<<  Alice to Coober Pedy, 3-Oct-2013  >>

From Northern to South

Leaving Norhtern Territory, entering South Australia: beauty of desolation at Breakaways and desolation of beauty in Coober Pedy

Lucie’s campervan and all its inhabitants headed back Alice Springs, where we spent one night in a hostel (first night in “normal” accommodation since we arrived to Australia from Bali, aaaaahhhh, finally sleeping in a bed!) and then we split into 3 parties, each continuing its own way. Me and Irene headed south towards Adelaide, Lucie and Brice northeast to Townsville on the east coast and Franziska stayed in Alice Springs because in 10 days Aboriginal festival was going to start. Me and Irene were very seriously considering to stay, because we would love to see that festival and see at least traces of the Aboriginal culture which I lamented about in the last post, but staying 10 days in Alice Springs wouldn’t be too much of time killer and so we decided to leave.
Funny thing about Alice Springs hostel. The last thing I would expect to see in Alice Springs, the black hole of the world was posters from communist Czechoslovakia, yet this is exactly what I found on a wall of the bar in the hostel. “We hunted down a dangerous pest: capitalism!” :-)
In the evening we, the five of us, shared few beers in the hostel’s bar and in the morning me and Irene went to get our new campervan, packed all the stuff, said good bye to the others, went to buy supplies for the trip to Adelaide and got the hell out of there.

How to travel cheap in Australia (or better yet, how to travel and earn money) lesson 1: Relocations.

Relocations – the best invention since sliced bread. Get a car for free, get petrol for free and even get some money for traveling. That’s how I like it!
The point of these relocations is this. In Australia a lot of people travel in rented campervans, because Australia is perfect for campervan tourism – long distances to travel, lots of campgrounds and rest areas where you can park and sleep, public toilets (always clean and always with toilet paper) are all over the place, etc. So there’s heaps of people moving around in campervans in Australia. Another important factor is the climate. As the Land Down Under is so vast, it has different climate zones and all year round the weather is great somewhere and totally sucks somewhere else. The high season for the outback (the inland) and the north of Australia is winter because during summer the temperatures are unbearable (around 50’C), the high season for the coast is obviously summer. As it was beginning of October the season in the outback was pretty much over and the season in the south and on the coast was just about to start. What it means is that the campervan rental companies get stuck with too many campervans that people drove to Alice Springs and then flew out of there and they lack campervans in the south where the season was about to start. So what they need to do is to move the vehicles from A to B. Normal way would be to pay a driver to take those vehicles there, but there is a cheaper way. They giveaway the campervans to tourists for free and they even pay the petrol for the journey and the tourists bring the vehicle where the company needs within a deadline which they need. It’s a win-win deal. The company saves because it doesn’t have to pay a driver, the tourists save because they don’t have to pay for the car and petrol. The trick here is that the offers are limited and usually only available from weird locations (such as Alice Springs) where there is low chance that someone will rent the campervan in the coming weeks.
Luckily for us there was a lot of campervans waiting for relocation to other places and some companies were probably quite desperate so not only did they offer the van for free and bit of petrol (which is standard), they offered to pay for the whole petrol to the destination and one deal even offered to pay 100 AUD in cash as a “wage”. When we saw this deal we snatched it like a hungry shark snatches a surfer and thus secured for us the deal of the year. For going from Alice Springs to Adelaide, which was the destination for that relocation we not only got the ride for free (well it’s not completely true, on various small charges and blab la bla we ended up paying 40 AUD) we actually earned 100 AUD. Wow, my first job in Australia – a driver :-)

The campervan which we had to relocate was a very fance big campervan with comfortable beds, a sink, a gas burner, a fridge and even a microwave. And since we did not have to bother about economy of driving because the petrol was to be repaid we could drive it 140 km/h, not 85 kmh/h as Lucie’s old campervan.
Of course nothing comes truly for free and there is one “but” in the relocations. Of course no one gives you a car for free to do with it whatever you want, so the downside of the relocation deals is that the time which you have to make it from A to B is very limited. It is enough to do the transfer without having to drive 12 hours a day (usually 5-7 hours a day is required to make it), but it gives you very little time for sightseeing and even less time for side trips. Luckily, there is only one road between Alice Springs and Adelaide and the only sightseeing detour is Uluru, which we had seen already and so we didn’t have to worry too much about missing out some stuff and we drove practically straight from Alice Springs to Adelaide and during those 2,5 days which is took we stopped only in The Breakaways and Coober Pedy.
The Breakaways are oddly shaped mesas, cliffs and eroded mountains which are even more oddly colored. They are outpost of Painted Desert, and painted they are. Painted Desert lied far beyond our reach on unsealed road, we had no time to do it (and anyway it’s forbidden to drive on unsealed road during relocation, and if something happened with the van there we would end up paying fortune to get it fixed), but even this small slice of the thing was very impressive. And no one around, just me and Irene. Irene looked like she belonged right there. She looked either like an Indian (I mean Native American) scouting somewhere in Death Valley, or as a someone from hippie movie off-loaded and stranded here. All that magnificent hair blown by the desert winds, those colorful clothes she wears, yeah in some surreal way she belonged to that striking piece of no man’s land of Martian looks. Holy.

Next stop was Coober Pedy, the most insane town I have ever seen. Coober Pedy is Australia’s (and I suppose world’s) opal mining capital and hundreds and thousands lost souls moved here to dig for the wealth in the barren land around Coober Pedy. No vegetation at all, freezing winters and boiling summers, desolate landscape in every direction… The temperatures in this town are so unbearable that people started to live underground. Houses are underground, temples are underground (they must be the only temples which are leaning down towards realm of Satan instead up toward Kingdom of God), there is even underground campground! The temperature underground is stable 23’C so no wonder that living in burrows became so popular.
The whole place looks downright post-apocalyptic. Rusting cars and machinery everywhere, treeless badlands, no one in the streets… this must be one of the worst places to live in the 1st world.
Amazingly there are Croatians, Italians, Greeks and many other nationalities, who came here because of lure of the opal. Unbelievable in what conditions people choose to live for promise of fortune. But the place surely did have whole lotta atmosphere, even if it was atmosphere of post-apocalyptic world, where the last remaining humans ran deep into deserts to escape ranging of Terminators, mutant radioactive man-eaters or other servants of Armageddon, and stayed here to be destined for horrifying last resistance against extinction. In this way I liked it, its brutal tension, but people who moved here and decided to bring up their kids here must be simply mad.

Click for photo gallery

     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak