In Coober Pedy we decided to spoil ourselves by experiencing the unique underground accommodation that the town is famous for. We stayed at Underground Bed and Breakfast which is dug into the side of a hill in the same way as most other underground houses (called dugouts) in Coober Pedy are. We planned to stay just one night, but we loved our first night so much we decided to stay an extra two. One night was not enough time to fully take advantage of the luxurious rooms, a fridge stocked full of homebrew beer, heated spa, relaxing outdoor entertaining area, a comfortable lounge with large TV and the novelty of staying underground. The lounge has DVDs of the movies made in the area – more than one night’s watching worth. Not only was the accomodation first class, but the owners, Ken and Ana, were so welcoming and friendly that it made the stay one of the most enjoyable times on our travels so far. We had dinner with them twice – once at the Greek restaurant in town and then at Ken and Ana’s house – delicious gnocchi home made by Ana. We would recommend a stay at Underground Bed and Breakfast to anyone visiting Coober Pedy. We are definitely glad we stayed there and will visit again if we return to Coober Pedy. Have a look on Trip Advisor to see what other guests are saying – you won’t find a single negative review.
Crocodile Harry was an ex northern territory crocodile hunter who moved to Coober Pedy in the 1970s to fossick for opals. He was one of Coober Pedy’s most infamous characters and lived in an eccentric dugout (underground home typical of Coober Pedy). Sadly, Crocodile Harry passed away in 2006. Apparently he claimed he was Arvid Von Blumentals, a Latvian Baron who was forced to leave his country after World War II. It is sad that he isn’t around anymore as we would have loved to have met him.
Exploring Crocodile Harry’s Nest was definitely a highlight for us. His underground dugout featured in the movie ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’. The walls are covered in messages from tourists all around the globe. The story of how you got permission from Harry to write on his walls is morally questionable and not appropriate for this blog hahaha! The dugout is filled with quirky and strange artifacts, you could spend hours in there reading and wondering what the story is behind everything there. Enjoy the pictures, even though they do not do the place enough justice!
We arrived in Coober Pedy, the opal mining capital of the world on Tuesday staying at Stuart Range Caravan Park. Apart from opal mining, Coober Pedy is famous for its underground homes and Churches called ‘dugouts’ as well as the movies Mad Max 3, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Red Planet & Pitch Black being filmed in the area. The underground trend was started by the early opal miners who had no natural materials to build structures with as there are no trees in the area and wanted a way to escape the scorching sun and heat. This trend has continued to this day and over half the population still lives in dugouts. We planned on staying two nights at the caravan park and one night at a bed and breakfast for the novelty of sleeping underground.
Whilst staying at the caravan park we checked out the town, had some drinks in an underground bar, dinner at the famous Desert Cave Hotel, pizza at Yanni’s pizza bar (famous locally for his pizzas). We enjoyed a half day bus tour. We visited some opal mines, a museum, an underground church and the breakaways. The Serbian Orthodox Underground Chruch was impressive and beautiful with it’s large area, high roof, stained glass and rock carvings. It’s a big tourist attraction in Coober Pedy. It’s the largest underground church in Coober Pedy. The tour explained it used to be a busy church, a place for local Serbians to worship and get together. These days that tradition has mostly gone. Definitely worth visiting the Serbian Orthodox Church when you’re in Coober Pedy.
After spending our second night at the caravan park we checked into local bed and breakfast and headed for Crocodile Harry’s, a dugout a few kilometers out of town. Crocodile Harry’s deserves a post all of its own plus there are way too many photos!
Googs Track terminated at the Transcontinental Railway Line at Malbooma, from here we took the track following the railway line east towards Stuart Highway. The track passed through the towns Tarcoola and Kingoonya, that used to service the railway line. These towns have declined with only a couple of residents remaining. It was a strange experience to drive through these deserted towns full of empty buildings in disrepair. Scenes from the 1972 movie Deliverance and the 1980 Jack Nicholson movie The Shining came to mind.
The railway track intersects at the Stuart Hwy at a roadhouse / caravan park called Glendambo. We stayed there two nights where we enjoyed both nights at the Glendambo Pub and made friends with an awesome pair of sisters from Melbourne. The pub was built in 1982 to replicate a shearing shed. It’s a timber and stone building with a heap of character and we enjoyed chatting with Freddy the barman.
We were only planning on staying one night but we loved the bar and Joe needed to service the car. Luckily we booked in the extra night as it took Joe five hours just to remove the oil filter. Weilding a hammer, screw driver and crowbar, it was removed after much fustration and practically destroying the old oil filter.
If you’re interested in the history of places here is a little more information on the almost deserted town of Tarcoola
Tarcoola is an old goldmining ghost town. After the goldrush it was a busy railway service town. Since the Central Australia Railway was relocated in 1980, it became a town for trainline maintenance workers and their families with its own school, hospital, church, hotel, police station and community hall. In 1998 most rail maintenance services were moved to Port Augusta and Tarcoola was almost deserted.
Googs Track is a 200km 4WD track that runs along the eastern edge of the Great Victoria Desert in South Australia that covers more than 300 parallel sand dunes before meeting the Transcontinental Railway Line at Malbooma.
We left Ceduna Friday morning and planned to camp 60km down the track at Googs Lake, a salt lake, which is a comfortable half day’s drive. As we pulled into the camping area we thought it looked like a pleasant place to camp along the shores of the dry, flat salt lake. As soon as we stepped out of the car our thoughts changed. The flies were ridiculous. A plague of the highest calibre. Never before have we seen flies of these proportions, even in the middle of summer in the Pilbara. Joe thought it could be tolerable, but less tolerable was the pain he’d receive from me! So we decided to head straight to Mt Finke, another 70km down the track and typically reached on the second day. Needless to say it was a long and arduous drive, arrival was well after dark around 7:30pm. The dunes increased in size and steepness after Googs lake, and they continued for what seemed like an eternity – up down up down continuously for many hours of driving. It was scary driving up the dunes at night with the headlights pointing straight into the air as we passed the crest of the dune wondering where the track was below us. The dune ascents were badly chopped up. We figured many before us had traversed the track with their tyres too hard. Overworking their motors and ruining the track, they forced their way through. We reduced tyre pressures enough to be able to crawl up the dunes so that our car and asses would not have to endure a severe pounding from the blowouts and hump-dee-doos on the track. With low pressure it was easy to idle up the worse dunes, the tyres performed well on the rough terrain.
Mt Finke camp area was nice, good clearings amongst some trees at the base of the mountain. The flies were also less, but still severe. We spent two nights here cooking up an impressive loaf of bread in the camp oven on the second night, the best bread ever!
I also climbed Mt Finke’s east peak. When I climbed the Mt Finke I didn’t know it was a twin peak mountain, I noticed at the top that there was what I thought a second higher mountain. It turns out that I just climbed the wrong peak of the same mountain. Having arrived at night the evening before I didn’t see the profile of the higher west peak of Mt Finke and it isn’t visible from the camp area. I’m sure many before me have made the same mistake.
A bit of Googs Track History
Googs Track (’00’ pronounced like book) was cut by Goog Denton a local farmer in 1973, from Lone Oak farm to Tarcoola which has an interesting story behind the creation of the road. In June 1973 Goog Denton with his brother-in-law, wife and three children began the massive task of building the road. The Denton family took two years to complete the track as they only cleared the track on weekends. Sadly his eldest son Martin died in 1993 apparently from a car accident along the Googs Track and Goog Denton passed away in 1996 . There is a memorial for Martin & Goog near the halfway mark along the track.
I think I’ve just climbed the wrong mountain. I just scrambled to the top of what I thought was Mt Finke and look across to see an even bigger mountain with what looks like a message box on a tripod. Damn it! FAIL! This is what happens when I attempt something like this without Joe.
Mt Finke can wait until tomorrow!!! Now for the trek back down “mt finke”.
Update: I climbed the wrong peak of Mt Finke, see here.