It was Lloydy's birthday so we decided to head to Coober Pedy and try and set up camp pretty early enabling us to enjoy the sun and have a party in the evening. We arrived in the Coober Pedy at around 14.00 but couldn't buy alcohol until around 16.00 because of the restrictions there (set because of the drunken aborigines). We bought some food from the only supermarket in town and waited for a while, there were lots of weird people around to keep us entertained.
We were so excited to have bought alcohol we started to drink straight away after all I couldn't let Lloydy drink by himself on his birthday. We made our way to a free trucker stop which was about 40km from Coober Pedy and began to gather wood. We were right in the middle of the desert and we had to walk for a while before we found a couple of dead trees to rip down. It seemed like every branch we tore down resulted in an injury for one of us on our backs having fallen from the tree with a huge dead branch in our clasp.
I started to prepare the red Thai curry; Sean prepared a cucumber and carrot dip starter whist the others worked on the dance floor which was lit up by a circle of candles in bottles - it looked pretty impressive. James had warned two middle aged traveller nearby, that we were going to be pretty noisy that night, thinking that the couple would move on. However Maureen and Jeff joined us round the fire and even presented Lloyd with a present. The couple were keen shooters and gave Lloyd a bullet style key ring which was such a nice gesture especially having never met them before. By this point the lads had been made over by the girls and I even had a pair of Mel's leggings on, Jeff and Maureen must of thought that we were either crazy or raging benders however they seemed to enjoy our company for a couple of hours before returning to their caravan situated on the other side of the open spaced site.
The rest of the night was spent flashing truckers, dancing around and getting very drunk with our 5 litre boxes of goon. I knew the night was over for me when I fell off my chair and passed out on the floor.
I helped James bump start his van as last night's disco had drained the battery. The black pudding and egg butty cured my hang over and I managed to drive back to Coober Pedy in a safe manner.
Coober Pedy (meaning - white man's burrow in aborigine) is the most enduring symbol of the harshness of Australia's outback and the determination of those who live there. It's a place where the terrain and temperatures are so extreme that homes and even churches are built underground, yet it had managed to attract thousands of opal prospectors.
During the day we visited an old opal mine / museum and watched a film all about opals which was surprisingly interesting. We visited the underground church and then an underground bar where we had another beer - hair of the dog.
On the streets I plucked up enough courage to get amongst the aborigines for a few photos, we also took photos of a few weird and wonderful objects around the town, most left over film props from movies such as Mad Max III and Pitch black. I wandered into a locals pub (which seemed to be the only one in town) to see if they were airing the England game which would be shown at 12.00 after a lengthy conversation the answer was YES. I chatted to the locals for a while, some of them were particular friendly whilst other seemed slightly racist to the brothers outside. I joined the rest of the gang who were waiting for me outside and the six of us checked into a campsite next door to the pub and began to freshen up in the hot showers.
It was our last night with Tracey, Sean and James as they were heading to Adelaide and we needed to be heading to Sydney before dropping off the vehicle in Melbourne. We were planning to meet up with the gang in Sydney were we would cross paths again, however we still thought it was only right to celebrate our epic road trip in the local pub where they served huge steaks and cold beer. The pub reminded me of the star wars bar; it seemed to be full of interbred locals, aborigines mixed with white hicks and opal miners seemed to be the norm in this brightly lit pub / casino / restaurant / bookies.
The girls managed to wangle a few free drinks and were soon drunk enough to be dancing with the abos. The lads slowly caught up and plucked up enough courage to chat to the brash locals, who were all surprisingly very friendly. We watched the England vs Slovenia game with Fabio the miner, Celina, Crazy Scot, Abo MJ and a few other weird and wonderful people who were all related. The England game finished at around 1pm but the bar staff were still serving us as we celebrated the victory - skittles all round (red bull with a shot of Contreau dropped in).
We said good bye to Tracey, Sean and James; it was really sad to be parting with them after travelling with them for around a month. Lloydy, Mel and I decided to make use of the campsite laundry service and also clean the van which was full of red sand from the desert.
After cleaning the van we said goodbye to our pet dog which we had adopted whilst stopping in the site, and set off south towards Port Augusta. Just on the outskirts of Coober Pedy we noticed that there was a pile of vehicles and junk on a hill which looked like a scene from Mad Max, there was all sorts of stuff there including a few crates of stones. We took a closer look at the stones and realised that some of them had opal style properties; we quickly loaded them into a container and quickly left the weird site.
Back on the road we began our usual everyday practice of waving at everyone with a camper or caravan; it seems that everyone travelling including truckers acknowledge other travellers, a really nice gesture which always puts a smile on my face.
We didn't quite make it to Port Augusta so set up camp just before it. That night we were joined by two amazing musicians; Paul and Darrah who sang us a couple of songs around the campfire and taught me a few little guitar tricks for me to practice.
It had been raining all night and it was still raining in the morning resulting in us eating breakfast in the van. We hadn't seen rain since we were in Tully, it carried on to bounce it down whilst we slowly made our way to Port Augusta, praying that we make it with our fuel gauge flashing empty.
Once in Port Augusta which is located on the tip of the Spencer Gulf we stocked up with the essentials, petrol, water, and goon before driving towards the Flinders National Park. The rain didn't really stop all day and at 16.00 we decided not to enter the park until the following morning ($8.00 admission) and camp on the outskirts.
It was a 'no camping area' so we drove off road and into a wide creek where we built a fire to cook our spag bol on.
Lloyd cooked a couple of eggs on the still smouldering fire before driving our 2wd van off road up the creek and back onto the main road. At the unmanned entrance of the national park we paid a $8 entrance fee which we posted into a post box, and drove to the main car park. The further we got onto the park the more and more kangaroos we saw; they also seemed to get tamer as well.
Flinders Ranges National Park is named after one of the early explorers of Australia 'Matthew Flinders' who incidentally also suggested the name Australia in 1803. The park produces some of the Outback's most spectacular and timeless scenery, rising from flat scrub to form abrupt escarpments, gorges and the famous elevated basin of Wilpena Pound that Mel and I climbed after following the Hills Homestead trek.
It was pretty cold back at the van so we made a cup of soup and cheese sandwich and then sneaked into the campsite to use the hot showers which were tremendous.
All freshened up we hit the road again aiming for Broken Hill, we passed through the tiny towns of Orroroo and then slightly bigger town of Peterborough pulling into a rest area in a little place called Olary. When I say little I mean little, Olary wasn't even on our map; it was made up of a public toilet, motel / bar and a couple of houses with one or two strange looking people walking around.
We built a fire and removed a large spider from one of the logs we found, in England I've never seen spiders eyes reflect light like cats eyes but in Australia this is a frequent sight. We were sat maybe 10 - 20 metres from the open train track but hadn't seen a train all day, then out of nowhere a monstrous train hurtles past us; the train is the longest I've ever seen and took a few minutes to pass.
Like a naughty little boy I had a play on the railway track and tried to get into the maintenance train before making our way to Broken Hill. The mining town of Broken Hill has been riding the minerals market roller coaster continuously since 1888 and is famous for its "Line of Lode", one of the world's major lead-silver-zinc ore bodies. The town is also famous for is Royal Flying Doctor Service (made famous by Australian soap show), it's easy to see why you need such a service with such distances between towns. We noticed that some of the smaller towns have small landing strips for emergency medical care.
We spent most of the day looking for a place that would be showing the England vs Germany game, however the game was on at 11.30 and it was a Sunday night, and now Australia was out no one in the small city seemed to be bothered. We visited three campsites and numerous pubs and had no luck in any of them, we realised that it wasn't to be so headed to the Living Desert for sunset. 10km northwest of town 24 square kilometres of the eroded barrier ranges desert region has been sectioned off as the Living Desert Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, a beautiful area especially for sunset.
It was quite a relaxing end to quite a disappointing day; we browsed around the sculptures of twelve artists who took part in a sculpture symposium in 1993. The sun set was picturesque and the light bounced off the sculptures giving them a magical crimson glow.
18.00 We drove a couple of hundred kilometres East and set up camp in a lay-by, the final blow of the day was when James, Sean and Tracey rung us from a bar in Melbourne - beer, food and a big screen playing the game. We had to settle for steak and pasta around the fire, washed down with a couple of cups of goon. Whilst collecting firewood I thought I could see little gems all over the floor, I soon realised that the gems were in fact spiders eyes - like a scene from arachnophobia they were everywhere.