Life on Mars

Coober Pedy Travel Blog

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Yeah right!
There are 1530 kilometers between Adelaide and Alice Springs, and I had it in my head it would be a shame to fly over them. Instead, it would be a two-day roadtrip through the gumtree-studded red desert in its entirety. My accomplice and driver was a Northern Territory-born med student named Ruddy. He wanted company for the long commute and posted an ad. I needed a car and replied.

We met over coffee to do the the initial gut check and ask the two necessary questions one must ask when roadtripping with a stranger: 1) Do you have any interest in killing me? and 2) What kind of music do you like? Satisfied with both answers, we made plans to leave early Saturday morning. I was placed in charge of CD mixes and car snacks, and filled the little white Getz with both.
Ruddy


With the exception of an unfortunate (and expensive) speeding ticket by a cop that obviously had nothing better to do in the sticks of South Australia, the drive was a smooth one. Two hours into the trip, I saw my first kangaroo. Two seconds down the road, I saw the rest of him. 18 hours of Aussie bush and my only glimpses of the country's unique wildlife were the flattened specimens on the side of the road.

On the plus side, this led to adrenaline-filled hours of fun with a (excuse the irony) lively game of "Roadkill." The rules were simple, really. The first person to spot and yell "Roadkill!" gets the point. Correctly identifying the mangled carcass is extra credit.
Like I said...hours of fun.

However, my disappointment in the lack of live 'roos was difficult to overcome and I was starting to believe their existence was about as real as the notorious "drop bear." A farce created by the Australian government to lure tourists to the far side of the world and excite the minds of curious young children around the globe. I mean, now that I think of it, it is a pretty ridiculous animal. Hopping around on two legs, carrying babies in a pouch. A pouch? Seriously? If you're going to go around creating new species and playing them off as your national mascot, Australia, couldn't you at least put a little more effort into making them realistic? Come on.

The route through the great Outback is pretty straightforward. The directions from Adelaide to Alice go something like, "Get on Stuart Highway and head north.
Stop when civilization reappears." In the meantime, brake for large animals, take advantage of petrol stations because the next one might be too late and wave to the three other drivers you'll pass on your journey.

The highway is named after one of those crazy men who had it in his crazy head that it would be a good idea to do this trek back in the day there were no roads, road signs or air-conditioned camels. Even with the luxury of all three at our current disposal (Well, with cars in the place of camels, of course. I believe air-conditioned camels went out in the 60s), I still took one look at the unbroken desolation closing in on the car and questioned our sanity.

The seriousness of the monotony is illustrated by all of the warnings against it. Apparently there have been a large number of fatal accidents on these lonely roads.
Lake Hart
Enough to warrant a national campaign saying, "Stop. Revive. Survive." Every few kilometers, there's a new warning in some colorful, yet disturbing, alliteration. "Stop and Sleep." "Fatigue is Fatal." Or, my personal favorite: "Drowsy Drivers Die!" Wow. I guess "sugar-coating it" is a practice left to the northern hemisphere. Point taken, Australia.

Along with red dirt and gum trees, the drive was dotted with the occasional point of interest, worthy of hopping out of the car to snap a photo. We passed Lake Hart. One of many salt lakes that, in the dry season, is left looking like a lost patch of snow that took a wrong turn somewhere in the Indian Ocean and accidentally stumbled into the desert. There were sporadic towns, consisting of little more than a petrol station and bar (sometimes one in the same), a clump of wedge-tailed eagles picking at some of the roadkill that was, by this point, all too familiar.
And then there was the community of Snowtown. Famous for four words: "Bodies in a barrel." I know little more of it than that description, but it was enough to make me want to drive quickly past and never look back.

Sometime in the early evening, with wind-blown hair, happy hearts and window tans on opposing arms, we arrived in Coober Pedy and stepped out onto Mars. The redness of the dirt intensified as we approached the town, and the patchy green of the bush had since been traded in for conical mountains of earth as far as the eye could see. Beside each mound was its inverted counterpart. A jilted, dried up cavity. Combed through and cast aside when it could no longer bear the fruit of its promise: Opals.
MARS!


CP is a mining town. Settled by hopeful, adventurous types of all nationalities, out to make their fortune in opals. To escape the heat of the Outback, some miners built their houses into the side of the hills, keeping them at a cool, consistent temperature. Following that tradition, the Desert Cave Hotel boasts 19 underground rooms of its own. We saved a few bucks by staying above ground, but soaked up the subterranean experience with a few drinks and games of air hockey in the hotel's underground bar and a walk through the onsite Opal Education Tour.

The town's bizarre setting was the perfect backdrop for Australia's post-apocalyptic Mad Max movies, and pieces of the "Beyond the Thunderdome" set are still strewn about town. Around the corner and up the hill from the movie's leftovers, lies one of the town's main attractions, The Big Winch.
he's home
As "winch" is not a word in my everyday vocabulary, it wasn't until we were up that hill that I discovered it's a giant lifting device turned by a crank and not a haggardly prostitute of seismic proportions. I can't say my life was improved by venturing to this site, but I've heard Australia is peppered with random objects of unusual size, and I suppose I was just a tad excited to see my first example of the curious phenomenon.

Next to the Big Winch, however, is a site worthy of the long, dusty drive to this peculiar town. I'm told the house is owned by some washed-up German hippy. Perhaps also settling here in the hopes of striking it rich on opals, or maybe just the opportunity to freely express himself artistically. The yard of this junky little house on the hill has become a showground for his craft.
So that's what a big winch is!
A sculpture garden of rusted, abandoned rubbish. Old TV sets and bike tires. A "White Man's Totem Pole" of computer keyboards. Maybe it was the shining sun, or way the orange rocks played against the blue sky, but I could have spent hours investigating the nooks and crannies of this junk museum. A place, much like the town it lives in, that can only be described as eccentric and wacky and strangely wonderful.
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Yeah right!
Yeah right!
Ruddy
Ruddy
Lake Hart
Lake Hart
MARS!
MARS!
hes home
he's home
So thats what a big winch is!
So that's what a big winch is!
salt lake remnants
salt lake remnants
perhaps a rabbit proof fence??
perhaps a rabbit proof fence??
Wedge-tailed eagles
Wedge-tailed eagles
eagles with their dinner
eagles with their dinner
we made it!
we made it!
not the prettiest town Ive seen...
not the prettiest town I've seen...
Mad Max leftovers
Mad Max leftovers
junk sculpture garden/wonderland
junk sculpture garden/wonderland
white mans totem pole
white man's totem pole
Coober Pedy
photo by: ice4swervin