food - where to buy it

Arriving in Kulgera on the Stuart Highway after 8 days on tracks from Oodnadatta and guess what, there’s no longer a shop. The only food the roadhouse now stocks are the smallest cans of baked beans ever seen.

Still the cooked brekkie was huge, cheap and scrummy.

At Erldunda 70 km to the north it was possible to scratch around and find another week of dinners and brekkies, that lasted, almost, to Alice Springs.

Grocery stores are few and far between, as they say, in Central Australia.

East Coast: no worries.

But across the centre some planning is required.

Best place to buy, of course, are the supermarkets, Coles or Woollies, but these are found only in the larger towns and populated regions. Seems there has to be about 10,000 people around to be worthwhile for them. Not many towns in the centre are that big. Heading north through the centre there’s a Woollies in Clare and the next one is in Alice Springs, then Katherine. Prices are similar nationally.

The IGAs found in smaller towns (down to about 800 people) are about 30 to 50% more expensive. They usually have most of what you would need but not a lot of choice. You can get muesli or real coffee. IGAs are usually open 7 days, at least in the bigger places, which can be handy.

In many of the smaller settlements in the Centre it can be hit or miss with supplies. The stores in the aboriginal communities are variable. Some are great, (yes we have muesli and bananas) and have reasonable prices. Some ain’t. (We’ve run out of frozen bread and there’s no cheese either, 5kg of desiccated coconut anyone?) What they do stock can be horrendously expensive, ($5 for a packet of biscuits), after all transport costs can be extreme, (and it’s a captive market).

The other issue with community stores is that they keep abbreviated hours. Close for a siesta at lunchtime. Close at 12 on Saturday. Not open Sunday or Public Holidays. The Hema Desert Map series show the constrained opening hours.

Some roadhouses have a very limited range of groceries maintained for the needs of the general motorist: chocolate biscuits, tissues, soap, toothbrushes, dog food etc.

One of the best options is to post yourself additional food to a post office down the track. Australia Post allows up to 8kg in their service and will keep it at any post office or agency for up to a month. Even allowing for the moderate changes it certainly costs less than the additional price of the food, if they even stock it at the local store. Make sure you time your arrival for when the post office is open.

Moral of this story: country stores and roadhouses have patchy supplies. Be prepared to carry a lot of food, particularly of any delicacies. And send yourself a Red Cross style food parcel on ahead.