Trip Start Jun 18, 2008
72Trip End Ongoing
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Day 1 - 28th August 2008
Heading south from Uluru down the Stuart Highway, the landscape became more and more inhospitable - trees and plants were few and far between, not to mention the total lack of any sort of human life around.
By the time we reached Coober Pedy, there simply wasn't anything around. There are no trees. At all. Just a wide expanse of nothingness. No wonder the area is known as the Moon Plains - just a flat, dusty desert. In the middle of which are numerous mining shafts. This area is the Opal Capital of the World, and the only reason the town is here is becuase of this.
From around 40km north of Coober Pedy, you start to notice mounds of dirt everywhere, with the occasional odd looking truck, with a very large whinch on the back
Coober Pedy itself is fairly small - really it's only one main street with a load of ramshackle houses in the dirt streets off it. Up in the hills you find underground houses, many of which make this place quite famous. Also underground are Churches, Hotels, Museums and suchlike. Some in abondoned mines, others simply built underground as it's cooler there.
We drove around for a while, venturing out to the Dog Fence. It's Australia's longest fence, going from Queensland to Western Australia, and as the name suggests, keeps the Dingos out. The Dog Fence is right in the middle of the Moon Plains, and it really is like the surface of the Moon - or more likely, Mars. Just dust and some small rocks, for miles and miles. In fact some shops here sell the rocks, calling them Moon Rocks. This area was the location for a ton of '80's action films where the world had ended - Mad Max being the most famous of them.
We also mooched around the town itself, ending up at the public fossiking area, or noodling as it's known
Day 2 - 29th August 2008
Overnight we experienced our first shower of rain since....I think Exmouth, about 6 weeks ago. For Coober Pedy, it was their first rain shower since last November. They get so little rain here I'm surprised the locals weren't running around in it, leaping for joy. Actually they may have been, I was fast asleep.
Quite the touristy day today. We consulted the tourist information booklet and decided to go and check out some of the Underground Churches. The Serbian Orthodox one seemed to be well recommended so that's the one we headed out to. Someway out in the surrounding hillsides, it sits deep in the sandstone, as cool and peaceful as any western church normally is. Just the one room, with stained glass windows at one end and some rock carvings deeper into the hillside
Following the theme, we headed back onto Coober's main drag and went to the Catholic Church. We didn't pop in though as something else caught my eye - the Umoona Mine and Museum, just across the road.
Full of useful information not only on Coober Pedy and Opals (and fossils now Opalised!), but also the area in general and it's history, both Aboriginal and European. very interesting. There is more, but you have to pay for that...and we're too cheap.
After this we went just out of town to visit a real, live working mine. We had jumped onto a guided tour, and as things turned out, it was just us two and Charlie, the Miner. Originally from Hungry, he ended up in Coober Pedy when his fashion shop in Sydney went bust. I suppose that story is pretty famliar to many around here - all ending up here in search of that lucky strike
So what did we learn? Well lots, really. Everything from how Opal is formed, to how to find it, and of course how to mine it. In between we got to play with all sorts of things, from UV lights that show up the Opal; to a really large blower pipe that sucks out all the dust. At one point we got to see how explosives are used, and we more or less were shown how to make a pipebomb! I think when I had potentionaly millions of dollars of Opals in the mine, I'd use the boring machines, but explosives are cheap and certainly do the job.
We also saw old Mines, as it had been used by others in the past, and all sorts of types of Opals. Mostly they were worthless, but there were a few precious ones around, found using the UV light.
As it was just the two of us I guess we got to do more than the larger tours, and had more time too. In fact as it ended he let us stay at the mine (above surface of course) as he went home. So we ended up noodling through all the waste piles, and lo and behold, we found some Opals. We won't be rich off them (in fact the mine itself is pretty useless now, so it's going to be turned into a self guided tour mine), but they are fairly pretty - the photo isn't too good, as they change depending on the light.
To toast our new found success as Opal Miners, we gorged on Fish and Chips as it started to rain again. Our journeys in Australia's deserts are now more or less over, from here on we will follow the more fertile coastal areas, so I guess we better get used to it raining again!