Heading northward we first stopped at Woomera established specifically for British rocket development. The British rockets were fired over Lake Hart from the Woomera Rocket Range until late 1969.
Then onto Coober Pedy which is predominantly an underground township and was named after the aboriginal words “kupa piti” which means “white man in a hole”. People in Coober people mostly live in dugouts (many of which are multi-room and beautifully appointed) which makes sense as the dugouts stay between 22 and 24 degrees all year round. In 1915 opal was discovered. The underground opal mines make Coober Pedy look like a moonscape with the piles and piles of mullock that has been raised out of the underground mine.
The Breakaways are colourful ochre, brown, orange and cream hills just outside of Coober Pedy. The hills have broken away from the Stuart Ranges, hence their name. These hills have been used in movies such as Mad Max and Ground Zero but mainly they are just beautiful.
Before sunrise we excitedly headed to William Creek, SA’s smallest village with a population of 12, for our flight over Lake Eyre. We had to drive through the largest cattle station in Australia, the Anna Creek Station. The original owner of this station also owned the enormous Kidman properties. The purpose was for him to be able to drove his cattle from Victoria to the boats in Darwin without leaving his own land. At that time of the morning we saw huge flocks of corellas, frilly neck lizard, desert goannas, many emus and huge black Eagles. Once in flight we crossed over the huge cattle station and over where the Oodnadatta Track and Birdsville Track meet, and then over the dog fence, built to stop wild dogs and dingoes getting to the cattle.
Our flight first took us over the Painted Desert. Because this area was an inland sea over 80 million years ago it has eroded away over time and this erosion combined with the leaching of minerals from the soil has created a magical area where the glorious outback colours change during the day.
Then it was to Lake Eyre – Kati Thanda, which had received a lot of rain and was 60% full of water! Lake Eyre – Kati Thanda, is a dry salt lake that occasionally floods from direct rainfall or from the channel country of the Darling River. When it fills with water the surrounding land turns green and birdlife comes into the area. This is also where Sir Donald Bradman broke the water speed record.
After a brilliant day, we headed back to Coober Pedy. It was 45c and we were pleased to be in our air conditioned car until pop, brrrr, flop, a tyre puncture out in the middle of nowhere! Fortunately, Andy was able to quickly change it whilst drinking copious amounts of water and me shading his head.
Once our tyre was replaced (a repair wasn’t possible as it was a sidewall puncture, Andy had driven into a rut and a sharp stone had gone right through! That’s something to watch out for) we drove back to Port Augusta for shopping before our next adventure into the magnificent Flinders Ranges. On the way into Hawker we stopped at the old Kanyaka homestead which obviously was once a thriving sheep property and village of some 70 families. Then, leaving our caravan at Hawker, and before sunrise, we headed to the Pugilist Hill lookout where we had a brilliant sunrise viewing of the rocky edge of Ikara – Wilpena Pound, a uniquely circular mountain range. Then we trekked into the Sacred Canyon, a significant aboriginal heritage site with many carvings and stone paintings. Further into the Ranges we drove through the Glass Gorge which is a beautiful closed in gorge where we found a stark rocky outcrop that was the home for little tan and grey rock wallabies. Finally onto the Great Wall of China lookalike. This is a small mountain range with a rocky top that resembles China’s great wall. A stop at picturesque Blinman for lunch and then back to Hawker to head for our next adventure along the Murray River.