This is a Guest Post by Keith Kellet
Our original plan was the ride the Ghan train from Darwin to Adelaide, breaking the journey in Alice Springs to tour the Red Centre.
But, a change to the train time-tables caused us to alter our plans. We could still ride the train down from Darwin, and do the tour, but we’d have to wait for four days in Alice Springs for the next train. We didn’t want to wait that long; we could have flown from Alice to Adelaide, but that seemed a bit ordinary. Or, we could take a bus. There’s a daily Greyhound Australia Service to Adelaide and it’s equally as good as the train for seeing the country, especially if there are no tracks where you’re going.
In fact, I wonder if a trip on a long-distance bus (not a tourist coach) may be counted as a ‘road trip’, regardless of the fact you’re not driving.
When we found that it stops at Coober Pedy, the ladies’ eyes lit up. Coober Pedy equals opals, and it’s probably illegal to leave town without buying any. So, the plot was hatched. We would bus to Coober Pedy, have a 24 hour stopover, then catch the next bus to Adelaide. The ‘Skinny Dog’, as it’s sometimes called, is rather like the National Express at home in the UK, apart from the distances involved. With a couple of differences. Every so often, the Greyhound Bus stopped at the turn-off to a remote station or homestead, where the driver left a sack of mail, usually in an old oil drum on a post at the side of the road. And, the coach was towing a trailer, for Greyhound Australia’s business is not only carrying passengers, but also freight.
We stopped for lunch at Kulgara, which advertises itself as ‘The First and Last Pub in the Northern Territory’. It’s a picture of studied dilapidation, consisting of whacky signs, old cars and tractors and things, trying, with some success to capture the atmosphere of an outback pub. We only had thirty minutes here, so we just had time for a pie and a quick coffee in a restaurant decorated with effigies of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn, I can understand … one of her best-known movies was ‘Bus Stop’, but I’m still trying to work out the Elvis connection.
Towards the end of the afternoon, the setting sun came out, and lit up the red desert sand and the yellow grass. And, as we approached Coober Pedy, its pinky-white mullock heaps from the opal diggings glowed ghost-white in the gathering darkness. If you like quirky and off-beat, you’ll like Coober Pedy. There’s more above ground than I expected, although what we see is actually the frontage of a home, a shop, a restaurant, a mine or even a hotel or a church, tunnelled into the hillside. Most of what the restaurants and shops have to offer is boldly advertised with bright, garish signs verging on the primitive, which might, originally, have been hand painted.
Most of what they advertise is, of course, opals. This Outback town is famous for the opal diggings around here, and everywhere, there’s evidence of the mining including warnings to take care, lest you fall down a pit. There’s lots of machinery still hanging about, as well as lots of cars and trucks from a bygone generation, all so dilapidated, it’s hard to tell what’s still in use and what’s abandoned.
A must to visit, even if you don’t play golf, is the Coober Pedy Golf Club, with its oiled-sand ‘browns’, and notices sternly exhorting visitors to ‘Keep Off The Grass’ … even though there isn’t a single blade for miles around. The best for me, though, was a little way out of town. The Breakaway Hills is a surreal, multi-hued landscape that some call ‘Little Nevada’, because they say it’s so like the desert there. And here, we saw something rare. We thought, at first, it was a group of emus, but, as they drew closer, our guide identified them as bustards, and said it was a very long time since he’d seen any.
During our short time in Coober Pedy, of course, we visited shops and bought opals.
All too soon, it was time to board another bus for Adelaide. An overnight run this time, with only a short stop in the ‘wee small hours’ for a coffee and a muffin in Port Augusta. So, there wasn’t much to see. For a short time, I read. The rest of the time, I slept … I’m not sure whether it was the result of a busy day, or the fact that the seats were so comfortable, but that’s something I’m rarely able to do on a moving bus!