Australian Bicycle Camping Fact Sheets

PO Box 3331 Rundle Mall SA 5000

The Stuart Highway: Port Augusta - Alice Springs

By Grace Newhaven

2000 / September 7


This fact sheet is intended as an introductory guide to cycle camping on the Stuart Highway. The region is a remote but highly developed conventional tourist destination and general tourist and promotional information is readily available from mainstream sources elsewhere. This fact sheet assumes the reader has, or will have, access to those sources.


The best cycling season is spring or autumn. Hot summer season between October and April. Winter is the driest and coolest time of year. As in other arid areas, rain may be not be entirely predictable. Be prepared for cold nights all year.


The Arabana and Guyani people are the traditional owners in this region. The modern highway commemorates John McDouall Stuart who first crossed Australia from South to North in the 1860's. The area was further explored during the survey and construction of the Overland Telegraph in the 1870's. The present route grew from a rough track in the 1930's , when motor vehicles provided independent travellers with an alternative to the railway and vehicle track to Central Australia via Maree and Oodnadattata. That route - constructed in the 1880's as a series of watering points for steam trains and cattle drovers - is often impassable due to flood damage.

The Far North of SA now contains a variety of interesting sites and activities, with a mix of desert landscapes, mining areas, arid wetlands, underground living, Aboriginal heritage, oil and gas exploration and the pastoral industry. The requirements of communications have played an important part in the development of the region, from the construction of the Ghan Railway and the Overland Telegraph to space technology at Woomera and the now disused US tracking base at Nurrungar. The area also supports one of the largest mines in the world (Olympic Dam ), as well as several wilderness areas.


Royal Automobile Association (RAA) - Map of "Outback" ( Scale 1: 1 200 000.) A$1.50 for non-members. Shows some services, including some "rest areas", Aboriginal lands, National Parks etc. Several town maps. Small print. Does not show water tanks ! ( Tel 1800 244 060 . ).

Hema maps ( produce a useful map of the region in a 1:700 000 scale, showing locations of several emergency telephones - which are generally located with water tanks.

Australian Land Survey & Land Information Group

(AUSLIG ). Tel 1800 800 173 . PO box 2 BELCONNEN ACT 2616

Northern SA Road Conditions Tel l300 361 033

Distance Chart For South Australia

Jan Boonstra has cycled this area. His site is an excellent resource, with some good pictures.

Another account of a bicycle journey from Darwin to Lake Eyre may be available at

For a " credit card " bike tour, with some good photographs, see

ABC Regional Radio broadcasts to the region, with useful weather information on the hour. Radio reception is generally possible on Medium Wave

The ABC provides on-line weather information at

The Bureau of Meteorology also has useful information, including wind direction maps, at

There is an interesting information and link site for "the top half of South Australia" at

The RAA's guide to the region "Outback South Australia & Central Australia" ( Stuart Nicol , 1994,) is a comprehensive guide with index & bibliography. 300 pages A5 format paperback. 600gm. ISBN 0 909697 23 X

 The Australian Bush Cyclists' Touring Association may have some relevance No promises, though.

Getting there

by bike :

from Adelaide to Pt Augusta, about 500 km via the Mawson Trail . Coober Pedy is 846 km by road from Adelaide.

Outside the metropolitan area, hitchhiking with a bike is possible - there are plenty of farm vehicles with space for a bike.

by rail:

the "Ghan" train, Adelaide to Alice Springs, operated by Great Southern Railways . The railway does not follow the road closely.  

by bus :

several bus lines operate along the highway. Charges for bikes between $15 and $25.00, partially dis-assembled (front wheel out etc.)

McCafferty's Bus Line Tel 13 14 99

Premier Coachlines         tel 08 8415 5533 . Scheduled services as far as Roxby Downs

Greyhound Pioneer          tel 132 030 to Alice Springs / Darwin

by air :        to Coober Pedy, Pt Augusta or Roxby.


 Roads & traffic

The highway is sealed for the full distance. There is a smooth well sealed shoulder approx. 40 cm wide in most places, with a shallow gravel bank, roughly 1.5m wide beyond. There are exceptions, notably on the Woomera - Pt Augusta section, where the shoulder is very narrow with a sharp drop between the bitumen and the gravel. There are also sometimes corrugations in the bitumen, hard to see but strange to feel when you first notice them.

Traffic is a mix of tourist 4 X 4's, sedan cars, large busses, a few hunting/mining pickup trucks, and the infamous road trains ( triple and quadruple trailers ). However, the traffic volume is light, with vehicles passing only very intermittently ( say, once each 10 minutes or so - perhaps more in holiday seasons). As a result, there is almost always plenty of room for motorists to overtake bikes very easily.

The main problem is when a triple trailer wants to pass another vehicle close to where the biker happens to be! You will need to be prepared to leave the road when a trailer wants to overtake you when there is traffic coming the other way. Trailers and other vehicles will sometimes (but NOT always) use their horn as they approach from behind , so it's the cyclists responsibility to remain alert . They may also be hard to hear in a strong head wind.

Travelling at night would be foolish, due to risks from motor vehicle collisions with nocturnal animals. You will see the results of these crashes every few metres. At any time of day, emus close to the road may be an unpredictable hazard - slow down when you see them.


There are few water supply points on this route. A cyclist will need to be quite careful, especially in warmer weather. Be prepared to carry up to seven litres at a time. A waterbag would be useful. There are maintained water tanks at several places, with a shade structure capturing rainwater. These tanks should be reliable, but cannot be guaranteed. Note that vandals sometimes attack the tanks (it's hard to believe at first why anyone would do such a thing, but it does happen!), and the taps are usually reinforced against such attacks. You will quickly realise that water from underground bores is very salty. Always use rainwater sparingly - it is a scarce resource here. In an emergency, there is enough motor traffic that you should be able to stop someone in a motor vehicle within a few minutes if necessary.


The distances here are large enough that you will need food and fuel for several days. There are full grocery stores at Pt Augusta, Woomera, Coober Pedy and Alice Springs (only). At all other places, food choices are very limited & expensive. You might also consider the usefulness of a food parcel to, say, Erldunda or Glendambo. It's a great opportunity to bake your own damper with self raising flour. A good stock of lightweight foods will be useful.


There are unlimited opportunities for very pleasant free bush camping along the Highway. In most places, it is a simple matter to turn off the bitumen into the unfenced scrub. Undergrowth is mostly sparse, so snake risk is slight. The red sand tends to be comfortably soft, and it is easy to drive in tent pegs. There is usually enough fallen wood for a small campfire, with little fire risk, though you should be careful, and make any fire in a small trench. A trench fire is also useful for cooking damper.

You should also bury any human waste - a light weight trowel is useful. Many people here do not do so, and the result is unpleasant. You would be well to avoid campsites accessible from two-wheel tracks - car drivers leave a lot of litter, some of it broken glass, which can be dangerous. Rest areas tend to be littered and unsightly and are best avoided as campsites. There are plenty of other places for a cyclist.


Alice Springs - all services - Bike shops :

Penny Farthing - 3/39 Nth Stuart Hwy tel 8952 4551

Centre Cycles - Undoolya Rd. /


Coober Pedy

supermarkets, email at school library ( free) & at Opalnet internet café ($8.00 / hr), large second hand shop, free drinking water at marked tap near the fire station . Some few bike parts at BP garage, with helpful manager.


Glendambo very limited general store, with camp site and indoor accomodation. Bore water tap outside the Mobil station to wash your clothes. There is free tank water, but you may need to ask where it is.


Port Augusta all services, internet at the library. Big Four caravan park is " no dogs" and perhaps better secured, at the same price as the other one.

Bike shops : Cycle Worx (sic) 4 Church Street tel 8642 4577 & Flinders Firearms & Cycles at 1 Hospital Rd tel/fax 08 8641 0269 - follow the bike path from city centre.

Huge Woolworth's supermarket, with very long trading hours 7 days a week. There is a market on the 1st Saturday of the month. Local cyclists cross the inlet by the old bridge.

 Woomera Campsite ($5.00/ pp) with basic kitchen & refrigerator; supermarket with liquor store, Post Office etc. E-mail at the library. Pleasant tidy streets. Rocket museum.

This fact sheet was produced by grassroots cyclists, using published advertisements and direct enquiries. No responsibility can be accepted for changes or errors.

Users should always confirm details by telephone wherever possible. Services may have been closed or withdrawn since publication.

Other Bicycle Camping Fact Sheets in this series include Central Australia, Kangaroo Island, the Flinders Ranges, North Queensland, Kimberley WA, Nullarbor

All these documents are intended to be downloaded as plain text, for practical purposes. Click here for printing advice.

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