- 1 About the Journey
- 2 Preparing Your Vehicle
- 3 Preparing Yourself
- 4 How I Prepare For an Outback Road Trip:
- 5 A Word About Accommodation
- 6 What to Take:
- 7 Driving Itinerary
- 8 Quick Facts:
- 9 Adelaide to Port Augusta
- 10 Port Augusta to Pimba
- 11 Pimba to Glendambo
- 12 Glendambo to Coober Pedy
- 13 Coober Pedy to Cadney Park
- 14 Cadney Park to Marla
- 15 Marla to Kulgera
- 16 Kulgera to Erldunda
- 17 Erldunda to Alice Springs
- 18 Please Read This
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.
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.
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:
- Driving from Adelaide to Alice Springs – the Ultimate Guide
- Driving from Alice Springs to Uluru (complete costs & itinerary if you’re going to Uluru BEFORE Alice Springs)
- 6 Lessons I Learned When I Broke Down Alone in the Outback
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.
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
- 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.
It may save your life!
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.
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!
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Below is an excerpt.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.[sociallocker][/sociallocker]
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.