The Solo Woman’s Guide to Outback Road Trips

Coober Pedy landscape, South Australia

Outback road trip!! You’d really like to do one.

Visit Coober Pedy, Uluru, Alice Springs.

See those vast open spaces…

Find some real time to contemplate yourself, life and everything against the stunning blue skies and spirited red dunes…

But you’re female. And you’re on your own…

(Cue images of the movie, Wolf Creek, and the Peter Falconio story).

Should you even be thinking about this? Are you mad?

The answer is NO, you’re not mad – and YES you can do an outback road trip if you’re female and travelling solo.

I’ll share my tips, advice, how to prepare your vehicle and yourself, and even what to do if you break down (I’ve had this experience twice) on ANY outback road trip.

Lastly, I want to assure that you CAN do this as a woman travelling alone.

It’s not scary, it’s not dangerous and you don’t need any special driving skills.

 

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About the Journey

The outback road trip I’m going to use an example is the iconic Adelaide to Alice Springs trip, travelling along the Stuart Highway.

It’s a GREAT trip for any beginner traveller to try.

However, the preparation and advice I’ll share apply to ALL outback road trips done on bitumen or good gravel roads like the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks.

The Stuart Highway journey is a long way even by outback standards: it’s just over 1500km (932mi).

Whilst it’s not much compared to a Big Lap (that’s what Aussies call driving right around Australia), it’s still a trip that’s going to take you at least 2 days of travelling.

breaking down in the outback, outback Australia

There are plenty of rest, fuel /food and accommodation stops along the way –so you needn’t worry about running out of fuel or food or where you’re going to sleep.

On average, there’s roadhouse about every 120km (there’s one BIG gap, which I’ll talk about below).

Fuel is available at Port Augusta, Pimba, Glendambo, Coober Pedy, Cadney Park, Marla, Kulgera, Erldunda, Mt Ebenezer, Yulara, Stuart’s Well and Alice Springs.

Also, you MUST read these other posts in conjunction with this one to prepare for your Stuart Highway adventure:

Preparing Your Vehicle

A lot of what I’m about to tell you will sound like common sense, but believe me, doing these things will save you from breaking down, unnecessary delays and spending more money.

(If you’re hiring a car, ask the hire car company whether they’ve done these things).

  • Get your vehicle serviced by a mechanic two weeks before you go. I’m saying two weeks, to allow for anything that might need to done to your car, like spare parts that need to be ordered in.
  • Insist that your mechanic checks the hoses, fanbelts, brakes, and radiator, fuel and water pumps. These are the simple things that can go wrong with your car on a long journey when it’s under strain.
  • Make sure your tyres are in reasonable condition, too. I don’t mean that they need to brand new, I just mean that they shouldn’t be at the stage where you almost need to replace them. I’m telling you this because travelling in the heat of summer on these roads heats up tyres to incredible temperatures.

If your tyres are too worn and you’re travelling in summer, EXPECT a blow-out.

FLat-tyre

It’s happened to me –I blew two tyres within an HOUR because I was driving on worn rubber on a very hot day. Learn from my mistakes.

  • If you’re driving in the warmer months, make sure your air conditioning has been re-gassed and is working. You’ll need it! I’ve driven in temperatures of 47 and 48 degrees Celsius on the Stuart Highway – I adore my air conditioning when it’s this hot.

Here’s my list of essential spare parts and tools for any long roadtrip:

  • Radiator hoses
  • Fan belts
  • Oil
  • WD40
  • Spare tyre/s that are road worthy
  • Tyre jack & wheel brace
  • Tools: adjustable spanner, screwdriver with interchangeable head

The one and only repair that I recommend you know back-to- front is how to change a tyre.

If you don’t know how to do it, learn before you go. It’s not hard. The worst thing about a tyre change is unpacking the luggage from your car to get to your spare/jack!

Other repairs (like changing a fan belt) can be done if needed by a mechanic – and believe me it REALLY helps if you have the spare part on hand (more on this below).

Consider joining an automobile association, too.

Joining the RAA, AAA, NRMA or other Australian automobile associations gives you access to roadside repairs and recovery assistance, reductions in accommodation costs (and sometimes, covers the complete cost) if you break down and have to stay overnight.

Being in the AANT reduced the cost of having our 4WD trailered from Marla to Alice Springs (600km) from $2000 to $400. I think this more than justifies the $95 cost of the annual standard membership.

What happens if you break down?

Yes, this has happened to me twice on the Stuart Highway, doing this roadtrip.

I have broken down alone and I’ve written an extensive and definitive guide to what to do if you’re female, alone and break down in the outback.

Please read my advice on what to do if you break down alone here.

It may save your life!

Preparing Yourself2014-03-18 17.25.29

If you’ve never done anything like this before, you’ll need to prepare yourself as well as your vehicle.

Firstly, it’s a long, long time to spend in the car on your own. Have you considered how you as a person cope with your own company for hours on end?

Also, driving for long periods of time is very tiring. You must take regular breaks from driving –every 2 hours- to keep yourself fresh.

It’s also normal to feel quite tired at the end of each day if you’re driving big distances – I usually find driving more than 800km in one day on my own very tiring!

How will you look after yourself whilst you’re on the road? Food in outback roadhouses can be very ordinary –sometimes even wholemeal bread can be rare.

Spending long hours sitting down whilst you’re driving isn’t the best for our backs, or general fitness. If you’ve got any back or sciatica problems, you’ll need a strategy to make sure you’re not hurting yourself when you drive.

How I Prepare For an Outback Road Trip:

I’ve developed a few strategies to deal with the long periods of time in the car and to amuse myself along the way:

Get Some Audiobooks

Load some audiobooks onto your smartphone/iPod/mP3 player. I’ve listened to audiobooks so engrossing, 300km have slipped past and I’ve barely noticed them.

I really recommend checking out Audible before you go.

There’s thousands of books to pick from. Some of my favourites have been action series, like Matthew Reilly, or travel adventures, like Bill Bryson and Robyn Davis.

Two average sized (8 hour) audiobooks are usually enough to get you from Adelaide to Uluru or Alice Springs.

Podcasts

I love podcasts. No matter what you’re into, you can guarantee there’s a podcast about it. Load up you iPod or favourite mp3 player and off you go!

Go Geocaching

What? You’ve never heard of Geocaching? Geocaching is a worldwide treasure hunt that you play on your smartphone or GPS. This is the PERFECT way to add some real anticipation to your adventure and schedule little breaks along the way.

There’s over 2 million geocaches hidden all over the world, of – they’re usually small clip lock containers that have a logbook inside of them, which you sign and then log online.

Amanda-GeocachingThis is me finding my 1000th Geocache

The hunt to find them is all part of the fun – however, geocaching will take you to unexpected, little known outback places – and you’ll learn a lot about history, culture, and even the geology of the place you’re visiting.

It’s free to create an account and play – but it’s much, much better if you get the proper geocaching app (around $10 in the iTunes store).

Be warned – Geocaching is addictive fun!

Plan Photo Stops

I know not everyone keeps a blog or has an Instagram account, but stopping and taking some photos of your drive/landscape will give you a much-needed stretch from the car.

It will also help build fabulous memories of your trip for future years.

Want to improve you photography skills? I love this little ebook for travel photography.

What about a pre-planned ‘shot list’? Try this neat little iPhone app.

Plan Overnight Stops:

Most people can do this drive with either one or two overnight stops. I’ve done it both ways. Think about where you’re likely to stop before you go and always book ahead in the busy seasons (May-October, and over the December-January NT school holidays).

If I was doing this drive alone and wanted to do it comfortably, I’d stop in Port Augusta and spend a half day here, and then again in Coober Pedy. You can easily fill up a whole day in and around Coober Pedy – so I’d plan two nights here.

If you’re camping, then you’ve got much more freedom, of course. This is one part of the world where roadside rest stops that you can camp in abound.

Use this VERY cheap app to find free campsites. We LOVE it!

A Word About Accommodation

Every single roadhouse along the Stuart Highway has accommodation and camping facilities. The accommodation is usually a standard motel room or backpacker’s ‘dongas’ (this post will explain what a ‘donga’ is if you don’t know).

Campsites at roadhouses vary from grassed sites with power, to dirt sites without power. Showers, toilets and camp kitchens are available at all roadhouses.

However, you can camp for FREE all the way along the Stuart Highway at roadside rest stops. Our secret to finding the best free campsites is the extremely cheap Wikicamps app. Just get it!

If you’re uncertain about camping on your own in the outback at roadside rest stops, then I’ve got this vital tip for you: to stay safe, I recommend camping wherever you see Grey Nomads stopped.

Grey Nomads camping

Grey Nomads are older Australians, generally husband and wife, travelling long term around our wonderful country in their caravans, camper trailers or mobile homes (RVs if you’re American).

During the cooler months in particular, you’ll see large groups of Grey Nomads camping at free roadside campsites. They’re always friendly and full of wisdom and hospitality – I’ve spent many nights chatting to people from all over Australia when I’ve been travelling the outback on my own. Some have even become good friends.

If you see them, stop and camp. You will be safe.

What to Take:

These are the absolute must-have things for this trip:

Mobile Phone:

Get a Telstra SIM card!!! As much as most Australians like to complain about Telstra, if you’re doing this trip Telstra is the ONLY real option for mobile phone coverage (where it’s available) out here.

There is almost continuous Telstra mobile coverage now from Adelaide to Coober Pedy (800km), along with coverage at Marla, Erldunda and Yulara.

Satphone? Yes or No?

It’s YOUR call on this one. If you’ll feel safe with a satphone, then by all means, take one.

I personally do not take a satphone on this trip. This is one section of the outback where there’s a lot of passing traffic, there are emergency phones every so often and there’s an ever-increasing amount of Telstra mobile coverage.

Water

Please don’t buy bottled water.

You’re not only wasting money and creating unnecessary landfill, you’re contributing profits to a totally unnecessary industry in a First World nation like Australia.

The tap water is safe to drink EVERYWHERE in Australia, including outback roadhouses.

Get yourself a 10 litre water container and keep it full. Stash a couple of 1.5 litre bottles under your seats, as well.

Don’t be an idiot: don’t buy bottled water.

Clothing:

Comfortable clothing is the main priority for when you’re driving and exploring – along with some good walking shoes.

MUST READ: What to Pack for the Australian Outback – we share everything you’ll need based on actually living and working in the outback.

Remember, the outback gets FREEZING (below zero Celsius) temperatures during winter nights, and over 40 degrees Celsius through the day in summer. Choose appropriate clothing for the season.

If you need to change a tyre, wearing thongs (flip flops), fancy sandals or other girly shoes will make your task 1000 times harder than it should be. Get some boots, hiking shoes or bring your runners.

A hat… this should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: bring a hat and wear it when outside.

Money:

Every roadhouse along the way has an ATM and EFTPOS nowadays, so you should be able to access your accounts. There are banks in Port Augusta, Coober Pedy, Yulara and Alice Springs.

Your Favourite Food/Coffee/Snacks

Roadhouse food can be pretty damn ordinary, so if you’ve got some special food or coffee that you can’t live without, make sure you bring it along.

This is especially true for fresh fruit and vegetables, quinoa and wrap-style breads.

You can expect to pay about $20-30 (and upwards) for a meal, which is why I always go for freshly made burgers. You’ll get them for about $15-$18 at most roadhouses.

I ditch the buns and then I’ve got a healthy, Paleo-type meal of meat and salad.

I eat a low-starchy carb diet (I don’t eat bread, pasta, potatoes or rice), and having lots of protein in my diet gives me LOTS of energy to without the sugar highs for trips like this.

If you do forget to pack something, you can get just about everything you need in Port Augusta or Alice Springs, so there’s no excuse to go without.

There are also two well-stocked supermarkets at Coober Pedy and one at Yulara. Most roadhouses have a small selection of grocery items – but be warned: convenience comes at a price!

Personal Safety Alarm/EPIRB

If you’ve watched Wolf Creek one too many times, and you’re feeling really nervous about doing this trip alone, get yourself a SPOT navigator.

You can send text message to people back home to let them know you’re safe, and raise the alarm if something happens. These tiny little devices will fit in your handbag or backpack – so they’re a good alternative to lugging a satphone about.

They can be either hired or purchased here.

Driving Itinerary

Yes, this is the part you’ve been waiting for – the Stuart Highway driving itinerary from Adelaide to Uluru and Alice Springs.

Before we set off, however, I want to have a word about outback driving conditions and what you MUST do to drive safely.

Whilst the roads you’ll be driving on are excellent world-class highways, you’re driving in the Australian outback for most of this journey. You need to do a few simple things to stay safe:

  • Rest Frequently. PLEASE stop and get out of your car every 2 hours. Rest for at least 15 minutes before you start driving again. Take some photos. Have a loo break. Find a geocache
  • Beware of animals on the road – kangaroos, camels, emus and cattle. You will see them on this drive. Take note: the most common cause of tourist fatalities after heat exhaustion in the outback is hitting large animals.
  • Do not drive at night. EVER. There are too many animals on these roads.

The FULL, DETAILED Stuart Highway driving itinerary from Adelaide to Alice Springs – Uluru is here.

Below is an excerpt.

Quick Facts:

Total distance: 1503km

Recommended Driving Time: 16 hours – at least ONE overnight stop is recommended

Estimated Fuel Cost: $367 calculated at 11 litres per 100km, and a cost of $2.20 per litre for fuel.

Fuel, food, accommodation: Port Augusta, Pimba, Glendambo, Coober Pedy, Cadney, Marla, Kulgera, Erldunda, Stuart’s Well

Longest Stretch without fuel: 254km between Glendambo & Coober Pedy

Mobile Phone coverage: Partial Telstra only coverage – see detailed itinerary below.

Suitable for caravans/camper trailers: Yes

Adelaide to Port Augusta

Distance: 306km

Fuel Available: Everywhere in Adelaide, then a number of places along the Port Wakefield Road/Princes Highway.

Travel time: 3.5 hours (allow more if the traffic getting out of Adelaide is bad)

Mobile phone coverage: Telstra reception is available all the way

 

Port Augusta to Pimba

Distance: 174km

Travel time: 1 hour 50 minutes (approx.)

Fuel available: Port Augusta & Pimba

Mobile phone coverage: Telstra reception is available all the way.

Free roadside campsites: North Tent Hill, Range View, Monalena Lagoon, Island Lagoon – find MORE free campsites here

 

Pimba to Glendambo

Distance: 112km

Travelling Time: 45-50min (approx.)

Fuel & food available: Pimba & Glendambo

Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is available all the way

Free roadside campsites: Use Wikicamps to find ALL of the free campsites

 

Glendambo to Coober Pedy

Distance: 254km

Travel Time: 2 hrs 30min (approx.)

Fuel & food available: Glendambo & Coober Pedy

Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G for approximately 30km either side of Glendambo and then again coming into Coober Pedy.

Free roadside campsites: Check them out on Wikicamps

This is the longest stretch on the entire journey. You may wish to fill up your car at Glendambo if your vehicle has a small tank.

 

Coober Pedy to Cadney Park

Distance: 155km

Travelling Time: 1 hr 30min (approx.)

Fuel & food available: Coober Pedy & Cadney Park

Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is only available until approx. 30km north of Coober Pedy, then there is NOTHING.

Free roadside campsites: Free campsites and reviews on Wikicamps

 

Cadney Park to Marla

Distance: 80km

Travelling Time: 45min (approx.)

Fuel & food available: Cadney Park & Marla

Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is available for approx. 20km radius around Marla.

Free roadside campsites: Find free campsites using this very inexpensive app

 

Marla to Kulgera

Distance: 192km

Travelling Time: 2 hrs 10min (approx.)

Fuel & food available: Marla and Kulgera.

Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is only available until approx. 20km north of Marla, then there is NOTHING until Erldunda.

Kulgera to Erldunda

Distance: 85km

Travelling Time: 45 min (approx.)

Fuel & food available: Kulgera & Erldunda

Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is only available for approx. 20km radius around Erldunda.

Erldunda to Alice Springs

Distance: 199km

Travelling Time: 2 hrs 10min (approx.)

Fuel & food available: Erldunda, Stuart’s Well, Alice Springs

Free campsites: Check out Wikicamps for all free campsites

Mobile phone coverage: Telstra 3G reception is only available until approx. 20km north of Erldunda, then there is NOTHING until about 40km south of Alice Springs

Please Read This

I really hope you’ve enjoyed and found this page useful. It took me several months to write, edit and then publish here for you, for FREE.

So, I’d really appreciate it if you SHARED this post on Facebook, Twitter and especially on Google Plus and Pinterest if you’ve found it useful. That way, other women who are thinking about doing this trip -but not too sure about it- will be able to find it.

Also, if YOU’VE driven this iconic route, I’d LOVE to publish your story. Get in touch with me here for details.

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A special Hello!! to web spammers & product review commenters. 

If your commenting name is ‘lipopro product review’, ‘Nevada car sales’ or ‘Rino Lawyers’ or similar, guess what?

Your comment will be marked as spam and your IP blocked.

Got it?

 

14 Comments

  • Tim says:

    Excellent list with great detail! Thanks very much, Amanda. Definitely a few things here I hadn’t though of

  • Alex says:

    I did a trip as a solo female traveller in Oct 2013 that included the Oodnadatta Track, Uluru, Laraparinta as well as outback Qld, NSW etc etc. You’ve covered everything I would suggest too, great info you have here. Having SPOT was most comforting being on your own to me and my family and friends back home. It’s safe if youre smart and take simple precautions as you have listed here to give yourself confidence to do the trip. Having top NRMA AAA etc coverage helps if you get in to trouble too, I have a indentical photo of a blown tyre when I hit Coober Pedy off the Oodnadatta Track. I would also suggest you contact the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta as they can give you up to date information on the Track. They were really helpful and even ensured that they had my CB callsign and I checked in with them when I arrived as they said they would keep an ear of for me on the CB as they knew I was travelling alone.
    I would suggest to anyone considering a trip solo, even if you’re female then do it. You would be surprised at the amount of people that take you under their wing knowing you are travelling alone.

    Great site – thanks,

  • Yenny says:

    Hi Gary & Amanda

    I really enjoy this post so much and will definitely be using this as a reference for my upcoming (solo) road trip in Alice Springs. Just wondering…have you done a roadtrip up north from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek? If so, I’d like to know of your opinion about the journey up there.

    I am a female and will be travelling alone. This is also going to be the first time I actually will be driving the furthest and longest in a vast and isolated area. And hence, my main worries are:

    1) Safety issue. Is the road safe enough?
    2) Car breakdown. Because I am going to hire a 2wd car from Alice Springs, I wouldn’t know what kind of car I would be getting til I get there. Hence I won’t be able to supply myself with the spare parts or tools as suggested above. Will this be a problem? And what do I do if I had a breakdown halfway with no phone coverage to call for help?
    3) Which towns that I can stop by for refuel?
    4) Lastly, I really want to see the sunset and the night sky and stars at Devils Marbles. Do you recommend me staying overnight at Waucophe (which means I will be driving at night time when heading back) or should I just camp at Devils Marbles?

    I look forward to your reply. And THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    Regards
    Yenny

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Yenny,

      Thanks for your comments, and we’re glad you’ve found this article useful. I’ll answer your questions below.

      1. The road is SAFE SAFE SAFE as long as you take the safety tips into account. Our daughters (24 & 25) have driven this road solo. I have driven this road solo. Female friends who live here in Alice have driven this road solo. It is a super easy road to drive because it’s nearly all straight. Much easier than city driving.

      2. A hire car should be fully serviced and ready to go – so you shouldn’t have to worry about spares, other than the spare tyre – and you should know how to change it.

      3. Please read our Driving from Adelaide to Alice Springs guide for fuel stops along the way. Then, there are roadhouses north of Alice at Aileron, Ti Tree, Barrow Creek, Wycliffe Well, Wauchope and then Tennant Creek (the BP in Tennant at the north end of town is usually the cheapest fuel).

      4. For what you are intending, I would camp at the Devils Marbles (although I am NOT a fan of the campground or the idiots who use generators there).

      Hope this helps, and have a wonderful trip!

      Cheers,

      Amanda

  • Marcelle says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I want to travel Australia alone and everyone I know thinks I’m crazy. But you make me believe it is possible and that I can actually live out this dream of mine.

    • Johanna says:

      Marcelle I am a solo female traveller and have worked as a contract midwife/registered nurse Australia wide since my marriage breakdown in 1998. I,m 63 years old now and retired and I still drive all over the country alone. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. You will be truly surprised by the number of single female travellers on our roads.
      I chose to drive a Toyota Hiace so that I could park and drive most places with a reliable vehicle. My bed is in the back.
      Go for it girl ….. You won’t be sorry.

  • Noela says:

    I’m so happy to have stumbled upon your blog. Thanks for such a great article. I’m a 61 yo female and want to drive around the outback with my two little dogs for company. I have a small hatchback, but am looking at some second-hand motorhomes (Mazda Geckoes, and other small vans) that are quite cheap on Gumtree. I figured I could sleep in the back. Much easier than putting a tent up. If my dream comes true and I end up doing this trip, I’ll let you know how I go.
    Very inspiring to read the responses from the women here who have done it alone. Thanks everyone.

  • Renny says:

    Hi Noela, may I ask do you think it’s possible to do a road trip from Brisbane to Darwin with a very small car like Mitsubishi Mirage 2014 model? Thank you very much.

  • Allison says:

    Thank you so much for this great piece. I can’t wait to embark on my trip!

  • Brooke Lorincz says:

    Thank you for your insight! I’ve travelled overseas alone, but camping in the outback alone was a bigger concern, so the suggestion of looking for grey nomads was wonderful! I tried to find tours around the Flinders Ranges that include the Ediacara Hills and it was impossible to find without spending hundreds to thousands of dollars, and I’d prefer to be on my own time schedule. Glad I found this!

  • Kay Aldridge says:

    This was so informative and raised points that I had not thought about I have now though. Am hoping to travel Sydney (March) then Melbourne, Adelaide up the Stuart highway so will take all your recommendations on board. Thank you for a very informative paper. I drive s 1994 coaster bus which is diesel so will have to download fuel prices and work out costs etc

  • Liz Caswell says:

    Hi Amanda, it is SO good to see your site. I am a female hankering for outback adventures and it seems the only way I’m going to get them is on my own. Your article has really inspired me to overcome my sense of feeling stuck and missing out. I am going to read the details of all the trips you (and Gary) have posted and I hope I am not making you repeat yourself, but what’s the situation re lighting campfires in the outback areas? Right at the top of my list along with enjoying wide open spaces and gorgeous starry nights is having fires. Thank you, Liz.

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Liz,

      You can light fires in most places provided you clear an area around your fire, or you use the fireplaces provided and follow the guidelines. This is especially applicable in National Parks. In the Northern Territory, cooking fires may be lit at any time of the year (including periods of high fire danger), however, in other states the regulations during Total Fire Bans mean you can’t have a fire on those days.

      As we prefer bush camping (we don’t like staying in campgrounds near other people), we almost always have a campfire as we cook on it. The only time we haven’t had a campfire is when it’s been too windy.

      Probably the biggest issue for me camping alone has been that you need something to keep you occupied in the evenings around the campfire when you’d normally be talking to friends or your partner. I am a voracious reader, so my Kindle/or a novel and my headlight go everywhere with me.

      Hope this helps.

      Amanda

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