Coober Pedy to the Middle of Nowhere
Coober Pedy has left lasting impression on us for more than one reason. The surrounding, the underground shops, restaurants and dwellings, even underground Catholic Church, as well as the mixed population, well stocked supermarket and all the services needed in such remote town. We had hardly time to digest all the impressions, when the town was hit with a gale force winds. We quickly retreated to the caravan park to our campervan. Thanks to the wireless internet I could catch up with emails and even installed Skype and made few calls to our families in Czech.( Our Skype name is – joandvlastik1 – ) They were very happy to hear from us, as well as our friends here we could catch up with. The wind was so strong that we had to pull down the roof on the campervan to avoid having it ripped to pieces. The dust and sand was getting through every little gap so in spite of being hot, we had to close everything and suffer the heat. Again it was a very good timing not to be on the road. Some locals were saying that that sort of wind would last at least four days. Not very encouraging prognosis.
One very enjoyable thing was the quality of water, which is desalinated and good drinking quality. It comes from the Great Artesian Basin. From a filling station in the main street you can purchase water 24 hrs a day. Every time you insert a 20c coin, you get about 30 liters. So we filled our tank with it as well as another 15 liter container. We also bought in the supermarket another 5 x 10 liter containers for only $4.50 each. We have now about 120 liters of water and on the top of it 60 cans of beer! We should not die of dehydration! We also topped our supplies of food to make sure that we do not starve. We also replaced one of our batteries in the van which was not working well.
So we should be right for at least a month till we get back to decent size town with a decent supermarket. Otherwise in the roadhouses, understandably, all is very expensive.
The gale force wind lasted most of the night, but by morning it stopped. We woke up to a beautiful morning, blue sky and no wind.
After leaving Coober Pedy we are turning left and heading east towards William Creek. Soon we are passing the dog fence, 9,600 km long from Surface Paradise Qld to Bight in WA. Unimaginable!
Shortly after that we saw a couple of Emus and then a dingo. He was looking at me very curiously, obviously not used seeing strange creatures running on the road. When a car was approaching, he ran further away, but when the car was gone, he again showed a lot of interest in me. He got closer again, to within about 50 meters and followed me for about 2 km before he lost interest. They must be very tough animals to survive in this harsh environment.
Around midday the wind started blowing very hard again creating clouds of sand hitting me very hard like little needles and my eyes, nose and mouth were full of sand. Not very pleasant, though luckily it was cross wind so it did not slow me much and it did not last very long before it started moderating again.
We thought after running through deserts of WA that we have seen it all. But nothing so far has been as barren as what we are running through now. For some 60 kilometers it was stony desert, and then it changed into sand desert. Here is almost no vegetation we have seen before in deserts, like small trees and shrubs. Here are only stones or sand.
We met a lady who has just traveled through Great Central Road and she told us, that the section between Docker River and Yulara has been just graded and is pretty good. Great news! If they had done it a couple of weeks ago, it could have been much easier for us and saved us a lot of troubles. But such is life!
This William Creek Road is very quiet, by 12 noon we were passed by only three cars. By mid afternoon Jo stopped by a spot which looked very promising for camping just as a bus was passing by and to our surprise it stopped. I saw from a distance people running across the road but our campervan looked very small. I was worried that there was an accident but as I got closer I could see that the van was in a dip so it only looked so small. Then I saw some young people running towards me. I was so pleasantly surprised not only by the fact that the bus stopped at all, but the welcome we received. It was Kingstons Coach Tours carrying students from Cathedral College in Victoria on a school trip to Coober Pedy and Ayers Rock. This was one of the special moments we will never forget about. They all were all so enthusiastic and supportive. We used the opportunity to offer them some bandanas. They were selling like hotcakes! These were very special people. Most others would just worry about their own business while on a trip, but these students, teachers and all others involved were happy to spend at least half an hour with us asking questions and listening to our experiences. At the end the teacher Peter Christison put in our money box $50 note and asked us to place one of the bandanas, with some comments written on it, on the wall at the William Creek Roadhouse. We will sure do it Peter, and thank you all for a very enjoyable time with all of you. We have received from them in total over $165! Thank you so much on behalf of young people living with cancer.
The spot Jo picked up for overnight stay was absolutely beautiful. After dozens of kilometers of flat desert there was a group of large trees amongst sand dunes, a very pictures spot. As we discovered later, it was the only one all the way to William Creek.
The next morning started well enough, blue sky, light wind, from south west which was assisting my running. By midday the wind picked up and became very strong. Still the same direction, but occasional gusts threw sand at my back ( I am running in shorts only ) and legs – perhaps I could consider it to be a massage and be happy with it. At the end we were relived when arrived at William Creek and found a sheltered spot from the wind on the camping ground. We were offered a cold beer in the bar which was much appreciated. It helped to rinse our mouths from the dust and sand we have been swallowing all day. We could not resist the temptation and had a dinner in the hotel. We both chose Fisherman’s Basket and really enjoyed it especially with the fresh salad. Shower before going to bed was most welcome but the water is very salty again, perhaps the worst we have come across. When I got little in my mouth I almost got sick.
William Creek is situated on the Oodnadatta Track by the Old Ghan Line in Outback South Australia. The Hotel was established in 1887 and is heritage listed. The front bar is uniquely decorated by travelers from all over the world with memorabilia. It is a typical outback pub with a lots of chatacter.
William Creek is the smallest town in Australia and is surrounded by the world’s largest cattle station – Anna Creek. It has 30,113 square kilometers!
It exports annually over 6,000 heads of cattle, mainly to the USA, Japan and South Korea. This is the Kidman Story but I will not go into more details.
After departing William Creek in all day we met again only six other vehicles. A couple of them stopped and donated $70 between them. This makes us always happy, especially since the donations were coming in very slowly. We deposited $521.05 in Coober Pedy, with the online donations it is now well over $14,000, still much short of our goal. There is still a lot of time left and we hope it will be much better once we get to more populated areas.
The wind dropped over night and turned around. It was cold and it was back to the old jumper to put on early in the morning. The benefit is that I do not get so thirsty, but makes the running harder.
Following the Old Ghan Line was a great experience. I was running on it for a while, picked up few old, handmade nails used to secure the rails and could not stop thinking about the great men who built it. I was trying to imagine the hard times they must have been experiencing in this unforgiving, harsh environment. The number of creeks they had to span, the hill they had to dig through! Yet they achieved the great engineering task and helped to open the country to future development. I hope that our schools do devote enough time to teaching our kids about these great men and their achievement.
There are many ruins on the way but also some well preserved sidings like Beresford which is a great place to camp as well. The next one is Cowards Springs. Absolute must for anyone traveling the Oodnadatta Track. It is so well looked after, the campsites are clean, sheltered, the history of the place so well preserved, a credit to the mangers of the site. Old fashioned shower with water heated by wood fired boiler, museum with a lot of interesting information and not to forget about the natural spa bath – a shear pleasure to dip in after a hard day. The only disadvantage is that where there is water, there are mosquitoes as well. You don’t see nor feel them in desert where there is no water.
As I was passing the remains of the Telegraph line connecting Adelaide with Darwin, bringing news from the rest of the world, I met a group of vehicled led by Peter from “Great Divide Tours “– a 4WD – Tag-Along Tours. They were very generous so we received a lot of donations from all of them.
For some time we are now traveling through a beautiful country. Red dunes all around, but the road is firm and much better than what some travelers would like to make us believe. There are many people we have met, who have very little idea about what they are talking about, yet pretend to be the expert on the road conditions and other aspects of traveling. In the most outrages case a man on the west coast of WA was trying to tell us, that we cannot possible travel on the Strzelecki Track, because it is near the Olgas where the big mountains start! I would always prefer advice from the appropriate authorities to the advice from other travelers, though some can offer reliable an up to date information.
Soon we are running again through beautiful red sand dunes. I am really enjoying every minute of it. The weather is still reasonably cool which makes it even more enjoyable.
Eventually the red dunes are replaced by flat, stony, featureless plains. It looks much like freshly ploughed fields if you do not look closely to see that it is not soil but stones.
The next building on the Old Ghan Line is Cardimurka. It is well preserved station with crossing, signs and railway lines. It takes you back to the times when history was made.
Before long we are approaching Lake Eyre. It is the largest salt water inland lake in Australia – 10,000 square kilometers. On rare occasion it is full, mostly empty. From a distance it looks as if there is water in it, but when I got close to the edge, all I could see was salt. The lake is sitting on the top of the Great Artesian Basin, the largest basin in the world. It is 3,000 meters deep and contains 65,000 gigaliters of pressurized, up to 100 deg C hot water, which is said to be 2 millions years old. The amount of water in the Basin is estimated to be equivalent to 130,000 Sydney Harbours! It is being utilized by many towns, including Coober Pedy.
Not far from here I saw the first Lake Eyre Dragon and was able to take some pictures. We also saw few cattle but I still cannot understand what they can possibly eat in these deserts.
As we get closer to Marree, the road is more hilly but firm. There are a lot of creeks, all dry of course, most offering good sites for camping. But the wind has picked up and by the time we made it to Marree, it was a gale force. The temperature reached 32 deg. C so we both were happy to reach Marree and settled in the Caravan Park.
Clouds of dust everywhere, we had to keep the campervan closed in spite of the heat. But now towards the evening the wind is moderating and we hope for better day tomorrow when we start heading towards Lyndhurst, the start of the Strzelecki Track.
This is day 62 and the distance I have run so far is 3,682 kilometers. We are managing OK, some days are harder than others, but we both are coping very well, thanks God.