5 Star Rockscape

Trip Start Jul 07, 2011
Trip End Oct 10, 2011

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Where I stayed
Riba's Underground Camping
What I did
Travel from Woomera to Coober Pedy

Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Friday, July 8, 2011


So, to complete my description of the Woomera Tourist Village, I must pass comment on the showers.

A transportable divided into 2 (M & F) and some plastic shower trays slapped into the corner. It'd have been nice if all the cubicles had locks and the power sockets worked - but what can you expect when you're paying for it?  There was hot water - just no plugs in sinks...

I get the feeling that this stop is ignored by most people passing through - because they've failed to put anything into making the place remotely pleasant.

OK, that was enough time wasted describing that!

Rocket Park - stuff my Dad did

Leaving the cultivated gravel parking lot behind, we took some time to visit the public areas of the Woomera township.  Slap bang in the middle of town is the rocket park hosting a heap of Australian (and UK) missile history; everything from the Skylark to a Blue Steel, a Jindavik target plane to a Canberra (reconnaissance) bomber.

I'd always heard about the Blue Steel from Dad when he worked on the UK V-Bomber fleet, crew chiefing the Vulcan bombers which provided the backbone of the UK's nuclear deterrent in the 50's, 60's and 70's before the advent of the Trident program.

The Blue Steel is a massive air launch rocket propelled nuclear tipped missile that the UK developed to strap under the belly of the Vulcan in readiness to launch at the Russian commies waiting to invade the west.

Thankfully the Ruskies never decided to invade (although there are plenty of documentaries about how close they came), because had they decided to do it, Dad may well have had to send one of these puppies off to flatten Moscow.

Despite growing up with these stories, I'd never actually seen a Blue Steel - and there one is.  Slap bang in the middle of central nowhere.

There's a museum next to the rocket park, but that wasn't open until 10am, so we wandered into the Woomera Visitors Centre to see what was happening - and wondered whether to do that 'display' instead.

We're glad we did.  It was brilliant - honest, really brilliant! 

Apart from getting 1/2 price entry (I mentioned I was from Defence, but I think they had a special on anyway!), the display was a truly complete and thorough walk through the history of Woomera - why it came to be there, the early history and the involvement with the UK and US missile programmes.

The museum is well presented, clear and thorough.  Everything isn't locked out of reach and behind glass (which is an interesting exercise with two little ones that like to look with their fingers), so you get to see all the memorabilia and display without feeling isolated from the show.

It must have been well done, because even the kids liked it!

The thing I think they liked most though was the pit stop for a $5 plate of hot chips at the BAe run cafe.  Not only did the plate look like an aircraft carrier piled high, when we asked for some sauce, it came in a bowl, so full, you could have sailed the aircraft carrier in it!  If the kids could have had straws, the bowl would have been emptied...!


Dan said that we'd passed without enjoying the delights of Pimba - and he was right: Until this morning.  We needed to fill up with fuel and the only place to stop before heading north is Spud's Roadhouse - an all-in-one fuel/restaurant/deli/caravan-park/truck-stop/shower-point patch of dirt on the divide between the main highway north and the road to Roxby.

The place was bedlam - caravans, utes, 4WD's and people going every and any direction they wanted.  We were in serious danger of getting T-boned if we pulled in the wrong way, so in a dashing show of chivalry, I sent Megan out of the car an onto the forecourt to work out the best plan of attack.  The best plan of attack was to simply gun it and go for the first opening which I duly did, narrowly missing a group of bewildered looking Japanese tourists in a rented Tarago who had managed to secure a spot by a bowser - only to discover that the filler was on the other side of the van and that they needed to queue again to get to a pump on the opposite side.

After paying a ludicrous $1.70 / litre for fuel we drove north.  (See today's "From the mouths of babes" quote below).

Nothing but Moonscape

The land from Woomera to Coober Pedy is decidingly dull after the first 50km north.  Out of Woomera there are a string of lakes and flood plains that all glisten pink in the late morning sun and so still that they mirror the land and sky.  There are too many "picture opportunities" to stop at them all, so we pulled into one looking over the north end of Island Lagoon and acted the "click, click" tourist by leaping out of the car, taking a photo and then leaping back in before disappearing in a cloud of dust.

I'm sure that this was much to the amusement of the couple sitting there enjoying the peace and tranquility of the view.  They were that relaxed that they had the camp kitchen pulled out from the side of their camper and were waiting for their scones to cook and coffee to brew.

We on the other hand were on a mission:  Coober Pedy or bust - preferably the former.

Stop where there's Fuel

Glendambo.  That's where there's fuel and that's where we had to stop.  It was a late lunch (the hot chips kept the kids happy) and we stopped for a bite by the 'up market' roadhouse.  The 'down market' roadhouse - about 200m back along the highway - was full of Road Trains and we would have felt like the minnow in the pond next to these thumping big buggers.

Instead we munched our lunch under the gazebo while a woman from Bendigo and her (very henpecked) husband proceeded to lecture us about how many km's they were getting from their car, where to get water in Coober Pedy, how to operate a GPS and that her hubby couldn't do all the walking at Kings Canyon so that was a waste of time.

If I could have found a spare pair of socks, I would have gladly used them: The first to plug my ears and the second to shove...  Well, you get the picture.

Sea of Cones

300 clicks after leaving Woomera we started to see the first signs of what makes Coober Pedy famous - not opals, but opal mine "poo": An increasing number of mounds of mining waste littering the featureless landscape.  After a while, you come to realise that these are just the waste piles from exploratory drillings with a 'small' 8" bit to try and find something that may hold opal. 

Clearly, the number of these little piles tells the story that there was no opal there, but all of a sudden, the little piles of waste turn into massive hills of the stuff and then you can see that a frenzy of digging has occurred.

Ironically, the featureless wasteland becomes land of featureless waste as over the last almost 100 years, bearded and half loopy people have become entrapped by opal fever in the hope of striking it lucky.  The result is a landscape of endless cones in a sea that stretches to the horizon - in every direction.  Strangely beautiful!

You can camp - Underground

5 km's south of the main township is a kooky little place that advertises underground camping: Reba's.  We took a chance and thought that this looked novel and (from subsequent observations), I think we made a wise choice.

Rick and his wife Barbara operate out of a once working mine that Rick dug in the hope of getting rich.  The tourist lark must be a better earner than mining because the place is booked out and rarely seems to have a spare slot.

We got the option of where to park (because all the shade cloth bays were taken by earlier arrivals) - either under the shady tree in a picturesque alcove, or next to the showers, camp kitchen and main entrance.  A no-brainer!

Every night Rick runs a mining tour through some of the passages and caverns that (we presume) he's cut over the years.  He describes all the cutting and blasting techniques that are used and some of the crazy digging contraptions that have been invented to get the rock out of the mines - including a rock vacuum.  They must work, because they're everywhere.

Finally, Rick teaches everyone how to find opal - with divining rods.  I'm sorry, but even though they moved for me (at the same point where they moved for everyone else), they also moved in 15 other places and when I swung them and when I tried to keep them straight.  No science there to tell me how they would work – just "trust me" black magic!  If they're that bloody successful, then how come Rick's running an underground camp ground and mining tours rather than having a 8 figure bank balance from all the opal he's found (and cleaned out) in South Australia?

Of course, the only successful and rich people in Coober Pedy are the opal buyers and the pizza bar owners - who feed the successful opal buyers.

But more about the Pizza experience tomorrow - that's when Neil, Leesa, their kids and Elaine are supposed to arrive here as well...

For the record

Today's Menu:
  • Breakfast: Toast
  • Lunch: Home made sausage rolls
  • Dinner: Lasagne - home made as well!
From the mouths of babes:
  • When turning out of Spud's Roadhouse onto the only road north, Caitlyn says "I hope that this is the right road".  (So do Mummy and Daddy...) 
From the Gross file:
  • Fresh Emu splattered right in the middle of the highway makes for an interesting chicane challenge at 100km/h.
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Grandma on

No pictures with this " story " ?

Saskia on

no proof of the emu?

chris-and-megan on

Two crows ate the evidence...

Grandma on

Forgot to mention to watch out for the Dingo's !!

Dario on

Hello family !!....today I had enough time to sit quietly to see the photos: They are amazing !!... but what makes me happiest is to see your happy faces ..... no doubt that you are really enjoying it. Bon Voyage and it will be time for more comments.

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