31st April 2018
Yesterday was a bit emotional as for the first time, after driving 42,500 kilometres, and having been away from home for 14 months, we turned Landy around and we started the final 2,000km drive back to Sydney to finish our journey without her.
The final days had been a bit rough tough as we decided to tackle a part of the Oodnadatta Trail. The Oodnadatta track covers 615 kilometres along the route of the old Overland telegraph line and the Great Northern Railway. (Say more about Stuart’s expeditions)
We had driven through Marree, the start of the Oodnadatta trail, once a vital hub for Afghan camel teams, and then on to William Creek where we left the ‘Ghan’ railway track and turned towards Coober Pedy which we knew was almost the end of our short exploration of South Australia.
The desert track, no longer littered with dead kangaroos or roadkill of any kind, was devoid of visible wildlife and as we drove North the scrubby blue bushes thinned out and the random short trunked trees, bent in the winds, eventually reduced to none.
We were glad we were here in April (Autumn) and not in the searing heat of summer when temperatures could reach 50 degrees centigrade. I am not sure Landy’s aircon would be up to it!
Little William Creek was a surprise, with a rural hotel, caravan park and an airport it boasted a population of 15 people.
Halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs they claimed to be in the hottest part of Australia.
They saw a doctor once a month and a dentist once every three months and a collection tin on the counter was collecting donations for the flying doctor service.
Half a dozen light aircraft were bringing people in from Adelaide and flying trips over the sand coloured and then red desert Landscape. Here they told us that they had had not a drop of rain for two years. The population density was 15 per 100 square kilometres.
What had been flown in, was a loaf of white sliced bread. This we gratefully purchased to make our lunchtime sandwiches. Luckily we were able to fill up on gold plated fuel. At least it must have been at over 2$ a litre!
It was a surprise to see nearby Lake Eyre, the sixth largest lake in the world, glistening in the distance amongst the featureless flat landscape bearing little but dry scrubby bushes. It was explained that surplus Queensland flood waters filled Lake Eyre and brought in four types of fish, different types of crustaceans and attracted many varieties of birds. This was also one of the lowest spots in Australia with the lake being at minus 15.2 metres below sea level.
Not surprisingly the salt levels in the Lake are high and we were told that it-contained 400 million tonnes of salt. We were told that in a good year, there could be as many as three hatchings of Pelicans in the middle of the desert! This unspoiled eco-system attracted the visitors and was a naturalists heaven exploring this pristine river system. Huge efforts ate being made to preserve this delicate balance and not allow excess water to be drained from the system. There were small dams presumably to support the cattle and many water or bore holes were marked on the map, and some of these had a solitary caravan homestead stationed nearby, with solar panels and satellite dish and the inevitable Ute.
Apart from the heat in the summer, the area was bad for flies. Jim and I had a constant battle not to let too many into the car every-time we got out! The next minutes would be spent swatting madly.
It was in William Creek that we turned off the Oodnadatta trail and headed back towards the main road, via Anna Creek and Coober Pedy.
The locals boasted that the nearby homestead of Anna Creek had one of the worlds largest cow ranches. (Really?) In fact the area was so large that cows were mustered from the air! Because of the drought the herd had been reduced from 18,000 cattle to 7,000. We were surprised that this parched landscape could support any cattle at all. But to be fair as we trundled passed the turning to Anna we noticed a few cows and a darkening sky, which looked very much like rain! When the first Ghan Railway reached William Creek on its way to Oodnadatta, it carried 17,000 head of cattle from Anna Creek down to Port Augusta.
Then we slowed down for a family of Emus. It was a bit like London buses. None for ages and then three at once!
By the time we reached Coober Pedy, we were through with driving on the desert-washboard track, interspersed with unexpected deep sandy patches which could so easily render us into one of the many abandoned car wrecks we had passed on the old Ghan railway route. And there was indeed rain in the desert. Luckily our remaining windscreen wiper was up to the job.
The ‘pivotal’ moment in our trip, arose in Coober Pedy, a God Forsaken little town, thriving on the fortunes of the Opal Trade and now also tourism.
With a population of circa 3,500 and with some 30% aboriginal, the town is surrounded by enormous ‘mole’ hills and scruffy mine working equipment, at ground level. The name of the town derives from Kupa Piti, an Aboriginal term for White Man Holes.
These trial holes, or diggings and noodling activities are the remains of what had once been the worlds largest Opal Mine which was discovered by a small party with camels unsuccessfully looking for Gold. Towards the end of their trip in 1915, the youngest, a boy of 14, stumbled across a substantial quantity of Opals.
We visited the Old Timers Mine which had been a working mine in 1916.
The workings and tunnels had been abandoned largely intact until, in the 1960’s a family (with all mod cons) who lived in underground caves to escape the daytime desert temperatures reaching 50 degrees in the summer months decided to expand their home and broke through into the neighbouring Opal mine.
They then developed the site and it became an award winning tourist attraction, probably more profitable than the Opals at this point. All the little tunnelings are accessible and they have gathered together an impressive collection of memorabilia and mine working stories. The family only recently sold the business to a new generation who are making a very good job of the displays and narrative. Needless to say you can buy Opals after your visit!
Coober Pidy is regularly used for film sets and Jim fondly remembered watching Mad Max with Kristian our Grandson many years ago. We had a suberb meal in the Shell Garage diner, and both struggled with the huge portions. Coober Pity accounts still, for over 80% of Australia’s Opal.
And then in the early evening, we pointed Landy towards home along the famous Stuart Highway.
On 1st May we have set ourselves the target of getting halfway back to Sydney and we hope to reach Broken Hill. This town became famous for Not gold or Opals, but Silver!
The journey starts on the famous Stuart Highway which was so named after the famous explorer who opened up the North South Route from Adelaide to Darwin, via Alice Springs. (Read Adelaide blog). The road is very good, but not dual carraigeway and there us the resumption of industrial quantities of roadkill, chiefly kangaroos of every size and type.
Traffic is actually very scarce but occasionally we come across the caravaners and huge three segmented super juggernauts!
Amazingly some were even carrying fuel. They call them Road Trains. (We stopped seeing them when the road crossed back into New South Wales.)
Once we reach Port Augusta we join the Barrier Highway which eventually takes us all the way back to Sydney.
We eventually reached a free parking spot. We were woken by the rising sun glistening over the oh so red, desert landscape. After being told in William Creek (population 15), that they had not seen rain in the desert for two years, the skies had opened, leaving the thin red dust, almost black red and very wet!
Gradually as we drive East the scrubby bushes grew taller and trees started to emerge as part of the landscape. Then as if by magic, beyond Lake Hart, all the bushes and trees dissapeared and the red soil was covered in a coating of minature blue grey scrub.
Woomera/Pimba/Roxy Downs Eagle! Sign to Woomera and Roxy Down. Eating roadkill outside Pimba. Mainly crows but surprised to come across an eagle