Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Uluru to the Ocean

After a night in swags at the camp site near Uluru we hit the road and headed back to a town we had passed a couple of days earlier near Mt Connor. We were not back on the road to Adelaide. I was a bit disappointed to leave Uluru, I could have spent a few more days there looking around and taking photographs. At least we weren't going back to Alice Springs. Many people take 3 day trips to Uluru which start and end in Alice Springs. Instead of that I was booked onto the 6 day trip from Alice to Adelaide.

We stopped for a short while to have breakfast and to pick up a trainee driver who was joining us to learn the route from Uluru to Adelaide. Normally drivers don't join buses mid-journey so this opportunity was too good to let pass without playing a few practical jokes on the new driver. For starters it was decided to try having a blind passenger, a deaf one and to have some of the foreign backpackers pretend to not speak English. In the end the others chickened out but myself and one of the others decided to at least try playing the blind passenger. I put on large sun glasses and had Richard lead me around at the filling station while we got breakfast. The look on the trainee guides face was classic for a few seconds but the main guide, who was in on the joke, couldn't stop himself and doubled over laughing which gave the game away.

Most of this day was spent on the bus so our next stop was the town of Marla for lunch. Here we managed to find a pub that was showing The Ashes. Pubs in Australia are strange places. Some are more like bookmakers offices that serve beer than traditional pubs. This one was like a cross between a bookies, a cafe and a pub, but it had TV screens showing the cricket, which was already going badly for the English, with several English fans on the bus this gave the Australian drivers and us “neutrals” some fun. I don't like cricket but you cant escape the Ashes in Australia so it's either develop an interest or move to New Zealand.

After lunch we drove through a desert called “The Painted Desert”. I didn't think it was anymore colorful or prettier than the Simpson Desert or the area around Uluru, but it was still the outback and the Red Center so it was beautiful. This brought us into opal mining territory and past Anna Creek Station. The station is run by a family of 5 people who look after 14,000 cattle on a plot of land that is bigger than of Belgium. I suppose on a farm like that checking fences and heading up to the top field must be a real pain. You could probably have 28,000 cattle instead of 14,000 and never realise. After that we finally arrived in the town of Coober Pedy.

Coober Pedy is a fairly desolate and strange town since most of it is actually underground. The name is aboriginal and means whiteman burrows. It got its name when veterans from World War I arrived to mine opals and dug their houses into the ground where the temperature is a constant and much more comfortable 20 odd Celsius. This was where the movie Pitch Black was filmed and it really does look like it could be a set from a science fiction movie. Hot, rocky, barren and adding to this are props from the movie, so outside out hostel was a crashed space ship. Despite it's desolation Coober Pedy is an interesting place to visit. We stayed in an underground hostel, ate in a nice pizza restaurant, visited an Opal Mine and shop, and partied in an underground club (literally underground not illegal). The locals are a tough breed, as I almost found out when I accidentally sent a pool ball flying off the table hitting one of them in the back, after I apologized his friends saw the funny side and everything worked out fine.

The next morning we headed off for another long day on the bus. We drove to Lake Hart, a salt lake which is used as a firing range by the Australian military. You can walk out onto the lake, but cant go too far as there are signs warning about unexploded ordinance ahead. From there we drove past the edge of the Woomera Rocket Range, a testing area for rockets British and Australian rockets in 1950's and 60's. The reason I found it interesting was the fact that the original site was surveyed by Len Beadell, the last great Australian explorer. A tape recording of one of his speeches had been played on an earlier bus and he sounded like a interesting and funny person, if slightly crazy from too much time alone in the desert.

Finally that evening we arrived at Port Augusta. Though we didn't stay in the town it was interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it's where the movie Wolf Creek was filmed and just outside town is the actual farm. It's a bit odd to see that the farm actually exists and that it is out in the open beside a motorway and not secluded and in a valley as I thought. Secondly, and more importantly, Port Augusta is where the desert meets the ocean. It was the end of my journey across the continent, now I was back to being beside the ocean again.

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