After four days with friends in cold and cosmopolitan Melbourne, we made our way west towards South Australia; a place that Siu On and I are constantly drawn back to. Adelaide is a city that we could easily see ourselves living in due to its small size and proximity to excellent local produce on its door step. In any direction you go from this pocket rocket of a city you’ll hit the freshest and highest quality ingredients, including seafood from Port Lincoln, wines from the Barossa Valley, or meat from the Flinders Ranges. Compared to the food we’ve eaten anywhere else in Australia, even the most basic food we ate in South Australia was up there with some of the best we’d eaten around the world, because it always starts with having the freshest and highest quality ingredients. Looks like the diet will be starting another day.
On our very uneventful drive over we made a brief stop at Bordertown for lunch at the kitschy Morning Loaf Bakery for a pie and coffee. Bordertown was also the birthplace of Australia’s 23rd Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, though Bob himself is better known for holding an unbroken drinking record (sculling a few pints in 11 seconds) and for giving the nation the day off after Australia won the 1983 America’s cup – in my hometown of Fremantle!
A short 30 minute drive out from Adelaide will bring you to a little slice of Germany. We remembered Hahndorf as a quaint and surprisingly authentic German town, mostly full of locals and few curious tourists filling their bellies with German food and beer, however, that was more than four years ago and things had changed a lot. We could tell the moment we drown down the main strip and noticed the roads had been redone with pedestrian crossings every few metres and a few Chinese restaurants slotted between the German pubs and restaurants, then we saw the giant tourist buses with guides waving coloured flags that coordinated with the coloured hats the tourists were wearing. We looked at each other with our hearts heavy in the pits of our stomach.
As we dodged huge groups of tourists and walked away from the lines and crowds, we managed to find one end of Hanhdorf that the hoards had neglected to visit and found ourselves tucked snugly into a homey cafe for traditional german sausages and sauerkraut. With the fire roaring inside at the Blacksmith Cafe and the cold well and truely outside with the tourists, we could reminisce about our first visit here and the all the amazing German sweets and smalls goods we gorged on. Understandably, we cut this stop short and headed across the road to Udder Delights Cheese Cellar to stock up on cheese and salami for our onward journey to Adelaide.
On checking into our central accomodation at Adabco Boutique Hotel late in the evening we made a bee line to Chinatown for dinner. Siu had been craving some Chinese food and I was too hungry to care what we ate, but from the last Chinese meal we had eaten in Adelaide back at Christmas 2013 I knew it would be good, and Ying Chow on Gouger Street definitely lived up to the memories!
With only one more night planned in Adelaide we headed to the Adelaide Central Markets early to avoid the lines and crowds. Although we did come armed with a list of provisions to last us two weeks until we got to Alice Springs, it’s always hard to resist some of the baked goods and coffee this place serves up (we really enjoyed the Spanish style brekkie roll from Le Souk and the croissants from Providore!). Our last night was spent repacking our things and the car, and getting an early night’s rest for a full day of driving into the heart of South Australia.
There are two reasons you may have heard of this place, one being the giant Roxby Downs mine site that’s located nearby, and the other if you’re into Australian opals. The reason I had heard of Andamooka was because when my dad first came to Australia, he tried his hand at opal mining in this tiny town seven hours north of Adelaide. The stories my dad told me sounded so wild and strange, he’d say that it was the kind of place you went to if you were a gambler or wanted to disappear, and after driving through town I could understand. There’s not much here except for your usual facilities like a petrol station, post office, pub, small shop and community centre, but Siu On and I were both intrigued by the place.
Our accommodation for the night was out at Lake Torrens, and as we passed the hard ground at the caravan site and dark rain clouds began to move above us, we wondered if this was the right decision as the road out to the site was meant to be rocky and muddy. Fortunately, just as we finished setting up camp and heating dinner, the skies came pouring down on us and helped us to fall soundly asleep. On waking the next morning the intense winds meant that most of the downpour had dried up and we had no issues driving back into town. Thank goodness!
With only a few hours to spare we headed to town and checked out the small historical opal mining display of machinery and cottages, then grabbed coffees from the Andamooka Yacht Club and headed to the public noodling area for a scratch around. Noodling is actually the official term for opal collecting without a permit or use of any tools or machinery, so basically you can only use your hands in the designated public noodling areas. We did manage to find some opals, though most likely of the potch kind (colourless opal), but it was enough to get me hooked and start to understand what it was about this town that my dad enjoyed so much (and why he loves opals so much too).
I have high hopes that we’ll come back here again, and next time we’ll bring my dad so he can show me the mound where he found his opals over 30 years ago. However I will spare you my new found opal obsession for another article, another time.
After our detour to Andamooka and with our eyes glowing with opals, we continued through the middle of South Australia until we came to Coober Pedy, a place almost as famous as the landmark we were going to see. Coober Pedy is known for it’s opals, as a location setting for many action and adventure movies (such as Mad Max and Pitch Black), and for the many buildings and businesses operating underground. Of all the places I’ve been in Australia, Coober Pedy is by far the winner as the most quirkiest.
As it was winter when we passed through the night time temperatures got down as low as 1 degree celcius, so we stayed in an underground campsite which guaranteed a ‘balmy’ constant 26 degree celcius temperature all year round. Staying underground in a tent was not as strange as I thought it would be as once the lights were off it was just as pitch black inside as it was outside, however the only downside was the echoed snores and sounds of people tossing and turning on squeaky mattresses that was a constant source of bother.
Siu On and I allocated three days here to explore and break up the long drives and whilst here we took in a few opal mine tours with my favourite being the one we did at Tom’s Working Opal Mine tour, not only because the self guided tour was really fun (as you’re in an actual working mine), but they also have a public noodling area out the front! Other interesting things we did was tour an underground house that was built by a pair of female opal miners at Faye’s Underground Historic Home (complete with underground private swimming pool!), Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Orphanage (far too many people it was hard to get close to the roo’s), the town lookout and the Big Winch (remember that most things here are underground when you’re looking at the ‘view’) and of course we spent a great deal of time looking at a heck of a lot of opals. We did spend a day out at the Breakaways and saw part of the dog fence, as well as a lot of old movie props scattered around the town.
So long South Australia
To be honest, I don’t think any amount of time is enough in this amazing State and I’m not even sure why Siu On and I don’t just move here! Though the deep heart of Australia is beckoning and with that we are closer and closer to the apex of this journey. Stay tuned until Part 3!
Next stop: Yulara.