Coober Pedy

Sep 27 to 29 We cross the Northern Territory border into South Australia with our first stop in Coober Pedy. Where to start when describing Coober Pedy ? Lets try some adjectives first – quirky, strange, weird, dry (they have 2 seasons here – dry, dry and hot), fun, unique and, of course, underground.

Coober Pedy is a town in northern South Australia, 846 kilometres north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway. Its population is 1,695 (953 males, 742 females, including 275 indigenous Australians). The town is sometimes referred to as the “opal capital of the world” because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined there. Coober Pedy is renowned for its below-ground residences, called “dugouts”, which are built due to the scorching daytime heat. The name “Coober Pedy” comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means “white man’s hole”.

Opal was found in Coober Pedy on 1 February 1915; since then the town has been supplying most of the world’s gem-quality opal. Coober Pedy today relies as much on tourism as the opal mining industry to provide the community with employment and sustainability. Coober Pedy has over 70 opal fields and is the largest opal mining area in the world.

Water is so scarce here that they have water bowsers that look like fuel pumps (see picture). it costs 40 cents for 40 litres.

There are over 1,000,000 holes dug into the ground. There are many underground houses, churches, shops, hotels, bars, etc. People live underground because of the consistent temperature there – 22 to 25 degs, all year round, when the outside temperature can reach the low 50’s C. We even had dinner in an underground restaurant.

The Olgas

Sep 26 The Olgas (also known as Kata Tjuta) are a group of large domed rock formations or bornhardts located just 15 or so kms from Uluru.

The 36 domes that make up Kata Tjuta cover an area of 21.68 km2 (8.37 sq mi), are composed of conglomerate, a sedimentary rock consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented by a matrix of sandstone.

The highest point, Mount Olga, is 1,066 m (3,497 ft) above sea level, or approximately 546 m (1,791 ft) above the surrounding plain (198 m (650 ft) higher than Uluru).

Not quite as spiritual as Uluru but still impressive.

Uluru – Ayres Rock

Sep 22 to 26 The definite highlight of the trip so far.

Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) is a large sandstone rock formation in the southern part of the Northern Territory in central Australia. It lies 335 km (208 mi) south west of the nearest large town, Alice Springs, 450 km (280 mi) by road.

Uluru is sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area. The area around the formation is home to a plethora of springs, waterholes, rock caves, and ancient paintings. Uluru is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Uluru is one of Australia’s most recognisable natural landmarks. The sandstone formation stands 348 m (1,142 ft) high, rising 863 m (2,831 ft) above sea level, with most of its bulk lying underground, and has a total circumference of 9.4 km (5.8 mi). Uluru is notable for appearing to change colour at different times of the day and year, most notably glowing red at dawn and sunset.

So much for the technical stuff, now here is a list of personal descriptive adjectives that describe the experience of visiting this magical place – inspirational, awesome, moving, spiritual, exciting, historic, powerful, magical, peaceful – you get the idea.

We did not climb the rock as the local aboriginals regard it as sacred and we wanted to respect their culture. We did do the ‘base walk’ which is a 10.6 kms walk in a complete circle around the rock. We also took a million photos so here are just a few of them.

Kings Canyon

Sep 19 to 21 Kings Canyon is part of the Watarrka National Park in the Northern Territory, it is 423 km southwest of Alice Springs and 1,316 km south of Darwin.

The walls of Kings Canyon are over 100 metres high, with Kings Creek at the bottom. Part of the gorge is a sacred Aboriginal site. Several walks exist at Kings Canyon. The 2 km (return) and approximately 1 hour Kings Creek Walk traces the bottom of the gorge. At the end of the walk is a platform, with views of the canyon walls above. The 6 km (loop) and 3-4 hour Kings Canyon Rim Walk traces the top of the canyon. A steep climb at the beginning of the walk, which locals call “Heartbreak Hill” (or “Heart Attack Hill”, due to its steepness), takes visitors up to the top, with spectacular views of the gorge below and of the surrounding landscape. About half way during the walk, a detour descends to Garden of Eden, a permanent waterhole surrounded by lush plant life. The last half of the walk passes through a large maze of weathered sandstone domes, reminiscent of the Bungle Bungle.

We do them both. By now the temperature is up in the mid to high thirties and the flies have decided to join us on the trip – take a look at the latest fashion accessory.

Alice Springs 3

Sep 13,14 Alice Springs lies in the centre of the MacDonnell Ranges, a 644 km (400 mi) long series of mountain ranges located in the centre of Australia, consisting of parallel ridges running to the east and west of Alice Springs. The mountain range contains many spectacular gaps and gorges as well as areas of aboriginal significance.

The ranges were named after Sir Richard MacDonnell (the Governor of South Australia at the time) by John McDouall Stuart, whose 1860 expedition reached them in April of that year.

The highest peaks are Mount Zeil (1,531 m AHD/ 5,023 ft), Mount Liebig (1524 m / 5,000 ft) and Mount Sonder (1,380 m / 4,528 ft). These are the highest mountains in the Northern Territory. The MacDonnell Ranges are the headwaters of the Todd River, Finke River and Sandover Rivers.

The East Macdonnell Range is very close to Alice Springs and can be explored easily in a day.

We finish our visit to Alice Springs with a game of golf (why is it always their monthly medal, stroke play, off the black tees when we visit ?) and with a lovely meal at the Tripadvisor number 1 restaurant in Alice.

Alice Springs 2

Sep 12 A trip to the Alice Springs Desert Park is highly recommended. Local guides give a host of interesting information about the history of the land and its peoples. Well worth the visit.

Also, just have a photo of the local beer – it comes in 2 litre bottles – the NT Stubbie.

Alice Springs

Sep 11 to 16 After being very disappointed in the state of Katherine and Tenant Creek being very run-down and untidy, what a pleasant surprise to arrive in Alice Springs to almost the complete opposite. The Alice is a well-kept, clean and has a very nice atmosphere. We arrive at the beginning of the annual Desert Festival and catch the opening parade. We also find a pub with some interesting bar stolls – they are actually saddles.

Heading Down To Alice Springs

Sep 6 to 11 We are now back on to the Stuart Highway heading south to Alice Springs about 1,500 kms away. This is the same road we came up to Darwin on and we revisit Edith Springs and Banka Banka for overnight stops. Along the way we spot a bush fire and take a diversion to look at the ‘Devil’s Marbles’. The site is known as Karlu Karlu to the land’s Aboriginal traditional owners and consists of gigantic, rounded granite boulders, some spectacularly poised, is a remarkable landscape. Scattered clusters of these ‘marbles’, including many balancing rocks, are spread across a wide, shallow valley. The Devils Marbles is a nationally and internationally recognised symbol of Australia’s outback.

Mango Farm

Sep 4,5 Mango Farm is an isolated camp site situated right on the Daly River. It is a place we visited for 1 night when we flew to Darwin for a holiday back in 2007. It is famous for its great fishing but, unfortunately, the fishing is very poor this year due to the lack of a wet season. There are still plenty of crocs though. And it is still a very peaceful place to relax for a couple of nights.