Day 16 – 23rd April

Sleeping underground was a bit like sleeping in any motel room, it was not quiet or eerie like we expected, in fact it was a bit noisy. The walls between rooms may be sandstone and very thick but the door is not so people talking outside your door can be heard. Also the pipes that lead outside through the roof had gurgling noises going up them all night. Didn’t bother me as I had ear plugs but Chris heard it.

In the morning the promised rain had arrived, we checked with locals about the dirt rd to Oodnadatta and all had different opinions about what the road would be like. We checked the radar and rain didn’t seem to be around Oodnadatta and Cooper Pedy had only got the tail end. We were advised to go to the local police station, which has 18 police in a small town. The local Sergeant said nah you will be right no problems. On his advice we headed out thinking he would be the one we called if we did get stuck.

Before we headed out we had to get bottle gas, as it had ran out overnight, we could smell a gas leak, which after some investigation we discovered was coming from the low pressure side of the regulator. Chris tighten it up and was going to check it again when we stopped for the night.

The main road was great, more like a gravel road than a dirt one, a few muddy spots. The mud did stick to the tyres and threw in onto the front of the van, but hey that’s our trade mark, lets people know we are serious, and we thought at least we aren’t haven’t dust issues. Cruising at 80km proved to be a good speed and a pretty smooth ride. On the web site of the Pink Roadhouse they have a pdf of recommend tyre pressures for travelling on dirt roads for different vehicles, so Chris had let some air out of all tyres down to their recommendations which was helping with the smoother ride. Best dirt road we had been on, it was overcast and drizzling on and off.


We turned off the main road to head 45kms up another dirt road towards the Painted Desert and Arckaringa Station where the camp area is and the only place you can camp near the Painted Desert since they own the property, $20 for the night. This road was a lot rougher and dusty so we had some dust in the van again. As Chris seals a spot it finds another one for it to come out off, by the end of the trip we should have them all covered. This time it is coming in at the power points.

Storm Comming


Arckaringa Station is a big cattle property; the camp area is about 10km away from the Painted Desert. The camp area has showers and toilets, so we will use theirs and save our water, not bad facilities for a bush camp. The weather is still overcast and drizzling, tomorrow is supposed to be mainly sunny so that’s when we will checkout the Painted Desert.The gas issues proved to be more serious that we realised. The flare on the end of the pipe broke off so it wasn’t sealing and gas was leaking out. Chris has fiddled around with that and has hopefully come up with a temporary sealing solution. This could have happened on any road but it just happened in the middle of now where, of course.

Day 15 – 22nd April

Here I am typing this in our underground room. To us these rooms are a bit warm and stuffy; thankfully there is a ceiling fan in the room which is enough to circulate the air. It’s not a big room, there is a double bed, in an alcove, a single bed in another, then there is a desk, with a TV above it and a table, there is also an ensuite. When the diggers dig these dugouts they leave a swirling pattern on the sandstone which is like art on your wall. The sandstone has different colours in it which also adds to the art on the wall effect. They are quite interesting and nice to stay in for a night but I don’t think I would like to live in one. There are no windows and I think I would miss being able to look out them. I guess in CP there is not a lot to look out the window at.

This morning we filled up the extra fuel containers and the car with fuel, the park gave us 3 cents of a litre so that’s a help. We also filled up with water at the park before we left. The water comes out with a fair bit of pressure and goes by time not by the about of water that comes out. You have to use their hose which can only go in the water filler not clicked on the van via a hose like we usually do. This means you can only fill your van with low pressure otherwise it just pours back out. So it cost us a bit more to fill the van, 60 cents.

It was too early to check into the motel so we went to the Old Timers Mine. This is excellent and well worth doing, it’s a self guided tour for $10A, you are given a map with that has things of interest numbered so you follow the numbers. You are given a hard hat as the ceilings can be very low. It was like a maze in there with tunnels leading off here and there, this was a used mine, the walls of course and not Bondcreted so things are a little dusty. After the mine you enter a museum of all things mining, was all quite fascinating. You then go into an underground home that was lived in, the daughter would now be about my age.

Outside the Old Timers Mine there was a machinery demonstration. This included a rotary miner with its 30kVA generator as well as one of the giant vacuum cleaners they call blowers. They use these to suck rock and dirt out of the mines after machining or blasting. During the demonstration we were encouraged to feed it some rocks. Some of these were the size of rockmelons and the blower easily picked these up and disposed of them. Chris stuck his arm up the sucker and it tried to take the skin off it, wrinkling it up like you see in g force TV spots. Chris said it felt very strange but it did give it back. He wouldn’t want it to suck his watch off though; it wouldn’t come back the same.

From there we checking into the motel had lunch and then went to check out all the Opal shops, we have gathered some knowledge about Opals in the last few days and had also asked about reputable dealers. We ended up buying some stuff from an Opal and Mine place we had done on the tour. I had spied some earrings then and nothing else I saw came anywhere close for me. We have been told the opal picks you so maybe that was it, either way I didn’t care and was happy to go with that if it got me the earrings I wanted. They are solid Opal, a white colour with tiny flecks of colour. I have never liked the blue/green colour opals; opal is my birthstone so is appropriate I have some I like. The reason they are white is because they are solid so not as much light passes through them. Black Opal is more of the blue colour background with flecks of colour, but not as bright or as dark as the opal we are used to seeing. Black opal is the most expensive. The other types of Opal are doubles and triplets, where the actually opal is thinner and they back it with a darker colour so makes the Opal more like what we are use to. Triplet also has a clear top, simplified explanation. Chris also got me a bracelet again with the solid white opal. They are silver with gold plating so brings the price down a bit so they weren’t too expensive, $85 each. Real gold are very expensive, we have seen necklaces for 3 to 4 thousand dollars.

This arvo we have enjoyed relaxing in the motel room and are currently watching QLD news. Chris did have to fix the brake wire under the van and re hook it back up, the cable ties had broken off, so we got some heavier ones. He also reduced the tyre pressure on the vehicles ready for the 600 odd kms of dirt road we will be starting on tomorrow. Today was overcast and very windy with a few spits of rain. Not sure what the weather is for tomorrow yet.

Day 14 – 21st April

Wow where to start, what a full day. Driving into Coober Pedy was an experience in itself. There are dirt mounds everywhere, sometimes one here and there and then other times lots and all different sizes.

First impressions of Cooper Pedy was that it seemed a bit slow to get moving as there wasn’t many people in the streets as we drove down it. There seemed to be more buildings above ground that we thought there would be, some are above ground completely, some are half and half and some are totally underground with only the entrance at ground level. We parked and called into the underground bookshop as they supposedly had a good mud map on the Painted Desert. It was quiet weird being underground and that particularly store really stunk, it seems he is a smoking and it really gets into the sandstone as none of the other underground places had any smell to them. The nature strips if you can call them that, and parking are just el natural red gravel.We first called into the info centre, talked to the lady there about possible rain forecast as even a small amount can have an effect on roads out here. Thursday when we would be leaving here and hitting many km’s of dirt road. They are forecasting an 80% chance of 5-10mm, doesn’t sound like a lot but apparently it depends on how it falls, over the day or all at once. So we will need to recheck weather and road conditions before we leave.

The streets had started to get busier and we noticed how many locals there were and how they were gathering in certain spots. Then after a while they all started moving towards one spot, we realised it was the local pub. We also commented on how many dogs they had, we later found out they get $7 per dog per week from the govt, they also get away with not having them on a lead as the claim they are working dogs, pity the owners didn’t work. There is a high population of Aboriginals in CP; there is some uncertainly about what the exact population of people live in CP anywhere for 2500 to 3500 depending on who you are talking to. Out of that number 400 to 500 of them are Aboriginals; the other 60% are Europeans.

We decided to stay the night at the Caravan Park where we were doing the tour as it was convenient, and is about the nicest in town. There is no water at your site, applies to all C/Van parks in CP. Water is very precious in these parts and hard to come by. They pump water up from the Artesian Basin, it was ok at first but is now very salty so in 1985 they installed a desalination plant using a reverse osmosis process that gives very good water quality. For travellers a coin operated water dispenser is available at a cost of 20c per 30lts of water. In the park we are staying you can get water for 20c for 40lts. The showers also take 20c, so it’s cheaper for us to have a shower in the van. The town folk pay $5 per 1000lts.

General info about CP. 50% of the population live in dugouts, Aboriginals won’t live underground as they believe the spirits are underground. Dugouts are 25 degrees in summer and plummet to 23 degrees in winter. These days they use machinery to dig a dug out which is into sandstone rock. All dugouts are to be dug into a side of a hill; purchase of land is about $12,000. The cost of excavating a dugout can be anywhere between $20,000 and $60,000, and some of these are quiet big, like 8 bedrooms. For every room a venational pipe/shaft goes up through the roof there is also a main shaft that brings fresh air in. Once a dugout has been dug they need to be left for 2 summers to dry out the sandstone, then the sandstone is sealed with Bondcrete which stops any dust. If you want an extension you just dig another room. In fact they have used this as an excuse to mine for Opal which is no longer allowed in the town area, due to people digging into their neighbour’s homes, which used to happen quite a bit. Which caused the council to put a clause in the building agreements which was called the “Oh Poop clause” (only not the words they used) cause that’s what people said when they dug into their neighbours home “oh Poop”. If someone does that now they are fined $30,000 which goes to the council not the poor sole who had his home dug into. This stopped people from doing renovations sideways, now they just go down.

You do Safe Public Noodling in CP, know what this is? I’ll tell you later while you think about it.

Cooper Pedy

Now for the tour, about 17 of us hopped onto a coaster bus, first of all we did the town area getting commentary as we went, some of which has already been mentioned. We saw the local golf course, the T was green grass, the greens were gravel, the water traps were scrub traps, the rough was really rough, boulders etc. We then went out to the working mine area, where there are all these piles of dirt, with holes next to them. Each hole costs $400 to dig, whether there is opal there or not. There has been 4 millions holes dug in CP and none of them have been filled in, so they remember where they are so no one drills right next to one and has a collapse. The dirt that comes up and is in piles is called Mullock which can have and most often does, have opal in it. The miners are after the big stuff and often don’t worry about the Mullock. Locals and tourist can then go Noodling it in. Noodling is searching through the Mullock looking for Opal. Because some people fell into a hole and died they now bring the Mullock into town to a public Noodling area so you can Noodle in safety, so SAFE PUBLIC NOODLING.


We then went to the Breakaways which are colourful hills which have broken away from the main range. This is a taste of what’s to come with the Painted Desert. The Breakaways are where Mad Max 3 “Beyond Thunder Dome” was made, Pricilla Queen of the Desert, Ground Zero, and another one we can’t remember the name of, but they had a space ship crash out there and the space ship is now a feature in town. The bus driver is nuts and drives the coaster like a crazy man. We also drove passed the Dog Fence and the Moon plain.

Dingo Fence

The tour was great and well worth doing. Tomorrow there will be more exploring of CP. We then drove back into town and went to Umoona Mine and Museum, which was very fascinating. There was a short film on how Opal is formed, then a tour of an old underground miner’s home and then what a modern one looks like today. Then a tour of what a mine is like.

Underground church

We then went to the underground Serbian Church, before heading back home.

Day 13 – 20th April

As Chris would say it was a pearla sunrise today. Not that we needed a pearla as we were shooting in the opposite direction and just needed the sun to light up the cliffs which it did, they glowed red. Sun didn’t come up until 7.30 though.

Red Bank Redbank #3 Redbank SA Sunrise Bridge

We headed off towards Coober Pedy a bit later than we had hope due to the sunrise. We stopped at Woomera and looked at the Missile Park which has a whole heap of missiles on display, funny about that. Chris was like a kid in a toy store.

Woomera Rockets 2 Woomera Rockets 3jpg Woomera Rockets Woomera

The rd to Coober Pedy can be a bit boring with stretches of long flat plains with little vegetation and then you come across salt pans or salt lakes which are very fascinating and weird. We stopped at one look out and there was this salt pan and right in the middle was the little mound like a little volcano, it was very strange.

We also saw 8 different Wedge Tails Eagles in 2 different spots that got our attention. Both times eating road kill. In one spot an eagle was sitting on a white post which was the highest vantage point as there were no trees. Chris did a U turn several times, we drove slowly back up to them and did some drive by birding. The 2nd time we stopped there we 5 eagles around, 3 were on the ground, 1 was having a good feed on road kill (which was well off the road) while the other 2 waiting their turn. As we got closer we could see the eagle pulling at the flesh of what once was a sheep. We were able to get out of the car and slowly moved towards them. 2 flew off but one wasn’t sure he wanted to leave his feed when he was finally getting a turn. We are yet to look at the shots but Chris was filling the frame with his 400mm lens.

Higher Ground Proud Wedge Tailed Eagle Feasting Wedge Tailed Eagle

One thing we have noticed about people is SA is they are really friendly; everyone waves to you when you are driving, caravan people, motorhome people, cars, even truckies, and we even had someone waving a smiling face at us.The last 250 odd kms were rather uneventful, just much the same scenery. After travelling well over 500kms we have stopped for the night 12km out of Cooper Pedy. The flies are bad here, even after dust they have not gone away, they are like piranha flies, as soon as you get out of the car they descent on you within seconds. We will really need the Aeroguard here and want to pick up some better fly hats.

We have booked into a tour tomorrow arvo that covers a many of the local attractions, like underground homes, church, shops, opal mines, dog fence and the famous Breakaways. We have also booked into an underground motel for a night on the 22nd. I’m very excited about visiting Cooper Pedy.



We had planned a trip this April/May 09 up to Far North Qld but alas the FNQ wet season had other ideas,with most of the areas we were heading to flooded. Poor Karumba is likely to be isolated for at least 8 weeks.

Bedourie and Birdsville are also flooded due to the floods up north moving south. As the saying goes all clouds have a Silver lining, not sure about all but this one does. Flood waters from Birdsville are moving down into the rivers that fill Lake Eyre. Note sure when this event is likely to happen again so we are taking advantage of the situation and going to head South to Lake Eyre.



Our trip south will also take us through, Bourke, which I might add is currently in flood and a disaster area. (early Feb) Bourke is on the Darling River, which flows into the Menindee Lakes and then into the Murray River, another Silver lining. Then from Bourke to Broken Hill, Silverton, Menindee Lakes, through to SA and onto Lake Eyre. After Lake Eyre up the Oodnadatta Track, up to Oodnadatta, across to Cooper Pedy. We decided to reverse this, went to Cooper Pedy first, and then up to Oodnadatta etc, then back down the Murray River region with a tour along the Murray River. It is sure to be a fun filled trip.


Chris has been flat out doing renovations in the van, putting in the back area of the van a cupboard/bench area that will house a washing machine, Waeco Freezer as well as other bits and pieces. Getting it all ready for our big trip of 5 ½ weeks.