The best thing about Woomera Travellers’ Village are the fiery sunsets over the back fence. The desert is flat as a pancake and as the sun dips over edge of the earth, it splays its rays, now ochre, now puce, now deep crimson, in a perfect stripe along the horizon.
But most travellers are in the Cudgee Bar, which opens at 4pm, and miss the sunset.
Yes, Woomera Travellers’ Village has everything a weary traveller could want, a bar which does a roaring trade in cheap beer and cask wine and a pizza restaurant, although this didn’t open at time of writing, despite the caravan park being packed every night I was there. Perhaps the pizza chef was off on holiday somewhere else.
Woomera is six kilometres north of the Pimba Roadhouse, and has Cold War origins as a rocket development site for the British and Australian military after the Second World War to the late 1980s. Now largely abandoned, it has the eery atmosphere of a ghost town, inhabited mostly by maintenance staff in high vis vests who trundle down empty streets of slowly decaying houses in work utes fixing stuff.
It’s well positioned, though, Woomera, which accounts for its overnight popularity, located conveniently half-way between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy, in the arid desert of northern South Australia. Grey nomads in caravans heading up the centre to the Top End – and want a powered site – gather here and ‘Hoffy’ Hoffmeier, the balding, middle aged and stressed park manager, watches with eagle eyes as caravanners come and go.
Don’t forget your wheel ramps as the area of the caravan park is on a slight rise; no sites are flat. The sites are like ribs either side of a spine, with perhaps fifteen on each side. Hoffy is grumpy and unhelpful when I point out the slope and I wonder if he is stuck at Woomera and would rather be somewhere else, like the pizza chef.
Convenient it may be, stylish it is not. The main building housing the office, toilets and laundry is a former military staff accommodation block, three stories high and showing its age. The toilets are old, three of the four showers are out of order; the only shower that does has a bung door that won’t close.
A newer amenities block has three toilets and two showers which are simple but clean. The water pressure is weak, the temperature mild at best. A piece of soap nestles in tissue paper in a take-away container on the sink unit. A poster about not letting anxiety get the better of you passes on its important message to those heading out.
There is a happy ambience in the caravan park, with a gentle daily rhythm of vans of arrivals and departures. At $15 for one person, $25 for two per night, power and water, the caravan park is cheap. Caravans, motorhomes, pop-top campervans and camper-trailers rolled in in a continuous stream, sometimes two or three at a time, from about 12 noon. That night the desert sky was filled with the sound of new friendships being formed at the Cudgee Bar.