obvious hills. The highway passes through a low rainfall region with vegetation varying from almost nil on gibber plains to extensive tracts of three to four metre high acacia shrubs and hops. Various species of distinctive trees can be seen from the road in different places; Western Myall, White Cypress, Desert Oak and River Red Gum each have their place. No streams or rivers had running water in them; there were some pools of water left from the last rain and many (but not all) lakes visible from the highway had water in them. Fresh water is a factor when travelling the highway; some roadhouses have fresh water available, others do not and get offended if asked for water. Fuel is readily available during daylight hours but prices are high.

Traffic on the Stuart Highway was light in both directions. Caravans were the most common vehicle type. There were a few heavy transports, mostly road trains carrying general cargo or fuel. Apparently most freight between Darwin and Adelaide now goes by train; many of the trucks on the road, especially the fuel road trains, are probably serving roadhouses along the highway. While we were at Cadney Homestead we saw the weekly delivery truck from Adelaide unloading several forklift pallets of supplies leaving an empty truck to return to Adelaide.

Mobile telephone coverage between Port Augusta and Alice Springs is limited. Using a hand-held mobile phone, coverage is limited to a few kilometres around some, but not all, settlements and roadhouses. For example, there is no coverage around Cadney Homestead.
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