The ‘Down and Dirty’ tour started at 7:45 am so we had to get up early in order to have time for breakfast. Gunter was our guide again and the only other people on tour were a reticent couple from Virginia; they hardly spoke all morning.
It had rained an inch overnight so Gunter had some gooey mud puddles to navigate; something he was not used to driving through. I think he had fun using the 4WD for mud instead of ruts and dirt divots.The fog lifted enough that we could get a bit of an overview of the town from the top of the hill where ‘The Big Winch’ sits. The population of Coober Pedy is about 3,500 people, of which 60% are of European descent. The other 40% is made up of about 45 different nationalities so there is a lot of diversity in a small place.
At the Opal Museum we watched a short (20 minute) film on Australian Opals and Coober Pedy. Gunter then drove us to a mine site orignally worked in 1921 and later re-worked in the early 1980s by a group that thought using a bulldozer to move the earth and find the opal layers would be effective. They soon discovered that it was not and abandoned the mine leaving behind huge piles of dirt, rocks, and opals. We spent about an hour ‘noodling’ for opals. Any we found, we could keep. John actually found a piece that was big enough and of good enough quality to polish into a marketable stone. One of Gunter’s old mines was now part of the Opal Museum and he took us into the shafts. Opal miners in Australia invented a motorized vacuum hose to suck out all the dirt and rocks chipped away while removing the opals. John shoveled a few spadesful of dirt into the big hose and outside the mine Gunter started up the motor and blew the line. It is a very effective way to move rubble and clean out the mine shafts.
Lunch was a very good chicken burger at John and Yako’s Pizza Place and while we were eating it began to rain again. After lunch we went back to the hotel and looked at all their ‘Underground’ displays before going to our room and having a nap; which I rarely can do. Dinner was a porterhouse steak at Tom and Mary’s Greek Restaurant. It was a good day; but a wet and foggy day in the desert of Coober Pedy.
We had to check out of the hotel at 11 am the next day. The shuttle was to pick us up at 1:30 for our 2:30 flight to Adelaide, which gave us some free time so we left our luggage at the reception desk and went for a walk. There is not a lot to Coober Pedy. It has three restaurants, two supermarkets, a gas station, a drive-in theater, the hotel, the churches, and not too much else; and because it was Sunday the streets, never very busy anyway, were virtually deserted. The red desert was green due to all the rain. The area around Coober Pedy has been used in several ‘alien world’ films.
Our plane was an hour late arriving, and a bit late leaving so it was 5 o’clock by the time we landed in Adelaide – in the pouring rain. At last we had a hotel that had free internet so I was able to download many of my photos to the photo-sharing site I was using to show folks at home what we were up to (this trip was three years before I began to write my travel blog).
We collected our luggage from storage and re-packed our bags for our four-day camping tour in the Outback. Bedtime was not late as we had an 8:30am shuttle to take us back to the airport for our flight to Alice Springs. For some strange, unknown reason a person can fly from Darwin on the north coast, to Alice Springs, to Coober Pedy, to Adelaide in the south, but there is no route to go from Adelaide to Coober Pedy, to Alice Springs, to Darwin. This meant we had to fly from Adelaide to Coober Pedy and back to Adelaide before we could fly to Alice Springs – and then up to Darwin after we finished our camping trip.