Australia Diary: Lake Disappointment and Useless Loop Road

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The Great Southern Highway weaves through country towns from Perth to Albany. A slow, two-lane road with a nominal shoulder, it bears no resemblance to the superhighways of the United States.

The Great Eastern Highway, four lanes of traffic with streetlights and crosswalks in Perth, narrows to two lanes long before it ends in Kalgoorlie 600 kilometers to the east.

I suppose these roads are considerable in degree, power and intensity. Compared with the back roads, where there is sometimes a single lane of bitumen (put your outside tires in the dirt if you encounter oncoming traffic), one might describe them as first rate. But “great”?

Then again, perhaps the Aussies are having a go. After all, taking the piss, of themselves and everyone else, is a national sport here.

But let me tell you about one that helped me understand our naming ways: the Great Central Road. It’s one of seven linked roads that form the Outback Way, a four-wheel-drive adventure from Cairns, on the northern coast of Queensland, through Alice Springs in the middle, to Perth on the western shore.

The most direct route across Australia, it’s been dubbed “Australia’s longest shortcut.”

The road is open all year, but unless harsh daytime conditions that cause exhaustion and dehydration — or sudden heavy rains that render the road impassable for days — don’t worry you, it’s best to travel between April and October.

Feral animals, especially camels, are present all year.

We chose the Great Central Road on our way home from Alice Springs. After refueling at the petrol station in Yulara, the resort base for visitors to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (also known as Ayers Rock), the ranger at the gate shook his head and waived the park fee when we explained we were driving through to Perth.

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