26 September 2009

Coober Pedy to Adelaide

Coober Pedy, as you doubtless know, is an opal mining town situated in the middle of South Australia. The Mad Max films were made in and around there so if you have seen them you will be understand when I say that the area is bleak, dusty, and overwhelmingly brown. It really does look as if the place has been hit by a nuclear bomb and it's ugliness defies description. There are mine tailings everywhere, even in the town.

Sixty percent of the people who live there, live in underground houses which have been dug/blasted into the rock. The summer temperatures are so hot that living underground is the best way to keep cool as the indoor temperature can be kept at 22 degrees Celsius all year round. The houses can be quite luxurious but I think I would go nuts very quickly if I had to live there. There are hardly any trees or plants and the only grass is at the Aussie rules football grounds and at the school.

We did an afternoon bus tour around the place which was very interesting. We were taken to the underground museum, which also incorporates an underground home, the Serbian church (also underground ) and other places of interest. We were also told a lot about the opal mining, both present and past. It seems to be quite a lawless place even though there is a police station in the town. 14 cops have responsibility for a precinct as big as Belgium.

The Coober Pedy police station was blown up a couple of years ago by a guy who had applied for a job which needed a police check. Not a very bright guy apparently because he figured that if he blew the place up then his prospective employers wouldn't be able to find out that he had a record! He did wait until the place was empty before he did it, which was considerate of him. He's now serving a 9 year jail sentence, so doesn't need the job after all.

One of the graves in Coober Pedy's cemetery is marked by a beer keg engraved with, "Have a drink on me." The departed was told by his doctor that he had 2 weeks to live so he went to the bank and took out a $10,000 loan. He put the whole lot on the bar in the pub and invited the whole town to "Have a drink on me." Apparently many bank employees were amongst those that accepted the invitation.

We only stayed for two nights and were happy to leave and head down to Quorn which is near Port Augusta in the south. The day we travelled, we were followed by the Coober Pedy dust, it seemed. It was very windy and the sun and any views were obscured by dust all day. We arrived at Quorn in the evening and were glad to wake up the next morning to find the sky had cleared. Quorn is a pretty town with lots of old buildings still being used. They are often built of the local stone and are really solid and full of character.

We headed off to a place called Hawker which isn't far from Quorn and in the afternoon went on a 4WD trip into the Flinders Range. We had a great guide called Derek who took us onto private land to show us some of the area. We finally saw wild emus. It had taken us almost 7 weeks to see Australia's national bird. It was such a good afternoon, we booked to go on a full day tour with him the next day. We learned a lot about the geology and the history of the area and had a good time with the other people on the tour as well.

The Clare Valley was the next on the travel list. As we drove there the country became green. This was a lovely after weeks of spinifex and gum trees. The area is very pretty with rolling countryside and lots of farms and vineyards. We bought a bottle of the local Kirrihill Shiraz to have with our dinner the night before and it was great, so thought we would go and look at the the "Cellar Door" to see what other wines they produce. To our delight, they had some bottles of the same wine on special for $7.50 each so we bought some more, of course. In the afternoon we drove on to the famous Barossa Valley to stay in the town of Tanunda.

The Barossa Valley is also a very attractive place and there are lots of lovely old houses there as well as the vineyards. We went on a tour of some of the vineyards, a dried fruit emporium and also to a place owned by Maggie Beer who is a TV cook in Oz. Her shop sells lots of lovely things to eat, and tasting is permitted. There were pates, jams, pickles and all sorts of other yummy things.

From Tanunda we set out to travel to Cape Jervis to catch the ferry to Kangaroo Island. Once again we drove through lovely green and pretty countryside which was again a balm to our eyes after all the dusty desert we'd travelled through further north. Our maps were not detailed enough to include all the towns and villages, so some of the navigation was by guesswork. However, we arrived at the ferry terminal in good time. I must have been used to the camper van because reversing it on was quite simple.

Kangaroo Is is famous for the visibility of its wildlife. When we checked in at the campground we were casually told that there was a koala in the tree right outside. It was a female, sleeping soundly, with a joey that peered down at us and, as tradition demands, went right off the cuteness scale it was so charming.

We took a guided walk after dark and saw plenty more koalas in a very natural setting, i.e. asleep. Adult koalas sleep for 20 hours per day and eat for the rest in between scratching. We observed all these behaviours, including the "koala dance" when the animal hangs beneath a branch by its forelegs and frees up its rear legs to scratch each other.

In daylight we went to Seal Bay and saw: a superb fairy-wren, a golden whistler, a New Holland honeyeater, a new thornbill, black oystercatchers and crested terns. Oh, we saw Australian sea lions as well. For a fee a guide takes you onto the beach and to within 10 metres of the animals. Our photos are great, but still in the camera.

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