B: Continuing south from Uluru on the Stuart Highway took us over the border into our fourth, and aptly named state: South Australia. The desert didn’t end though and the landscape remained flat and dry all the way to Coober Pedy—opal mining capital of Australia. I assure you, there are few places in the world like Coober Pedy, where the temperature is considered mild at 40C/104F, hotels, homes, and stores are built into underground caves known as “dugouts” to escape the heat, and the entire town lacks trees. The name “Coober Pedy” actually comes from the Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means “white man’s hole”. We were already delirious from lack of sleep (which comes with living out of a car), apparently unaware of the time change (daylight savings), but it was time to fight the mild temperature (40C) as we hopped around shops for a crash course on buying an opal!
About 97% of the world’s opals come from Australia and around 80% of Australia’s opals come from South Australia, mostly Coober Pedy. The pock-marked landscape began about 20kms outside of town and sort of resembled Mars. Cone-shaped piles of light-colored dust and dirt stretched from the highway to the horizon. Enormous ant mounds! There’s a fortune to be made in the ground and each new hole brings excitement about making the next big find. It must be addictive, like Vegas but with better odds… Each little shack-like shop we visited had something special to offer with opals in all varieties for sale. The most valuable raw stone we saw wasn’t for sale, but valued at around $14,000! Store owners almost seemed surprised to have visitors and many of them only turned on their lights and display cases when we walked through the door. We also wandered into a shop with the most amazing didgeridoos and Aboriginal artwork we’ve ever seen, but unfortunately couldn’t take pictures. One shop even had a kangaroo rescue center out back and offered nightly feedings for a donation where we got to play with an orphaned baby joey! Although Coober Pedy isn’t exactly a top tourist destination, it certainly was a memorable experience.
On the verge of heat stroke and delirium, we continued south across the flattened landscape to an empty rest area for the night, enjoying a spectacular evening with sun melting into the deserted horizon. Few words can explain just how vast, empty and even haunting is the experience of central Australia. On the outback roads, you just keep driving as the sun moves over head and only stop to eat, refuel, and sleep. Fortunately, as we drove south the landscape changed from red to green and grew thick with trees as crisp air and rainy spring weather welcomed us in Port Augusta (a fresh reminder that it does not get warmer as we move south!). It was a quick stop off to find out more information for the Flinders Ranges, which is where we were headed next.
G: A windy and picturesque drive brought us to the Flinders Ranges, South Australia’s most popular National Park. We were lucky enough to witness the blooming purple wildflowers, a clear indication of spring that only lasts for 2-3 weeks. It really was a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by a lush green landscape with rolling hills and cooler temperatures. We had officially survived the outback!
After getting settled in at the campground we explored Aboriginal rock art at the Sacred Caves, peeked over Wingarra Lookout, and strolled along the Hill’s Homestead Walk to view the parks most famous attraction Wilpena Pound, encountering a pack of emus along the way. The next day we were more ambitious and climbed St. Mary’s Peak (1171m), which offered stunning views in all directions. We had lunch with the lizards at the top and then drove to Stokes and Huck’s Lookout before calling it a night in our tent. Before leaving the park, we made time for another short circuit walk to Arkaroo to see some amazing cave drawings and beautiful views over the protected landscape. The mountains are such a great refresher and it was good to get up out of the car and walk our legs to soreness without blistering heat.
The capital of S.A. and one of the most underrated Australian cities is Adelaide. We stopped for a few nights to reconnect with our metropolitan side, sleep in a bed, and avoid cooking dinner for a few nights – I was excited! We took our time exploring this modest city full of green parks and museums. I even took the liberty of doing an all-woman’s yoga class at The Heart of Yoga Studio while Blake explored the extensive South Australian Museum. Needless to say, it was nice to bask in some divine femininity.
On our last day, we drove to Glenelg Beach to explore a bit of the coast, which reminded us a lot of St. Kilda in Melbourne. We also went on a tour at the famous Haigh’s Chocolate Factory to learn about the history of the Haigh family and chocolate making (and obviously for some free samples). J They make it extremely difficult to leave the factory without buying anything after all those samples! Hence, with ginger chocolate and rocky road in hand, we bid Adelaide farewell and escaped east toward the hills.
B: Let’s be honest…the real reason we drove all the way to South Australia was for the wine – Barossa Valley to be exact. If you look closely, you’ll notice a large selection of South Australian wine to choose from back home, but it tastes so much better from the source! There were so many delicious wineries and beautiful vineyards to choose from so we started at random with a smaller one called Rockford. We strolled into the charismatic cellar and had a pleasant chat with the server, who informed us that this particular winery only sold within Australia, U.K. and Calgary, Alberta. Of all places, Calgary! All of the tastings were free, so we splurged on a special bottle of Tawny before sobering up with some lunch. I got to enjoy the very posh Keller Meister winery while G was my designated driver for the rest of the day. We ended our day at the Jacob’s Creek winery for a very thorough tour and tasting. We even got to sample wine that goes for $150 per bottle! I couldn’t really tell the difference though… Why would anyone want to train their taste buds to only enjoy wine that costs that much? I’ll stick with the cheap stuff! 😉
The next morning we strolled through the Barossa Farmer’s Market, Mengler Hill Lookout, and Sculpture Park. We then enjoyed a sun-kissed drive through palm-lined streets to one of the oldest and most successful vineyards, Seppeltsfield Winery (they had a family Mausoleum on the property!) that felt like we were in California. To end off the wine tour, we stopped at Wolf Blass and enjoyed yet another sampling from a $200 bottle! – not that we could tell the difference…
G: As we initially drove into South Australia there were large signs warning us not to enter into the state with fruit, veggies, nut or seeds, which are precautions to protect the wine region. We quickly stuffed our faces with as many carrots and tangerines as we could stand, then dumped the rest. Of course, no one ever checked our car… Then, as we left the vineyards behind and started our drive for the east coast via the Riverland, orange groves, avocado, and olive trees lined the highway. Road side stalls offered these fresh goodies, and frankly, my name was written all over them, so we pulled over and stocked up. The woman in the stall said we’d be fine and it was perfectly safe because we were outside of the protected zone. But then the signs returned, one after another with intimidating slogans warning of inspections and persecution. We panicked, and feared a hefty fine. We even pulled off the highway and debated dumping the whole lot in the bushes. Some happy bush animal could feast for days! Is $20 worth of fruit worth risking a $300 fine? Flashbacks from the Auckland airport filled our brain. We took the risk and kept driving. It’s just fruit, right?! But all was in divine order and since it was Saturday the officers were off for the weekend and the checkpoint was closed. We had those olives and oranges for weeks!