Going Out of Business Sale

Trip Report 2008 Australia: Coober Pedy, Port Germain and The Claire Valley

May 16 2008On The Road To Australia

Waiting room at LAX airport where I spent about 8 hours waiting for the plane to Sydney Australia.

05/16/2008: Left Billings on schedule in another United Boeing 737 aircraft that was timely and got into Denver early.  I enjoy travelling through Denver International Airport as the huge United concourse is very well laid out with plenty of seating and motorized walkways that service almost all of the jetways.  And of course the Pour La France Restaurant never disappoints with table service and great coffee during my usual long layovers in Denver.

Same plane and same results from Denver to LAX…smooth timely flights.  Just a bit early into LAX and the Qantas gate wasn’t quite ready for us…but only a 10-minute delay.  At this writing the Qantas Boeing 747 flight out of LAX to Sydney was delayed by one hour due to bad weather coming out of LaGuardia.  So I’m sitting here at gate 48B waiting to hear about my flight to Sydney.  Luckily, I have a 4-hour layover in Sydney before my flight leaves for Adelaide.   I have hopes this layover will provide an extra cushion if there’s a delay arriving into Sydney.  There can sometimes be a long wait to get through Australian Customs.  But if I do miss my scheduled flight from Sydney to Adelaide there are additional flights on this route almost hourly.

May 18 2008Made It To Australia…

My home away from home for 2 weeks in Australia.


5/17/2008 & 5/18/2008: Missed my connecting flight from Sydney to Adelaide due to our VERY late arrival from into Sydney (so much for the time cushion).  Oz customs was terribly overburdened and could use help.  Must have taken at least an hour to process through customs.  Around Australia Motor-Homes picked me up at the airport (thank you) and got me quickly into the waiting campervan.  But one of the three stove burners was non-functional and the door didn’t lock.  I seldom use more than one burner so that shouldn’t be a problem.  A broken door lock is a very bad thing when your carrying lots of opals and large quantities of money.  I was indeed anxious to get on the road as it gets dark early this time of the year in AustraliaDidn’t make it onto the road with the campervan until 3:30PM, so I didn’t dare to get any further than Port Wakefield and get into kangaroo country.

Port Wakefield has a small but very clean caravan park (RV Park) where I’ve stayed before.  It’s right on Spenser Gulf and I love the salt air smell and seabird sounds here.  Grabbed a take away seafood supper, just up the street from the caravan park, with calamari, chips (french fries), and a small salad.  Read for about 2 minutes and nodded off early and had a very good sleep…what happened to my jet lag?  I’m sure it will show up tomorrow or the next night.

May 19 2008Port Pirie And Halfway To Coober

View of surrounding outback country from the "rest area" where I spent the night. As I took this photo I was thinking that this area just might have some opal...maybe I should have a look??

5/19/08: Stopped in Port Pirie for groceries and money, so I wiled away a few hours running errands.  Got back on the Stuart Highway just after a nice fish and chips lunch at Barnacle Bill’s restaurant in Port Pirie. With fading daylight I decided to spend the night in a rest area (camping is permitted in the very large, though basic, rest area parking lots along the Stuart Highway) just south of Glendambo in the good company of 3 other Australian camping parties.  Sat around the campfire with the crew and exchanged stories of our lives.  It was a beautiful clear star-filled evening with great company.  I love the stars down here…much different than what we see in the north…the southern cross constellation (on the Australian and New Zealand flags) was displaying itself with pride and Orion, my favorite constellation in the USA, appears to be standing on his head in Australia.

I love song written by Stephen Stills  and recorded by Crosby, Stills & Nash titled “Southern Cross” and the lyrics:

“When you see the Southern Cross for the first time…you’ll understand now why you came this way…’cause the truth you might be running from is so small…but it’s as big as the promise…the promise of a coming day”.  Not sure I understand it the lyrics, but I love the song and the lyrics seemed appropriate on this night with that bright starry southern sky.


May 20 2008Finally…Coober Pedy!

Lonely mulga (acacia) tree barely surviving in the harsh Australian outback.

5/20/08: I was up early and on the road by 8:00AM.  Brewed a pot of coffee in my little 4 cup percolator travel pot and had cereal with bananas.  It starts to get light here about 7:30 so it’s wise to wait until you can clearly see the highway as kangaroos and emus are a very real danger.  Saw 2 emu’s close enough that it required quick braking on my part.  Huge birds!!  Rolled into Coober about 11:00AM and stopped to see a friend, Trevor Berry, to see if he was free for lunch.  Trevor and I have been friends since Darlene and I first came to Australia in 2000.  He now operates the Old Timers Mine on Crowders Gully Rd in Coober.  If you are visiting Coober Pedy a stop at the Old Timers Mine is a must!!

We ate at the Ampol Roadhouse and had a very nice meal…stuffed green peppers (capsicum in Oz) and boiled and buttered potatoes.  Then, I looked at two small bright parcels of opals from Emu Opalfield and purchased both.   I felt blessed indeed to find exactly what I was looking for.  Checked into the Opal Inn Caravan Park and took a long walk around town taking photos of the tourist attractions….stretching my cramped legs and weary back  from the long drive.  Had a quick supper in the campervan.  Got to sleep around 9:00pm, but woke at 3am.

May 21 2008Opals…Opals!

Calsweld Drill beginning to drill a shaft at Allan's Rise Opalfield when cable supporting the drill-head almost parted...scary!

5/21/08 Looked at a couple other parcels of opal and found them to be a bit expensive or a little on the small side…so I had to pass.  The new Aussie friends I met at the rest area stopped by around 11:00am and we were planning to go out with a couple miners and watch them do a bit of drilling.  But the equipment broke and so we went out to the 17 Mile Field to see the workings and then had lunch at the “Breakaways”.  The “Breakaways” are a very scenic, badland-like scenic area just north of Coober Pedy.

Later in the day I stopped in to see another opal miner and was informed he’d just found a nice parcel at Allan’s Rise.  John Dunstan was going to clean it up and grade it and would show it to me the next night at my campervan.  I’m always happy to see a parcel from Alan’s Rise.  It mostly forms in vertical seams that have rainbow-like patterns that can be cut like horizontal seams.  Beautifully reds and electric blues along with some VERY stunning black opal comes from the underground and open-cut mines here.  Mostly this opal is found at shallow depths of 10-40 feet which results in very stable healthy opal. But it’s a long drive down to Alan’s Rise for the miners…it sits about 45 miles south of Coober on a rough single lane track through the stony outback.  Can’t wait to see this parcel!  Might be getting ahead of myself here…better adjust my opal expectations.

May 22 2008Caldwell Drill Problems…

Large parcel of opals presented to me by Tim Seekamp in his dugout.

5/22/08: Tim Seekamp stopped by around 8:00am and I followed him down to the new diggings at Opal Ridge.  Tim and Paul Reynolds were planning to drill for opal that morning with a large Calweld drill.  While drilling the first 1-meter diameter hole, the main support cable separated and began to break away from the main 3.5-ton drilling member.  What could have turned out to be a very dangerous operation, was solved by Paul, when he lowered the drill member onto the gantry while manning the controls almost directly under the huge drilling member.  But a new cable was available at Paul’s home and would be changed out safely the next day.  Drove back to Coober and had chips and a Greek yuro sandwich for lunch at John’s Pizza Bar and Restaurant.  John’s Pizza is one of my favorite places for lunch in Coober and has great breakfast and pizza as well.

Stopped in and had a nice long visit with Anne Johnson.  Anne and Joe became lasting friends when we stayed at their B&B in Coober during our first trip to Australia.  Anne is also a writer and wrote a very interesting book about mining life in Coober Pedy: “Digging Around Coober Pedy”.  The book consists a concise history of Coober Pedy, especially in the early years and several short biographies about several well known opal miners in town.  It was useful for me when looking for miners who might have opal parcels for sale.  Also bought 4 more jars of home canned quandong jam from Anne.  These will be gifts for friends in the USA.

Washed clothes in the afternoon and John called and said he had cleaned up the Allan’s Rise parcel and I could come over and have a look.  So I walked over to his home and viewed the gorgeous parcel…a LOT of opal at a good price…about 300 ounces of opal in the lot, including the potch & color grades.  The price was dear, but I love Allan’s Rise opal and I know my opal customers would like it as much as I did and it would sell quickly.

May 23 2008Another Day In Coober…

Above ground hopper on an underground mining operation. Mining debris is sucked up and into this hopper and when the spring loaded hopper is full the weight causes the mullock or waste rock to drop onto the inverted cone shaped piles.

5/23/08: Cold cereal and banana brekkie in the campervan and spent a couple hours updating this trip report.  Got a couple of days behind, but reliving the memories and catching up was fun.  Time to hit the showers…$0.20 for a 4 minute shower.  Water is expensive in Coober Pedy as it’s all done with reverse osmosis treatment.  Water is found 23 miles NE of Coober, 60 meters deep in an artesian formation and piped into town.  Unfortunately it’s salty and reverse osmosis purification seems to be the best answer.  The 50 liter fresh water tanks of my campervan can be filled at the municipal water treatment plant on Hutchison Street for $.20 for 30 liters…really a bargain.

Looked at a few more opal parcels today and then had lunch at John’s Pizza…another delicious Greek gyro, chips and a small Greek salad.  Then packed and shipped my first 6 boxes of opal back to the USA.  It’s always a good feeling to buy good opal and get it in the mail heading back home.  Unfortunately the shipping bill was about AU$500.00…but it’s worth it not to have to process our stones through customs, via an expensive customs broker.

Looked at more opal today and passed on the lot…individual opal pieces were a bit too small.  I try to find stones that are medium/small to large sizes.  The smaller stones can be cut and are very bright for the most part, but for the average hobby cutter and jeweler…larger sizes are more in demand.  I myself like the challenge of the irregular shaped stones for carving and have been known to steal the odd stone for use in our home studio opal carving classes.  Another quiet night at the Opal Inn Caravan Park.

May 24 2008RV Problems…

Unique art Gallery on Hutchison St Coober Pedy that was once an opal-mine.

5/24/08: Had problems with the campervan today and spent the morning on the cell phone with AAM to try and find a solution.  The deep-cycle utility batteries weren’t charging and a loud alarm was heard from inside the residence portion of the camper when the engine was started.  I found the alarm was due to the cabin step being deployed.  The purpose of this loud alarm was to prevent driving away with the step extended which could rip it off when driving close to a high curb.

Stopped by another miner’s dugout to have a look at several high priced parcels.  Prices have REALLY gone up this year due to several reasons.  The large metal (copper, gold, iron and uranium) ore mines have taken many of the young miners into their employ.  But with beginning wages paying from AU$100K to AU$120K per year, it’s hard to stick by the opal miners adventurous and risky lifestyle. So the amount of opal available to purchase is very, very low.  And the law of supply and demand commands higher opal prices.  Another reason was due to extremely high diesel prices…AU$1.70/liter ($6.70/gallon US).  And the final reason…the poor exchange rate between the USA$ and the AU$.  The AU$ was at a 28 year high with the $US. I know…I know…quit your whining Steve!!

May 25 2008More Opal and Supper at Tom & Mary’s Taverna

Opal-field mining equipment termed a "blower" at the rest area as you enter Cobber Pedy. The truck contains a large fan assembly that's for sucking the mining debris out of the underground mine and a large generator for power.

5/25/08:  Breakfast again consisted of Kellog’s Just Right Cereal cereal and banana along with orange/mango juice.  I became hooked on Just Right cereal during my many weeks spent in Australia buying opal.  Sadly it’s not available on grocery store shelves in the USA.  I may end up ordering it on Amazon and spend $20.00 for shipping.  I think they mix an addictive drug in this cereal 🙂

Talked to several miners about parcels today…striking out.  Later talked to a miner, I hadn’t dealt with previously, about a medium sized opal parcel from Allan’s Rise.  Allan’s Rise is the probably the most requested field for opal at present.  It yields opal that is very dark based (read black opal), or perhaps a stunning crystal based with characteristic rainbow-like fire patterns.  I truly love this opal and so do many other opal cutters!!  Also visited another miner who some tempting parcels that were much larger than my budget could afford…especially one for AU$30K that had a huge assortment of  opalized fossil clams, belemnites, mussels, snails and other fossils that very much had me testing the commandment about coveting your neighbors possessions.

Had supper at my favorite restaurant in Coober Pedy, Tom and Mary’s Greek Taverna, with good friend Trevor Berry.

May 26 2008Last Day in Coober Pedy

Illustration of how a "blower" works, posted in front of the blower at the rest area in Coober Pedy.


5/26/08:  Had breakfast at John’s Pizza Bar & Restaurant.  Ordered eggs and sausage with toast…but I have to comment that this is probably the best American style breakfast I’ve had in Australia.  The eggs were perfect and the sausages were huge (3 of them…couldn’t eat them all) served with toast and beautiful grilled tomatoes (it’s an Australian thing).

Made a trip to the Westpac bank to pick up the funds for John Dunstan’s Allan’s Rise parcel. Packed up the last parcel and shipped it off via the Australian Post.  It was a great feeling!!  I don’t have to worry about carrying large sums of cash and the campervan is no longer home to expensive gem opal.  I can relax a bit…now if I can make it back to Billings without incident.

Stopped by friends to say farewell and thanks.  I’m leaving early tomorrow.  Just need to stop by an John & Yoka’s Art Art Shop and pick up a beautiful print by H. Neumann for our Australian art wall.  Stopped by the Coober Pedy Grocery Store next to the post office for supplies for tonight’s supper: spaghetti with marinara sauce (sausage, onion, garlic and green peppers stir-fried and added in to simmer for about 15 minutes) in the campervan.  I’m ready to head south and spend a few days relaxing near the Southern Ocean.

May 27 2008Heading South Toward Adelaide…

My favorite Australain bird: the friendly, gregatrious and raucous Galah.

5/27/08 Ran a few errands before departing: bank, Miners Store (for milk, cereal and juice) and water plant to fill up the fresh water tanks on the campervan.  Stopped by John and Yoka’s Opal and Art store to get a painting.  Also said my goodbyes, as they’ve become lasting friends in Coober Pedy over the years.

Then topped off the petrol and on the road by 10:00AM.  Nothing eventful along the way, except for the crosswinds that keep me fighting to maintain a straight line of travel.  Made it to Pimba (366km) and again filled the petrol tank on the van.  After that I began to keep an eye out for a friendly rest area to make my home for the night.  Found one with a toilet which is fairly rare as most are just gravel parking areas with a shelter, picnic table or two and a big garbage can.  This rest area had about 10 campers spending the night…I can’t help but think that there is safety in numbers.

Stopped outside and had a visit with a few other campers who were sitting in a group and singing along to one of the travelers strumming her guitar.  But too soon I began to get hungry and it began to get cold.  So I retired to my van for the evening to create a quick spaghetti supper and finish work on the travelogue.  Just didn’t sleep too well…seemed like the trucks along the highway were about to come through the campervan.  I was only about 30 yards off the bitumen.

May 28 2008Port Germein & Port Pirie

Long wooden pier at Port Germein. It seemed as if this pier was about a mile in length...but it was a beautiful day and with the fresh salt air and seabirds nearby it was a great walk.

5/28/08: On the road at 9:00AM…a bit later than planned as it was pea soup fog outdoors.  But it quickly cleared into a beautiful cloudless day.  Stopped in Port Germein along Spencer Gulf to do a little exploring as I had a couple extra days before my flight departed.  Walked out on the VERY long jetty…said to be the longest in Australia at 1.6 kilometers.  I could certainly believe that, as it must have been about a mile long.  Had lunch at the hotel in PG.  Had a very large and tasty calamari and chips meal.  Some of the largest calamari I’d had but tasty and tender as the smaller ones.  The strangest things you discover in Australia 🙂

Then off again to Port Pirie where I stopped in the city center for a few things.  Checked into the Port Pirie Beach Caravan Park and got a gorgeous site right on the estuary into Spencer Gulf.  There was a great view of sea birds and the grey mangrove out of the rear window of my campervan.  Walked out to the local seafood market along the pier and on the way back to the caravan park became very nauseous.  I hope this isn’t a result of the lunch in Port Germain?  The Spencer Gulf oysters and shrimp purchased at SD Caputo and Son’s Market will have to wait until tomorrow’s lunch. This seafood market is one reason I almost always spend a night in Port Pirie on my way to Coober Pedy. I’ve seldom found a market with such a variety of seafood and with such great quality!

May 29 2008Port Wakefield for the Night…

Lovely sunset seen from my campsite in Port Pirie.

5/29/08: Was up quite a bit last night with stomach cramps and the associated bowel troubles.  Is that the polite way of saying it?  Couldn’t make up my mind if I should spend the night in Port Pirie or Port Wakefield, but around 10:00AM, when I was feeling up to snuff, Port Wakefield won out.  I needed a change of scenery.

Took the slow lane to Port Wakefield and made a few stops to view the scenery up close.  I was planning on making a trip to Uluru (Ehyer’s Rock), in the center of Australia this year, but with the price of petrol decided against it.  Now I wish I had as I have 3 days to while away and boredom is setting in.

Checked into the lovely Port Wakefield Caravan Park and got a powered site right on the water…plenty of lovely and raucous water birds to view from my window.  As I was feeling better I ate the 6 fresh oysters on the half-shell and they were sweet and very fresh.  And I threw together a quick fried rice dish with some Spencer Gulf shrimp and calamari thrown in for good measure.  I was a little concerned about my stomach, but it held up just fine.  Sat out for a bit to watch the sunset and the beautiful southern hemisphere stars.  Even saw a little of the Orion constellation…but he was upside down here in the southern hemisphere again…so that’s where he goes during our summers.  He seems to be just a winter constellation in Montana.  But Orion could be out in the early hours of morning when I’m not.

May 30 2008Last Days In Oz…

Old unmaintained pilings at the end of Port Germain Pier are alive with seabirds.

5/30/08 & 5/31/08:  Up late (7:30AM) and hit the road to tour the scenic Clare Valley wine country.  The country was hilly with most of the hillsides being covered in grape vines.  Stopped into Cardinham Estates as they were advertising olive oil, but alas, it was off-season and they were all out.  Had lunch at a quaint restaurant in Auburn.  2 coffees, a beef pie and a fruit tart came to AU$26.50.  Considering the US$ and the AU$ are almost equal, that’s a pretty steep price for lunch. Must be the atmosphere? The $100 bills seem to just slip through your fingers this year.  Still have one more day here before driving the campervan into Adelaide for the drop off on Sunday 6/1/08.

Next day I thoroughly cleaned the campervan for return to AAM in Adelaide and took a long walk out past the Port Wakefield club course. Spent some time at the boat launch ramp and visited with a fisherman who was fishing for small young Whiting. He showed me a few he had caught in a 5 gallon pail. The King George Whiting are highly regarded as being one of the tastiest fish in Australian waters.

Headed back to Adelaide the following day and returned the campervan to Around Australia Campervans. Spent my last night in Australia where I always do…Jetty Road area in Glenelg.  Glenelg is a south suburb of Adelaide and just a short taxi ride from the airport. This location is right on the beach and there are numerous restaurants and shops where I can purchase tempting gifts for my wife and grandson Trevin and treat myself to a wide range of delightful foods.

Flights back to LAX and Billings the next day were thankfully smooth and uneventful!