It’s a long drive from Adelaide to Coober Pedy. A very long drive. The distance between Adelaide and Coober Pedy is 850km. 850km that’s mostly on a very straight road, surrounded by very flat land – and a lot of kangaroos who you might need to tell yourself are just sleeping by the side (or in the middle) of the road. But, in between the stretches of long, grey tarmac and deceased marsupials are some pretty cool sights – so, here’s what to try and spot – or even take a small detour to stop off – on the Adelaide to Coober Pedy drive.
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A quick bit of housekeeping…I’m talking about the drive as if you’re travelling north from Adelaide to Coober Pedy up the A1 highway, via Port Augusta. Obviously, if you are coming back the other way driving from Coober Pedy to Adelaide, you need to turn this post upside down or scroll backwards or something! But save it somewhere that lets you read offline, there is not a lot of signal on the route – particularly on the Port Augusta to Coober Pedy stretch.
Because we flew in from Sydney to Adelaide, we didn’t arrive in Adelaide until mid-morning, which, with at least a 8.5 hour drive time, would have meant arriving in Coober Pedy after dark if we stopped for more than about half an hour, our drive to Coober Pedy was therefore split over two days.
Day One: Adelaide to Port Augusta
The part of the journey is 311km – about three and a half hours of driving if you do it direct – but, it’s far more fun to stop off a bit. And here’s what you can see…
The Big Cockroach
Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll spot this on the right-hand side of the road, about 60km after you leave Adelaide.
The Big Cockroach is one of a series of sculptures known as the Anti-Dublin Dump sculptures and were put there in the 1990s to protest against the building of a dump in the local area – the dump came, but the statues stayed and they are now looked after by local residents.
The statues were originally of things commonly found in dumps – cockroaches, rats, mice etc – but they’ve been joined by a few other cool things like a spaceship.
They are shortly before you come into the town of Lower Light and are marked on google maps as the Dublin Sculptures. There’s also a fly a bit further ahead on the left-hand side.
The Pink Lake
Roughly, an hour and 45 minutes or 135 km, from Adelaide, you’ll come to the town of Lochie which has a couple of attractions for you – the first is Lake Bumbunga.
This is a salt lake and depending on how salty it is, it can look white, it can look blue and if you’re very lucky it can go bright pink. This is most likely to happen in high summer.
The day we went, in March, it was wavering between white and rose!
The lake is on the right, but there’s an overlook to the lake that is safe to pull onto from the left-hand side of the road.
I’ve seen people walking on the lake, but we didn’t as we still had a long drive (and it wasn’t pink anyway that day). If you do want to explore it looks like there’s a path close to the overlook on the right (if you’re facing the lake) that will take you to shore.
When you leave Lake Bumbunga lookout, keep an eye out on your right for the Lochie Ness monster – he’s a bit easier to spot than the one in Scotland.
It wasn’t hugely safe to pull onto the turn off for Loch Eel (as he’s known) from the left, so we saved this until the way back – but you can see him from the road if you’re not able to stop.
The point is marked on google maps as the Lochiel Lookout.
The Big Blade and Snowtown
As you drive up towards Snowtown on Highway A1, you’ll start to notice wind farms appearing on your right, and by the side of the road you’ll see brown signs suggesting you stop at The Big Blade… a quick google told me this was a huge blade from a wind turbine and, as I could add it to my list of Australian Big Things, off the highway we pulled.
Snowtown, home of The Big Blade, looked like a super cute town – there was a deserted high street, some old buildings, a pretty bank….yes, I know, some of you might be laughing as I type that – others, like me, have no idea of the town’s history.
I only found out when I put up the pretty picture below on Instagram and a friend asked me if the town felt creepy!
Yes, despite the fact that I write about weird things, I had no clue that Snowtown was home to Australia’s most infamous murders also known as the bodies in the barrels.
The quick precis is that three local serial killers disposed of the bodies of eight of their victims by deciding to store them somewhere safe – a vault in the Snowtown National Bank.
The bank is no longer listed as a bank (and is not the cute building above), but if you want to find it, the address is 33 Railway Terrace East. It’s in between the Big Blade and this cool water tower. I have no picture as I had no clue as to where I was until weeks later!
Bit of luck I don’t call myself a dark tourist!
Port Pirie and Shakka
Leaving Snowtown brought us to a decision – where to stop next. The first potential choice was Port Pirie.
Port Pirie looks like a cute little town overall but I was interested in it more because of its exhibit of Shakka the Shark. Shakka was a female great white shark who caught up in a net near Port Pirie in 1998.
Unfortunately, she died, but when she was brought to shore, it was realised that at 5.5m long she was the longest shark ever caught in South Australian waters – and so she’s been immortalised in the town. Jaws author Peter Benchley was even at her autopsy.
You’ll find a model of her at the Port Pirie Tourism and Arts Centre.
Sadly he who was driving decided we should keep going another 27 km and end up at Port Germain – I sulked a bit – until I arrived there and saw our sixth cool thing to see between Adelaide and Coober Pedy…
The Port Germain Jetty
This was once the longest jetty in the Southern Hemisphere.
It was first built to help carry cargo between ships and the town – the surrounding water was too low to let ships come any closer and so a small railway carried goods back and forth along the jetty. And at that point, it was an incredible 1676 (ish) metres.
Past storm damage has knocked off 1.7 metres, but it’s still a pretty impressive 1.5km long – and makes for some stunning photography.
Even I got good pictures here!!!
Before you get onto the jetty you’ll also find the Port Germain Tide Clock. This didn’t tell the time but instead the height of the water so ships didn’t run aground.
Back in 2003, it was set to be scrapped, but some local folks wanted to save the piece of history and literally went and kidnapped it and brought it back to town!
It was in disrepair for a while but was restored back in 2012.
If you’re like us, you might be a bit hungry about now. There is a pub and a few cafes in Port Germain, but none of them was serving on a Thursday lunchtime, so, slightly nervous – as food served from van windows can be dicey – we checked out The Little Orange Van at the end of the pier.
It was a good choice – we had two chicken gyros, not something I normally eat, but food envy from someone else’s plate kicked in – and they were good. The portions are huge.
Leaving Port Germain behind, we continued up the A1 and ahead of us, we could see a bright light. A bright light that got brighter, and brighter and brighter. Were we about to be abducted by aliens?
About 50 km later, the mystery was solved. It turned out to be a mirror on top of a long pole and the sign headed toward it told me this was Sundrop Farms.
It’s a basically a solar-powered sustainable farm and the bright light comes from sunlight concentrating into one spot to provide power to the farm. The tower the light is on is 115m high and has 23,000 mirrors pointing at it to concentrate the light. The farm grows tomatoes for companies like Coles Supermarkets.
You can’t go in, but the sun pole is a sight to behold.
This is roughly the halfway point between Adelaide and Coober Pedy – and the biggest town between the two places.
There’s a lot to do in Port Augusta including the botanic gardens, the Wadlata Outback Centre (and its rather impressive model of a snake) but we arrived a bit too late to hit the sights (if you have more time, check out this post from Josie at Exploring South Australia on Things to do in Port Augusta).
We had however decided to break our journey in Port Augusta and spend the night which I do recommend if you can’t get to Coober Pedy before dark.
Dusk, dawn and the night time hours are the most dangerous times to drive in rural Australia as the animals get lured to the lights on the road. If you can’t get to where you’re going before dark, it’s better to break the journey if at all possible.
So, before we carry on the road trip, here’s some advice on where to stay in Port Augusta (and what to do in Port Augusta that evening if you do stopover).
Where To Stay in Port Augusta
First thing you need to know is that Port Augusta is split into two sides, east and west.
On the way to Coober Pedy, we stayed on the east side. This is where the small main town is and also home to the Wadlata Outback Centre.
Here we stayed at the Majestic Oasis Apartments which is a complex of mostly one-storey units each with a small kitchen. It’s got a small pool which I spent a happy hour lying by and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a room that overlooks the water. It was clean and quiet and the staff were super helpful. To see pictures, check rates or book click here.
The Majestic Oasis is a short walk to a few pubs and restaurants if you don’t want to self cater (and a big Woolworths if you do). After my lounge by the pool we just went for a wander around town to look at some of the cool old buildings (and to check out the pubs).
We ended up in the busy looking Tassie Tavern as it had seats outside so we could watch the world go by, and finished the evening with a pretty good seafood pasta at its attached restaurant.
On our way back from Coober Pedy we stayed on the west side of town where there are a few more hotels, but things are a bit more spread out in terms of places to eat.
We choose to stay at the Crossroads Ecomotel which has the most brilliant reviews on Trip Advisor – and, at the time we booked (and as I write this) was their No1 Hotel in Port Augusta.
It deserves it. It’s very simple on the outside – but inside the rooms are modern, large, spotless and quiet – despite the nearby road. Mr Differentville is super sensitive to noise and owner Alan was really receptive to emails checking about whether he could put us in a quiet room.
If you want to see more about Crossroad Ecomotel, you can check out reviews and prices here. It does get booked out so you should book in advance.
Like the Majestic, the Crossroads Ecomotel, has a small kitchen, but it’s also a short walk to two pubs – we went first to the Hotel Augusta as it has a water view from its terrace. It’s a proper old school pub full of some real characters who like a chat over their schooner.
We also checked out the more modern Ian’s Western Tavern, but even though the menu looked good, it didn’t quite hit the spot – so, we actually ended up going to Ian’s Chicken Hut and Laundromat (yes, I know a) Ian is busy b) combining a chicken hut and a laundromat is a bit Breaking Bad). They sell whole chickens and sides to take away so we got a chicken and coleslaw to take back to the room. And it was great – a really good budget choice.
Note – both nights we nearly got caught up with restaurants closing early. Port Augusta doesn’t seem to be a late-night town.
The place I nearly stayed in was the Standpipe Golf Motor Inn. This is a bit pricier than the other hotels but I liked it because it was in a more rural setting – and is also home to what’s supposed to be a really good Indian restaurant – and I love curry! In the end, though, it seemed a bit too far from the pubs and being able to explore a bit won. If you’re looking for something a bit more out of town though, here’s where to see pictures, reviews or make a booking.
The next morning, we grabbed breakfast at the super cute Ozzie’ Coffee Lounge – the egg and bacon sandwiches are definitely recommended – and headed on our way.
Day Two: Port Augusta to Coober Pedy
This is the longer stretch of the journey. The distance between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy is 542km and a straight-through driving time of five hours and thirty minutes. There’are a fewer ‘sights’ to see on this bit of the journey and you will need to take a tiny detour to see the coolest one, but here goes.
About two hours drive from Port Augusta is the town of Woomera – and even though you have to take a short 6km detour from the highway (you turn at a tiny town called Pimba) to visit, you should go have a look.
Woomera is here on the earth due to one thing. One big, pointy, expensive thing; Weapons – specifically, rockets, missiles and other things you shoot at people you don’t like.
The town was built to house the 5000 odd workers at a missile testing location set up here in effectively, the middle of nowhere.
Originally, the town was closed to the public, but as the missile testing stopped, they opened things up and now, there’s a display of rockets, bombs and other weaponsy hoo-ha that’ll excite anyone into technology.
In other words, this was Mr Differentvile’s reward for driving me 1700km to Coober Pedy and back!
Admittedly, there’s not a lot else in Woomera – although the general store is a good place to stock up on liquid if you’re running low – but even I thought the rockets were pretty cool.
Emus, Roos and Cows
While you may have spotted some wildlife on the first half of the drive, it’s more likely you’ll start to see animals now as you move closer to the outback proper so keep your eyes peeled.
We spotted the first emus I’ve ever seen in Australia as we pulled into Woomera, and before this on the road from Pimba, we’d spotted mobs of kangaroos sheltering from the sun under the power poles that run parallel to the road. You might also spot cows, sheep, giant birds and, if you’re very, very lucky, camels.
Of course, roos on the road itself are not a good thing to see so keep your eyes peeled for any sudden movements.
Back on the A1, and just 39km from Pimba, you’ll spot the turn off for the Lake Hart rest area which gives you a pretty good view over this white salt lake.
Once you leave and start on the stretch from Woomera to Coober Pedy, there really isn’t a lot going on out – the below is pretty much it.
It soon becomes the case that anything that isn’t a great expanse of road is interesting – and I became fascinated by the huge pits that would suddenly appear in the red earth off to the side.
You see despite the weapon’s testing area at Woomera closing, a lot of the land around here is still part of the Woomera Prohibited Testing Area – the largest weapon’s testing range in the world – and, other than letting you drive through it on the highway it’s very much off-limits to the public.
I liked to think the big holes were remnants of big boomy things from days gone by – they might just be sinkholes or mud holes dug by mobs of roos but hey there’s nothing to do out here but think so, I’m letting my imagination have a play! I also decided it might be meteors.
Talking of making your own fun…you need to know about
The Outback Wave
No, not the thing you do when the flies appear, but the index finger lifted off the steering wheel wave that drivers do when they see each other on the remote roads out here.
Even though the A1 Highway is the main route up and down between Adelaide and Coober Pedy, by the time you get this far up it it can be a good ten minutes or more between seeing another car.
Give them an Outback Wave when you do.
The Glendambo Sign
118m from Woomera, is Glendambo – this is the last town before Coober Pedy – and you’ve still got 255km to go so, the first thing you have to do here is stock up with fuel, water and any other supplies you need to keep you going for 2.5 more hours of driving.
Even if you’re not going offroad, you should be prepared out here, keeping the car well fuelled and ensuring you have water, for you or the car, in case you do break down. There’s very little phone signal so if you get stuck you’re waiting for someone to come by and help.
Glendambo consists of two gas stations and a hotel/restaurant. The Glendambo Roadhouse (the BP station) was our stop of choice and they do a very good Cornish Pasty which you can eat inside of sitting on the porch above – and they get extra points for putting their chocolate in the fridge.
Once you’ve stocked up and stretched your legs, it’s time to get moving again, but there’s one thing you see before you go. This…
It amuses me no end. You’ll find it at the ‘Coober Pedy’ end of the Glendambo Access Road, the road that runs, in, then out of Glendambo. If you came in from Port Augusta, just follow the road through town, north until it rejoins the highway – and this is where you’ll find the sign. It’s safe to pull over on the side of the road to get photos.
Now you’re on the home stretch to Coober Pedy – there’s no phone signal out here, no towns, no shops, barely any other cars – just get some good music and enjoy the ride.
You’ll know you’re starting to get closer to Coober Pedy when you start to see piles of dirt appearing where, until now, it’s just been swathes of red sand. They are the leftovers from the opal mining the town is best known for.
Eventually, just before the turn onto Hutchinson Street and into town you’ll see the Welcome to Coober Pedy sign. You’re nearly there – let the fun and games commence. And if you’re not sure what you’re going to do now, check out our guide to Fun Things to do in Coober Pedy it’s a great place to spend time.
Conversely, if you’re driving from Coober Pedy to Adelaide and are wondering what fun stuff there is to do there, we’ve got you covered there too. Click here to read our guide to the Fun and Unusual Things to do in Adelaide.
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