Rocky Road to Darwin

Thoughts on Crossing the Outback

There’s a lot to share about our travels in Australia again. This time we’re not reporting from Sydney but directly from the heart of the Australian Outback. Our pre-team has driven quite the distance to reach Coober Pedy. We arrived just this morning after covering hundreds of miles during several days on the road. By now every one of us has gathered some first-hand experience of what Outback wilderness truly means.

But first let’s take another look back. While publishing our previous report we were about to wrap up our stay in Sydney. All that remained was to pack our bags, load everything up into our rental cars, and prepare everything for the long drive ahead. Everything went ahead without further complications, and we were able to enjoy some time off before leaving the city to spend a long week on the road.

Wednesday was the day of our departure. We wanted to leave as early as we could, so to avoid the worst of the city’s morning commute and cover some additional distance during the rest of the day. Once we left Sydney our route led us right across the Blue Mountains National Park outside the city. Climbing up and down the hillslopes especially challenged the vehicles towing our trailers and slowed us down just as much. Only when passing through the flatlands further along the way did we manage to speed up a little.

5000 Kilometers of Open Road

From now on we were faced with another complicated feature of driving around rural Australia. The frequency of livestock and wild animals like kangaroos passing over the lonesome highways in many areas makes driving after sunset close to impossible except maybe for larger trucks. If a planned destination isn’t reached at the end of one day, the team will simply have to stop at whatever location they manage to make it to before dark. Sometimes we’ll just have to spend the night right there at the side of the road.

But on our first day of travelling we still made it in time, to a campground situated right outside a small town called Dubbo. Some issues with our cars did arise that night however, forcing us to split up the team. A group of four people ended up taking the next train back to Sydney, where they would rent a new car with sufficient space for them and their luggage. For everybody else the trip had to continue as planned. After all, we still had a deadline to keep up with. The thyssenkrupp SunRiser absolutely needed to arrive in Darwin on time.

Reduced to six people, we took the SolarCar with us for another day-long trip across the Outback. The rest stop planned for the next night being near the state border which New South Wales shared with its neighbor South Australia. We managed to cover a lot of distance on our second day, with the mountains mostly behind us and lots of flat, open land ahead. Still, due to the sunset we didn’t make it to our planned destination on time. We steered towards an alternative rest spot at the nearby town of Broken Hill instead.

It took some more 45 minutes of driving from here until a road sign finally welcomed us to South Australia. Despite passing by numerous smaller towns along the way, we mostly crossed through the same desolate landscape which we already encountered the day before. We took a quick lunch break at Port Augusta right before turning north and entering the Stuart Highway for the first time.

Something we noticed on our way here was the climate, which gradually changed from the cool maritime air we had in Sydney to become ever dryer and warmer. It’s been especially hot during today’s stay in the desert city of Coober Pedy. Both the widespread opal mining and the hot climate have caused the town’s residents to move most of their daily activities underground. We also went below the surface for the night and stayed in an underground hostel. The rooms and hallways here look something like an opal mine themselves, being entirely carved out of the adamant bedrock.

And we were not alone in Coober Pedy. Sonnenwagen Aachen, the other German team to compete in this year’s Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is staying here for a longer time to test their own SolarCar and prepare it for the challenger class in which it will compete. After several long hours in the desert sun both teams met in the evening for a joint barbecue to end the day on a high note and exchange some of our favorite memories made down under so far.

All Roads Lead to Darwin

Far away from the Australian desert, the rest of our team had a lot on their hands as well. Five of our team members are travelling to Australia already and will soon arrive in Adelaide, where they will pick up some additional rental cars and drive them all the way up to Darwin. The group of people who had to travel back to Sydney will meet up with them soon, possibly in Port Augusta. Together they’ll continue along the Stuart Highway from there.

We’re split up into several group, but without this being too much of an issue. Presumably we will all arrive in Darwin on time, meaning the entire team will soon join together for the first time in many weeks. It’s not a long way to go until then, but we definitely are looking forward to it. And of course, we’re sure there will be lots of exciting experiences to be made still.

(originally published on September 15, 2019)

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