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The Slow Lane: Adelaide to Alice Springs

The 1500km trip from Adelaide to Alice is one of Oz’s big overland adventures. Sweeping coastal vistas give way to arid scenery and great salt lakes, before entering into red dirt country further north. Journey with me into the heartland of Australia. Here are my Top 10 weird and wonderful things to see along the way.

G’day!

I’m Melissa (Liss) Connell and this is my personal travel blog. The Slow Lane chronicles my Aussie adventures in my 1974 Kombi, with my furry sidekick Sandy. As the co-owner of Exploring Eden Media, I write articles (and post books) as I travel. Check the postage stamp on your book order and you’ll see where I am right now!

Uluru/Ayers Rock. Pic by Renae Saxby.

I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me! 

Dorothea Mackeller
Pulling up at Lake Bumbunga on an overcast day. Pic by me.
Lake Bumbunga changes colours at different times of the year depending on salinity. Pic by me.

1. Lake Bumbunga, the pink lake

Following the A1 on the drive between Adelaide and Port Augusta you’ll spot the rose coloured Lake Bumbunga just off the side of the road in the little town of Lochiel. It’s a hotspot for photographers and bloggers and the lake is known to alternate colours between pink, white and blue depending on the salinity of the water. Sandy dog and I walked out to the lake, but found it was really slippery and windblown. A couple of quick snaps and we were on our way again. It was a nice break in the journey north to Port Augusta.

2. Woomera’s missile park

Continuing about 175km north from Port Augusta you’ll see the turn-off at Pimba into a little town called Woomera, 6km up the road. The town was specifically built to accommodate staff involved in the testing of long range rockets, weapons and missiles. During the ’60s Woomera had a population of over 5,000. These days there are just over 100 residents. Between 1999 and 2003 the Federal Government used Woomera as a base for assylum seekers who had arrived by sea, detaining them at the Woomera Immigration Detention Centre. The most interesting thing to see in the town these days is the Missile Park.

Lake Hart. Pic by Renae Saxby.
Lake Hart. Pic by me.

3. Lake Hart, the salt lake

You’ll see the vast salt pan that is Lake Hart glistening from hundreds of metres away. It lures with its mystical charm. This was the meeting spot for myself and some friends who were also travelling north in their van. Shortly after the girls launched their drone into the sky, a convoy of about 10 Air Force Personnel arrived, ordering everyone off the lake (there were a handful of tourists roaming around). As it turns out, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sign at one entrance to the lake (we walked a different route in) telling everyone not to walk on the lake due to ‘unexploded ordinance’. I was intrigued by a tourist hotspot in Australia that could have unexploded bombs on it, yet no fencing anywhere. Looking further into it, I came across this article which explained a lot. So … admire it from a distance only.

Meeting with friends at Lake Hart. Pic by me.
Lake Hart sparkling in the sun. Pic by me.
Chatting with Air Force personnel about why the lake was off-limits. Pic by one of the Air Force staff (thank you).

4. Coober Pedy, the underground town

Coober Pedy is a town that many people breeze past after seeing a few of the town’s tourist hotspots. We were there for a week, as our vans broke down after a trip out to William Creek to see Lake Eyre (only attempt it if you have a 4×4 … one that you don’t mind getting trashed on hundreds of kilometres of corrugations). CP is an interesting town, with half of the residents living in underground ‘dug-outs’ to escape extreme desert temps. Stick around for a few days and, if you can, stay for a Saturday night to catch a flick at their iconic Drive-In Theatre.

Coober Pedy’s ‘Hollywood sign’. Pic by me.
Coober Pedy, where half of the residents live underground. Pic by me.

6. The Breakaways

33km north of Coober Pedy, along a very corrugated dirt road that turns off the Stuart Highway is The Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park. The landscape here is breathtaking, with colourful mesa-top mountains rising up from the desert floor. We arrived just before sunset and we stuck around until all of the cars had gone. It’s worth coming during the day to explore the valley floor and then come up to the lookout for sunset.

The Kanku-Breakaways. Pic of Renata by me.

7. Mount Connor

You’ll never forget that first glimpse of Uluru. The vast landscape sprawled out before you. That glorious, huge mesa-topped rock in the distance … wait a minute. That’s not Uluru. Yep, you’ve been fooled! Mount Connor has been affectionately named ‘Fooluru’ by all of the previous travellers who’ve come to the red centre and snapped countless pics of the distant mountain, only to find out that they’re still 20 kilometres away from Uluru / Ayers Rock. Pull over to snap a pic and breathe in the beautiful desert scenery, then continue on into the red heart of Australia.

Welcome to the Red Centre. Pic by me.
Mount Connor aka ‘Fooluru’. Pic by me.

8. The secret salt lakes of Curtin Springs

Yep, there are salt lakes in the Red Centre. Quite a few of them, from what I’ve heard. This one is less than 100km from Uluru and just off the Lasseter Highway, down a short dirt track. The Salt Lakes are owned by Curtin Springs, a pastoral station and also a free great camping spot (at the roadhouse). Learn more about the salt lakes here.

Driving in to the salt lake. Pic by me.
Salt lake foreground, Fooluru (Mount Connor) background. Pic by me.
Checking out the salt lake. Pic by me.

9. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Covering over 327,414 acres of Australia’s desert is the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. There’s much to see inside the park including Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the many-domed Kata Tjuṯa (The Olgas). Walking or cycling around the rock early in the morning or late afternoon is recommended, to avoid the midday heat.

Uluru / Ayers Rock. Pic by Renae Saxby.

The beautiful mud brick cultural centre is a great spot to relax and cool off when the temps heat up outside. Learn about Anangu culture, buy authentic indigenous artifacts and grab a cool drink in their cafe. Head to your sunset viewing point early, as they fill up quickly. I personally preferred watching sunset at Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which glowed a glorious red at sunset and were nowhere near as crowded as Uluru’s sunset spots. Be sure to do some of the walks around Kata Tjuta, including the 7.4km Valley of the Winds circuit and the Walpa Gorge walk. Click here for camping options in the Red Centre.

Kata Tjuta / The Olgas. Both pics by me.

10. King’s Canyon (Watarrka)

King’s Canyon is about three hours’ drive from Uluru and, yes, it is absolutely worth visiting. I’ve even heard some people say that they’ve found it to be more impressive than Uluru. To be honest, the two attractions are so different, there’s no comparison. The 100m high sandstone walls drop steeply into a deep canyon. There’s a walk around the rim, unsurprisingly named ‘The Rim Walk’ which takes about three or four hours.

Stay for the night at one of the two nearby campsites (Click here for camping options in the Red Centre.) King’s Canyon Resort have just announced their new outdoor movie screenings at the Sunset Viewing Platform. Definitely worth checking out.

Uluru / Ayers Rock. Pic by Renae Saxby.
Swainsona formosa (Sturt’s Desert Pea). Pic by me.
Arriving into Alice Springs at sunset. Perfect timing. Pic by me.

Thanks for reading! Drop back from time-to-time as Sandy and I continue our journey to the Kimberley, Western Australia (I will upload more blogs – read them all here). And please – if any of the information has changed or if you know of more great spots, please leave them in the comments below 🙂

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