Coober Pedy SA - Doing the tourist things and a look at the Painted Desert

Friday, Apr 14, 2006 at 00:00


Good Friday 14th April 2006
Coober Pedy S.A.

Rain this morning. It’s becoming synonymous with my associations with Coober Pedy. Dust, wind and rain. Only a slight shower but as I look north I can see isolated showers falling on the dusty plains. Still bloody windy though. The tourist thing today I think.

After breakfast and showers we puddled about the town arriving at the big winch lookout above the town. Big Winch is as it sounds, Coober Pedy’s effort to have the largest of something. It was a photo opportunity at least. We then went to the “Old Timers Mine and Museum” nearby where for $10 per head you can take a self guided tour through the old mine workings that dated from the earliest days of Coober Pedy (1916 or thereabouts). The low caverns and tunnels were all excavated by hand and historical exhibits were set up along the way to give an indication of what life was like for the early miners. The tour also included two underground dwellings dating from the early 1920’s and another that had been modernised and was lived in from 1930 until 1990. It was a very interesting tour especially the opportunity to see all the mineral formations, opal veins and crystal veins in the walls of the abode. Unlike Whitecliffs (NSW), the sandstone here is not that prone to crumbling so they don’t spray the walls with plaster to stabilise them. One of the upper level workings had been turned into a museum that contained many examples of the early pioneers. It also had some beaut displays of opals including a boulder of opal over 100 kgs in weight, the “Painted Lady”. The mistress of the shop was intent on exposing just what an interesting life it was “underground” that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was familiar with it having explored many of the old mines in Whitecliffs as a kid and living in dugouts there.

A midday lunch back at the park and then out the Oodnadatta Road to the Breakaways for a look see.The breakaways are a low range of weathered hills and buttes 20 km or so to the north of the town. While the distinctive mesa tops of a few of these mounds are visible across the plains from Coober Pedy, it is not until you’re amongst them that their features become apparent. Fast to weather they comprise a spectacular range of colours from white through to deep yellows, golds, red and black. All various layers exposed to the elements and wearing away at different rates. They stand magnificently out of the flat, featureless gibber plains that surround them and provide an insight into what the land at one time must have looked like.

A leisurely late afternoon at the park being entertained for hours by a large brass ensemble obviously here for tomorrow’s festival. It’s been very windy all day. The park has filled up during the day. We have a large van in the bay next to us which will afford some protection from the wind. We’ve decided to stay an extra night to fully appreciate the opal festival tomorrow and the associated activities. The sun is setting….dinner time.
''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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