Saturday, July 27, 2019

Day 3 - Sat 17/8/2019

The village of Woomera lies on an elevated plateau surrounded by a boring desert that stretches from horizon to horizon unbroken, the reddish brown rocky soil lightly covered by salt bush and occasional mulga scrub.  Ideal country for a rocket research base.  The rocket range began operation in 1947, and stretches west well into Western Australia.  The entire area between Woomera and Coober Pedy is prohibited land.  Travellers on the Stuart Highway are granted exemption, but they may not take any of the side roads off the highway without a permit.

The village looks exactly like what it is — a government defence base.  Row after row of identical houses and barracks, with just a small central services area that houses a grocery, information centre, rocket display park, theatre and a hotel.  I stayed at the Eldo hotel which has an excellent dining room.  The motel rooms are renovated barracks behind the new hotel building — quite comfortable and well appointed.

On my drive from Whyalla I frequently noted a large white pipeline snaking across the landscape, often parallel to the road.  I discovered that it brings water from the Murray River at Morgan to supply Port Pirie, Whyalla, Port Augusts and finally Woomera.  None of these have a local water supply available.  Also frequently I could see the Ghan rail line tracking the highway a couple of hundred meters to the side.  Long freight trains seemed to pass about every 30 minutes.

The tourist information centre doubles as a breakfast/lunch cafe, and houses a very informative historical museum of the rocket range and its activities until recently.  The public have only been allowed to visit Woomera for about the last ten years — before that all top secret.  Today most of the work at the range involves satellite launches for Japan and various privately funded research.  There seems to be no military activity now, although the base is still run by Defence Dept.  I hoped to get a look at something, so drove out to the main gate of the range.  Took a photo of the entrance, and was promptly chased away by a guard.

Little else was on offer, so bought a sandwich for lunch later and headed north toward Coober Pedy at 11 am.  Topped up the car with diesel at Spud’s Roadhouse nearby .. $1.80 a litre, $130 worth!  By the way, earlier checking out the driver’s manual to familiarise myself with the 4WD mechanism, I discovered I was driving a Toyota PRADO and not a Mitsubishi PAJERO.  So much for my powers of observation!

The drive to Coober Pedy is mindlessly boring and with several stops along the way took 5 hours.  I stopped at each of the roadhouses along the way and at a couple of well setup rest areas to stretch my legs and have a break.  About 30 km out of Coober Pedy the landscape changed, and began to look more like a lunar scape.  Sammy heaps of rock and soil pointed to where miners have been digging for opals.  Active “mines” can be identified by a mechanical excavator standing next to the waste heap. I get the impression you can only drive out to these areas if you have a mining permit.

I found my way to the Underground Motel.  Booked in and am getting ready to explore the town tomorrow.

Photos I took today are to be found Here

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