We had the occasion to check out a number of thing on our way back from the Outback.
About 300km north from Uluru is Kings Canyon and its 270m-high cliffs and a palm-lined valley floor. It took us 3 hours to hike around the canyon rim, descending down to the Garden of Eden and its peaceful natural pool, before ending walking around a swarm of giant beehive domes. On a less appealing note, it’s also where we had our second punctured tire.
On the way back we stopped at Coober Pedy, one of the main opal-mining cities of Australia. When approaching the city, the dry desert suddenly becomes punctured with holes and piles of dirt, entrance to the opal mines – reputedly more than a million around Coober Pedy.
Each of the piles are waste from mines and nearby are holes to enter the last. Not a place you want to be wandering around at night
Add that to underground dugout homes – to avoiding the utilization of AC – and rusty car wrecks in front yards, and it feels like being back in the gold-rush days.
The underground homes
We visited the labyrinth of tunnels of the Old-timers mine, an excavation that was mined in 1916 but then hidden by the miners. It was rediscovered recently when a local punched through the mine by accident when digging a bedroom for his daughter. It was a very interesting tour to discover more about opal mining.
Left: This was the way miners were entering the mine: everybody dug its own hole to fit its size
Right: Mining an opal pocket. It could take days just to take one opal out. Not an easy job…
The awesome things about the outback
One of the most incredible things about the outback is that you are truly alone, in the middle of great sceneries with the closest civilization being more than 100 km away. Therefore, you really feel free: As long as you have some spare tire(s), gas, maps, food and water, the immensity of the outback is totally yours: dirt roads or even off-roads driving, camping whenever you find a good and suitable spot and enjoying the great sceneries and the changing landscapes.
Settling for camping. Notice the essential tools (such as the surfboards) in the car
That’s also the place in Australia we’ve seen the most diverse wildlife: eagles, raptors, emu (the Australian cousin of an ostrich), kangaroos, dingoes, just to name a few…
An emu ready to kill the crap out of you
Waking up in Flinders Range to find a kangaroo saying hello. The interaction went something like:
“Sup bro? Got food? Nope? I’m outta here”
Last but not least, we can’t talk about the awesome things of the outback without speaking about the road trains: those huge trucks carry up to three or four trailers, and can be more than 50m long. It’s incredible to see those things coming towards you at 120km/h on the tiny roads of the desert.
The less awesome things about the outback
We’ve depicted quite a good image of the outback, but there is also less awesome things about it.
First, the most annoying thing is the flies. No matter how many showers you’ve taken that day, there are always about 50 flies flying around you, landing in your mouth, ear, eyes, wherever they can. And those things follow you around. They do not give up. Ever.
That is the one thing that was really driving us crazy.
The fly net, a must have to avoid turning crazy in a matter of minutes after leaving the car
But that is not prevent them to love you more than your dog does
That’s about a good estimation
Second, the heat is hardly bearable. 40 degrees was a minimum, and it gets tiring to never being able to cool off.
Third, the distances are just massive. It took us three entire days to drive from Kings Canyon back to Newcastle just north of Sydney (about 2850km, close to 3 times the length of France). We ended up sick of driving.
And last but not least, the outback is a death hole: between its crazy heat and the fact that there is absolutely nobody around, it’s easy to have a deadly incident if you run out of fuel, water, or spare tire… We had to take gas at every town we drove through, given that the minimum distance between each of them is 200km. In Williams Creek, the hotel/service station was closed because of Australian day coming up and we had to use our security can of gas to make it to Oodnadata and refill.
On top of that, the desert is home to some of the most dangerous animals of the world, such as deadly spiders, scorpions and snakes. One night in Cowards Creek, Francois almost beaten by a snake, when walking twenty meters away from our tent to wash a pot (to be fair, he thought at first it was a water tap).
A tornado in Coober Pedy
Overall, going to the Australian Outback is like going to Las Vegas: when you’re there is a great experience – yet demanding physically and mentally – you’re then happy to leave it but wish to come back some day, and the return to the real world feels weird the first few hours.