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Published: April 30th 2015
We have two overnight stops before we arrive at Coober Pedy these are purely pull in parks and rest for the night although one at Woomera is famous for being a secret rocket testing station during WW2. We have stayed here before and explored the museum and seen the display of rockets on show so this time we use the park simply as a stopover.
Coober Pedy is the Opal Capital of the world producing 85% of the worlds opal.With a fascinating history Coober Pedy has attracted miners from all over the world since 1915 when Opal was first found here. In January 1915 A small group of gold prospectors camped here and were searching for water when the 14 year old son of one of the group found pieces of Opal on the surface, eight days later the first Opal claim was made.The extreme heat and lack of water forced this group to leave on February 18th and they headed for William Creek.A few months later the O'Neill brothers arrived and staked a claim to become the earliest Opal mining pioneers.The Opal mining industry had begun made even more accessible by the construction of the Trans Continental Railway which
arrived in Coober Pedy in 1917.With the railway came construction workers who stayed on trying there luck at Opal mining, they also introduced the unique Dug Outs, dwellings built into the rock face and shielded from the harsh environment outside. Solders returning from the First World War also began arriving here in search of work or better still an Opal find.Provisions including water had to be carted over great distances in harsh conditions to supply this emerging town and it was a tough way to live.The industry started to thrive but almost came to a halt during the great depression in 1930,s and 40s, when the price of opals plummeted.The industry staggered along until 1946 when an aboriginal women made a sensational find of a large opal, this triggered a new rush to the opal fields bringing in European migrants seeking their fortunes and the industry rapidly expanded.The opal industry developed into a multi-million dollar industry and Coober Pedy developed into a modern mining outback town.
Coober Pedy has a resident population of around 3,500 made up of 60% from European heritage with a mix of 45 nationalities this population is swelled every year by 150,000 tourist some of
whom are here to try there luck at opal hunting.This modern town caters for all these tourist offering all types of accommodation including an underground hotel and even underground B and B.The town is littered with shops selling opals, while on the outskirts there are several underground churches together with homes built into the hillside (dug outs).Just outside of town are the opal fields and opal mines.The landscape is often described as moon like with the mullock heaps dotted around from the mining activities making the opal fields look like no where else on earth.The town has all the services you would expect from a country town even an 18 hole golf course although with no grass.Surrounded by opal fields and mine workings the landscape is also dotted with machinery some still in working order and some left to rust where they stopped. 30km out of town is a range of hills called the Breakaways so called because they are separate from the main Coober Pedy landscape and are different in shape and structure offering great walking and photographic opportunities.We spend our time here visiting the underground churches shops and galleries.Touring the outskirts gave us an insight into the hardships
that go with opal mining in such a hostile and harsh environment and also an opportunity to experience this unique landscape.Time to move on this time we head for Uluru the spiritual centre of the outback.To far to travel in one day we stop overnight at a roadhouse leaving only a couple of hours for the next day travelling to reach Uluru.
The journey to Uluru is on a good well maintained road passing the turn off for the McDonald Ranges, we also pass an Uluru look a like called Mt Connor many a traveler have thought they had reached Uluru on sighting this mountain in the distance.There is only one camp site in Uluru which is surrounded by all manner of accommodation,shops and services almost like a village it is called Uluru Resort. Uluru National park is only a short drive away and requires a pass to enter, available at the park entrance.The huge rock or mountain that is Uluru is the main attraction here although for some myself included the nearby Olgas are more inspiring and offer a more interesting landscape. Thats not to say that Uluru is not inspiring or worth visiting because it is, particularly
at sunrise and sunset.We have been here before many years ago but we are still excited at being back.The sun rises at 6am while we are here which means rising at 5am to join the crowds waiting for the sunrise and the changing colours of Uluru as the sun rises above the horizon even at 5am the temperature is 20deg with an expected peak at miday of 36deg.The sun rises and we are gifted with a perfect morning as we watch in amazement at the changing colours when the sun hits the mountain, together with several hundred other people we witness an ever day occurrence that has had many spellbound for many years.It had been our intention to walk around the base of Uluru a distance of 10 km but not in this heat so we settled for a drive to several points of interest and walked only a short way to reach them.These points of interest tell the Aboriginal story's of the rock and how important it is to their culture and gives a meaning to why it is so sacred to them.Although there are posters and explanations about the spiritual meaning of the rock to the Aboriginal people
The desolate landscape that is Coober Pedy
there are still people wanting to climb the rock and we saw plenty of climbers on the morning we were there.When we were here last time we walked the Valley of the wind which is at the Olgas and is a 7km walk of moderate difficulty.Today the walk is closed because of the extreme heat with an expected high of at least 36deg.We nevertheless made our way to the car park and walked the 1km track to the first lookout from here the walk is closed and we are not surprised we would not have travelled on even without the walk being closed in this heat.
A treat for us was to be an evening meal under the stars, an organised outing into the desert beyond the main resort.We board a bus along with about twenty other tourist at the front gate of the campground and are chauffeured to our desert destination.On arrival we are greeted by our hosts and given canape's and drinks whilst listening to the sound of the didgeridoo being played.We mingle with the other guests introduce ourselfs and swap stories about our travels and adventures before being invited to our tables to continue with the
evening.We are seated at a round table of eight with other tables statically placed around us.Drinks are served and continue to be topped up all evening by our hosts.A small aboriginal dance troop gave a performance for us with explanations of there meaning given by a narrator before dinner was served. Soup was presented to us at the table followed by being invited to browse the buffet table by table.The food was mouthwatering with local and international fare including barramundi,kangaroo and chicken supported by a great variety of salads and vegetables.Desert was just as tempting offering a large variety of dishes.The dinner is billed as dinner under the stars and we were to be given an introduction to the starlight heavens above by the resident local astronomer.Locating the stars with the aid of a laser he gave us a tour of the stars above pointing out the various constellations before inviting those with an interest to take a peek through his telescope mounted nearby, a very interesting presentation.The conversation around the table was varied and far ranging, from the current evening to adventures past and yet to come.The evening quickly passed by and the conversations could have carried on into
the wee small hours but for our transport back to the campground waiting to carry us back. A resounding success was the opinion of us all as we left behind a wonderful setting for a dinner under the stars.
The hub of the resort is called the town square where shops and takeaway food can be found.It is also the place for many free activities taking place in and around the town square lawn area.An indigenous art market showcasing indigenous art both on display and being created while you watch.Learn how to throw a boomerang or spear,listen to bush yarns about aboriginal culture,watch traditional aboriginal dancers performing culturally significant routines explaining their heritage or have a go at playing a didgeridoo.My attempt at playing a didgeridoo left me with a greater understanding of this magnificent instrument.With some tuition I did manage to make a sound that was clearly from a didgeridoo, not bad for my first attempt. The unseasonable heat reaching 36deg during the day and 20's during the night put many outdoor activities on hold, several of the more famous walks are closed and tourist are being warned of heat exhaustion and dehydration.Spending only three days here it's
time to move on although we are leaving behind a promised change in the weather.
Alice Springs was to be our next destination before heading toward Queensland.Having been here several times and done all the touristy stuff we use the stop over to replenish the pantry and cool down in the more moderate temperature .I did take the opportunity to visit the National Road Transport Museum, a collection of all that is road transport used in the opening up of Australia.From the original road train(built in England in 1934) to the very latest monster trucks used today to haul freight over vast distances across Australia.Intermingled with these standout exhibits are vehicles used to service the many trades and services throughout the growth of this emerging country.Many of the vehicles on display have been lovingly restored to their original condition whilst others are lined up in anticipation of being restored.The history of motorised road transport in Australia is clearly and carefully portrayed through the many displays and written documents together with the hall of fame which gives credit to the pioneers of road transport across Australia.A huge undertaking with ongoing work to be completed this complex is run on a
daily basis by volunteers and is well woth a visit.
Heading now for Queensland we drive 100's of ks in between overnight stops, Three ways road house, Camooweal roadhouse,Cloncurry before reaching Longreach where we decided to stay for a while and give the driving a rest. Longreach is home to the Qantas Founders Museum which tells the story of the founding of the flying service that is now Qantas.A major international tourist attraction displaying some of the most important aircraft in the history of air travel across Australia together with the history of Qantas told through interpretive and interactive displays.Housed in huge hangers with larger aircraft positioned outside on specific plots this is a magnificent display of modern history.
The Australian Stockmans Hall Of fame is also housed in Longreach telling the story of life in the outback and the contribution of the people living on the land and the famous Australian Stockman which helped make this vast country what it is today.Housed in a splendid building spread over several floors the story unfolds of the struggle for the outback and the men and women who made this their life. A magnificent museum which takes a while to
The town sprawled out below us
explore and gives a great understanding of the history and the many achievements made to straddle this vast country.
There are many other attractions also to see and take part in here at Longreach,we decided to take an evening river cruise which also included dinner and local entertainment together with a short film about a cattle rustler named Captain Starlight.The weather was perfect,a calm warm evening as we boarded our diesel powered paddle boat together with about 40 other quests.Our captain gave a commentary about the land surrounding us and the part played by the river on which we were now cruising which was very informative combined with some whimsical tongue in cheek comments. Kangaroos and birds are abundant along the banks as we cruised slowly listening to the sounds of the countryside waiting for the sunset and the promise of some stunning photographs.Back where we started was our campsite for the evening decked out with a central log fire,seats formed in a semi circle facing a dusty auditorium which is where our entertainment for the evening was to be presented.A stew cooked camp style was our main course with bread and butter followed by apple pie and custard.The
initial entertainment was presented by Scotty a local with a broad sense of humor as he unfolded story's of the outback through bush poetry with a little poetic licence. We were ushered down to the waterside where more seating was provided under the starlight night.A huge cinema screen supported on beams overhanging the water awaited us, this was to be the Captain Starlight Experience and light show.The making of the film and the reason behind it were explained to us by our host for the evening before we settled down to watch the short film.Captain Starlight was a notorious cattle rustler who stole over 1000 head of cattle in North Queensland and drove them all the way south to Adelaide an astonishing fete of stockman skills and aided only by four other stockmen.Captured some time later and tried in court in Queensland he was acquitted by a jury of his peers probably in deference of such an amazing fete.The evening rounded up with billy tea and damper and a few more moments of humor and light hearted joviality before we boarded our coach for the return journey to our camp site.
Whilst in Longreach we attended the ANZAC parade
held in the centre of the town and supported by a large gathering of locals and visitors alike. No major military parade but more a parade of local organisations including schools and community based activities.With a smattering of veterans and the local supporting agencies the parade was held in bright sunlight and light winds. The parade was very dignified being led by the local brass band and supported by a lone piper ending up at the local memorial where a service and wreath laying ceremony was held. It was a sobering moment at the memorial when the names of those lost in conflict read out, it makes it very real.To see such a small community gather in such numbers to give homage to those lost in battle is humbling and reminds us of the strength of the Australian people.
Tomorrow we continue our journey toward the coast of Queensland but we have a way to go yet.
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