We are now in a b & b in Adelaide for four nights, with good wifi. Photographs to follow.
Thursday 9th October 2014 Day 31
The luxury of a lie in until 7.00 am this morning. A limited amount of repacking was needed to allow us to take the Greyhound bus to Coober Pedy (pronounced peedy). We decided to partake of the full hotel breakfast and much enjoyed the bacon, egg, sausage and tomato plus fruit (tinned) on offer. A very short taxi ride brought us and our baggage to the greyhound bus stop, opposite the Alice Springs Council building to await the lean mean red greyhound machine which hove into view, with its freight trailer, at 10.30 am. There were 10 of us travelling from Alice Springs, giving plenty of space on the 54 seater coach.
The first two and a half hours followed the same route we traversed going to and from Uluru, stopping for the third time at Erldunda for a brief lunch stop. The next six and a half hours was almost non-stop driving, apart from four very short stops to drop off and pick up passengers. These stops were often at a station of small settlement, but one was at a ‘T’ junction where a vehicle waited to take the passengers to a local aboriginal settlement away from the main road.
The coach was comfortable and the view, patches of bush vegetation interspersed with bare desert sand stretching to the distant horizon, underlining the vastness of the country and its unremitting harshness. Despite this it was a landscape of primeval beauty which held Eric’s attention for long periods. The dunes were still present but the hills and rocky outcrops became fewer as we headed south, the ground becoming more gravelly and the vegetation more sparse. The impact of the introduced buffel grass became more obvious as the distinct yellow tufts became more prevalent over the grey of the native spinifex. The buffel grass offers better grazing, but it burns at a higher temperature, creating far more damage to the native flora which is adapted to lower temperature fires.
As we passed the South Australia border we suddenly lost an hour, the result of daylight saving and we approached Coober Pedy as the sun set to our right, casting long shadows among the myriad spoil tips left by exploratory drilling for opal bearing strata and the opal mining itself.
We had expected a lift to the hotel from the bus stop but it did not materialise so we set off in search of our underground hotel. Thankfully it was just around the corner as trundling suitcases along the roads was not a great experience. Having found our accommodation for the night we were soon ensconced in our room, set into the hillside and cut from the bedrock.
With the prospect of a 10% discount we headed for a local restaurant for a welcome meal. We did not linger but were soon tucked up in our pitch black windowless cave.
Friday 10th October 2014 Day 32 … Pedy go
With only a few hours to explore the town we had hoped to pick up a tour, but unfortunately all the ones on offer ended after we were due at the airport. We were therefore up fairly promptly to make maximum use of the time. Straightforward breakfast in bed was in prospect, but was made very entertaining as the bed rolled away from the wall as Joyce sat up against the headboard.
We checked out at 8.20am and headed for the underground display at the nearby 5* Desert Cav Hotel. This was extensive and gave a very clear explanation of the formation of opals in fractured Cretaceous sedimentary rocks is veins about 10 metres below the surface. The range of opal types, including the opalisation of fossil trees and shells, was clearly demonstrated.
From here we headed for the ‘Old Timers Museum’ which is based on one of the earliest mines, dating from 1916, and also showed the importance of underground housing, maintaining a temperature of around 24C in an area where outside temperatures reach 45C. Wearing our hard hats we explored the underground workings, including in situ opals, access shafts and dioramas illustrating original mining methods. From here we explored the rock dwellings, equipped as they would have been. Another excellent feature of this museum was a practical demonstration of the very powerful ‘blower’ which carries rubble from the mine and dumps it on the surface where it can be noodled (sifted for opals).
Next to the museum was the underground Revival Church, completely underground on two levels. Emboldened by the success of finding this feature Eric set off to find the catacomb church, which, from the map seemed very close. Given that we had relatively little time before we needed to be back at the hotel Joyce decided to wait as Eric went off at a trot to find this feature. The last Joyce saw of Eric was him disappearing around the hill we thought housed the church and when 20 minutes later there was still no sign of him she started to panic, worried that he had fallen down one of the mine shafts. Eric was oblivious to this and despite the church being further than he had thought, persevered in his intent, finally visiting the underground church, built in 1977. Heading back he saw Joyce still standing at the roadside and the next thing he knew Joyce popped her head out of a car window. Apparently so worried by her missing husband she had flagged down a passing motorist and persuaded him to help find her errant spouse. This gentleman kindly gave us both a lift back to the hotel to be in good time for our transfer to the airport, in such good time that we were able to squeeze in a visit to the next door Catholic church, that is also underground.
Coober Pedy airport is small but comfortable but because we were travelling in a small 2 engined propeller plane weight of baggage and hand luggage were rigorously scrutinised. International passengers were allowed only 20kg so we had to pay an excess baggage charge.
The hour and half flight to Adelaide allowed a view of the expanse of the outback. A distinctive feature was the extensive salt lakes on the way. Disembarking was very efficient and we were soon trundling our luggage through the extensive Adelaide terminal concourse to the bus stop. Thankfully a bus going our way was waiting and we could buy a ticket on board. The driver was very helpful and we soon sorted out where we needed to alight. Eric was sure he knew where the apartment was and it only took him 15 minutes to confirm the location, as Joyce waited patiently outside a convenient pub. This is our first experience of Airbnb, our host was still in residence but left for Melbourne 20 mins later and we were quickly at settled in our home for the next four nights.
After a quick snack we sallied forth to explore the retail opportunities offered by Rundle Street. We needed to buy a satnav and some other bits and pieces as well as food for the next few days. We had a very disappointing experience at the Dick Smith store, out of stock of the key item we needed. However we were successful at a rival store. Woolworths provided the provender and we retired to enjoy our home cooked lamb chop meal.