Our plans of following the coastline of South Australia’s Eyre peninsular were hampered by a change in weather. Warm days were out and according to the weather forecast, a week of overcast drizzly days were set to engulf the peninsular. This meant a change of plan but not before we followed the coast down to Smoky bay and then on to Streaky bay. The latter, a small town put on the map after a local chap caught an absolutely monstrous great white shark on the end of his fishing line and went on to spend 5 hours pulling it in. Poor shark! A replica hangs in a back room at the local petrol station, which also doubles up as an information centre for visitors as well as a popular takeaway curry house. Talk about diversification! Leaving the coast would mean missing out on a few of South Australia’s beachy gems but L and I had decided that we’d seen enough dazzling white sands on our travels, besides the allure of the underground, outback town of Coober Pedy had become too great. 

(Photo above: Buckingham Shack in Iron Knob.)

Having restocked on essentials at Port Augusta, we embarked on a couple of days drive into the outback along a 336 mile single road which eventually landed us in Coober Pedy. We’d passed through not a great deal along the way, other than various salt lakes and a prohibited military zone the size of England (the British controversially coerced Australia into allowing them to detonate a handful of nuclear bombs here, in various idiotic experiments back in the 1950’s). As I look down at my hands, I can confirm they are not glowing. 

Coober Pedy on the surface was as we had imagined, hot, dusty with barely a blade of grass in sight and emanating a post apocalyptic aura difficult to exaggerate. The town ‘look out’ offered the best views from above but hiding below the scorched earth is another world.

Hotels, museums, shops, a ridiculous amount of churches and the majority of Coober’s population can be found underground. A mind boggling amount of vast rabbit warren homes have been dug far into the rock, providing relief from the thermometer blowing temperatures outside. We were told that in summer it can hit 50 degrees in the shade! The friendly owner of the Comfort Inn let L and I have a wander through her underground establishment giving us a low down on it’s history. With opal mining being the sole reason for Coober Pedy’s existence, L and I set aside a couple of hours in which to make our fortunes. Unfortunately ‘noodling’ (sifting for opals) in the public try-your-luck noodling mounds proved somewhat disappointing with our findings valued by a local dealer as… worthless.

(Photo above: Freaky Fred in is demo cave house back in the day.)

To return to Port Augusta and complete our 670 mile round trip via the same route would have been lacking in adventure so in true outback spirit we ditched the bitumen for an alternative route and headed off grid and further into the back and beyond. The Road House at William Creek (S.A’s smallest settlement, current registered population 3) was where we first encountered human life after leaving Coober Pedy. We stopped for a couple of hours to tend to some expensive cold beers and talked to the lady behind the bar, who seemed quite happy for some company telling us all about how S.A’s smallest settlement happened to sit within the world's largest cattle station! Leaving William Creek we found ourselves rolling down the iconic Oodnadatta track to the tiny outback town of Marree, making small detours along the way to look at the natural hot springs, ochre pits and the old ruins from the Ghan railway. We passed by the mysterious Marree man and soaked up endless salty views of Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre, Australia’s largest salt lake. L and I had heard these two were best viewed from the air but we decided not to book on a scenic flight after overhearing the young, newly qualified pilot advertise that this was his first flying job... suddenly the budget was a little too tight and instead we cramped on.

We crossed paths with a few more outback relics before the flat red earth changed to brown and then tree covered mountains erupted in front of us. We’d arrived at the Ikara-Flinders ranges, South Australia’s biggest mountain range.