Tom & Matt’s Four-State Road Trip
Day 16 — Thursday, 11th August, 2011 — Alice Springs, NT, to Coober Pedy, SA

 

spacer
Previous Page
spacer
Road Trip Home
spacer
My Main Site
spacer
Latest Page
spacer
Next Page

 

 

Bound for South Australia

Today we leave the Northern Territory behind. We have had an enjoyable week in the Territory but now it is time to go further south. Mind you, by the time we stop tonight, about 29° below the equator, we will still be just sightly north of where we were when we stopped at Moree on our first night out (29°30'). Today’s plan is to travel around 700 km* from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to Coober Pedy in South Australia.

* 700 km is a little over 430 miles.

 

Title 

 

 

Leaving Alice Springs, before we got to the southern edge of the city, we passed through this gap in the MacDonnell Ranges. The Todd River goes through the same gap.

It is a bit hard to read the roundabout signs at this size but the third exit directs us to the Airport and to Adelaide. (Adelaide, for you non-ozzies, is the capital of South Australia.) That’s quite a choice, eh?

 

Title 

 

And so onto the Stuart Highway again. As always, the grey nomads seem to be cluttering it up everywhere. Matt pulled out to overtake these two, only to discover a third one a little further in front.

Being both grey and nomadic, I have some sympathy for those who choose to spend their retirement seeing this great (in every sense of the word) country. But why do they need to travel in convoys and at 20 kph or more below the speed limit? Some of them seem totally oblivious of other road users.

Alright, I feel better now.

 

Title 

 

We visited Erldunda twice on Day 14 but, since it is about two hours from Alice Springs, it was the logical place to stop again.

We took the opportunity to have someone behind the counter make espresso coffee for us rather than unpack our gas cooker etc., all over again. Then it was on the road again.

 

Title 

 

 

About an hour later we came to this sign and figured we just might be entering South Australia — though it was not all that clear just where the actual border is.

We saw the promised information bay 1 km* further on but then, a little further from that, there was a sign reminding us to discard all fruit in the provided bin (but no bin was provided) — part of the campaign against fruit fly, so we were not sure whether perhaps THAT was the border.

* 1 km is about 1,100 yards.

 

Title 

 

 

But then we knew for sure we were in South Australia because the speed limit dropped to 110 kph* and we felt as if we were crawling. After travelling at 130 kph* for the last week, it took us another couple of hours before it stopped feeling as if we were crawling.

I guess it’s all relative.

*110 kph is about 70 mph; 130kph is about 81 mph.

 

wildflowerswildflowers closeup

Before we left home, someone (you know who you are) asked me to be sure to get photos of the wildflowers which, because of the plentiful rain of recent months, should have been in profusion.

Sadly, the blooming had finished before we came and we have seen very little. But these red-pink flowers were dotted about so frequently after we entered South Australia that Matt asked if they were the State flower. I am fairly sure they are not (it is the Sturt’s Desert Pea). But I don’t know what these flowers are. Could one of you knowledgeable people enlighten me, please?

 

[Nearly two years later, I have received an answer! Thanks, Stanley Dalliston! He informs me that the flowers in my pictures are an introduced Hop Bush – thought to have arrived with the Afghan camel drivers in the 19th Century. Stanley says that “As far as I have been told it is a bit of a weed as it grows along the road shoulders throughout the state after plenty of rain.” Stanley got his information from the Olive Pink Gardens in Alice Springs. Another couple of helpful observations from Stanley are shown on the page for Day 18, 13th August.]

 

Title 

 

One of the big differences between the Northern Territory and (northern) South Australia is that there are no convenient little towns every hour or so. One can drive literally for hundreds of kilometres without seeing much sign of a human presence other than the road itself and perhaps the occasional Telstra microwave repeater tower.

We stopped for lunch at this picnic area beside a dry creek bed called Agnes Creek. As you can see, at least two lots of grey nomads did the same thing. In fact, in the 45 minutes we were there, some five or six different pairs of grey nomads used the spot. And it didn’t even offer toilets, just picnic tables and overflowing rubbish bins.

 

Title 

 

In the afternoon I was driving (as is our wont) and we crossed the Adelaide–Darwin railway line — the line on which I travelled two years ago when I travelled on the Ghan train. We didn’t see the Ghan in all of our travels.

But we did spot this very long goods train travelling north as we headed towards Coober Pedy. Matt hurriedly snapped this shot past my nose as I drove. The train was moving north and we were moving south so he only had a few moments. In fact, the photo only shows about a third of its length. Note that it is being hauled by THREE diesel locos (that’s for you railway buffs).

 

opal mines 1 opal mines 2
opal mines 3 opal mines 4

 

 

As we got within about 20 km* of the town of Coober Pedy, we began to see piles of pale yellow to white sand on the surface. These are evidence of opal mining and there are dozens and dozens of them, wherever you look. Matt snapped a heap of pictures and I have included four of them here.

I get the impression that most of the opal mining these days is very commercial and comes under the umbrella of multinational companies. I’m afraid the image of the lone digger is a colourful myth that belongs to the distant past.

* 20 km is about 12½ miles.

 

Title 

 

Eventually we found our motel, the Lookout Cave Motel. It is appropriately named as it is high up the side of one of the highest hills in the town (which is still not saying a whole lot) and, indeed, is mostly burrowed into that hill, as you will see.

Predictably, there are steps and a pathway leading to the top of the hill where there is a lookout spot from which, as the sign says, you can get a 360° view of the town. The motel is run by a very friendly three-generation Sri Lankan family, the youngest of whom is a very talkative and personable girl aged about 4 or 5. Cute as a button.

 

Title 

 

 

This is the motel. Look carefully; that is not a red tiled roof but the exposed red rock of the hillside. Just the verandah with its corrugated iron roof sticks out. You can see our little car to the right (outside Matt’s room) and you can see the steps further to the right leading up to the lookout where the mast is on the top of the hill.

To get to my room, one needs to enter through the darkened glass doors at the left of the picture, and then . . .

 

Title 

 

. . . and then walk down this passageway which goes 40 metres* straight into the hillside; then turn right and go another 15 metres* along another passageway before reaching my unit. I have no idea how much rock there must then have been above my head!

You can see that, although the basic structure is carved out of solid rock, a number of the partition walls (but not between individual units) have been made of brick. I measured the wall between my unit and the one next door and it was about 1.25 metres* thick.

These underground dwellings (and some commercial buildings and churches as well) are known as dugouts.

* 40 metres is about 130 ft; 15 metres is about 50 ft; 1.25 metres is a little over four feet.

 

Title 

 

 

Here is a shot inside my unit. It was well kitted out with two adjoining bedrooms, one with a double bed and the other with two single beds. It also had an en-suite bathroom and a tiny kitchenette.

I took a number of shots in the unit but, because of the need to have the lights on, those lights kept spoiling the photos so I have ended up only using this one and the next one.

 

Title 

 

This one gives an idea of how it has all been carved out of rock. You can see that a shelf has been constructed in the niche, though I wonder about the coat hangers immediately above the television set! I don’t think they help reception at all!

Being so far underground, I had absolutely NO radio reception and NO telephone connection. So it was a VERY quiet night, though I did have an internet connection.

 

Title 

 

Perhaps you are wondering about ventilation? I can honestly say that the air quality was perfect, even though I was that far underground and, of course, the temperature stays constant throughout the year at about 20°C (about 68°F).

But look at this sea of ventilation shafts poking out of the hillside above the motel! That is just some of them. There must have been 50-60 of them.

Matt reported a slight feeling of claustrophobia (and his room was at the front of the motel) but I had no such worries, buried as I was deep within the earth. I enjoyed the stay.

 

Finally, here is a 180° panorama I took from the front gate of the motel showing the main part of the town. OK, so it doesn’t look like very much — That’s Coober Pedy!The first tree ever seen in the town was welded together from scrap metal. It is still there, though a few of the living vegetation-type trees have since joined it.

I detected little flashes of local pride from the people we dealt with, but I’m afraid the town looks like nobody cares much about it. It is surrounded by the moonscape of opal mines everywhere and is covered by the pale red dust of this part of South Australia. I am glad I visited it, but I don’t think I would ever want to live there.

Coober Pedy panorama

 

From here we head further south tomorrow, completing our coverage of the Stuart Highway to Port Augusta, and then head north-east to the town of Hawker in the Flinders Ranges. I am feeling pretty smug now as I have managed to write up three days of travel in the last 24 hours. Those who need the daily fix should now be suffering an OD!

 

 

spacer
Previous Page
spacer
Top of Page
spacer
Road Trip Home
spacer
My Main Site
spacer
Latest Page
spacer
Next Page

 

Want to respond to this or something else on this site? Contact me by e-mail: pardy@ozemail.com.au