After a nice meal with our new Contiki family to say goodbye we hopped up to the airport and picked up a lovely shiny Toyota Corolla that would be our faithful stead through the outback on our journey to Adelaide. Yes we went through the desert on a horse (but this one had a name - it was Stevie)!
For me the joy of this part of the journey was just to be out there on a s*** long road with just desert views everywhere!
Our first leg was from Alice to a roadside stop called Marla (and it was little else than that!) The distance was about 550kms and so we planned a good 5 hr drive.
Those 5 hrs seemed to blend and merge and become unnervingly a short amount of time in my memory. I do remember spending at least 127kms trying to figure out how to get my cruise control to work. I can assure you the shock and surprise on Vanessas face when I started bouncing in my seat and whooping because I had finally succeeded were priceless. Other than that there was little else to note. We managed to count 23 dead Kangaroos by the road and about the same number of abandoned cars! A high point was in finding a beautiful wedge tailed eagle (Australia's largest bird!)
Marla was really a petrol station and a motel with the worst restaurant in the world! The room looked like it had been decorated in the 1950's - but hey it was cheap- somewhat clean and we got a great nights sleep!
The next day we headed off for Coober Peedy! A town that is responsible for 90% of the worlds opals. It is also famous for being 70% underground (in a bid to escape the unrelenting heat!). We arrived at our underground backpackers to the nicest guy (Martin - who for me looked the spitting image of the 'old prospector' from Toy story 2. He let us know that their town explorer tour was just about to leave so we dumped bags and jumped on board.
Coober is a singular place. It is in the heart of the outback and has a population of around 3000 people - who surprisingly represent 48 different ethnic groups! I guess everyone migrated here in the hope of finding their fortune in opals. We were here for 2 days - so you can imagine I understood a fair amount about opals in my time there and figure this is as good a time as any to explain their formation. The whole interior of Australia was a prehistoric sea (around 150mya I think) and as you would expect was teaming with lost of life. At this stag in the evolution most of this life was crustacean based. That mean lots of shells - so as we know when these animals die - and over a few million years - the shells are ground up to form sand (silicon based). Now as the sea slowly dried the silicon layer sank deeper and deeper through the semi porous sandstone until it hit a non porous layer about 30 m down where it settled - and over time hardened to form Opal.
Back to our tour! Many films were made out here owing to the landscapes unique character (like the surface of the moon!). These included: Pitch Black, Mad Max, Wolf creek and Pricilla queen of the desert! There were some props left behind which have been suitably blended into the town.
After about 1hour it began to dawn on me that the inhabitants of Coober Peedy (as you would expect from the unrelenting heat and isolation) were quite mad. But strangely enough in a very amusing way. The grassless gold course! The stories of old timers blowing each others businesses up with dynamite when they upset each other. The legend that is Crocodile Harry. The town is quite quite mad. But charming nonetheless!
The next day we visiteda few of the old mines and a fabulous art gallery which also doubled as a kangaroo shelter! After buying some art we were treated to lunchtime bottle feeding of the young roos and then after we both got to cuddle some 4 month old Joeys! It was a special experience in which I got licked, kissed, nibbled and eventually farted on by my cheeky lil guy!
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed Coober Peedy - it is that quintessential eccentric Australia you only read about. If you can get out there - DO!!
The next day was another 4hour trek across the state lines and into South Australia. With an uneventful pitstop in Port Augusta and finally reached Adelaide!