We estimated we would be on the road for about a week for our trip to Coober Pedy and back. Before we started, we shopped and filled up the car’s tank. We stretched our legs and embarked on our 600-kilometer journey. It’s a long drive, but it’s worth it. The untouched Outback unfolds before your eyes, with breathtaking views and landscapes as far as the eye can see. It is advisable to stay focused and keep your eyes on the road while driving, as kangaroos, sheep, or cows may suddenly appear. I had to brake suddenly for a dead sheep on the road, coming to a complete stop to let the oncoming traffic (one car) pass.
The first village on our way is Woomera, which has a history of nuclear testing. Only about 130 people live here. There wasn’t much to see except for a few rockets and planes. We had our lunch and continued driving. On the way, Inez found a nice stop: Lake Hart. This enormous salt lake is also known for its nuclear testing. It was incredible—a vast expanse of white.
We decided to walk to the lake. Inez closed the car door, and suddenly her face turned pale. Her heart started racing, and she said to me, “I left the car key inside.” At first, I didn’t understand, but it turned out that the car was completely locked, and the key was still inside. We didn’t know what to do, but we kept calm, supported each other, and looked for solutions. Fortunately, Inez still had her mobile phone, and we had a bit of reception there. I was mentally stressed because my phone (which I use to measure my blood sugar) and all our other belongings were in the car.
A few people were in the parking area, so I went to ask if anyone had experience breaking into a car. 😀 The two men were workers who had just finished their shift. They came to have a look and broke off some iron pieces from a nearby wrecked car. They tried for two hours to break into the car using various methods. Meanwhile, Inez was pacing back and forth, searching online for ways to break into a car, and I called roadside assistance. The roadside assistance could help us, but because we were pretty remote, it would cost us $700. We preferred to break the smallest window, as that would be cheaper.
In the end, we managed to slightly pry open the door at the top with a screwdriver and use a cable tie to pull the lock open. We were so happy and relieved! Quickly, we took advantage of the remaining time before it got dark to get a closer look at Lake Hart. Up close, the lake seemed frozen. The white salt crust cracked beneath our feet like snow and ice. We had promised the two men who helped us with the car a treat at the pub in the next village. We continued driving and encountered a few sheep crossing the road. After a meal and a few beers, we slept peacefully at the camping spot in Glendambo. It was the last village and the last refueling stop before Coober Pedy.
The next day, we drove from Glendambo towards Coober Pedy. After a few kilometers, we lost reception. When you look out over the vast landscapes, you genuinely feel entirely alone. It’s refreshing but also somewhat thrilling. Along the road were carcasses of kangaroos, sheep, and cows. We frequently saw large eagles and vultures feeding on them. When those birds sit next to you on the road and then take off, you realize how big they are. We continued driving for kilometers. We spotted several abandoned cars and car wrecks.
We passed by various cattle farms where the highway runs through their fields. These farms are so immense that they cannot fully fence them off along the sides of the road. As you approach a cattle station, you see warning signs indicating the possibility of encountering loose livestock on the road. Each farm starts with a sign that says GRID, indicating that you will drive over an iron grid to prevent the livestock from escaping onto the road. We also have these iron grids in the Ardennes in Belgium to keep wild boars away.
Fortunately, we didn’t come across any live animals on the road. We had to brake to cross kangaroos, and seeing a massive dead cow on the road made us wide-eyed. It’s incredible, driving hundreds of kilometers in the Outback. Being cautious at all times is essential! And if you’ve had enough of all the wildlife, you should also watch out for the many road trains. These are massive trucks with sometimes 3 to 5 trailers, up to 55 meters long. They are often responsible for the trail of destruction left on the road—the dead wildlife.
Arriving in Coober Pedy, we saw numerous mounds of sand from the area’s various old and new opal mines. The Mad Max/Western atmosphere here is incredible. It’s no wonder since Mad Max and Pitch Black’s filming occurred here. We visited “The Big Winch,” which offered a 360-degree view of Coober Pedy. The atmosphere there was a bit eerie, but the view was beautiful. Artworks with a slightly macabre touch were scattered around.
Not far away, we visited The Old Timers Mine museum. We took a self-guided tour through an old mine dating back to 1916. We learned a lot about Opal, the history of Coober Pedy, and the mines. By law, no further opal mining is allowed in these mines, so we saw some opal pieces still embedded in the rocks that cannot be extracted. Pieces worth 40,000 Australian dollars. A little further, we visited the Serbian Orthodox Church, which was entirely carved out of the rocks. We each lit a $2 candle as a donation and continued to Crocodile Harry’s residence. This man was a well-known figure in Coober Pedy. He was notorious for his drinking and partying. Wild parties with lots of alcohol and sex were held in his “man cave.” He passed away three years ago, and now his house is world-famous. It’s filled with postcards, photos, flags, messages, strings, bras, and many other items left behind by fans and visitors. It’s hard to explain. Take a look at the photos.
In Coober Pedy, many people live underground to escape the scorching temperatures during the summer, which can reach up to 55 degrees Celsius. So it’s not uncommon to find hotels entirely carved into the rocks here. We stayed at the Underground Lookout Cave hotel, 12 meters below the ground. The temperature there is regulated through an air vent and remains constant at 20-25 degrees Celsius. We enjoyed a pizza and a bottle of wine. A well-deserved rest in a comfortable bed felt good.
The next day, we visited Faye’s Underground Home & Mine. Grant gave us a tour, and what an amazing man he was! Faye was a pioneer in the opal business in Coober Pedy. She came to Coober Pedy in the 1960s and, along with two friends (with whom she also had a relationship), started excavating their house from the rocks. Next to their property was a mine where they found opal every day. Eventually, Faye moved back to Sydney to live out her old life. Since our arrival in Coober Pedy, one particular shop has caught our attention: Waffles & Gems.
Today, it was time to step inside and indulge in some dessert. I had a Belgian Waffle, and Inez had a pancake with ice cream. It was okay. A Belgian doesn’t need much instruction regarding food, especially how to make Belgian Waffles. On our list was also a visit to Kanku, where you can explore the Breakaways, the Dog Fence, and the Moon Plain. You arrive at a stunning landscape after driving 11 kilometers inland on a sandy road. Vast empty plains with colorful sandstone formations. We went to different lookouts and enjoyed the views immensely. Unfortunately, part of the road was closed so we couldn’t reach the Dog Fence and the Moon Plain. The Dog Fence (5,614 kilometers) is the longest fence in the world, built in this location to keep the dingoes out. This was a way to protect the sheep and cattle in the past.
We wanted to take a different route back to Port Augusta because we didn’t want to drive the entire highway again. We checked the road conditions online and on the roads themselves. A large sign at the roads indicated their condition and the type of vehicle allowed. The first road was completely closed. The second road seemed okay, but the 167-kilometer journey would take us 6 hours. Before embarking on this adventure, we stopped by the garage for a complete checkup and advice. The mechanic felt our rear tires and told us they needed to be replaced urgently. The tread was wearing through on the inside. That meant more expenses.
We had extra durable tires installed. In hindsight, we didn’t feel like damaging anything else, so we agreed to return to the highway when we returned to Port Augusta. The mechanic asked us to come back tomorrow for a complete car inspection. We had no choice but to stay another night in Coober Pedy and spent it at the same hotel. We had nothing to complain about as it was quite enjoyable. After a comforting phone call with Linde, we crawled into the delightful bed.
On our last day in Coober Pedy, we had no choice but to take our car to the garage for a full checkup. Everything turned out to be in good condition. We asked if the Breakaways were fully open yet but still closed. We drove back south. We went straight to Glendambo. We rearranged the back of our car (for the umpteenth time) to distribute the weight better. We enjoyed a delicious homemade risotto and went to bed early.
We woke up at 6 a.m., earlier than usual, but the wind was blowing so strong that it was wise to pack up the tent quickly. Inez had planned to call her friends, which she enjoyed and found refreshing. Afterward, we could leave early for our journey south. Our next stop was Port Lincoln. We had 6 hours of rain and very changeable weather along the way. We encountered a staggering 20 dead kangaroos on the road, not to mention the ones lying beside the road. One kangaroo was sitting beside the road, and another couldn’t resist crossing the road. We had to brake abruptly. Upon arriving in Port Augusta, we faced heavy rain and thunderstorms. Another 300 kilometers down the road, we encountered another kangaroo sitting by the roadside and enjoyed beautiful landscapes with the sea on our left as we arrived in Port Lincoln. Our trip to the West Coast can now truly begin. Let’s hope for better weather soon.
To give you a clearer picture of driving in the Outback, take a look below:
X Ely & Inez