The Stuart Highway: Making Tracks

After our stay inside the Kata Tjuta region, we had a lengthy date with the Stuart Highway. This incredible stretch of road runs from Darwin in the north all the way down to Port Augusta in South Australia, stretching a distance of 2,834km. After a loop from Alice Springs to Ayer’s Rock and back again, we were ready to join what is affectionately named ‘The Track’. The Stuart Highway got its name from the Scottish explorer, John McDouall Stuart, the very first European to travel this distance from the south to the north. The track supposedly represents a rough idea of his route.

stuart highway

Before we joined the road at Alice Springs however, we had a refuel stop at The Overlander Steak House, where the majority of us had opted for a chance to test out some Australian delicacies. It was my friend Megan’s 23rd birthday; a perfect excuse to stuff ourselves with kangaroo, camel steak and crocodile meat in a creamy sauce. I enjoyed everything I tried, although I do have a particular fondness for kangaroo steak. It is not dissimilar from the beef steak we are used to, but a little game-ier. (Is that a word?) I’m a medium rare type girl anyway, but we were advised that kangaroo steak is AWFUL if you take your steak well done – we’re talking an exponential increase in chew time.

Our first stop on the highway was Tennant Creek, an area we were informed was relatively deprived. The town itself was not big, yet serviced an area the size of Italy. That goes some way to showing the spread of the population in Central Australia and the Northern Territory. As we arrived late and left early in the morning, we really had no time to see much of Tennant Creek. A few of us had also opted to do an early morning Hot Air Balloon ride over the outback; unfortunately this was cancelled and we all set off a little disappointed ahead of another long travel day. The length of time spent on the Contiki coach is noticeably longer on the Northern Territory section of the tour. This is unavoidable, of course – there’s simply more ground to cover. However, it really didn’t seem to be a problem with our group. We kept ourselves entertained with silly games, books and magazines. On one particularly long drive-day (around 8 hours on the coach), the majority of us ended up alternating regularly between napping and draping loo roll over other nappers… and so the draper becomes the drapee.

I can’t vouch for the pleasantness of the ‘long drop dunnies’ we faced on our expedition up the Stuart Highway, but I really enjoyed the road trip. The pure isolation in such a huge area of land is bizarre. Every now and then, you’d see evidence of human life on the road side. Pictured below is a lonesome tree where passers-by have stopped to hang their hats..

hat tree

Bound for Katherine, we stopped at the Daly Waters Pub for lunch. This being the only real stop after Tennant Creek, the establishment gets a surprising amount of throughflow. The pub itself is absolutely crammed full of souvenirs of previous visitors that the owners have attached to every possible surface. Photographs of years worth of Contiki groups lined the walls, along with t-shirts, socks, beer mats, coins, bras, bottle tops, drawings – you name it, someone had stapled it to the wall or the ceiling. Make sure you’ve got something with you, so you can leave your own mark.




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