The Stuart Highway, named after explorer John McDouall Stuart, is the north/south corridor through the Centre of Australia. The road covers 3,200 kilometres, linking Port Augusta, north of Adelaide, and Darwin. It covers diverse country from the arid mulga and saltbush country in the south, through the red centre of Australia to the tropical north. Part of the road follows Stuart’s route almost exactly. The Highway is known as the Explorer's Way.
The old road began as a series of tracks linking the station country. The main route taken in the early days was the Oodnadatta Track as water could be found at the springs there. Horses cannot go without water for more than 2 days. As the passage of time brought motorised transport, the shorter route of the Stuart Highway became practical.
In 1987 the construction of the new highway was completed and ended the reputation of one of the most notorious roads in Australia. The project was undertaken by the Federal Government and the South Australian and Northern Territory Governments.
Shifting sand dunes, salt pans and clay pans made construction of the Stuart highway a tough assignment. While surveying the road, electronic instruments failed at times, because of the heat. The new road is 150km shorter than the old road. Over 10,000 kms of alternate routes were considered. Bores were sunk for the 200,000 gallons of water needed each day. The cost of the highway south of the border was $140m, not including sections retained.
The new road is designed so waterways and rivers can drain and will withstand that 1 in 50 year flood. Low lying areas of the old road were notorious when it rained. Today forced stopovers are a thing of the past. However, there are plenty of rest areas so travellers can pull over and take a break.