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Trip Report 2016 Oz Trip-Lightning Ridge & Coober Pedy

May 01 2016Off to Oz

Just across the street from the Crocodile Caravan Park was art work by John Murray..a Lightning Ridge native artist.

For some reason I have been very anxious about this year’s solo trip to Oz.  Sure the planning is fun…I’ve always enjoyed pouring over maps, looking through Google Maps and making the plane connections.  Some might think I’m a bit off.  But what really gives me the shakes are fighting traffic in Sydney with an unfamiliar left drive RV.  And once out of Sydney it’s not over…there are narrow roads, more traffic and sharp turns to be navigated over the Blue Mountains.  Once passed that it’s clear sailing to my first nights stop: Wellington…a quaint small town of 4500 on the quiet, slow moving Macquarie River resplendent with the raucous, yet beautiful, rose breasted cockatoo or “gallah”…my favorite bird in Australia.

Left Billings on time in a spanking new Airbus A320.  Strangely enough the plane was only partially full…reminds me of the good old days of flying.  Along with a bit of turbulence we arrived early into Denver International Airport 10 minutes early.  Located my next gate to San Francisco International Airport and strolled to Pour La France in the United Terminal.  Pour La France is an actual sit down restaurant with great table service, exceptional coffee and very good food.  It’s a relaxing get away from the busy, noisy airport atmosphere.  Had my usual fare Coq Au Vin that was just as good as the last time I was here. My next flight to SFO leaves DIA at 6:04 and arrives at 7:50 (1 hour time shift).

Arrived in SFO on time and had a lengthy wait until Qantas flight 74 left at 11:25PM.  Bit of turbulence  and got about 5 hours sleep during the flight.  A dinner meal was served soon after take off and a hot breakfast was served not long before arrival in Sydney: Mushroom/egg scramble, hash brown potatoes, sausage, yogurt and muffin.  Even was able to snag a couple cups of coffee served from a coffee press.  Most of the small RV’s (or campervans in OZ) have presses for making coffee and I’ve come to enjoy coffee at home this way as well.  Actual flight time is 14 hours and 35 minutes.

May 03 2016Arriving in Oz

My home away from home while I was in Lightning Ridge...Crocodile Caravan Park.

Lost May 2 crossing International date line.  The 747-400 I rode from SFO to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (SYD) arrived on time and my trip through customs was timely.  I was surprised by the number of Asians in the customs line but this is the Pacific Rim after-all.  Very cool morning and I could smell a bit of salt air letting me know the ocean wasn’t far.  Long line at the airport for a taxi and I drew a Pakistani driver who was very friendly, spoke great English and most importantly…he was an excellent driver.  It was a long 75km ride through morning rush hour traffic in a city of about 5 million…so the ride was a bit slow…glad I wasn’t driving.  The fare for this taxi ride was about AU$100.  Was able to see some nice scenery and enjoy the leisurely ride…and it was a LONG ride.  My destination was AAM where I picked up my small campervan.  People at the AAM (now Letsgo Motorhomes) were polite and helpful.  But the camper had 250,000km and was very basic…no cruise control, 5 speed manual and wind up windows…but proved to be dependable for my my 3500km opal buying adventure.

Soon I was off heading up into the blue mountains above Sydney.  I programmed my GPS unit for Lithgow  NSW and it took me on a different and much slower road then what I had in mind…B59 instead of my desired A32.  Oh well, I was able to see some new lovely country in Blue Mountains National Park.  I reprogrammed the GPS for Wellington and again the GPS picked a different road to Wellington then the one I had in mind. I drove along a tree lined, narrow, bumpy, secondary road named Burrendong Way…but at least I was able to pass through towns named Dripstone and Mumbil.

I learned the hard way to verify my route with the Road Atlas of Australia and not trust my GPS completely.  It was dark (gets dark around 5PM in Oz this time of the year) when I pulled into the Wellington Riverside Caravan Park and the camper bed felt great!  Tomorrow afternoon I will arrive in Lightning Ridge but tonight black opals will headline in my dreams.

May 04 2016Lightning Ridge or Bust…

Rented a small cabin with kitchen while Lightning Ridge. Will have enough time sleeping in the camper while on the road.

Woke at about 7:30 to the noise of a flock of Galahsmusic to my ears…letting me know I was really in Australia.  Made a pot of coffee with the french press provided in the camper.  Makes excellent coffee!  After my first cup I decided to stop on the road for brekkie…as breakfast is called in Oz.  Not too far down the road I found a likely general store in a small quaint village named Geurie.  The sign out front advertised hamburgers and take-away.  Thought they might do brekkie as well so I inquired inside and yes they do…excellent breakfast!  My fare consisted of 2 eggs, toast and very generous helping of rashers of bacon … a leaner cut of pork then we are used to seeing here in the USA.

The road to Gilgandra was good, but from there to Lightning Ridge it was spotty and narrow…guess this means I’m in the outback now.  Stopped in Dubbo for groceries and a new sim card for my Australian cell phone.  Arrived in LR at 4:15 and checked into my little cabin at the Crocodile Caravan Park.  I had made arrangements in advance to look at parcels and bought about 5kg of potch and color nobbie black opal (medium/small sizes) and will look at more rough tomorrow.

Rough opal production has dropped drastically in the last few years and is only a small percentage of what it had been 20 years ago or even 10 years ago.  Most opal showing real promise is cut on the field as prices for top gem black opal cabochons or carvings are approaching $10,000/carat.  There are few miners who are willing to sell bright rough black opal for $1000/ounce instead of cutting it and have a single stone value that may value at $10,000/ct.

Bruno’s Italian Restaurant was recommended for supper and I selected the veal scallopini.   Unfortunately the veal was tough and way too salty…disappointing meal.  But the juries not out…will give Bruno’s another try later in the week…it has a very good reputation and was highly recommended.

Had a walk around town to stretch my legs and see what was new.  It’s been 7 years since I’ve been to LR.  Lightning ridge is a well kept town lot of green foliage landscaping and flowers in contrast to Coober Pedy which is a dusty, dry and brown.  Back to my cabin and watched about 1/2 of The Martian on my laptop.  It was a struggle to stay awake until 9:30…hopefully my jet lag is fading.

May 05 2016Opal Buying in Earnest

Fossickers Cottages in Lightning Ridge. Looks like a likely option when visiting the Ridge. A fossicker is known as a "rock hound" in the USA.

Up about 5:30…jet lag rears it’s head.  A diesel truck started up just behind my cabin and ran for about 10 minutes so perhaps it wasn’t all jet lag.  Had a brekkie of Kellog’s Just Right Cereal (wish they sold this in the USA!).  Couldn’t get the stove to light in the cabin so made coffee in the camper with the little French press.  Checked at the office about the stove and found I needed to use a propane lighter to start the stove…in the silverware drawer.  A miner stopped by and I spent a lot of money on seam crystal and potch and color nobbies.  Nice opal at a fair price.

Walked around LR and had a coffee and small pastry at a bakery sidewalk table.  Then later stopped at Morillas Cafe across from the Crocodile Caravan Park and had a great sandwich for lunch…and a small desert…again.  Enjoyed the fair sunny weather and moderate temps.

Had supper with friends at their lovely home and planned a visit to their mine tomorrow at the famous old 3 Mile opalfield.  A lot of lovely black opals (from nobbies) was mined there in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  It is still producing bright black opal today, but just not like the glory years.

Steve (author) hopefully digging for opals at the famous 3 Mile Field-Lightning Ridge.

Steve (author) optimistically digging for opals at Andrew’s mine at 3 Mile Field in Lightning Ridge.

May 06 2016A Day Mining Opals At 3 Mile

Getting Ready to head 50ft down into the mine at 3 Mile Field. 50ft down and 50ft up...it's the up that has me worried!

Had cold cereal (Just Right) in the room and yes, the diesel fired up a 0530 again and ran for 10 minutes.  But I managed to return to my dreams of black opals and rose 0700.  Had brekkie at Morilla’s across the street and met Andrew at 9:00am at their home for the trip to the mine.  Drove to the Mine at 3 Mile in Andrews lovely Land Rover…really quite a vehicle.  Then it was 50 feet down a ladder.  No hoist to help out.  This wasn’t my first time climbing down a ladder into an opal mine, but I’d had double arthroscopic meniscus knee surgery last November and they were still a bit tender, so I was careful and took my time. Andrew descended first and when I got to the bottom I could swear I smelled opals :-).

Spent the day digging for opals and ended up with only a bit of color and a few blisters to show for it.  But I believe I may have brought luck as I found the first opal with color since they had owned this mine.  I was hoping for a large 1 ounce black nobbie with red/green/blue play-of-color on black…but alas was not to be.  I would have given it to Andrew anyway.  It’s bad manners to keep opal when a miner is kind enough to let you play at mining in his or her mine…opal mine etiquette 101.

This was a dream of mine (unintended pun) since reading Dr. Paul Downing’s book “Opal Adventures” 1990.  If you haven’t read it, and you are an opalholic like myself, it’s a must read!


Inside Andrews opal mine at 3 Mile.  Very little luck opal mining, but it was still a thrill!

Had supper at Brunos again, but this time there was an unexpected outcome…it was delicious!  My main course was pasta with scallops and prawns (not called shrimp in Oz).  Bruschetta was the starter and desert was tiramisu.  And everything was delicious…scallops melted in my mouth and the tiramisu was to die for.  Expensive?…yes, but worth every penny! Kudos!

Took another hike around town and finished up the evening watching the last half of The Martian.  Tomorrow is the start of the 3 day journey to Coober Pedy.  So I’d like to make it at least to Wilcannia where I turn north to White Cliffs…at least that’s the plan.  803km or 499mi to White Cliffs…forecast is for rain and wind, so that may change my plans a bit.

May 07 2016Start of Long 3 Day Drive to Coober Pedy

The humble dwelling of Fred Bodel's...said to be the oldest opal mining camp in Lightning Ridge.

Woke at 5am to cloudy skies.  Quick brekkie and coffee and silently said my goodbyes to Lighting Ridge at 6am.  I really enjoyed my stay!  Slow driving at first due to darkness which draws the kangaroos onto the road.  They are extremely dangerous road hazards and it’s not wise to drive in the dark unless you adjust your speed for these macropods.  Rain started shortly after leaving Lightning Ridge.  Gusty winds and rain made driving this high profile camper tricky if not exhausting.  The few outback towns I will be driving through today, on my 500 mile journey, are Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, Cobar and Wilcannia , so I don’t skip filling up when I pass a petrol station.   I am truly in the outback…eucalyptus gum trees, acacia trees (called mulga here), kangaroos, emus, wallabies and feral goats…the scenery and wildlife are interesting and very alien to what we see in America.  Saw at least 20 kangaroos and 3 emus along the way, where one of the emus showed me his acrobatic skills by running full tilt, between 2 cars, traveling in opposite directions,  tripping as he hit the steep ditch on the other side of the road, flipping over in a somersault…he may have messed his feathers.

I decided it was too dark and rainy to make it to White Cliffs so I checked into a unique caravan park: Warrawong on the Darling.  It’s 3km east of  Wilcannia and set up to be a destination park with lots of wildlife around the billabong near where the campers park.  Took a short walk in light rain around the billabong and down to the Darling River and viewed one ‘roo very close up, green parrots and several noisy galahs.  Back to the camper for a spicy Indian curry lamb/vegetable dish and bread.  I was too tired for more. Early to bed.

I really was looking forward to seeing White Cliffs, but rain was predicted for the next couple days and not knowing if the road to White Cliffs was gravel or paved, I decided to move on to Port Augusta tomorrow…my next stop for the night.  610km or 379 miles to PA…a walk in the park after today.

May 08 2016Day 2 of Drive To Coober

Found this old grave stone about a mile from a rest area just north of Port Augusta, along a walking track. Very lonely deserted area. Must have been someones sheep station in the mid eighteen hundreds

Slept soundly until 7:30am and the noise of rain on the camper roof woke me.  Showered in the new ablutions block.  Very nice facilities and extremely clean.  On the road in the rain by 8:30.  I was afraid the soft dirt road to the caravan park would be boggy and I might get stuck, but it was fine and I dodged a bullet!

Stopped at a small rest area for a quick breakfast of coffee, orange/mango juice, Just Right cereal and yogurt.  Made it to Broken Hill, fueled up and stopped at a store to pick up bubble wrap for safely shipping opals back to the USA.  About 4 hours later I decided to spend the night in Orroroo as it was an inviting quaint little town with a well cared for caravan park…the Orroroo Caravan Park.  And I needed to wash some clothes :-).  Washed a couple loads in the park laundry and hung them out to dry as the dryer was out of service.  Nice windy afternoon so the clothes will dry fast.  If your ever travelling through this area, I would heartily recommend this caravan park.

The friendly lady who runs the caravan park recommended the hotel as the best place to eat in town.  And probably the only one open Sunday night.  Went to the Orooroo Hotel for supper and it was a lovely supper indeed.  This was mothers day so there were a few family’s there celebrating with a dinner for mum.  Had a VERY spicy Thai green curry chicken, 2 coffees with ice cream for desert.  I would highly recommend this establishment…4 stars.  The service was a bit dicey but this is the outback and a very small town….about 100km east of Port Augusta. Would have liked to spend a couple days in Orroroo as it’s at the foot of the  Flinders Range.  Interesting area with many hiking trails and great scenery.

Recharged my Aussie mobile phone minutes tonight.  It has to be done via Telstra over the internet.  Finally had a connection for my old laptop.  Tomorrow onto Port Augusta and then north on the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy.  640km or 400mi.  Hope the wind is either gentle or heading my way.

May 09 2016Day 3 of Drive To Coober Pedy

On the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy this outback desert scenery is common all the way to Darwin.

Woke at 8am to the sound of rain drops on the roof of the camper.  It sounds like someone lightly banging a drum.  Just then I remembered my clothes hanging on the clothes line.  I threw on some clothes and ran over to the laundry area and rescued my clothes.  Just barely damp…rain must just have started.  Thank you noisy roof!!  Folded clothes had a quick brekkie, cleaned up the camper.  Called my wife and mother and wished them both a happy Mother’s Day.

It was a crazy windy drive over the Flinders Range down into the valley surrounding Spencer Gulf.  The Flinders Range would be just hills in Montana where I live, but they are still very rugged and scenic here with huge old gnarled gum trees, that look like Ents from Lord of the Rings, dotting the steep grassy pastoral hillsides.  Stepped for gas in Port Augusta.  Made a ham on rye (with lots of mustard and Swiss cheese) for lunch at a rest area…later went for a walk to stretch my cramping legs.   Found a mysterious old grave stone in a lonely deserted area of Acacia, Spinifex and desert Saltbrush.  Must have been a very hard and lonely life here in the dry hot Australian outback.  I ran into a sheep skull further down the track which only magnified the feeling of seeing this deserted grave…who was this man and what happened to his homestead and family??

Casualty of one of the many dry years common in South Australia...sheep skull.

Sheep skull found in typical red sand in Australia’s outback region.  This is why it’s called Australia’s red center.

Back on the road to Coober with a ferocious headwind keeping me focused on staying within the proper highway lane and out of the ditch.  Fought the wind until I reached the Bon Bon rest area where several other campers were preparing their equipment for the night.  Decided it best to stay here as it was getting dark and ‘roos would soon be out on the road.  The wind and clouds died with the light and I took a walk into the outback to look at the crazy bright stars and the Southern Cross or Crux.  There is little light interference and low little humidity in the Australian outback, so the stars appear unimaginably bright.  Something I look forward to seeing when in Oz…the other side of the milky way…stars we can’t see in the northern hemisphere as the earth beneath our feet is blocking them.  Saw Orion but it appears he is standing on his head in Australia?

Spaghetti supper and continued reading Ian Caldwell‘s novel: The Fifth Gospel.  Fascinating work!  Only 150km to Coober Pedy tomorrow.  At 150km/hour it will only take an hour 🙂 .

May 10 2016Coober Pedy And More Opals!

Tim Seekaamps Mine at Olympic Field near Coober Pedy. This blower unit is a combination of large fan unit to suck mining debris into the hopper (upper right) and a 440 volt generator to power the underground tunneling machine and lights.

On previous trips to Oz, I made the drive from Lightning Ridge to Coober Pedy in 3 days, but it looks like it’s going to take 4 this year.  Guess I’m getting old…or perhaps a bit wiser not pushing myself too hard.  But I only have a 150km left so it’s easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Up at 7:00am at the Bon Bon rest area.  The wind (and clouds) had come up again during the night and rocked the camper for several hours.  But upon rising the sky was clear and the wind calm…portends to be a lovely day in the outback!!  On the road by 8:00am and driving was a delight without the stress-inducing wind.  Stopped at the next rest area to make another pot of coffee and picked up a gent with an empty petrol can looking for a ride into Coober Pedy.  He had misjudged his fuel consumption and had used a lot more than expected due to the strong head winds.  Normally I don’t pick up hitchhikers but he was driving a Toyota Land Cruiser and looked respectable, just in need of assistance.  So it was nice to have some conversation for part of the trip and it felt good to help him out.  He was a teacher heading up to Darwin for a job interview on an aboriginal reserve.  Dropped him off at the Shell Roadhouse.

Checked into the Mud Hut Motel in Coober and prepaid for a 4 day stay.  This is my usual “home away from home” in Coober.  I’ve gotten to know the staff and they serve marvelous breakfasts.  Rooms are clean and quiet, beds comfortable and they rent tough 4WD Toyotas which is very handy when I need to get out into the opalfields to look at parcels or mines.

Stopped at John & Yoka’s Opal and Art shop on main street in Coober Pedy to see how productive his mining has been and if he had any parcels on hand.  John mines opal with his longtime mining partner Paul Reynolds while his wife Yoka takes care of their store which sells Australian art and opal jewelry.  His news, like many opal miners here, was a bit discouraging…hadn’t found any new opal for about 2 years.  He was currently drilling at Donna’s Rush opalfield and was encouraged by what he had found recently in his test holes.  But he knew other miners who had found opal and gave me a few names.  Thanks John!

I had lunch at John’s Pizza Bar and Restaurant run by a Greek family and my favorite lunch spot in Coober.  I almost always order the lamb Gyro (or Yuro as they are spelled here) and chips…as I did today.  Chips in Australia are french fries and our chips are actually called crisps in Australia or the UK.  Anyway…they have great Gyros!

After Lunch visited with Terry Brennan and he had opal but was busy and made an appointment to visit with him tomorrow (5/11).  Took a very long walk around Coober Pedy and stopped by and visited with Trevor Berry at the Old Timers Mine…a premier tourist attraction and jewelry store.  Beneath the dug-out store is an actual opal mine dating from 1916 with precious opal still in the walls.  A great place to see for anyone visiting Coober.  Shows in detail how early opal mining was accomplished.  And they also give a demonstration of a “blower” used in opal mining today.

Trevor had a couple parcels for sale and I made arrangements for a later visit and have a better look.

Supper tonight was at the Opal City Chinese Restaurant.  Prawns with vegetables looked good and also ordered hot & sour soup and steamed rice.  Hot & sour soup was indeed hot.  Needed a couple extra napkins to wipe the top of my head (and blow my nose).  But it was, good as were the prawns and vegetables.  But the price was a bit steep: AU$35.00.  But food is more expensive here than at home.

Finished reading the Ian Caldwell’s The Fifth Gospel…surprise ending!

More searching for opal parcels tomorrow!



May 11 2016Opals, Opals, Opals…

Lots of extremely expensive equipment is necessary for a productive opal mine today. Tim and Sam Seekamp's mine at Olympic Field in Coober Pedy.

Rose late and had an 8:30am brekkie at the Mud Hut Motel…bacon rashers, toast, fried egg, coffee and fried tomato…great breakfasts here!  As I’ve said earlier the service is great as well as the coffee and food.  The people here treat one more like family (in a good sense) than like  a paying customer.

Met Terri Brennan and bought several smaller parcels.  The first time I bought opal from Terri was in 2014, big multi-grade parcel of Dora Gully opal…I was glad to  get that large parcel…very nice opal.  Visited with Trevor Berry and bought another small parcel from my old friend.

Perhaps at this point I should clarify what a miner’s “parcel of opal” consists of.  Generally a parcel is any size group of opals found at a particular opal deposit location in the opal mine.  A parcel can be as small as 2-3 ounces or as large as several hundred ounces…a million dollar parcel is not uncommon.  Once this “parcel” has been found by the miners it is cleaned in a large tumbler, without abrasives, for a few hours, to remove excess matrix and dirt.  It’s then graded or classed into several grades of quality using several factors such as opal brightness, colors, size and the opals ability to be converted into cabochons for jewelry use.

There are miners in Coober Pedy, with a great deal of mining and grading experience, that will take a parcel of opals (on a fee basis) and grade and classify the rough opal and assign it into several grades such as tops, 2nds, 3rds, 4ths and on.  Tops being the highest quality of opal from this particular mine at this mine location.  A selling price is given to the entire parcel and, many times, each individual grade of opal in the larger parcel.  These miners are called “classers” and are given a percentage of the selling price of the opal for this job.  And on a big parcel this can be a very difficult, but lucrative job.

Made plans to go out to Olympic with Tim and see his new mine.  He has a big tunneling machine so they need to drill 3-1 meter diameter holes, with a Calweld Drill, to lower it into the mine.  Quite a process!

Lunch at John’s Pizza…another gyro wrap and chips.  You’d think I’d get tired of them but the John’s Tzatziki sauce is great.  Then went for a long walk around town.  Back in my room in the evening and watched “A Study in Pink”…new Sherlock Holmes production put on by BBC starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  Interesting and well done twist on Sherlock Holmes.  I was kind of a SH groupy in my earlier years and read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s SH stories several times over.  So these BBC productions are a real gift to me.  Had a take-away supper from Outback Bar & Grill by the Shell petrol station…calamari, squid, chips and a salad.


May 12 2016More Opals Today!!

A miner stopped by my motel to show me a small 2 ounce parcel, but the price was a bit too dear. But it was great to see!

Jet lag back today and I was up and before 6:00am.  As long as I was up I thought it best to drink coffee…have enjoyed making coffee in the press.  I am a bit of a coffeeholic…guess there are worse things.  The walls in my motel room are made from poured concrete.  Must have mixed the local red sand with the concrete to make them a pleasing reddish brown color.  Very unique look on the interior walls.  Had another brekkie at the Mud Hut Motel restaurant…yumm!

My to-do list today has a trip to Tim Seekamp’s mine at Olympic Field,  Packing opal boxes for shipping home and finding more opal as I still have a good deal of cash left to spend on stones.  Put my nose to the grind stone and soon had 5 boxes carefully packed with lots of bubble wrap and tape on the outside of the boxes.  And the shipping labels are printed up at home,  pre-trip, so there will be no mistake on addresses with hand written labels.  Ran my boxes to the Coober Pedy post office in the Miners Store…grocery and mercantile store that has a little bit of everything.

Stopped and visited with John to see if he has heard of any new opal parcels around.  John knows a lot of miners and is a good source for info on what is happening around C.P.  He recommended I see Ivan…older Serbian miner that does a bit of pillar bashing (which can be dangerous) and has been successful of late.  Found Ivan’s home on the north end of C.P. and was delighted with his colorful landscaping.  Around the house are many trees, bushes, and lovely roses…an oasis in the desert landscape around Coober Pedy…lovely location!  And Ivan had opal…lots of opal…just what I was looking for.  So we negotiated a price on several parcels, that was fair for both of us and money changed hands.  Afterwards Ivan’s wife served us coffee and biscuits and left a very contented and happy buyer of opal!

Went out to Tim’s mine at Olympic…surprisingly close to town.  Stopped over to Tim’s house afterwards and looked at a little 1.2 ounce parcel of lovely top gem opal and made an offer.  Tim said he had to talk to his brother Sam to see if he was willing to sell.  Very nice crystal opal!

For supper walked to John’s Pizza for salt and pepper calamari, salad and chips.  Lovely evening in Coober Pedy…lots of stars.  Back in my room watched season 2 of BBC Sherlock Holmes.  Love it!

May 13 2016Ouch…Opal Prices Are Up…..

Dark opal parcel from Allan's Rise that sold on our website. Beautiful semi-black opal with multi-color play-of-color.

Slept until 8am as I was up late working on my laptop which picked up a virus.  It had infected Norton which blocked me from connecting to the internet.  Of course if I sent money to a web site they would fix the problem.  Completely deleted Norton and voila…back on line.  Quickly loaded up a free version of AVG and did a complete system scan.  OK…back in business.  Can check business emails and respond to customers now.

Boxed up yesterdays opal purchases and while going through my suitcase looking for tape, discovered a fat bundle of $50’s…yikes.  Buried treasure!  Now reinforced with a sudden infusion of cash, I contacted Tim and picked up the small parcel for a VERY dear price.  But it was top gem rough opal and that is extremely hard to find.  Opal money all spent…great feeling.  I think I picked up some nice parcels this year, but never know for sure until I have a second look at home.  I suspect opal prices have increased by 50% since 2014…last time I was in Oz.

The miner Ivan, I bought the opals from yesterday called and it appears I had over-payed him.  During price negotiations we had agreed on an extra discount on one parcel that I forgot to include when I was tallying the final parcel prices.   I went back to his house to collect the money and ended up buying another parcel, 29 ounces 11 Mile Field potch and color, with some nice stones in the mix, for slightly less than what was owed.  Worked out well for both of us.  Thank you Ivan for your honesty!

Picked up my rough opal parcel from Tim and boxed and shipped that and Ivan’s parcel back home,  just before the post office at the Miner’s Store closed.

Supper at John’s Pizza and an AA meeting at 7:00pm at St. Peter and Pauls’s underground Catholic Church on Hutchison St.  It actually is underground.  And it’s the first church in Coober Pedy.  The meeting consisted of only 4 people including myself.  Great meeting and people. Most of the attendees have only a short amount of sobriety, but VERY serious about staying sober.  Went back to John’s Pizza with David for coffee and conversation after the meeting.

Watched last part of season 2 Sherlock Holmes by BBC.  Early to bed tonight.

May 14 2016Lovely Small Parcel From 17 Mile Field…

7:00am rolled around and engine noises from departing guests woke me.  The solution was strong coffee from the press and Just Right cereal.  Had an appointment to meet another miner today to see a small 1.5 ounce parcel of some dark base top gem opal from 17 Mile.  Out of money but it’s still nice to see to get the feel for opal prices this year.

Stunning opal, but I think it to be overpriced.  Could probably have knocked off a few thousand with some negotiating.  But it would be a pointless exercise since I’m broke.

Cleaned my stuff out of the motel in advance of tomorrow’s departure to Port Augusta.  Visited friends and said my farewells until next trip.

Had calamari rings and shrimp for supper.  Watched The Martian again.  I’m kind of a sci-fi nut.  Grew up reading sci-fi as a lad (HG Wells, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, Arthur C Clarke etc.), drifted away as an adult, although, occasionally I read the odd sci-fi book .  But I still dearly love sci-fi movies!

May 15 2016Driving the Road Less Traveled…

Followed the lovely gum tree lined esplanade water front park along Spencer Gulf: on my way to Woolworth's grocery for a supper selection..

Leaving Coober today and heading to Port Augusta…about a 6 hour drive in a campervan.  A couple of  days ago in a phone conversation with Darlene she told me about a late frost we had that killed about about half of our garden vegetable and flower plants.  Then last night I had a dream that Darlene and I were at a garden shop to buy replacement plants for the garden and everything was sold out.  I hope that’s not prescience.

Very little traffic on the drive…maybe a car or truck every 10km or so…but that’s typical for the Stuart Highway.  Stopped for petrol in Glendambo which is about half way to Port Augusta.  There are 2 petrol stations in Glendambo and both had several pumps, but all but 1 pump was closed to make things very confusing.  It was the same at both stations.  Wonder if they have problems getting fuel?  The Stuart Highway is in excellent condition and I had a slight tail wind to make the drive very pleasant.

Checked into the Shoreline Caravan Park in P.A.   I’ve stayed there several times, but now it seems to have had a bit of a remodel or clean-up.  Clean, well kept facilities and very friendly and helpful staff.  Love staying here on the gulf with the smell of salt air, sea birds and large fishing boats…reminds me of my 4 years in the US Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga CVA-60.  Took a long walk along the trail following the shoreline to a walking bridge over the narrows of Spencer Gulf and then followed park-like esplanade to Woolworths which is a grocery store in Oz.  I selected a spicy Indian curry dish with rice for supper.  Lovely evening so I took another walk along the shoreline trail to view the brilliant stars that we miss in the northern hemisphere.


Number 4 barge, now fading away, built in 1880 to construct the bridge across Spencer Gulf, is now just a memory of the glory years of Port Augusta.

Tomorrow I will make a short 100km drive to Port Pirie on my way down the Stuart Highway to Adelaide where I will fly to Sydney and then on to the USA and back to Billings.

Looking forward to a stop at the local fruit/vegetable market just north of Port Pirie where they sell local smoked fish and calamari…which, with an apple, the smoked fish will make a great lunch.


May 16 2016Spending a Little Time in Port Pirie…

Two more days to while away before I return my campervan.  And I can think of no nicer place than Port Pirie for my next stop and to spend a day as a tourist.  PP has beautiful caravan park along Spencer Gulf and another beautiful esplanade to walk and see the sights and enjoy a coffee with a raisin scone in a sidewalk cafe.  The caravan park here, on a wide bay-like mangrove lined estuary of Port Pirie creek, is the Port Pirie Beach Caravan Park and is probably the nicest park I’ve stayed in Australia.

Before I left Port Augusta this morning I took a stroll across the old bridge, that crosses the Spencer Gulf narrows, and walked the esplanade to get a few photos and some sun.  Then on the road again.

Stopped at Harry’s Homemade market north of Port Pirie and bought a large smoked kingfish and a big apple for a  delightful lunch in the camper.  Harry’s Market has been a regular stop on everyone of my 12 trips to Australia.  I usually buy a half liter of their local olive oil, but this year they were out.  Their smoked fish is excellent and they also sell excellent fresh fish and oysters…not to be missed!

Later walked the esplanade to the downtown area of PP and bought a new book: House of the Rising Sun by James Lee Burke.  Definitely a Burke novel…main character is haunted by drink, women and death.  Dark book!  It’s going to be tough getting through this book…don’t like the dark side.  The chief antagonist seems to have supernatural evil powers, although the ending of the book proves disproves this…hope that’s not a spoiler.  But it’s probably one of Burke’s best.

Had a barramundi meal in town and cleaned the camper floor..the gritty sand was getting to me.

May 17 2016And on to Port Wakefield…

Cereal breakfast and press coffee in the camper after a shower in the ablution block (sounds like a painful form of torture).  Only an hour and a half drive to Port Wakefield but the scenery is much changed from that north of Port Augusta.  Just north of PA it consists of desert-like outback scrub consisting of mulga trees, saltbush and spinifex.  South of PA the vegetation turns to gum trees and agricultural paddocks.  I’m no longer on the Stuart Hwy, now it’s A1 or the Princess Hwy…love the name.  As I near the tiny hamlet of Lochiel there’s a small semi-dry salt lake: Bumbunga Lake (hmm…sounds painful as well).  It was used for salt production beginning in 1881 until 2012 and is abandoned now.

The remaining drive to Port Wakefield is mostly agricultural lands or mangrove lowlands as the road approaches Spencer Gulf.

Checked into the Port Wakefield Caravan Park and opted for a small cabin.  I’ve stayed here many times on previous trips to Oz and found there were new owners in charge.  Very friendly people.  Took a 50 minute walk on the lowland trails near the gulf, but the mangroves prevented getting close to the actual water.  Cleaned the camper thoroughly and packed my bags for tomorrows drive to Adelaide where I return my campervan and catch a cab to the Stamford Grand Hotel on Jetty road in Glenelg.

I had friends living in Port Wakefield who were in the opal business as well…Neil and Willy Tooth.  Willy had died suddenly about 3 years ago, just a few weeks after diagnosis.  And I thought that her husband Neil was still living here in town.  Their old house obviously had new owners so I stopped a neighbor lady walking to her car and asked her about the Tooths and was informed Neil had died less than a year after Willy died…from a vey rare lung disease.  Quite a shock!  They were both good friends and I had stayed with them at their camp in Grawin, one of the Lightning Ridge opalfields, on several occasions.  They were both around my age and Neil was originally from Canada and Willy was from the Netherlands.  The Tooths will both be missed!

Had a take away shrimp/calamari seafood supper from the Big Burger Shack…a lot of breading, but not bad.  Read more of The House of The Rising Sun then I was planning…stayed up late.  Guess I was excited about my return home.  And a little anxious about my drive through Adelaide.  It’s a big city and traffic can be too busy for an American driving on the UK side of the road.

May 18 2016Last Night in Australia…

Ccccold in my room.  Felt like it was in the 40’s.  With a little luck I finally warmed the cabin when I figured out the wall air conditioning unit was also a heater.  Kind of embarrassing.  Had a shower and cereal and press coffee in the room and left at 8:30 for Adelaide.  My TomTom GPS unit (holds both USA and Australian road maps) did not disappoint, and I found the campervan depot without a problem.  The only drive left today is a 15-minute ride to the Stamford Grand Hotel in Glenelg by taxi.  I love staying at the Stamford Grand with it’s luxurious accommodations and first-rate restaurant.  It’s a lovely place to unwind from the hectic opal buying trip to Coober Pedy and driving on the left side of the road.  Tomorrow just another 15-minute ride to the Adelaide Airport by another taxi.  So far so good…no mishaps.

I love the Jetty Road area in Glenelg.: with Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican and Greek restaurants and loads of shopping opportunities.  Many years ago I promised my very young grandson Trevin I would bring him back a T-shirt, book and toy on my trips to Oz…so Getty Road gives’ me that opportunity with all the many touristy shops.  Took a very long walk along the wide esplanade here and had a marinara seafood-pasta lunch.  The hotel is right on the beach, so I only had to walk out the front door onto the ocean-side esplanade path.  Ended up walking around Jetty Road looking for place for supper location and ended up at a Souvlaki Brothers Greek Taverna right off the pier.  And had lamb souvlaki with hot grilled pita bread and salad…absolutely wonderful!  Probably the best Greek meal I’d had in Australia (well…I do like Greek cooking…got hooked during my bygone Navy days and the marvelous times I had in Athens…our ship spent a month in Athens due to repairs.  It’s making me hungry right now as I think about that meal!

Up early the next morning and caught an 8:00am flight to Sydney…they actually serve breakfast on Qantas commuter flights.  Unfortunately my International flight for the USA left an hour late.  The long flight across the Pacific left at 2:30pm (Sydney time) and so it’s really impossible to get some sleep on that flight…maybe caught an hour or two.

After arriving at San Francisco International Airport I missed my connecting flight to Denver International Airport long lines through security and late arrival from Sydney.  But I did get a seat on another flight to Denver an hour later.  So, if all went well, I should have made my connecting flight to Billings in plenty of time.  Sadly all did not go well.  The flight from Denver to Billings was taken out of service with mechanical problems.  Another plane was later dispatched to Denver and I arrived back in Billing around midnight.  But on the plus side I had a free pass for the United Club in the airport, so I was able to while away a few hours with free snacks and soft drinks in a comfy chair.

All told it was 42 hours of travel from the time I left Adelaide until I arrived home in Billings…ouch!  But the silver lining: opals made it back home safely in just a few days.

Thanks for reading!!