Sunday, September 16, 2007

Route Survey, Part IV

Day 8:

Wake up at the South Australian border. Pretty chilly this morning, once again around 10 degrees C. Speed limit in South Australia is only 110 kph (68 mph) as opposed to 130 kph (80 mph) in the Northern Territory. Less petrol, but slows things down. Drive for a couple hours, reach Cadney Homestead, the 5th control stop for the WSC. 1.5 more hours of driving and we reach Coober Pedy, the Opal Capital of the world. Attractions include opal mine tours, opal shops (the local stuff is primarily white opal, the rest is brought in from out of town), an abandoned movie spaceship, a golf course without grass, the first tree in Coober Pedy (welded from scrap iron from a burned out mine truck), and a non functional 30 foot tall winch called - The Big Winch. There are numerous warning sounds about deep open mine shafts, with graphic stick figure descriptions of all the horrible things that will happen to you if you walk backwards into one. Many of the residents live underground in homes that are decidedly modern, but bored into the local sandstone. Living underground has the advantage of eliminating the need for AC in the desert. The town's name is based on the aboriginal "kupa piti", apparently meaning "white men's holes".

We visit the Big Winch, which is exactly what it sounds like (it is, however on a hill that nicely overlooks the town). At the base of the Big Winch is the twisted metal handle form an older Big Winch, which was apparently destroyed by a cyclone in the 80s. Meet an eccentric, but very friendly, gentleman originally from Hong Kong who shows us his opal shop and rather interesting collection of original, junk-based sculpture. Down the hill to visit the Old Timer's Mine, an opal mine from 1916 that's been turned into a museum. The museum also features an exhibit of an underground home and memorabilia from the town's past, including a sign for the movie theater warning patrons not to bring their explosives inside. The gentleman running the gift shop was very interested in solar cars and we chatted for awhile. Quick lunch and back to the Track.

Primary feature on the road in the area is the conical piles of dirt from the opal mines. Otherwise pretty flat and rocky desert. We enter the Woomera Prohibited Area, a missile testing range which covers an area about as big a Florida - the Stuart Highway itself is unrestricted, but apparently has been closed occasionally for missile shots. We clear the area after 250 km when we reach Glendambo, the 6th control stop. The road turns east along the southern border of the Prohibited Area. We make a shot visit to Lake Hart, a large dry lake which is currently a salt flat. We walk a couple hundred yards out onto the salt, but stop when we see a sign that reads "LASER HAZARD - LIVE ORDNANCE - NO TRESSPASS" so we turn around. Beat a hasty retreat through the clouds of flies (which are annoying but don't seem to bite) and get back on the road.

With the sun setting, we turn off the Track to visit the town of Woomera, the base for the missile range. The town is, appropriately, named after an aboriginal spear throwing device. The Australian military did a great deal of ballistic missile research and weapons testing at this site, including nuclear tests, especially in the '50s and '60s. Australia launched its first satellite from Woomera in 1967. The area is pretty quiet now, though they still launch a few sounding rockets. The town features a missile park with an outdoor display of many of the rockets launched at Woomera, including the crashed first stage of the Redstone rocket that launched the first Australian satellite (some locals found it in the desert in 1990). There is also a nightly astronomy presentation, except on Tuesdays.

It's Tuesday, so we head back to the Stuart Highway and have dinner at Spud's Road House (where they kindly ask you to pay for gas at the bar). Have a steak sandwich "with the lot", which apparently means, "all the salads, bacon (somewhere between American and Canadian bacon), cheese, and a fried egg". Pretty tasty - Nate's "mixed grill" is equally impressive, consisting of steak, beef sausage, bacon, and the requisite fried egg with a tossed salad and macaroni salad. Cholesterol does not count in the Outback.

Stop for our last night in the Outback just south of Pimba (home of Spud's and not much else). Cold again, but thankfully no wind. Two games of euchre (Mike and I soundly defeat Nate and David - Nate and Mike had done the same to David and I the night before).

Day 9:

From Pimba it's only an hour or so to Port Augusta, the final control stop. I see a strange bald man poking around the car. Turns out it's Mike. Fields of winter wheat on both sides of the road, with some nice rolling hills. They look sort of like the default desktop background in Windows XP. Nice view of the Spencer Gulf. Hills will be tricky for the solar car (Momentum ran out of juice in this area in 2005). See an interesting waterway colored pink from the salts. Actually see some civilization on the road every now and then. We're back in Adelaide in the afternoon with time for some food and a visit to Bob's. Back to the hostel where we unexpectedly meet a nice group of guys from Solar Car Team Twente, a Dutch solar car team that is very much cooler in every way than Nuon. They promise to meet us again in Darwin. Off to bed, where we are awoken around 3 AM by the rest of the team arriving.

This concludes the narrative of route survey - obviously we have a lot more interesting stories that I don't have room for here, but feel free to ask questions in the comments or shoot me an email at I'll try to update these posts with pictures, so check back occasionally if you're interested.





Anonymous MAX ROSS said...

Ahh those flies. The single thing I miss least about Australia. At least they go away the instant the sun sets.

Keep going strong guys and gals!

September 17, 2007 at 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Kenya said...

10 degrees celcius is like very cold. I don't think it has ever dropped that low here. Most people would probably freeze here in Kenya. I thought Kenya and Australia have relatively the same type of climate.

September 18, 2007 at 3:15 AM  
Blogger Tine said...

Nice blog, guys!

But this:
"Back to the hostel where we unexpectedly meet a nice group of guys from Solar Car Team Twente, a Dutch solar car team that is very much cooler in every way than Nuon."

How do you know when you've never even met us?

Come by in Darwin for a nice cool bottle of VB, and we'll fix that :)

September 18, 2007 at 3:39 AM  
Blogger Garrick Williams said...

Sorry mate, I told Twente I'd say that after a couple rounds of "bier drinken en kut roepen". The team goes dry in Darwin for race week, but we'll be sure to have a drink in Adelaide to celebrate the end of the race. Winner buys ;)

September 19, 2007 at 6:36 PM  
Anonymous Sam said...

Great info. I learned a lot of new things here...

Mexican Fire Opal

July 28, 2008 at 3:51 AM  

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