After 3,500 kilometres I think my wife is being a little unreasonable. No dear, I am definitely NOT playing every song ever released in the 80’s…it just seems that way. It must be said that Australia is the land where 80’s music comes to die, and that’s not a bad thing at all, in my opinion. Certainly we had more than our fair share of British Pop and American Rock from that era. Now if you’ll excuse me, the Vapors are playing “Turning Japanese”.
Our best intentions to beat the sun to Uluru are laid to rest when days of fatigue creep into my bones and my sub conscious greets the alarm clock with disdainful twilight fumblings. I justify my laziness by looking at my sunset pictures and thinking “how different can it be?” Likewise, the boys decide that it’s a better proposition to get on the road a bit earlier than it is to ride a camel for 30 minutes, so we all pack the car and pile in to start another 600km trek south. As promised, we stop at the Mount Connor to take this photograph. The photo gives the reader no indication at all that I did not even leave the car to take the picture…I merely rolled down the window. I probably shouldn’t have told you that. Oh well.
Today, we found the Outback. After days of driving through a desert painted with hues of green and ochre red, adorned with rugged rocky mesa’s, stands of Desert Oak, Mulga and Wattle, and creek beds scattered with giant River Red Gums, our vista opens up to an endless horizon of featureless brown scrub. Welcome to South Australia. Again, we complete the ritual photographs of the State Welcoming signs as we stop all to briefly…one day someone will get smart and combine these accidental tourist attractions into something useful by including a rest stop and fuel station, complete with stale heat lamp gourmet offerings and obligatory “genuine” aboriginal artwork and commemorative shot glasses…but not today.
90 minutes into South Australia we stop at what will be our last roadhouse/motel/pub/caravan park for a short picnic, and a quenching ale. Once again the crack team of Jeri and Garan beat Bailey and I at an impromptu game of pool when I accidentally sink the black ball trying to play around a tricky shot in which I was snookered. 2 nil. Tail firmly between my legs, we continue on our journey toward the Opal Capital of the world. Coober Pedy awaits.
About 30km out of Coober Pedy the landscape changes dramatically. Man and machine work digging shafts into the ground, throwing up piles of soil like giant ants, hoping to turn the shafts into productive Opal mining claims. Signs dot the area warning of running and walking backwards through the scrub, for fear of tumbling into a disused and abandoned hole.
It’s a surreal landscape that reminds you of the Wild West. There is a certain sense of romanticism that single claim miners are still toiling in a hostile climate, eking out a fortune from the rock, in the absence of any major mining conglomerate. It seems you can still live the life of a gold rush pioneer, even if the target is not a precious metal, but a fiery rainbow of transformed silica.
Courtesy of the lengthening days as we progress further and further south, we arrive at Coober Pedy well before dark, and meander through town looking for our accommodation. The aptly named “Underground Motel” is carved into the side of one of the many sandstone hillocks. The Motel is a former Opal mine that never produced any of the gemstones and was converted by it’s owner who had a history in hospitality prior to settling in Coober Pedy. The subterranean structure maintains a steady 23 to 28 degrees in the baking climate, and the rooms have this incredible stillness about them. We’re warned about sleeping in during our tour of the motel, with the explanation that due to the lack of natural sunlight, people often find themselves sleeping in a couple hours past their intended rising time. I don’t usually need that excuse to sleep in, but I’ll take whatever I can get.
We head into town to pick up some dinner. The motel gives us a 10% off coupon for a café called “John’s Pizza Bar and Restaurant”, and pick up a Pizza, a Steak Sandwich, and a couple of Burgers.
The day ends watching the sunset over the underground homes in the distance, and the pock marked landscape beyond. The view eerily reminds one of Tatooine, and you can just imagine a young Luke Skywalker checking the evaporator units as the sun goes down.
Above, the first of the evening stars appears, and gradually the clear outback sky opens up its display of incredible majesty. It doesn’t matter how often I experience an outback star display, it never fails to make me feel insignificant. Never will you see more stars, set stunningly against the backdrop of the Milky Way, than you will in the Outback, miles away from any pollution (both light and particulate), and the sight is awe inspiring.
We shuffle off to bed looking forward to the promise of an accidental sleep-in, and fall asleep dreaming of shooting womp rats from land speeders.