Out in the Never-Nevers

Americans say “out in the boondocks” (or boonies), Kiwis say “out in the wop-wops” and Aussies refer to anything rural or distant as being “back o’ Bourke” or “out in the never-nevers.”

We are definitely out in the never-nevers now. Our route now takes us north: from Adelaide all the way to Tennant Creek, with a detour to Uluru. We’re still processing just how remote Australia is. We stayed a night in Port Augusta, which calls itself the “Crossroads of Australia.” The north-south highway connecting Darwin to Adelaide passes through town, as does the east-west highway connecting Sydney and Perth.

Perth or Darwin?

Port Augusta to Uluru is too long of a drive to make in one day, so we stopped off in Coober Pedy. It’s the only sizable town in this part of the country, and has some attractions relating to opal mining. It’s also famous for having some of the hottest weather in Australia, so in order to combat the heat, many people live in underground dugout homes.Travelers can stay in an underground motel, shop at an underground bookstore, and have a drink in an underground bar. It’s an odd little place. The day we were there, it got up to 40 degrees Celsius… yet the locals told us “Just wait till it gets to 50!” We didn’t stick around long enough to find out. We only stayed two nights, long enough to experience the first dust storm of the season, investigate the underground attractions, and experience underground camping. (Verdict: as I predicted, not comfortable. But it was cool, temperature-wise.)

Before I got to Coober Pedy, I had a very hard time imagining just what an underground town would look like. I didn’t take very many pictures, but I’ll try to give an impression of what it was like.

Welcome to Coober Pedy. Yes, that cloud in the background is a dust storm

Bob fossicks for opals

One of the attractions in town is a free “fossicking” or “noodling” site where tourists can look for opals. These mounds are basically trash heaps, left over from the commercial mining operations. People used to fossick in any old trash heap they wanted to, but that turned out to be a problem since there are mine shafts everywhere, and people were falling down them. Now there is a designated safe noodling area, but it’s pretty well picked through. We did find some shiny stones, but we got to pass them under a blacklight later that night and it turned out to be worthless, an impure form of opal that in miner-speak is called “potch.”

The Underground Serbian Orthodox Church

Not everything is underground- the gas station, supermarket, and restaurants are above ground, as are about half of the homes and some shops. Just about everything else is, including churches. To get into an underground building, there is an aboveground part (one story high or shorter) and a door. Open the door and the first thing you see will be a ramp. In this church, the ramp turns 90 degrees and leads to the righthand side of the worship area (there are no pews.) The sides of the building are carved out of the rock. This one is famous for its scalloped ceiling. The floor is sealed, although that’s not always the case. When we camped underground, we slept on the dirt, which is why it was so uncomfortable.

The Great Ocean Road

Well, one thing has become clear to me over the past few weeks: I won’t be able to continue posting a photo of the day, at least not in Australia. We’re travelling with our friends now, who have a computer, but wifi is generally not free (at several places, including hostels and campgrounds, I’ve seen $10 per hour.) You live, you learn. I want to post more often and share more trip details, but I can’t justify paying that much.

Instead, I’ll focus on certain places and share several photos at once. Lately I have begun to realize how much more I enjoy nature than big cities, so my favourite places tend to be sights of natural beauty. Our road trip took us first to Melbourne and then to Adelaide, which all four of us agreed were great cities (except, in the case of Melbourne, for driving in.) We enjoyed typical city-type sightseeing: visiting museums, wandering around ethnic neighbourhoods, patronizing funky cafes. However, my favourite part was actually the journey between them. Melbourne and Adelaide are linked by a freeway that cuts straight over, as well as a two-lane highway that hugs the coast. Part of this road is, appropriately, called the Great Ocean Road, which is one of Australia’s famous scenic drives, akin to the Pacific Coastal Highway in California. If you look at a map, you’ll see the coast road is much longer. But we had heard it was scenic, so we decided to take it. We spread the driving over two days, so we’d have plenty of time to stop off and see the sights.

Most of the sights are clustered around Port Campbell. I’ll share these photos in the order that we saw them, from east to west.

The wild Southern Ocean

Two of the Twelve Apostles

Four more of the Twelve Apostles

Loch Ard Gorge

This is imaginatively named "The Arch"

"London Bridge"- it used to be connected to the mainland, but it collapsed in 1990, leaving two very surprised tourists stranded but unhurt

The Grotto

Road Trip Here We Come

Our friends Chris and Emi have been living in Canberra (the capital of Australia) for the past year.  Chris is an American guy who we met in Japan- actually, he was one of our neighbors. He was also on the JET Program, same as Bob, and he’s originally from the DC area as well, so we had an instant connection. Emi is his wife, a Japanese woman from the Osaka area.  Of late, they’ve been pursuing master’s degrees at an Australian university. So they’ve been in Australia almost a year already, but being grad students, they haven’t had time to see much of the country and wanted to rectify that. We wanted to split travel costs.  It’s a win-win situation! So we decided to take The Great Australian Road Trip together.

Our route is as follows. We got picked up in Sydney by Chris and Emi, and driven to Canberra. Our next stop is Melbourne. After that we’ll drive the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide, then take the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy, a detour to Uluru/ Ayer’s Rock, then on to Alice Springs. Then we’ll make our way over to Townsville, stopping at some Outback towns along the way. After spending some time in Townsville and snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, we’ll go to the Whitsunday Islands before we all fly back to Sydney.

We have a lot of this to look forward to

Will we survive in the Outback? Will the car break down in the sweltering summer heat? Will we kill each other with camping cutlery? Tune in to find out!