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Trip Report 2017 Coober Pedy-Lucky Trip 13

Aug 28 2017September 13-Long Flights To Oz

Not often seen in Coober Pedy...a boat flying a Greek flag. It's a long cruise to Greece from CP. Well...there are a lot of Greeks in the small outback town. Guess they are set for global warming.

9/13/17: Thought I’d try something new this year and do the Trip Report posts while I’m actually in Australia, every day or two, so, if you’d like you can follow along with the adventure. This will be a short preview of the trip, posted early, mostly to see if it works from my old but still serviceable HP Vista laptop.

This is my first trip to Australia during our fall or Australia’s spring…I’m usually in Oz during May or June.  Spring or fall seasons are very enjoyable times as you don’t have the extreme high temps seen in December to February.  And, being the airplane enthusiast that I am, this year I chose to fly the newer fuel efficient plane the Boeing 787 Dreamliner via United on the transpacific route from LAX to Sydney.  Lots of new high tech features on this plane: wings and fuselage made of mostly carbon fiber laminates, larger overhead bins, electronic dimming of larger sized windows (electrochromic), quieter environment, a USB power port for my laptop and improved air filtration and humidity control.  Hopefully this means less chance of catching a cold or flu during the long 8,000 mile 15 hour flight.  And I also decided to spend a few extra shekels for economy plus, where I will get a bit bigger seat, slightly better service (??) and a couple extra inches of legroom for my 74 inch lanky frame…Economy Plus…wish it was business class.

The flights I’ll be taking this year are: Billings to Denver-Denver to LAX-LAX to Sydney-Sydney to Adelaide.  In Adelaide I will pick up a car and try to drive as far as Port Augusta (310km), but will likely get no further than Port Pirie (229km) after all that flight time…about 32 hours including airport layovers.

I’ve called or emailed (yes…they do have good internet connections in the Coober Pedy) many of the miners I buy opal from and reports say that there is a plentiful supply of opal for sale in Coober Pedy.  So that was really unexpected good news.  On my last trip May 2016 opal was very scarce and very expensive.  I’m very glad to hear it’s not scarce at present and hope it’s not as expensive as in 2016.

On my way now…made it to LAX without a hitch and the 787 was only 2 gates down from where I arrived.  The flight from Billings to Denver was a newer A320 and the flight to LAX was a big 777.  Flight boarded at 10:00pm and departed precisely at 10:50.  The long 15.5 hour haul.


Sep 15 2017Back In Australia

Looking out from the edge of Hans Peak Opalfield to Greek Gully Opalfield. Dusty desert country, but there's opal here :-)

9/15/2017 (skipped 9/14 crossing international dateline) Arrived in Sydney at 6:45am and then I caught a Qantas flight to Adelaide…about 1/2 hour late getting into Adelaide.   This year I was able to get 5-6 hours of sleep on the endless 15.5 hour transpacific flight.  Picked up my rental vehicle and made it to Port Pirie in time to get a new SIM card at the Telstra store for my old Aussie cell phone.

Now I’m at the new, very modern shi-shi Ellen Hotel in Port Pirie and about to have supper here….shaved and showered.  Feels good after all that travel.  Supper consisted of spaghetti with a seafood marinara sauce.  The pasta was cooked in water with squid ink which gave the pasta a black color and a different fishy taste…but a good fishy taste. There was an iceberg lettuce salad sprinkled with Greek olive oil and feta cheese…tasty but difficult to eat politely as as the lettuce was in big hunks which had to be cut into smaller pieces…a challenge cutting lettuce with olive oil in a bowl.  The slice of french bread I ordered was spiced with garlic, herbs and butter and grilled or broiled….it was a treat for my taste buds.  Lots of seafood in the marinara! I was extremely impressed with supper. I’m writing this at 2am as jet lag has reared it’s head and am hoping that a bit of computer work will tire me out.

Tomorrow I hope to rise early and make it to Coober Pedy by early afternoon.   The towns I will be traveling through, along the way to Coober Pedy, are Port Augusta, Pimba and Glendambo.  Not many towns for my 630km journey…you dare not miss a gas fill up up at any of those towns.

Sep 17 2017Long Outback Drive Day

Huge 2 piece brain-like piece of Andamooka Matrix opal. Was shown to me by miner...if interested I can check on price.

9/16/17 Left Port Pirie later than I had planned.  Stopped at a Greek roadside fruit stand and restaurant “Harry’s Homemade Foods and fruits”.  It’s my stop on every trip down to Adelaide from CP.  They grow their own olives and also make their own olive oil…which I always buy for the trip home.  And Harry’s also has a good selection of smoked and pickled fish (my favorite is their smoked king fish).  But this time I decided to have breakfast at their in-house restaurant.  What a feast…bacon, sausage, grilled tomato and 2 eggs on toast (it’s an Australian thing to serve eggs on toast).  It was almost more than I could eat…well almost.

Left Harry’s with a full tank of gas and stomach…no lunch necessary.  Bought a couple apples and huge tangerines if I got hungry along the drive.  Saw many, many dead ‘roos along the way and 2 dead emus (rare to see emu roadkill…must be smarter than ‘roos…or less common).  I’d heard it had been a dry winter in SA and ‘roos eat the roadside grasses that grow from the moisture preserved under the bitumen.  Other than dead animals it was an uneventful trip and I made it into CP around 4:30pm.

Placed a few calls to miners to see who would be around and made plans to view opals in the morning.  Stopped at the miners store to put up rough opal wanted signs, but found the Miners Grocery store was closed.  Just one grocery store in town now…think prices might go up a bit?  Seems they are turning the miners store into a big hardware stone.  Lots of memories from shopping for groceries there…sad to see the changes, but truly nothing stays same.

Watched the first half of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2…not bad so far.  Hit the hay by 9:00pm…woke at 1:30am but made it quickly back to sleep.

Sep 17 2017Rough Opals Anyone?

Sinking an opalmine shaft at Hans Peak opalfield using a Cladwell drill...works much like a big hole saw. Shown dumping the bucket full of rock to the side before going back into the shaft and drilling down for another.

Harvey Mehlos trying his hand at opal mining. Drilling a bore hole for an ammonium nitrate explosive charge to chase a very thin opal vein in hopes it becomes a bit more substantial...Hans Peak Opalfield.

Above: Harvey Mehlos trying his hand at opal mining, underground at Hans Peak opalfield.  He’s boring a hole for an ammonium nitrate explosive charge that hopefully will further expose a very thin opal seam to a point where it becomes a bit more substantial  and valuable.  Horizontal band at right center of photo shows the opal trace or indications.

9/17/17  When we made our first trip to Coober Pedy in 2000 rough opals were plentiful.  Opal buyers were even sought out.  But back then Coober Pedy was in full swing…hundreds of opal miners were working the many opalfields.  Lambina opalfield was kicking off and fortunes were made (I mean huge fortunes!) and Mintabie was producing lots of opal and some was lovely black seam opal similar to Lightning Ridge opal.  There was still mining happening in Andamooka as well…although not a lot.  Coober Pedy was excitementville!

But now there are few miners in CP.  Lambina opalfield is played out…turned out to be a smallish (is smallish really a word?) field.  Don’t know of any opal being mined in Mintabie and Andamooka is more or less a ghost town.  So finding rough opal can be challenging requiring a lot of phone calls and foot work.

But today I got lucky!!!  Stopped by a miners home (an above ground home vs. an underground dugout home which is common in this scalding hot outback town) that I had bought opal from last year and he was home.  And he had a lot of opal for sale!  A lot of opal that I needed and the prices were in the ballpark…not cheap by any means due to the rarity of CP opal today, but not overpriced.  Many of grades from gemmy to potch and color.  I was delighted!!  I left there deliriously happy (well…almost).

Watched the second half of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2…had a delicious calamari supper at the Shell roadhouse, worked on the trip report and asleep by 10:00.  I was disappointed with the ending of Guardians…kind of like a new spin on an old Star Trek movie…“The Undiscovered Country”.  Which, in my opinion, didn’t work well the first time with the Star Trek movie…a tale of a malevolent God-like figure.

Sep 18 2017More Opal in Coober Pedy

5 ounce parcel of TOP gem opal from Opal Valley opalfield that I was privileged to see and buy.

9/18/17 Rose early again…had a quick bowl of cereal, coffee and went for a long hour plus walk around Coober.  A bit cold and windy…brisk would be the word.  Looked at many opal parcels from 3 miners I’d not dealt with before, but who had very good reputations in the CP opal trade…can’t be too careful so I always ask around when meeting new miners with unfamiliar names.  Bought 5 ounces of larger sized TOP TOP TOP gem rough from Opal Valley…highest price per ounce I’d paid for any opal, but we have a few customers who want the best.  Picked up a small 3 ounce parcel from the old 8 Mile field, 91 ounces of lower to medium grade potch and color…good for the new opal cutter wanting to sharpen their opal cutting skills.  And a multi-grade parcel of dark opal (looks like dark Allan’s Rise crystal opal) from Benito’s Folly Opalfield.  That’s a field I’d not heard of before this.

Made several calls and visited with a couple more miners and set up appointments to view more opal parcels.  A long time opalholic friend is in transit from Lightning Ridge to Coober Pedy today and should be in town tomorrow.  Plans are now we will go out to Hans Peak with  a miner friend and watch him sink a shaft, with a Caldwell drill at Hans Peak opalfield.

So far this year I’ve been extremely fortunate to find a good supply of high quality opal at a fair price.  Supper was Calamari and a Greek salad at Johns Pizza.  New owners this year and they are doing well with tasty plentiful food.

Sep 19 2017More Opals And A Feast!

This retirement opal is a miners personal stash that he has put away for his golden years. I didn't look closely, but there may be upwards of $75,000 or more of gem opal here...just a pleasure to see.

9/19/17 Up early again and did my walk about around Coober Pedy.  They have built a nice trail west of the Shell Station that’s probably a kilometer square…nicely graveled and easy flat walking…but I’d prefer a few hills for a little cardio.  Had brekkie in the room with Just Right cereal and a tangerine.

Then off to the Westpac bank, Coober Pedy’s only bank, for more cash funds…miners don’t take checks, credit cards or money orders.  Went to the post office for boxes and shipping forms…then back to the room to carefully (you can’t use too much bubble wrap on the inside or too much tape on the outside…opals are extremely fragile) pack my opal purchases.  Just to be sure of legibility I pre-print my shipping labels at home before the trip.  Returned to the PO with my precious cargo and prayed for safe travels for these gems.  Hello…my name is Steve and I am an opalholic!

Had a 1PM appointment to view the owner and part time opal miner Terry’s opals at Josephine Gallery and Kangaroo Orphanage.  In addition to buying a few parcels of opals I was able to see adopted kangaroos who are unafraid of humans and enjoy having their chins scratched…soft rabbit-like fur.   And they also have some lovely aboriginal art!

Was invited to dinner by an opal miner who I consider a friend and bought opals from last year and this.  My friend Harvey showed up just before dinner and he was invited as well…great Australian hospitality.  That evening we had lamb, chicken and pork grilled over a huge custom made grill.  What a feast!!  And I am a lamb lover to boot.  The evening was made more enjoyable with stories of huge million dollar opal finds and tales (true of course) of bright, colorful opals that seemed to glow in the dark.  Made plans to meet in the morning and head out to our hosts opal claim at Hans Peak Opalfield where he was sinking a shaft with a Calweld drill and set off a few ammonium nitrate charges in the underground portion of his opal mine to, hopefully, uncover opal from existing opal traces.

Sep 20 2017Gem Crystal From Donna’s Rush Opalfield

Just above the brown horizontal band sits a bright but thin layer of blue/green crystal opal. If the miner is lucky, this thing layer will get thicker as it penetrates into the bulldog shale. This seam was uncovered with explosives while I was present (don't often get to see this) and all work from this point on, will be carefully done by hand...with a pick and old screw drivers.

9/20/17 Day started early at 6:00am and met Harvey for breakfast in the hotel restaurant for a huge Australian brekkie consisting of eggs on toast sausage, rashers of bacon and grilled tomatoes.  WOW!

Then we met at the miner’s home…where we dined like kings last night….drove out to his claim at the Hans Peak Opalfield and watched the crew sink a 1 meter diameter shaft 75 feet deep with a Caldwell drill….kind of like a 1 meter diameter hole saw.  Then our friend placed a bunch of bombs in a big support pillar at the entrance to a horizontally accessed mine entrance and when the dust and poisonous nitrate fumes cleared we found some blue/green thin opal seam in the remains of the entrance pillar.  This is called “pillar bashing” and as you might imagine this can be dangerous.  But our friend has been mining for many years and knows how to read the ground and identify unstable areas.

Left for lunch and just after looked at several parcels from miner Gary who had found lovely, bright, multi-color opal from Donna’s Rush.  The opal level at DR is shallow and drier than opal found in wetter bulldog shale at deeper levels…resulting in healthier (more stable) opal that won’t be as likely to crack or craze.  This was really gorgeous red/blue/green tops…the kind of opal that gives one goose bumps and makes the heart race.  Bought 3 parcels of this lovely opal.  Looked at another small 2 grade parcel of grey based opal from Opal Valley and bought it.  Been EXTREMELY fortunate to find this quality and quantity of opal this year.  But I’ve heard there is a big gem show in Hong Kong going on right now which is being attended by most of the opal buyers.  Have to schedule next years trip at this same time.

Supper at the Shell station and a long walk around the Coober Pedy trail.

Sep 21 2017Mail Route Tour

Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta where we stopped for lunch. I had a burger with the lot (includes fried egg and pickled beet) with chips (french fries in Oz) on the Mail Run Tour...fascinating trip! The beet added to the burger wasn't bad.


Lone Stuart Pea plant photographed on side of road along the Oodnadatta Track.


Opal buying, exchanging large quantities of Australian dollars for opals, can be extremely stressful…so I’m always looking for something “fun” to do on my trips to Oz…to make these 2 week trips a bit more enjoyable.  For the most part I fly to Sydney from Lax, then to Adelaide where I pick up a rental.  Drive to Coober Pedy, buy opals and then home…mostly the same thing every year with few exceptions.  So to keep the trips at least somewhat fresh and interesting I try to find something new to do.  Here’s a list of interesting places to see if you plan to head down under.

So on this trip I signed up for the Mail Run Tour.  I’d tried to book it on previous trips, but it was always full…only four extra seats on the vehicle…got lucky this year as there was a cancellation.  Seems like I’ve run out of “fun” activities for the trip, but recently bumped into another list of the 100 Best Things To Do In Australia.  Might be something there to consider for next years trip 🙂 .

Had the last of my Just Right cereal in the room along with a tangerine.  Waited outside the Mud Hut Motel lobby for my ride on the Mail Run Tour out from Coober Pedy along the Oodnadatta Track to Anna Creek Station and the towns of Oodnadatta and William Creek.  William Creek was the original Ghan Railroad stop closest to the Coober Pedy before an overland road was constructed north from Port Augusta to CP.

Early opal miners had to take the narrow gauge Ghan Railway from Adelaide to William Creek and then travel overland, the remaining 150km to Coober Pedy.  Most of travel we did on this tour was on the Anna Creek Station…the worlds largest cattle station or cattle ranch (as it’s known in the USA)….roughly 6 million acres…more than 7 times larger than the largest cattle ranch in Texas: the King Ranch at 825,000 acres.  To put this in perspective the Anna Creek Station is slightly larger than Israel.  And when we arrived at the stations headquarters to deliver mail and supplies, the stations owner Mr. Williams and his wife met the mail truck and served us tea and coffee in their home.  A kind and humble family indeed as they are some of the richest cattle ranchers in Australia.

Enjoyed the meals we had at both Oodnadatta and Williams Creek and arrived safely back at the motel at 11:00pm after a flat tire change…long day.  However, the silver lining with the flat tire was, it gave us a great opportunity to enjoy the spectacular night sky display in the southern hemisphere…including the Southern Cross or Crux.  The trip itself was fascinating and gave us an insight into outback station life and the history of this huge desert-like area.



Sep 22 2017Last Of The Opals Are Homeward Bound

My Favorite bird in Australia the Rose Breasted Cockatoo or commonly known as the galah.

9/22/17  Packed and shipped my last 3 boxes of opals today…lots of mid grade opal and some extremely bright crystal from Donna’s Rush Opalfield.  Donna’s Rush is an isolated opalfield about 25 miles north of Coober Pedy and then 10 miles west on the Mount Clarence Rd.  Discovered in 2011 it seems to be a small isolated opalfield, but with a bit more exploration, could turn into something much bigger.

Have been getting a lot of calls from miners but am completely out of money at this point.  But it’s nice to at least meet the miners and evaluate their opal prices and grading.  But having spent the money and shipped the opals is a huge relief.  Security is always a concern having large amounts of both rough opals and money…all rough opal buying deals here are done in cash only.

Visited with 2 opal miner friends today and heard fascinating tales (absolutely true!) of huge old opal strikes and adventures or misadventures.

Supper at the Chinese Restaurant and then Harvey Mehlos and I went looking for a noodling area where we could try searching after dark.  Sounds kind of crazy looking for opals after dark, but rough opals fluoresce a bright pale blue when exposed to black lights…which we had…thanks to Harvey.   Marked our noodling spot at the old Black Flag Opalfield close to town and after a bland, tasteless, over priced supper at the Chinese Restaurant in Coober (2 thumbs down), returned after dark.  It was a cloudless moonless night and the stars were ineffably bright…saw the Southern Cross (Crux) constellation…close to the western horizon.

But no luck with the noodling…seemed like everything out there fluoresced…including plants.  Maybe it’s easier under bright sunlight??  And there are 3 meter diameter holes everywhere so it may not be the safest night activity.  No luck noodling for opals…didn’t even find any potch.  It’s much easier to buy from the miners.  The real beauty out here at night is the extremely bright star filled sky!!

Sep 23 2017Last Day In Excitementville

Gary Miles huge opalmine at Donna's Rush Opalfield. Donna's Rush Opafield is a relatively new smaller mining area with few working mines. But Gary's mine was huge with many possibilities for opal. He's found a lot of opal here and were were lucky to find some for sale during this trip. Gary has manged to master the opal mining trade with skills as a heavy equipment operator, equipment repairman, geologist and many more...kudos Gary!

9/23/17 Another miner we had met previously came to visit today and show off a few more of his many opal parcels for sale.  Harvey looked seriously at the new parcels, but I’d spent the last of my opal buying funds and yesterday shipped all my opal back home.  Nevertheless it was interesting to see high quality opals such as these.  I’d bought a few parcels from Gary previously…some bright broadflash thick crystal verticals and bright red/green pinfire stones.

We visited for a couple hours and Gary told us he was heading out to his mine at Donna’s Rush later, with parts to repair his broken tunneling machine.  And he invited us for a tour of his mine.  Gary seemed a bit young for an opal miner but very experienced and we both had a good feeling about him…I had a felt he was selling good quality opal and I’d not be afraid to buy from him again in the future.  And the opal industry needs younger miners…most miners I’ve met this year were in their late 50’s or 60’s…even a few in their 70’s…well…I’m close 🙂

So after lunch, equipped with map, we traveled north along the Stuart Highway until we came to the Mount Clarence turnoff:  went west about 10km then turned north along a dry creek bed and traveled until we reached Gary’s mine.  It was 4 claims together and it was BIG.  It seemed like there were indications of opal at many levels in the mine and at several different locations…had even found a bit of dark base opal here.  We were extremely impressed and could almost visualize bags of bright opal laid out for sale.  But I soon discovered I’d left my camera in my motel room. 🙁   Not to worry…Harvey had brought his and will forward photos to me.  Will post some photos of the mine as soon as I receive them.

My stomach was feeling a bit peaked so I only had an apple for supper then packed my bags in preparation for my long drive back to Port Pirie where I will spend the night.  The next day I’ll drive to the Adelaide airport, drop off the rental car, catch a cab to the Stamford Hotel on Jetty Road in the Glenelg suburb near the airport.  And that is where I am right now while I finish this travelog.  Lovely view of the beach and ocean from my 9th floor room.

Sep 26 2017Long drive to Port Pirie

Inside the William Creek Pub where enjoyed supper and a brief respite from all the driving on the Mail Run Tour. I had a goat curry...not bad, but on the mild side...I prefer a bit more curry.

9/24/17 -9/26/17 Up at 5:30am and finished packing bags and tidied up the car.  Met Harvey at the Mud Hut Motel restaurant at 7:00am for brekkie…rashers of bacon, eggs on toast and grilled tomato…and a coffee press (or plunger as they are called here).  Going to miss those breakfasts.  Great Motel!  I wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Coober.

Said goodbye to Coober and began the long drive to Port Pirie where I will spend the night.  Just a few kilometers north of PP, I stopped at Harry’s Fruits and Vegetables (or Harry’s Homemade) and bought 2 nice pieces of smoked fish…king fish and tuna.  And a few pieces of fruit to go with it, which will be my supper meal tonight.

Checked into the Port Pirie Beach Caravan Park and got a small cabin with en suite.  Went for a long walk on the PP Esplanade then to bed early.   The cabin is only 50 feet from the bay and it was lovely hearing the water birds and galahs as I sat outside and read.  It was a cccold night but there were plenty of blankets for the bed.  Got up at 5am, turned on the wall ac/heater unit and back to bed for an hour while the cabin warmed…felt like about 50F in the room.  Finished the fruit for brekkie and instant coffee with sugar…it helps to make the instant a bit more palatable.

Left for the Adelaide airport to return the rental car about 9:00am, returned the car and caught a cab to The Stamford Grand Hotel next to the pier on Jetty Road.  Was surprised with an upgraded room and large jacuzi spa…great view of the beach and ocean from the 9th floor.  Had another Yuro and chips for lunch…you’d think I’d be getting tired of these.  Then dined in a bit classier place for supper…seafood marinara on spaghetti and a green salad with onions and cucumbers.  Then a coffee and rhubarb tart for desert.  Great meal!

Couldn’t sleep in and caught an early taxi to the airport…checked my bag…had brekkie and read until the flight to Sydney left.  Caught a cab to the Mercure Hotel, near the airport, where I am just finishing up my trip report.  Tomorrow I catch an early shuttle to the airport…have brekkie there and at 10:00 am will be speeding down the runway on another Boeing 787 on the way to the USA.  Can’t wait.  Hope I can get a bit of sleep on the plane.  Then at LAX I’ll catch a flight to Denver then another back to Billings.  I get into LAX before I left Sydney when I get the day back I lost on the way over crossing the International Dateline.  Hopefully this year my flights will be on time and I can make it home before midnight.  And hopefully the opals will make it back home timely and safely.  After traveling the 787 both to and from Australia…I prefer the old Boeing 747…more room to get up and stretch your legs (and I like the redundancy of 4 engines versus 2).

Thanks for reading!!