A Travellerspoint blog

Day 43 - Coober Pedy to Marla

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It wasn't such an early start today which was good because we slept really well underground! After waking, I got ready and ran next door, via the neighbour's roof (it felt as odd doing it as it does writing it), to have breakfast with the others. Then we picked up Karen, who'd chosen to lie under a little longer, and went on a mining tour.

The vents on the neighbour's roof

The vents on the neighbour's roof

First we saw a video about how the conditions above the great artesian basin were so well suited to the creation of opals, how they were first discovered, early mining techniques, later refinements and how Coober Pedy grew and changed. Then we watched a live demonstration of opal shaping and polishing and learnt about what criteria are used to judge and value opals.

Then the moment Karen had been dreading earlier in the week came; we went down into an old opal mine. It was fascinating and so too was an adjacent underground home that we visited. Karen was 6 to 9m underground and, surpringly, loving it - another fear conquered.


She spoke at length to the guide and got all her questions answered:-

- they have swimming pools underground
- no mould or mildew as there's no humidity
- $4 to $5,000 per room and these are big rooms
- 21 to 25' all year round so no air conditioning or heating required
- less expensive than conventional houses to run, especially in summer, when above ground temperatures can reach 50' C.

Aboveground Coober Pedy looks like a rubbish tip with tailings, rusty cars etc. They still have other normal things though including a sports field, a golf club (doesn't the 'green' look inviting), several churches including a Serbian Orthodox church which is underground, shops etc. Karen said she'd love to live there...if it was close to the beach and civilisation.


Later that night we arrived in Marla where we thought we'd be swagging it but it turned out that there was a motel booked for Karen and me. We still joined the kids, who we were getting to know quite well, and Shelley around the campfire for a while. Then it was off to bed to be ready for our early departure for Uluru.


Posted by pkd064 23:14 Archived in Australia Tagged may Comments (0)

Day 42 - Quorn to Coober Pedy

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This is being written about a dozen days after the events so, with my poor short term memory, I'm relying heavily on Karen's notes.

We left at 8am and headed for Port Augusta for a brief stop.  It was our last chance to get some cheap nibblies and other supplies.  We weren't entirely surprised when it rained on us but Karen asked a local how often it rains there.  'Never', was her reply.  It seemed like our luck was continuing...

While there we mailed home a painting that we'd bought from an aboriginal artist named Sebastian when we were in the old mill in Quorn.  It's only a small painting but it's really nice and, now that we've travelled all the way up to Darwin and seen all the other paintings and prices on the way, we can see that Shelley was right when she said that he was particularly talented and his work was well priced.

A couple of hours up the road we took a detour for morning tea and stopped at Woomera.  I didn't know Woomera was on our itinerary so this was a great surprise.  Why so great?

- Science was my favourite subject at school.

- I wasn't a Cub / Scout as a kid because, in Toowoomba, there was an alternative called Space Pilots.  Yes it was a tad geeky, what with all the telescopes, science experiments etc but we did get to make AND launch rockets.  Yep solid fuel rockets, some of them having multiple stages, small animals and cameras as payloads and so forth.

The last rocket I made went up 2100 feet before levelling off and disappearing... which may have had something to do with the fact that my dog had chewed its tail fins shortly before launch.

- My dad was a fitter and turner and used to have all sorts of interesting chemicals and metal shavings (technically swarf) around the 14 foot flat bed metal lathe in our shed.  I learnt lots of ways to make things go bang using nothing but metal shavings and other common household items.

- In my teens I developed an interest in electronics, CBs and amateur radio.  My formal qualifications are in electronics and electrical engineering and I spent my early working life in telecommunications and a brief stint at ANU doing custom electronics on a scientific instrument.

- I had a brother who was a radio tech in the RAAF and still have a brother, formerly in the army, who's an expert in interpreting satellite imagery.  Their work always interested me.

- I love reading including spy novels, cold war thrillers etc.

Woomera encompasses all of that:- scientific endeavour, missiles / rockets including some designed to go bang, lots of electronics and telemetry all in a post world war / cold war setting. Naturally the museum had me absolutely engrossed...but although Karen and our younger companions did too, they didn't enjoy it quite as much so we left sooner than I'd have liked.


Further up the road we stopped at Lake Hart, a vast salt lake, to walk out onto its flat white shiny surface, lick the salt and do some boomerang throwing.  As you do :). It was very cold and windy but quite fun.  The photo of the salt covered stumps of the pier on the lake below has also become our second featured photo in the Travellers Point Australia gallery.


Later in Glendambo we got an ice-cream and saw just a couple of the town's 30 people.  We didn't see any of the 22,000 sheep but did swat a few of the 400,000 flies mentioned on the sign as you enter the town.

North of Glendambo Shelley abruptly stopped at what appeared to be a zebra crossing on the highway many kilometres from anywhere. It's the beginning of a portion of the highway that does double duty as a runway for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. We posed for some photos and moments later, despite not seeing any traffic for ages, we had to scurry off the highway to avoid getting skittled.

L to R Holly, Karen, Perry, Elaine, Niamh, Fabian, Marc

L to R Holly, Karen, Perry, Elaine, Niamh, Fabian, Marc

Then, after many more kilometres, we arrived in Coober Pedy.  50% of the town is underground and our accommodation was too.  Most of the group stayed in an underground bunker that could sleep more than 50 people.  It was massive and cut out of solid rock.


We'd paid for an upgrade though so we stayed in the Desert Cave International Hotel, again in an underground room.  If you turned the lights off it was pitch black and you needed the ceiling fan on for airflow which wasn't ideal for Karen as she's mildly claustrophobic but the room was very big so she was ok.  We even got to play air hockey underground in the hotel's game room.


A Coober Pedy Sunset

A Coober Pedy Sunset

Posted by pkd064 22:56 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes history may perry Comments (0)

Coverage patchy - normal transmissions will resume ASAP

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Sorry folks but coverage exists only for 5ks either side if major townships and some roadhouses. Fine for facebooking, not so good for filling in web forms for the blog.

I'll post more entries when I can and populate the earlier ones with pictures.

Posted by pkd064 17:20 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Day 41 - Cave paintings, a hike, great food, a piano recital

semi-overcast 16 °C
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If you are a regular reader then you might want to know that this is the third of 3 entries that were all posted at the same time so you may also want to read the entries back to day 37. If you are a new reader then there are lots of entries that you haven't seen.

Our day began with breakfast in the old mill that adjoined our motel in Quorn then we all gathered our hiking gear and bundled into the bus to head into the Flinders Ranges.

Our first stop along the way was the ruins of Kanyaka station.  Originally it was one of 3 runs leased and stocked with cattle by Hugh Proby, the 3rd son of the Earl of Carysfort in Ireland. It later became a major sheep station after Proby was swept from his horse and drowned by a flash flood - hard to comprehend when you see how dry the land is!

In 1864 41,000 sheep were shorn in Kanyaka's woolshed.  It's the large building in the photo below.  I counted positions around the central holding pens for 24 shearers to work simultaneously.

Apparently in its heyday it was such a significant station that many expeditions into other parts of SA and NT stocked up here before continuing on.


Our next stop was Yourambulla so that we could climb up to see some aboriginal cave paintings. It was an easy walk and short climb but the view was great and the cave paintings interesting.  The sign helps explain their meaning.


We stopped briefly in Hawker for fuel and then drove on to Wilpena Pound, the northern most point accessible via sealed roads in the Flinders Ranges, about 430km north of Adelaide.  We were there so that we could climb Mount Ohlssen-Bagge to see into the 'Pound', a natural amphitheatre between two ranges.  At 6.1km long, it was a much shorter walk than our 8.9km  Dove Lake + Marion's Lookout hike...but in terms of the difference in height between the lowest and highest points of each hike, Mt O-B won hands down at 421m (about one and a third times the height of the Q1 building on the Gold Coast) vs 225m.  Our old legs knew all about it on the way up, but we recovered well and kept pace with the youngins on the way back down.

It was a spectacular hike and different in so many ways from Tassy, Wilson's Promontory and the Great Ocean Road.  The landscape is so dry with no oceans or lakes nearby, the rocks are all yellow and red sandstone as opposed to the pink or grey granite and basalt in Tassy and the Prom or the limestone of the GOR, the plant life is different, even the lie of the land differs from what we'd previously seen.  It's hard to describe but hopefully the pictures can convey some of the difference.


Another big, and pleasant difference, is that we had the company of our tour companions.  I'll tell you more about them in a later blog entry.

As we travelled home, with the sun setting over the ranges, Shelley, our guide, abruptly stopped the bus at a point on the road that seemed to be unremarkable but happened to be where a key scene from the movie Wolf Creek was filmed.  It was fun to watch the others out on the road re-enacting the scene and taking photos...while we weary oldies sat in the warmth of the bus.

Back in Quorn, we had a quick shower, or most of us did, and then went to dinner in Emily's Bistro...a quirky old place with a quirky young owner named Emily (of course).  The meal was lovely though and Marc, one of our two German companions, surprised us all with an impromptu jazz and classical piano recital.

It was a great way to finish the day although Karen tells me that after I went to sleep she stayed up and watched some sporting event on telly - I'm not sure what it was but my sleep was interrupted periodically by her yelling, 'QUEENSLANDER!!'

Posted by pkd064 23:51 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes buildings hiking history caves may Comments (2)

Day 40 - our trip northward begins

semi-overcast 16 °C
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We woke early, got ready and went for breakfast as we were unsure when we'd get our next meal.

It was still dark and few places were open so we returned to the site of the previous night's culinary crime.  I know, I know but it was open 24/7 and was about 50m from our motel.  Sadly the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour...

Returning to our room, we grabbed our bags and, as the sun came up, we walked 600m to our tour pick up point at the Adelaide YHA.

Bags in the trailer, everyone on the minibus and we're off to the north.

Shelley's our tour guide. She's very experienced having spent seven years travelling overseas, 1/2 a dozen driving semitrailers and road trains in the outback, leading tours for years and was raised on a farm in country SA.

We have five other travellers:-

Marc, a German backpacker, was the first to greet us at the YHA.  He's outgoing, uses expletives liberally when he speaks...and in two languages no less, and clearly likes to get along with everyone.

Fabian is another German lad who is in Australia working for Lufthansa in Sydney.  He's well travelled, lived in New York for 7 months and is an avid and talented photographer.

Elaine and Niamh (pronounced Neve) are two young ladies from Ireland.  They've been travelling together for quite a while and have been in Australia for about one and a half years.  They make jokes about their inability to pronounce words that start with th.

Holly, at 21, is almost the youngest of our group...only Marc is younger.  She's from London, has been here for nearly 12 months, and, surprisingly, is constantly rugged up in lots of jumpers and scarves.  Perhaps it's because she worked in Kalgoorlie for a while.

Back to the trip - It was amazing countryside, very flat except for the ranges.

We visited the Sevenhills winery, colocated with a historic Catholic church and retreat that was run by and for Jesuit priests. The church had beautiful stained-glass and huge paintings. The priests that died at the property are buried in a crypt under the church, about 41 in total.

Stained glass in St Aloysius' chapel

Stained glass in St Aloysius' chapel

Karen in the entry to a monk's retreat

Karen in the entry to a monk's retreat

Later we stopped in Melrose which has the oldest pub in the area and a great cafe with lots of old stuff and a museum.

Our final destination today was Quorn. A small town, but lovely.

We're staying in the Old Mill in our own room.  Shelley booked us in to the Austral Hotel for dinner.  We had great big steak pies but others had chicken or kangaroo dishes.  It was a good evening sharing stories and getting to know a great group of people.

Posted by pkd064 23:50 Archived in Australia Tagged people may Comments (1)

Days 37 to 39 - Hahndorf, Adelaide

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We left Tanunda early on Saturday May 19th, the 37th day of our trip, and, on the advice of our daughter, we chose to go to Adelaide via Hahndorf.  It was good advice.

Hahndorf lies to the south east of Adelaide, almost back on the main road to / from Murray Bridge that we'd passed through 3 days ago.  Like so much of this part of SA, it has a strong Germanic history but has managed to retain and promote it unlike those 50+ areas in the Barossa area that were renamed in the 1900s because of war time anti-German sentiment...just one thing that makes Karen's family history so challenging - not only did people live in places that got flooded and disappeared, others lived in towns and shires whose names now bear no resemblance to what they once were...but I digress...

Hahndorf reminded us a little of Ross in Tasmania (see days 10 and 11).  It had streets lined with trees dropping their gorgeous autumn leaves and historic buildings with odd names and interesting contents but that's where the obvious similarities ended.  


Ross was sleepy with streets that were almost deserted so you could wander to and fro and take pictures when and where you wanted.  Hahndorf was abuzz with traffic and people.  Being so close to Adelaide and to one of the main SA to Victoria roads, and having so much to see, do and taste appears to have kept Hahndorf alive.  We wandered the shops, tasted the food, avoided the drink and then went happily on to Adelaide.  I must add though that German sausage is the wurst!

We checked into our hotel on the southern side of Adelaide's CBD, carried up so much stuff in so many odd bags and boxes that I'm sure we had the reception staff concerned, and then set about rearranging our luggage and doing our washing to prepare for the next two stages of travel.

Later that evening we headed out for a meal and just walked until we found something that appealed to us.  We chose the Pulteney Pizza Bar and Restaurant, a little place that appears to be owned and run by an Italian man and his wife and one of their Mamas.  Naturally it wasn't long before Karen and the wife were chatting away about our trip, the family etc.

That was a good thing...when our antipasto dish, a delicious garlic bread made on a pizza like base, arrived it had been up sized for free :)

Il secondo soon followed (no room for il primo), a fabulous calzone (somewhat like a pizza, folded in half and sealed at the edges then served in a bolognese sauce) which we shared.  Mmmmmaa...did you put the fingers of both hands to your lips and then pull them away, opening your hands as you said that?  Well you should have as it was delicious.

We bought some home made bread rolls for the next day and a tub of lemon gelato (il dolce) and went back to our room.  We're going back to that little pizza place when we're on our return leg from Perth.

On Sunday we attended church and met some relatives and friends of people from home.  Gail, your sister says 'hi'. Rebecca, your Mum and Dad were lovely as usual and invited us to visit when we return.  We also managed to go and see the Adelaide Temple.

On Monday we finished our packing, rearranged the car and prepared it for 50 days of storage.  Karen got us a bargain for that - saved us hundred$.  We also did a little sight seeing on the south east coast below Adelaide and then moved motels so that we'd be closer to our 7:15am tour bus pickup spot on the northern side of the CBD.  Unfortunately Monday night's meal was a shocker - 'nuff said.

Posted by pkd064 23:49 Archived in Australia Tagged may Comments (1)

Days 35 and 36 - Settlers in the Barossa

sunny 16 °C
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This blog post is being composed on an iPhone in the back if a tour bus heading toward outback SA and the Northern Territory.  It won't have any pictures until we get better connectivity and other posts may be infrequent until we get to Alice Springs or Darwin.

In the previous blog entry we'd arrived in the Barossa and begun our research into Karen's father's family history.  As great as it was to see the few things that we had seen on the previous day, we were keen to accomplish more over the next couple of days.

So, we reviewed Karen's earlier family history work - all accessible to us on line - and found all of her relatives that had burial locations within this part of SA.  We also did some white pages searches and rang people whose surnames appeared in her family line and who were still living nearby.  There were only a few people, each happy to help in any way that he or she could once Karen introduced herself, but they had little to tell us that was new...with the exception of some (admittedly still vague) instructions on how to find a couple of out of the way places that to us had only been peculiar names difficult to find on any map.

One of those places, Hoffnungsthal, was one of the earliest towns that Karen's ancestors had come to. We eventually found it down the end of some winding dirt roads or, more correctly, we found it's former location in a little valley near the current town of Lyndoch.  Nothing remains of Hoffnungsthal except some remnants of the church foundation, some unmarked graves and a memorial sign and plaque. See a panorama here.

An account of the settlers' early lives and the sad events that led to the destruction and abandonment of this little German town, whose name meant "Valley of hope"  can be found here.

We found each of the old Lutheran cemeteries, and some others too, near Lyndoch, Springton, Eden Valley and Tanunda and photographed family headstones, also geotagging their locations because many of the headstones were deteriorating and may not be legible in years to come.

We also photographed any memorial plaques that listed family members in each of the towns.  Each new discovery was exciting and then Karen made, what turned out to be, one very special phone call...

A site that spoke about the Herbig tree mentioned tours of the Friedenberg church and school that we'd found the day before but didn't give any specifics - just a number to call - so call it she did.  It turned out that the tours were infrequent affairs and there wouldn't (normally) be one before we left.  Karen explained why she was interested and, as the conversation progressed, we discovered that the man who'd answered the call, David Herbig, was both the author of the book that she'd bought about Anna Caroline Rattey and her husband Frederick Herbig who lived in the Herbig tree and a descendant of them...which made him Karen's distant relative.

Long story short - David gave us our own tour of the church / school.

Karen and David at Friedensberg

Karen and David at Friedensberg

We saw lots of things including actual school work done by some of the kids of that era, listened as David pedalled away on an old organ and played one of the songs that the school children used to sing...but most exciting of all, we got to see and photograph pages of the original Friedensberg church records which are now over 150 years old.  They gave us further leads to follow.


Naturally we also did some sight seeing as we were in the Barossa Valley.

The Rattei name on the Settlers Wall

The Rattei name on the Settlers Wall

A street named after one of Karen's family lines

A street named after one of Karen's family lines

Anyway it's time for me to sit back and enjoy the fact that someone else is driving!

Posted by pkd064 23:49 Archived in Australia Tagged churches history family karen may Comments (0)

Day 34 - A flat, a family tree and other discoveries

semi-overcast 16 °C
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We left Meningie with the intent of going straight to Springton, south east of the Barossa Valley.

As we travelled the roads near Mannum we noticed a large pipeline that paralleled the road for many km and then disappeared over the hills toward Adelaide.  A little research by Karen revealed that it was the first major pipe line built to take water from the Murray River to Adelaide.  It's been doing that for nearly 60 years.


As we approached Mount Pleasant we saw a sign to Walker Flat.  Karen's paternal grandfather, Johann Gustav Rattey, was born at Walker Flat (see Day 35 for another possibility) so an 85 km detour seemed in order.  Driving down the Walker Flat - Mount Pleasant road we couldn't help thinking that we were beginning to understand why Karen's ancestors had moved up to Queensland.  The land was hilly, dry, only lightly grassed and rocky!  It was harsh country that looked like it would be difficult to farm.


Closer to the end of the road we realised that we were approaching the Murray river.  It turned out that Walker Flat looked just like the name suggested.  It is a low lying flat parcel of beautifully grassed land right on the banks of the Murray river.  As this part of the Murray typically has high cliffs, in fact Big Bend just north of here has the highest cliffs of the Murray's entire length, the flat would have been one of the few places that houses could be built so close to the river.


It's now a point at which a ferry crosses the Murray.  Karen and I took a ride over and back and looked at some of the historic buildings above and below the cliffs on the eastern bank.  We also spoke to one of the locals who phoned the oldest person that she knew who had been living in the area for many years.  Unfortunately she knew little about Karen's family.

It was time for some independent research so we turned around and headed toward Springton again to see one of Karen's relative's family tree, literally!  The Herbig Tree was the home of Caroline Rattey, Karen's first cousin three times removed...don't ask me to explain the meaning of that as it's all a mystery to me but Karen does that stuff in her head.


There were a couple of small tour buses there with folks taking photos as this tree and it's occupants were very much a part of SA's pioneer history.  In a nearby store, that gets its petrol from a company with a great name, we bought a book about the tree.


Skimming through the book, we noticed a reference to the Friedensberg church, school and cemetery.  Although we'd seen a little bit about that in our earlier research we didn't know where it was but some locals soon solved that.

It's probably difficult for those who grew up knowing their grandparents to understand just how exciting it was for Karen to stand outside this little historic school that her Grandfather probably went to...Karen never met Grandfather Rattey as he died when Karen's Dad was only 18 mths old...and then to also find, in the adjoining cemetery and in another on the opposite side of town, the graves of her great great grandparents and other relatives.


Our day ended with a drive through Eden Valley, Angaston (my pick for prettiest Barossa town) and on to the caravan park at Tanunda.

Posted by pkd064 21:07 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes churches rivers history karen perry Comments (0)

Day 33 - a movie set, the longest river, a familiar site

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After Mt Gambier we continued toward Adelaide, initially inland and then by the coastal route.  Some of the countryside reminds me of the cotton country out on the Darling Downs, ie. big wide expanses of flat land extending right to the horizon. You can see that in a panoramic photo by following this link here. There are also some folk living out here with an odd sense of humor and some wood carving skills.


Our first stop was Kingston Se, a lovely little town with a long jetty poking out into Lacepede Bay. Karen wondered why there were no waves and asked one of the locals who explained that there was an extensive reef near the horizon. To create a swimming area for the locals they have to dredge lots of seaweed away from near the shore which, in the colder months, they pile up on the beach and then later take away for processing into fertiliser and mulch.


Then we entered the Coorong National Park. It's over 150 km of wetland that's protected by a narrow sand dune between it and the ocean. It's a great breeding ground for birds and fish and other creatures with a lot of diversity because the eastern end is predominantly salt water from the sea whereas the western end is the freshwater at the mouth of a river.

An Australian movie was filmed here in the late 70s about a boy and a creature that he rescues.  Older folk may have studied this story in school.  A postcard for the first person to name the movie and another to the person who names the creature - not the type of creature but the name given to him by the boy.

At the western end of the Coorong lies Lake Albert which is at the mouth of Australia's longest river, the Murray. I had no idea before this trip that the Murray was the world's 3rd longest navigable river after the Nile and Amazon. How 'bout that? Lake Albert's a massive lake with a little town called Meningie right on its banks.  That was our stop for the night.  


Before we settled in though, we did an 86 km round trip to photograph this famous building.  You've all seen a picture of it before.  Who can tell me what it is and where it's picture is commonly found?


Posted by pkd064 20:32 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes beaches ocean karen may Comments (6)

Days 31 and 32 - a mix up, what a hole

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We left Port Fairy and said our goodbyes to Victoria.  As we had on previous Sundays, we chose a town further down the road that had one of our churches and set out early so that we'd be there for the morning service at 10am.  This time though the next church was across the state border, at Mount Gambier in South Australia.

It was an easy drive with the only complication being SA's fruit & vege quarantine laws.  At the border we had to throw out all the fruit that we'd bought at the Port Fairy markets the previous day...all that we couldn't eat while sitting at the road side :)

We arrived at the Mount Gambier chapel at 9:40 to ensure that we had enough time to tidy ourselves up, introduce ourselves, ask the locals a few questions about Mount Gambier's attractions and then be seated well before church started.  Oddly though, there wasn't anyone else there.  That's most unusual as there's usually some of the local leadership meeting together before the regular Sunday meeting.  

There was still no one there at 9:45 and at 9:50 and so, as 10 o'clock drew nearer, we wondered if there was some regional event on and started to look for a number to call.  At about 2 mins to 10 two of our young missionaries arrived.  We introduced ourselves and asked why no one was there.  They answered that church started at 10...so again we asked why no one was there.  They looked at their watch and said that it was only 9:30 and were sure that others would arrive any moment.  9:30?  Yes, we'd run foul of SA's different time zone and arrived 50 mins early instead of 20.  Doh!  That mix up aside, church was lovely with all the talks centred on Mother's Day.

Mount Gambier's a hole, or more accurately, built on a hole, lots of them.  Portions of it wrap around the side of a volcano inside which is main water source for the town, Blue Lake, the centre of town has a sinkhole and cave opposite the library, one of the main attractions is the bigger Umpherston sinkhole, and the highway through town even has a series of limestone caves beneath it.  

Umpherston Sinkhole at night

Umpherston Sinkhole at night

Karen in the Umpherston Sinkhole

Karen in the Umpherston Sinkhole


We stayed at the Blue Lake Caravan Park which is in a nature reserve adjacent to the lake.  It was quite pretty and convenient when we wanted to go out for a walk.

Only hints of Blue Lake's distinctive summer turquoise colour remains

Only hints of Blue Lake's distinctive summer turquoise colour remains

Posted by pkd064 08:35 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes caves karen may Comments (0)

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