If I haven’t heard about Coober Pedy’s opals mines before I would have definitely wondered why there’s a city surrounded by nothing but dirt. Already some kilometres before odd signs warned me of falling into holes if you leave the road. Indeed, a bit later all I could see were little dirt hills. What’s actually the dirt out of the mines, looks more like a oversized sandbox.
In fact opal is the only reason for Coober Pedy’s existence. Since the beginning of the last century people from all over the world came here to try their luck with mining. After getting a permit all you need is to peg your claim and start digging. Nowadays many people are living underground in those dugouts. Hotels are advertising underground rooms in the whole town and even the churches are in previous mines. During the hot summers it has the advantage of staying cool without using an expensive air condition.
The opal boom lowered a bit, but still 85% of the world’s opal comes from here. Every second shop in town is an opal shop and on the street I got frequently asked if I want to buy some opal like they were selling drugs. Apparently for some people it’s even an addiction too, not the opal though, but the mining or rather the money you can make, if you are lucky. It’s really a special place with a strange atmosphere and with all those old mining machines and reminds at a wrecking yard.
I could feel the struggling of the past days in my legs and needed also mentally a short break from riding. Some travellers I met on the way recommended me a place to stay. It’s just a yard and the owners letting campers stay there to give tourists an alternative for overprized caravan parks. Gary is living there in his bus and takes care about the guests. He’s knows everything about Coober Pedy and seems to really love that place. If he needs money, he could easily ‘find’ 50 to 100 Dollar within one hour. To demonstrate he just looked around on the ground of the yard and picked up some pieces of opal, but just cheap ones and ‘not worth to sell’.
Besides of me there were a few so called ‘grey nomads’ with caravans or motorhomes. People call them so because they are mostly retired and are travelling over months or even years slowly around their country. This lifestyle seemed to be very popular in Australia. All over the Stuart Highway and Rest Areas I have a lot of them. Most of them appreciate cyclists. Nearly every day cars were pulling over next to me and I heard something like ‘G’day, mate. Do you need anything? Water? Food?’. And also here I got invited to sit on a fire and for some drinks.
One day I got a lift to the ‘Breakaways’, what’s a main attraction around Coober Pedy. Due to erosion and different types of rocks those hills really seemed to be broken away from the surrounding as their name said. Especially in the warm light while sunset this desolated landscape was really fascinating. It’s not a surprise that they used this place as setting for some movies.
Three days were eventually enough rest as it was just another 550km to Port Augusta, where the Stuart Highway ended. Back on the Highway riding felt much easier than before the break. I came closer south, what means also closer to possible rain. On the horizon I could already see some rain spots, but luckily it was not until I stopped cycling at a rest area under some shelter till it started pouring for a while. At least I got a wonderful huge rainbow to see as compensation.
Through the rain the vegetation was already a bit greener, but still sparse and low, not trees, just small bushes and grass. Usually I pitched my tent a bit hidden behind a tree or bush, but one day I couldn’t find such a place. So I just pushed a bit away from the road. In darkness nobody would see me anyway.
When I arrived at the roadhouse in Glendambo my first plan was to top up my bottles, but for the first time in Australia the tap water was so disgustingly salty, that I spat it out immediately. I definitely wanted to avoid buying this overprized bottled water and thanks to some helpful fellow travellers I haven’t had to. Very happy to help me they refilled my bottles out of their tank of their caravan.
The Highway leaded me along several lakes, but mostly they were dried out or just salt lakes. Lake Hart was even so close to the road that I could walk on its salt pans.
I was psyched to have a change of the landscape and riding through more civilization, what makes some things easier. But on the other hand I was sad to leave the outback. Over the time I really appreciated it, the loneliness and the endless wideness.
Finally I arrived in Port Augusta, where the busy traffic made me immediately aware of not being in the lonely outback anymore. So I’ve crossed Australier after 2800km on the Stuart Highway.