Coober Pedy – day 322/12

Waking up 6.5m underground in a dug out that was excavated decades ago was weird… The sounds of other guest waking up in the cavernous holes (otherwise known as the hostel dorm rooms) were joined with pitch black darkness – until we turned on our room light and then we were squinting like blind moles! Managed to find a bathroom that had cubicles free for all of us where we proceeded to spend our shower time singing across the partitions, only to have a man cough halfway through our rendition of the ‘Muppets’ theme tune – cue some girly giggles from us and a hasty exit from the gentleman. Managed to get a clothes wash done whilst we had breakfast, choosing to sit outside (slightly cold) after spending the night in what can only be defined as a fancy coffin, complete with bunk beds and a mattress. Decided to spend the day walking in the town rather than partaking in one of the over priced tours which, apparently, showcase this town as a mining and tourist mecca. As we walked down the street and out of town towards our first opal mine of the day (that’s right… The first!!), it seemed like we had arrived in a post apocalyptic wasteland with the dry barren desert being riddled with holes, adjacent piles of dirt and signs warning of the dangers of ‘deep shafts’ and ‘walking backwards’. There were rusty car wrecks in front yards of houses that appeared to only have a front porch – the rest of the house is dug underground to cope with the 50°C summer days and lack of trees! Even at 10am in the morning, there were groups of aboriginals loitering on the streets in small groups, either already drunk or still intoxicated from the night before. The scene was the same for nearly every group we passed – swearing, shouting and poor attempts at fighting each other whilst calling ‘hello’ to every person who walked past them. Arriving at Tom’s Working Opal Mine, we were given hard hats and a map before being sent down into the working excavation. We were allowed to try the bosun chair that the miners used to descend themselves into the mine shaft, posing for the obligatory photos with a pick axe as we hung precariously several feet off the ground, not entirely sure if the cable on the ‘Ute’ could withhold our weight and/or had been checked in the last decade. All on solid ground and in one piece with an extensive amount of stone dust on our backs which glowed up under the UV light like a min solar system on our backs, we headed off down into the mine, exploring all the nooks and crannies including the sections where miners are continuing their search for the big vein. Jayne got far too involved in searching for her own small fortune by using the tools in the museum to crack open undiscovered opals in the rocks strewn around the place – alas, no opals found… Heading back up to the reception area, we got to watch a video on opal formation and mining (which was really interesting but I couldn’t tell you anything I learnt except that the big dinosaur skeleton found in Coober Pedy is not in Coober Pedy!). Heading back into town, we stopped off at the bakery to get some lunch of meat pies – the label said beef however none of us have seen any cats in the town – coincidence?!? Just saying! We consume our ‘beef’ pies on the veranda of the bakery listening to the dulcet tones of the fighting aboriginals al. around us. Walked over to the Catholic Church of St Peter & St Paul which was Coober Pedy’s first church and still has a sweet appeal with its statue-filled nooks and hushed classical music. Back to the hostel to have some lunch before crossing the road to explore the underground museum in the Desert Cave Hotel. More information and photos rather than anything else, the display of photos showing how people fall down the deep shafts and how they are rescued was equal parts funny and disturbing – we can only hope that they are staged photos. 

Walking back along the Main Street, we tried to find the leftover spaceship prop from the film Pitch Black but couldn’t spot it, so headed instead to the Big Winch which has sweeping views over Coober Pedy. From the view point it is obvious that the surrounding desert is jaw-droppingly desolate, a fact not overlooked by international film-makers who’ve come here to shoot end of the world epics such as Mad Max III, Red Planet, Ground Zero and (the only one I’ve watched) Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The ‘if’ painted on the side of the big bucket is designed to sum up the towns spirit and from viewpoint we found the spaceship – we had walked straight past it! Heading back down the hill and with a couple of hours still to kill before our night bus to Adelaide, we decided to visit another museum mine – Old Timers Mine. It was an interesting warren of tunnels that was mined in 1916, and then hidden by the miners. The mine was rediscovered when excavations for a dugout home punched through into the labyrinth of tunnels. We started with a demonstration of the ‘blower’, a piece of mining equipment that is fundamentally a giant vacuum cleaner on the back of a ‘ute’ which, predictably, sucks up rocks from one place and blows them out of the other end. We each got to have a go feeding rocks and our arms into the machine – imagine a giant Dyson air dryer and you’ll understand what our hands looked like… Old ladies hands! Literally had to drag Jayne away from the noodling area at the end of our tour as the museum was closing and everyone wanted to go home, except us! We headed to our last stop of the day, Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Sanctuary. A bizarre combination of art and kangaroos left us all feeling a little bit uncomfortable. Clearly not as well funded as Brolga’s sanctuary in Alice Springs, the kangaroos were feed with wasabi peas and banana chips by the tourists. It wasn’t all bad though – Jayne and I bought our Australia painting. An aboriginal night scene around a fire with native Australian animals in the background. 

Heading back to the hostel, we packed up our bags on the front veranda. Jayne and Tracey popped to Johns to get take away dinner to consume whilst we waited for the coach to turn up whilst I guarded the bags, listening to the continuing arguments that floated down the streets from the groups of aboriginals. Walking the five minutes down the road to the coach ‘station’ we ate our food before boarding the bus. Tracey was disgusted as Jayne and I tucked into our local speciality – a coat of arms pizza which is topped with kangaroo and emu meat. Maybe this explains the lack of red kangaroos in the area?!? Had to sit near the front but we all got a two person seat each so we could spread out a little bit. Clearly one of the older Greyhound buses, it was a little rough around the edges with no wifi or in seat USB outlets – not a huge issue except we had all run our iPhones down with the assumption that we would be able to charge them on the bus – fool on us! Jayne and I watched the only film uploaded onto our iPad (About a Boy) and Tracey watched the only film on her iPad (Sixteen Candles), before we all tried to get some sleep on the rather juddery coach. 

Wednesday 24th August 2016

Kakadu – day 313/3

The name ‘Kakadu’ comes from the Gagudju language, spoken by Aboriginal people in the north of the park. Today, the three main languages spoken in the park are Gundjeihmi, Kunwinjku and Jawoyn. Rock shelters, stone tools, grindstones and ochre quarries in Kakadu are reminders that Aboriginal people have lived in this area for over 50,000 years. We don’t speak any of these languages and we only stayed one night at an Aboriginal-owned park. But, what a tough night it was! Woken at 03:00 by the bats in the trees above our ‘tent’, we were exhausted and a bit grumpy when we finally gave up the pretence of sleep and had our first coffee of the morning. The Rangers were out and about washing down cars from all the bat guano and piss and the smell was pretty horrific. Second coffee in our systems, we filled up with petrol, chose the biggest pastries at the bakery and headed down the highway to the first stop. 

Arriving at Nourlangie the sight of this looming outlier of the Arnhem Land escarpment makes it easy to understand its ancient importance to Aboriginal people. Its long red-sandstone bulk, striped in places with orange, white and black, slopes up from surrounding woodland to fall away at one end in stepped cliffs. I planned a walk around the billabong for us before going over to the main site. However, in the car park we saw a trail map that led up the hill to Nawurlandja Lookout so we decided to break up the morning with lookout, lake walk and then main site. Wow, what a view!Sitting on an outcrop of sandstone, finding some unmarked paintings on the way to this viewpoint, we sat as long as possible in the morning sun gazing out at the impressive views. The shade in the trees around the Anbangbang Billabong Walk were lovely and provided a perfect spot to enjoy the pastries from the bakery. The track circles the receding water, with signs showing how close the crocs can get to tourists along the route without them realising. We passed through the paperbark swamp with no hassle and enjoyed the multitude of birds, both native and migratory, that habituate this picturesque area.The name Nourlangie is a corruption of nawulandja, an Aboriginal word that refers to an area bigger than the rock itself. The 2km looped walking track takes you past some of Kakadu’s best-known collection of rock art. With the majority of sites off limits or inaccessible we started at the Anbangbang Shelter, used for 20,000 years as a refuge and canvas. Next was the Anbangbang Gallery, featuring Dreaming characters repainted in the 1960s. The information board at this gallery made it incredibly easy to locate Nabulwinjbulwinj, a dangerous spirit who likes to eat females after banging them on the head with a yam. From there it was a short walk around the base of the cliff and up the hill to Gunwarddehwarde Lookout. Spoiled once again for incredible views of the Arnhem Land escarpment we had to leave again due to the blistering heat. We didn’t see any signs of the wandering buffalo bull that lurks in the area… we like to live dangerously. Tracey at the wheel, we were down to Cooinda and Yellow Water before long, i.e. – blink and we were there. But, it didn’t seem like anyone else was having a picnic in the area so we asked some bus drivers who were waiting for a cruise boat to return. They must have thought us mad for thinking to eat in the area, it is apparently littered with crocs, not just the shy freshies, but the big salties. So, food in the bag, we went looking for ’em. Katherine spotted one off the end of the jetty hanging around for the boat too, possibly for an unruly brat that may be easy pickings (or thrown overboard). The end of the walkway was bloody noisy with a massive flock of Little Corrolla’s perched in every single branch of about three trees (not thirty trees, just three trees). Down the road a bit further we enjoyed lunch in the picnic area of the campground and an ice cream from the shop.  We’re not sure if we were meant to bring our own sheets, they had forgotten to leave them in the dorm room or perhaps a combination of the above. We forgot to ask and went for a swim in the pool instead. Complete nonsense, hysterics and good fun for maybe half an hour and we we cooled off and refreshed. Plus, it washed the feet for the two ninjas who continue to walk in the bush with flip-flops. With little choice available for dinner options in the shop, we treated ourselves to Chicken Snitty. A lovely meal in the bar area, with the Olympics on in the background, the two amigos enjoyed buckets of white wine and I topped up on electrolytes. In the end I payed the piper for needing the loo and traversing the camp ground to pee, praying that I didn’t spot a snake. Anyway, we enjoyed our evening, teased the baby croc in the aquarium with a wooden replica of itself and headed to bed. An assortment of clothes, nod-pods, taking the fourth mattress, sheet and pillow and we tried to get some sleep as we were frozen but exhausted. Monday 15th August 2016

Magnetic Island – Day 306

I slept soundly except for needing to use the toilet at 3.30am however Jayne said it was a particularly noisy night with the previously mentioned larger gentleman snoring all night and coughing so profusely at one point that the Italian girl in the bed opposite shouted at him to ‘shut the fuck up’… Of the joys of sharing a dorm with 7 strangers!!

We both woke up as the light poured through the open vents masquerading as windows but, with a long wait to use the shower, we both stayed in bed – Jayne continued watching her film and I read some more of my book. Having both managed to finally get a shower and steal the bottom bed in my bunk as the girl checked out, we headed over to the campers kitchen for breakfast of fruit toast and cashew nut spread – it is, hands down, my new favourite breakfast spread! It may even be better than Nutella…
We missed the hourly bus by 10 minutes, so we decided to walk into Horseshoe Bay. Having been reassured that there are no box jellyfish in the water (or any other marine stingers) at this time of year, we decided to pick up the snorkel trail cards for the two routes on the island. Unfortunately, the shop didn’t have any left so we just bought some carrots to feed the rock wallabies and caught the bus to Acardia. Fortunately, the newsagents there had the snorkel trail cards so we walked down the road at Bremnar Point (between Geoffrey Bay and Alma Bay) and got ready for our first ever underwater nature trail. Australia’s first (legal) snorkel trail was developed on Magnetic Island. There are two trails – Nelly Bay and Geoffrey Bay. We decided to go for the latter one as it, supposedly, offers a good selection of fish to see around the Moltke wreck and we would be able to swim out further to the WWII aeropane propeller and engine block (from a CW-22B Curtiss Falcon). 

Having brought all our stuff with us ready for a days exploring on the island, we didn’t really want to leave it by the side of the road so we packed up Jayne’s SLR camera and our iPhones into two dry bags and brought it along with us. Getting into the water off the old pier was easier than we had both anticipated and the water was certainly warmer too. We made our way over 100 metres to the first buoy, consulted our card so we knew we were supposed to be looking for algae and coral and stuck our heads under the water…. Nothing! The water was so silty that we could barely see a thing so we began snorkelling over to the second buoy, catching glimpses of coral which Jayne ducked down to get a closer look as I watched from the surface. Again, there was nothing much to see through the silt so we continued to the third buoy which had a bat fish hanging around on the buoy rope. Having not seen very much at any of these surface markers, we decided to call it a day and head back into shore.Again, getting out at the pier with waves crashing against the concrete was surprisingly easy and neither of us ended up blooded and bruised like we had anticipated. Despite the poor water visibility, we both thought it was a fabulous idea and we’d both had a great time until we discovered that one of our dry bags had leaked and ruined Jayne’s camera… I felt incredibly guilty since it was my idea to take them with us. Not sure whether it will work again with a bit of TLC and a visit to the camera doctors but the prognosis doesn’t look great… Having run out of battery on my underwater camera we were left with our iPhones to capture photos for the rest of the day. 

We got dressed by the side of the road, Jayne unusually quiet and me apologising profusely before we headed over to feed the ‘wild’ rock wallabies. Having been accustomed to being fed, they literally eat out of your hand and the cuteness of it certainly raised both our spirits, especially the wallaby with the little joey sticking his head out of the pouch. Jumped back on the bus we headed to the other side of the island, Picnic Bay, which was once the home of the ferry terminal. Nowadays, it is a low key spot with nothing really there apart from a handful of shops and cafes. We found a shady spot to have some lunch before walking along the pier to watch the local fisherman try to catch something whilst a tourist did a couple of jetty jumps nearby. We decided to follow the rocky coastal walking trail back to Nelly Bay and enjoyed walking through the granite boulders, hoop pines and eucalyptus trees. We came across several gorgeous look outs to deserted bays along the route which we would have certainly never knew existed had we caught the bus. Treating ourselves to an ice cream when we reached Nelly Bay we jumped on a bus and headed to the area known as ‘The Forts’. Townsville was a supply base for the Pacific during WWII, and the forts were designed to protect the town from naval attack. The 4km round trip walk passes lots of ex-military sites, gun emplacements and false ‘rocks’. At the top of the walk is the observation tower and command post which both have spectacular coastal views. The path is also well known for being able to spot koalas lazing about in the treetops… We saw four! They were so beautiful with much shorter hair than the ones we had seen further south in Australia. One had moved by the time we came back down from the 800m loop at the end of the walk and we couldn’t find him anywhere – just goes to show how fast they can move when they want to!– …. . …- .. . .– ..-. .-. — — -.-. — — — .- -. -.. .–. — … – .– .- … .- — .- –.. !

.- .-.. .-.. – …. .- – .– .- … — .. … … .. -. –. .– .- … .- ..-. . .– …. ..- — .–. -… .- -.-. -.- .– …. .- .-.. . … -… .-. . .- -.-. …. .. -. –. .. -. – …. . … . .- -… . .-.. — .– – — — .- -.- . .. .–. . .-. ..-. -.-. – ! Having just missed the bus (again for the second time today!), we decided to wait at the bus stop rather than navigate the roads that go through the national park in the dark. As we watched the night close in, even with the light from the solitary street lamp, we were glad with our decision knowing that neither of us wanted to stumble around in the dark – me ’cause I’m scared of the dark and Jayne ’cause of what could be lurking in the dark (deadly snakes and spiders etc. – it is Australia!!). The bus took us to the end of the line where we treated ourselves to a fish and chip dinner. Jayne got hers battered and I got mine crumbed (not sure what that really means) but they were both delicious and the fish was incredibly fresh – it almost tasted like meat! Back at the room to shower off the salt water from our snorkel and the dirt from my feet since I did ‘The Forts’ walk in flip flops, we then climbed into my bottom bunk and watched a film whilst munching on some Oreo Mint Dairy Milk Chocolate. 

Monday 8th August 2016