A Travellerspoint blog

William Creek to Coober Pedy

...with quite a few photos taken

sunny 28 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Return to complete the Lap on SteveJD's travel map.

The flight we had booked over the Painted Hills was not due until 4pm so we had time to swan around William Creek, using our fly nets for the first time. There is a small outdoor 'museum' just over the road from the pub which features, among other things, the odd rocket which has been fired from Woomera to the south and has overshot the mark, landing not far from the town!

20190423_IMG_3993.jpgRemains of two Skylark rockets

Remains of two Skylark rockets

In the afternoon, we wandered over to the airstrip/airport only to find that they had not got our booking down for that afternoon. Luckily, another pilot, the lovely Miranda, was on hand and took us up for the magnificent views. We had been due to land in the Painted Hills for a close up look but because of the delay we were unable to do this. Instead of landing we had a slightly extended flight, some of which was at a slightly lower level giving more extensive views. Apart from the booking confusion, we were very happy with WrightsAir who ran this flight and the one from Marree.

The Painted Hills are a recently (the 'Noughties' I think) discovered part of the Breakaways country on Anna Creek Station which is the largest working cattle station in the world at 24.000 square kilometres. The hills themselves cover an area about 20km by 18km. Previously, Anna Creek Station was owned by Stanley Kidman who has a fascinating history. He started out at age 13 as a drover with a one-eyed horse and ended up owning property stretching some 3,500km from the Gulf of Carpentaria to just outside Adelaide. We took enough photos to fill several blogs but will only inflict a selection on you!

Bridge over the old Ghan Railway

Bridge over the old Ghan Railway

Dry watercourse threading its way through the hills

Dry watercourse threading its way through the hills

The Pillars

The Pillars

Some lovely shapes and colours

Some lovely shapes and colours

The Pillars

The Pillars

Last view of the hills

Last view of the hills

Anna Creek's The Big Anchor - competing with Marree Man!

Anna Creek's The Big Anchor - competing with Marree Man!

As I understand it, 'breakaway' refers to uplands of varying heights and area which were once part of one enormous range and have 'broken away' from other outcrops which form named ranges in some areas.

The town, in case I have not mentioned it, was named in November 1859 by explorer John McDouall Stuart - now there's a surprise! - during his expeditions in the area. William was the second son of John Chambers, one of Stuart's co-sponsors for his many expeditions (Wikipedia)

The following day, our 171km journey across the William Creek Track was supposed to take just about all day, but once again we found it fairly easy going. It started off very similar to the Oodnadatta Track but became increasingly sandy and in some places thick patches of bulldust had been flagged and needed care and attention. Only one was a little dicey where deep ruts had been made by other vehicles but some common sense saw us through this with ease.

William Creek Hotel

William Creek Hotel

The start of the William Creek Track

The start of the William Creek Track

Typical landscape

Typical landscape

Towards the end we had small bushes - quite exciting!

Towards the end we had small bushes - quite exciting!

We found our accommodation, supposedly underground. It had been hacked into the hillside so the walls and ceiling were stone but we could see daylight through a bathroom window which was at ground level. The place was Radeka's Underground Hotel which we found was a backpacker hotel. Nonetheless, it was comfortable enough and had room for us to spread ourselves out. The town is probably the most unattractive town we have seen. It has few old buildings visible, as most are underground, but much of the town looks like a scrapyard! However, the underground places are both fascinating and, in some cases, quite beautiful.

The main street through town

The main street through town

A nice mural on the side of the IGA supermarket

A nice mural on the side of the IGA supermarket

Scrap iron 'sculptures' or a junk yard?

Scrap iron 'sculptures' or a junk yard?

Off the main street, some buildings were rather sad

Off the main street, some buildings were rather sad

View over the town from the Big Winch

View over the town from the Big Winch

The opal town was originally known as Stuart Range but in 1922, the local Progress and Mining Association renamed it Coober Pedy, apparently combining two local Aboriginal words 'coober' meaning boy or white man and 'pedy' meaning hole or rock hole, thus describing what the Aborigines would have considered a strange bunch of white men down holes! (Aussie Towns)

The first opals were found by 14yr old William Hutchinson who was looking for water for his father and others seeking gold. Sadly, the family did not profit from the find and only five years later, William drowned while crossing a creek, taking cattle to Queensland.

If we had more time, we would have gone out to Crocodile Harry's - apparently he was the original on whom Crocodile Dundee was based but after hunting crocodiles, he came to Coober Pedy in search of his fortune.

In spite of my sometimes negative comments about the town, it has a fascinating history and is worth a visit if it happens to be on your route.

The day after our arrival was ANZAC Day so we turned out for the parade which has to be the smallest parade we have ever seen. Still, they did turn out and ended up with a service at the underground (Catholic) church next to our hotel. This is a small church but very attractive.

The ANZAC Day parade

The ANZAC Day parade

The underground Catholic church beside our hotel - note the ventilation shafts

The underground Catholic church beside our hotel - note the ventilation shafts

Interior of underground Catholic church

Interior of underground Catholic church

A gilded statue in memory of the ANZACs

A gilded statue in memory of the ANZACs



Around midday, we were picked up by Aaron of Noble Tours and we had a really great time. Once he had picked up some other folk, he asked what we thought of Coober Pedy - there was a deathly hush! He laughed and said this was normal. I came across a book by an American journalist and he said that his diary entry was, at first, "distressed and weird" - he subsequently changed it to "defies the ordinary" and I think that pretty well sums up most people's impressions.

Aaron first took us to the Umoona Mine/Museum and gave us an interesting guided tour around that. He then took us to the next door property to show us the 'spaceship' used in the making of the film "Pitch Black" (never heard of it!). They had used some of the scrap metal lying around in town to good (?) use.

'Space ship' used in Vin Diesel movie "Pitch Black"

'Space ship' used in Vin Diesel movie "Pitch Black"

A flying saucer? - anyway something else used in the making of a film in Coober Pedy

A flying saucer? - anyway something else used in the making of a film in Coober Pedy

Not scrap metal but a replica of the bus used in the making of "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert" which was partly filmed in or around Coober Pedy

Not scrap metal but a replica of the bus used in the making of "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert" which was partly filmed in or around Coober Pedy

We were then scheduled to go to Faye's Underground House but this was closed for ANZAC Day so Aaron took us to a house that he owns and uses for a B & B so we were able to see what underground life was like.

And we all trooped off to gawk at Aaron's house

And we all trooped off to gawk at Aaron's house

Next stop was the underground Serbian church which sadly is little used now as most of the Serbs have moved away from the town. There are some people still mining for opals but only a fraction of the number who were here some 30 or so years ago. In the church, you could clearly see where circular and square drills had been used to form the rooms.

View of exterior of the church (note again the ventilation shafts)

View of exterior of the church (note again the ventilation shafts)

One of several statues inside the church, all by Norm Aston

One of several statues inside the church, all by Norm Aston

The main interior space in the church

The main interior space in the church

Our 4WD tour then led out of the town on a pretty corrugated road to the Moon Plain, a plain covered with quite large dark rocks which often give off a metallic clang when banged together. Aaron said these had been left by a glacier sliding its way through and the area had been used for filming several films, including at least one of the Mad Max movies.

20190425_IMG_4106.jpgTwo views over the Moon Plain

Two views over the Moon Plain

Close to all the time was a long stretch of the Dog Fence. This was started in the late 19th century and stretches 5.614km from west of the Eyre Peninsula on the Nullarbor Plain to Jimbour on the Darling Downs in Queensland. It zig zags through part of New South Wales and the intention was to keep dingoes away from sheep and, latterly, also provides protection for cattle. There were many emus along the fence but quite why they congregate there I don't know.

Part of the Dog Fence with some of the many emus we saw

Part of the Dog Fence with some of the many emus we saw

As the sun started to lower in the sky, we arrived at The Breakaways (see above for definition). These were once part of the Stuart Range and the whole area had been a vast inland sea with aeons of deposits forming coloured layers which show in the hills now, although most have subsequently been tilted and/or folded. Several of the hills are mesas with caps of harder material which had prevented these from being as worn away as others. We enjoyed some bubbly and nibbles between taking photos.

Aborigines call these 'papa', meaning two dogs, part of a story

Aborigines call these 'papa', meaning two dogs, part of a story

Bubbly and nibbles are served at the main lookout point

Bubbly and nibbles are served at the main lookout point

20190425_IMG_4118.jpgTwo views over the breakaways, one so like the Painted Hills

Two views over the breakaways, one so like the Painted Hills

On the way back into town, Aaron took us into the Opal Fields and showed us where he has a claim which had been tunnelled in, rather than the usual shaft-sinking method.

Machinery in the opal fields

Machinery in the opal fields

Aaron has a stake in one of these tunnelled claims

Aaron has a stake in one of these tunnelled claims

The working area near the tunnels, underfoot was like ankle deep chalk dust

The working area near the tunnels, underfoot was like ankle deep chalk dust

On our last day in this bizarre town, we walked around and visited The Old Timer's Mine Museum. In here, we could wind our way through tunnels that had been carved from various shafts, seeing a few seams of opal (potch, or non-valuable opal). There was also a fascinating museum and finally we could walk through the completely underground house which had been home to the miner and his wife and two daughters.

One the way through town, Steve could not resist a bookshop!

One the way through town, Steve could not resist a bookshop!

An old blower opposite the Old Timer's Museum

An old blower opposite the Old Timer's Museum

The Old Timer's Museum

The Old Timer's Museum

It would be easy to get lost in the labyrinth of tunnels

It would be easy to get lost in the labyrinth of tunnels

Coober Pedy must have been pretty wild in the past!

Coober Pedy must have been pretty wild in the past!

Statue of a miner - by the ubiquitous Norm Aston

Statue of a miner - by the ubiquitous Norm Aston

One of the underground bedrooms

One of the underground bedrooms

Some 'potch' or low-grade opal still in the mine

Some 'potch' or low-grade opal still in the mine

After leaving this fascinating museum, we trudged up the hill to see the Big Winch. Not surprisingly, this is a big winch and there is also an old 'blower' on display as well as panoramic views over the town. The attendant indoor display was closed and the path from the hill was blocked off, so we had a long detour - thanks Coober Pedy!

The Big Winch

The Big Winch

Another old blower

Another old blower

Another view over the metropolis of Coober Pedy

Another view over the metropolis of Coober Pedy

We now start the long trek to Yulara and will leave South Australia behind but this will have to wait for the next blog. If we continue to have decent internet access, something we have lacked often over the last few weeks, I hope the next blog will be quicker - depends on what other distractions lay in store!

Posted by SteveJD 04:15 Archived in Australia Tagged scenery south_australia breakaways tom_kruse_john_macdouall_stuart william_creek painted_hills anna_creek_station stanley_kidman wrightsair

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