The Alice

Alice Springs, The Alice or just plain Alice is the largest town in The Red Centre. It has a population of some 27,000 people, many of them indigenous. We left our lovely camp spot about 9.30am and set off for the last 250km to get to Alice.

Rich and I are both sure we heard a mouse in our motorhome during the night however there was no sign of it in the morning.

Passed by the famous Erldunda Roadhouse around 10.20km. The roadhouse sits at the intersection of the Stuart and Lassiter Highways. The Lassiter Highway is the road to Uluru, the Olgas and Kings Canyon. We’ll be going that way on the way back.

The roadhouse looked like it was having renovations done out the front where the fuel pumps are and we’d heard that diesel was $3.18L there.

Erldunda, the junction of the Stuart and Lassiter Highways

We had a short break at Stuart’s Well Roadhouse where the kids loved seeing emus and camels. While there a Sunliner Navian 601 motorhome pulled in and I got chatting to the bloke who owns it. It was only 6 months old and they absolutely love it. I hope they get many years of travelling in their beautiful motorhome.

We arrived in Alice Springs at lunch time and, after taking photos at the town sign, found our way to the Discovery Parks – Alice Springs where we had two powered sites booked. Check-in was made easy by their express check-in for pre-paid bookings. There was a basket on the counter in Reception with envelopes without name on. Everything we needed was in the envelope.

We quickly settled in to our great sites. We each have a gravel area (to park the car & van and motorhome on). Next to that is a concrete slab (for under your awning) and next to that is a grass area. Yep, that’s right, I said grass. It’s even green grass.

This is a large park with lots of facilities. There are multiple amenities blocks, camp kitchens, a swimming pool, jumping pillows, a pump track and we have a playground right next to us. The kids love it! And so does Katie. No red dirt here!

Kate an I spent the afternoon getting rid of the red dirt in our RV’s and washing everything. It was even time to change the sheets! OMG how much red dirt was inside. You should have seen the colour of the water when I mopped the floor!

While Katie and I were being very domestic, Pa took the kids to the pool after they’d had a great time at the Jumping Pillow.

Late in the afternoon we went for a drive into Alice downtown to look for a supermarket. We are all so surprised by Alice. It is nothing like we expected. We all expected it to be a town in the flat red desert. Instead we find it is a large town in amongst stunning rocky hills with the dry river bed of the famous Todd River running through. It’s really very different to what we expected. We found where the Tourist Information Centre is and across the road is Megafauna Central, one the places the children want to visit.

We found a Woolworths, stocked up on supplies and headed back to camp where Katie prepared a delicious pasta bolognese for dinner. We sat under the MH awning and enjoyed our dinner al fresco. It was a happy dinner.

We’ve decided we are going to be tourists tomorrow check out lots of Alice activities.


On the road northwards again

It was a very cold night, getting down to 3 degrees in the early hours of the morning. I was very pleased to hear that the boys slept well in their swags. It’s good to know they are snug and warm even on those very cold nights. There was a brisk breeze blowing and it was cold whilst we packed up our camp at the Big4 Stuart Range CP in Coober Pedy.

We are all really getting into a good routine for packing up camp now and everyone is co-operating. It’s great to see.

We both had to use the dump point and fill up with fresh water before we left the park. It cost us $2 to fill our water tanks at the metered tap.

Farewell to the Big4 Stuart Range Coober Pedy

Our first stop was to the town sign where we stopped on arrival but were surrounded by rally cars. We were able to get our photos taken and now have that great memory of our trip.

We headed off northwards and for 30-40km you travel through the Coober Pedy Opal fields. There are literally hundreds of thousands of little conical piles of dirt made by miners sinking an exploration shaft.

It makes for quite a bizarre landscape.

It was a bit exciting when we approached one lot of mining to see dust flying and realised it was a miner in action. We slowed right down to watch as we went by. It had been the only mine we’d seen that was operating.

We use our UHF to keep in contact as we travel along. We made comments along this part of the journey how impressed we were with the road. It is a really good wide tar road. There are RV’s of all descriptions out and about and the the road trains out there are three or four trailers long.

Around midday we drove past Marla, population 245, with its huge roadhouse. Lots of vans and trucks were pulled in there.

We continued on and pulled off the road at a spot marked in WikiCamps as Mount John Rest Area. This is not a true Rest Area just a track off to the west of the highway into the scrub, however it leads to some large flat areas away from the road. There’s lots of trees so you wouldn’t get much road noise at night. It was here while we had a lunch break that Ben found ‘camel tracks’. Well, at least he decided that’s what they were. He was quite excited by his find. What do you think? Do they look like camel tracks to you?

Ben’s camel tracks

We just had to stop at the SA/NT border and take some photos. Love the one of Katie and the children with one foot in SA and one in NT!

We stopped for fuel at Kulgera Roadhouse which is only 19km past the border.

With only 250km to go to get to Alice we pulled into truck stop that showed on WikiCamps that there was plenty of camp spots at the southern end. We arrived there to find lots of red dirt tracks leading into the bush and plenty of good spots to camp. We found a spot well away from the road and quickly set up camp around a previously used fire. Once camp was set up the children set off to scavenge for wood. They are pretty good at this now and in no time at all we had a lovely little fire going.

I’d put on a beef casserole in the crockpot in the morning and it had been slow cooking all day. I cooked some broccoli and heated up some garlic naan to go with it and we all sat around our little fire with yummy bowls of stew.

While setting up and sitting around we fire we were joined by the cutest little native animals. They looked a bit like mice but had much bigger ears and they hopped. There were hundreds of them. They even came right up under our chairs. They were so quick. At first Maddie was a bit scared of them but after a while she realised they weren’t going to do anything except hop about and she relaxed and watched them. They were funny to watch as they scurried aobut searching for food. Hopefully we will find out what they are called when we go to the Desert Park in Alice Springs.

Coober Pedy Day 2

Sadly the bus tours from the Big4 Stuart Range Caravan Park were not able to be run as the bus driver had influenza and was contagious. The receptionist recommended we try Noble Tours so we’d called them and booked in for the morning tour. We had to be up bright and early though as the tour began at the Umoona Opal Mine & Museum at 8.00am.

We were all up and ready to go by 7.45 and set off towards town. The Umoona Opal Mine & Museum is in the main street and has a large carpark out the front. We were able to park there and leave the car there while we headed off on tour in Noble Tours 4WD bus.

Our tour guide Aaron arrived promptly at 8.00am and led our small group into the Umoona Opal Mine & Museum. This excellent museum opened in 1985. The entry to the museum houses Aborignal artifacts and some models of mining machinery. The photo gallery follows and this excellent display showcases the history of the town.

The Fossil Museum showcases the rich fossils found in the area that was once underwater in the Euromanga Sea. From tiny shellfish to marine dinosaurs such as the ichthyosaurus and plesiosaurs. There is even a plesiosaur called Umoonasuarus. It was. Primitive plesiosaur that lived in the freezing inland sea long after its relatives were extinct elsewhere in the world.


There is an Underground Cinema and an Opal shop.

Our group was led through the labyrinth of tunnels and into a old fashioned dugout (undergound home). This shows a dugout that would have been dug out using hand tools. The rooms are small and the ceiling very low.

An old style dugout

Next stop was an example of a modern dugout, a much larger construction made using modern mining machinery. The spaces were larger and the ceilings higher. The best part about living undergound is the constant temperature. It is a steady 19-25 degrees below ground. Coober Pedy can be freezing in winter and blowing hot in summer above ground. Approximately 50% of the population of Coober Pedy live underground. Most dugouts are excavated into the sides of hills rather than dug from mine shafts. Modern dugouts range from simple one bedroom dwellings to a 21 room mansion.

We were then led into the opal mine and were shown the various mining techniques used and where to find the opal. We learnt that mining for opal is mostly about luck. You could sink a shaft and find nothing then someone could come along later and mine that same shaft just a few more inches and find thousands of dollars of precious opal.

There are only approximately 100 miners left in Coober Pedy and there are no big corporations. Mining for opal does not have a rate of return that the big corporations require. There’s no BHP out here!

Interestingly we learned that the local Aboriginal people who still follow their traditional culture will not live underground. They believe the underground is home for spirits and not for humans to live in so they choose to live in normal houses on the surface. These can be expensive to live in as their electricity costs are high due to having to run air conditioners and heaters. You don’t need either of those in a dugout.

A good quality dugout will set you back $250,000 – $400,000 whilst a house on the surface can be picked up for $100,000. Of course there are always exceptions and we did see a few lovely homes on the surface while some of the dugouts didn’t look so great. It’s a bit hard to tell with a dugout though as it may only be a front door on the outside but inside is a full 3 bedroom home.

Next stop on on the tour was the underground Serbian church. What a stunning dugout.

Then we all piled back on the 4WD bus and headed out of town where we drove across what is known as the Moon Plain. However they were not looking very moon like due to the recent rain and there was grass everywhere. I could imagine how it would usually look though, barren and rocky.

Next we stopped at the Dog Fence. This fence is the longest fence in the world and is 5,600km long. The fence was built to protect the valuable sheep and wool industry from dingos and wild dogs. Dingos and wild dogs can kill or maim up to 50 sheep in one night and the fence has done a great job of stopping that from happening. It has to be constantly repaired and traverses across South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.

Next we had multiple stops to check out the stunning Breakaways. This series of sandstone ridges is renowned for it’s beautiful colours and we were not disappointed.

Our tour then took us back to town via the opal fields. The Coober Pedy Opal Fields are the largest opal fields in the world. It is estimated that only 20% of the fields have been mined so there’s probably a lot more opal to find yet. It is the most bizarre looking landscape with all those conical piles of dirt from the shafts. There are 1.5 million to 2 million mine shafts in the opal fields. This is why tourists are not allowed anywhere near the opal fields. It is too dangerous. I loved the signs around town telling people not to walk backwards in Coober Pedy in case they fell down a shaft.

Our tour guide even drove us into the opal fields to show us his own mining claim.

We arrived back where we started and all declared the tour well worth it. We’d all learnt so much and Aaron was a great tour guide. We recommend Noble Tours to anyone visiting Coober Pedy.

After lunch I took Ben and Maddie to the Skate Park just which is not far away on the road into town. They had a great time playing there and on the playground next door. Back at camp I took Riley, Ben & Maddie to the pool. They played a boisterous game of ‘piggy in the middle’ using ‘Oscar’, a little yellow plastic man that Maddie found in my peg bag. I couldn’t understand how they could be in the water. I sat up on one of the deck chairs and I was wearing jeans and four layers on top and a hat to keep warm. The kids assured me the water was warm!

Playing ‘piggy in the middle’

To celebrate Richard’s birthday we had a delicious BBQ dinner of lamb chops served with a potato with coleslaw & cheese, and corn on the cob.

We had a lovely FaceTime chat with our grandchildren, Zara and Henry, and it was so great to see their faces. I love technology.

We’d had a big day so everyone was happy to go to bed early so we could get a good nights sleep before our big driving day the next day. We’ve got 688 km’s to get to Alice Springs so we’d probably camp in the desert along the way before arriving in Alice on Wednesday.

Coober Pedy, SA

Our little fire at our desert camp site still had coals the next morning so we got it going again so the kids could cook the toast using a toasting fork. I made a huge batch of scrambled eggs and bacon and we all ate outside around our little camp fire. Ben declared it the best breakfast ever!!

We’d had a lovely sleep in and finally packed up camp and set off around 10am. I used our grey water to extinguish the fire and made sure it was out before we set off.

Just as we were leaving our camp a group of old cars went by each one covered in stickers. We commented that it must be a rally. As we went along the remaining 150km to Coober Pedy we were passed by many more of these cars.

We arrived at Coober Pedy and stopped under the famous town sign however the rally cars had arrived before us and more came afterwards. Of course they all wanted to take photos under the sign so we though we’d come back when we were leaving town.

We got chatting to a lady dressed in an ABBA costume and she explained that the rally was called the Mystery Box Rally and they raise money for the Cancer Council. She and her husband had come down from the Queensland to participate. The rally had raised $1.1million already. What a fantastic effort! All the cars have to be over 20 years old and no 4WD are allowed. We even saw a couple of little Mazda 121’s. Over the duration of the rally they have a couple of dress up nights and this day’s was Music Legends so we saw a few dressed as Wiggles, Baby Sharks, ABBA, Elvis, and many others. They all looked like they were having a fabulous time. The rally was next heading to Oodnadatta so those old cars take a beating on the gravel roads.

Our first stop in Coober Pedy was for fuel and we came across rally cars there too so there was a bit of a queue. Fuel was only $2.48L. Across the road from the service station are the town’s water bowsers. This is where you can top up your water tanks by paying for the water.

We checked in to the Big4 Stuart Range Caravan Park where we had two powered sites booked. The park also has two water taps that you have to put money in. It’s $1 for 40L of water. We both stopped and filled up before going to our site. The whole park is gravel with a few scrubby trees however the pool looked inviting surrounded by its green fake grass. There is a large amenities block in the middle with a camp kitchen, gas BBQ’s and even a fire pit. A large playground is also in the middle of the park.

Katie was surprised to find another New Age Bilby in the park. They keep popping up!

After setting up camp we all piled into ENNY (Katie’s car) and headed into town to check it out. What a bizarre place is Coober Pedy. It’s pretty obvious that nothing gets thrown away here and there is lots of stuff lying around. Old cars, machinery, metal drums and general mining paraphernalia. You never know when it may come in handy!

The Main Street is Hutchison St named after the young lad that first found opal while he was prospecting for gold.

We stopped at the top of a hill in town to check out the view and The Big Winch. Next door is the Big Winch 360 Cafe & Bar. It also houses the Big Winch 360 cinema experience and we thought that sounded good. The next show was at 3.30pm so we had time to check out The Blower and the Steel Tree and make good use of the binoculars set up at the end of the lookout.

The Big Winch was built in the early 1970’s by local Claus Wirries as a tourist attraction. It is a replica of a hand windlass that were used to lift buckets of overburden out of the mine shafts in the early days. Claus sounds like a real character.

Next to the Big Winch is a Blower. This amazing machinery is a Coober Pedy invention and is basically a huge vacuum cleaner. A pipe was fed down into the shaft and connected to the tunnelling equipment. The blower was turned on and the dirt would be sucked up the pipe into the drum. When the drum was full it would be tipped out into a pile hence the thousands of piles of dirt everywhere on the opal fields.

The last of the objects on the lookout is The Steel Tree. This tree made out of bent and twisted steel was made by another local BobAmorosi in 1970. Bob had ordered some steel brought up by truck from Adelaide however the truck caught fire and the metal became bent and twisted. It was no good for its original use so inventive Bob made a ‘tree’ for his children to climb as there is a scarcity of trees to climb out here.

We headed next door for our 360 degree cinema experience. This was fabulous and we do recommend it. It only cost $15 for Seniors, $20 for Adults and children aged 12-16 were $10. Ben and Maddie were free.

The show is in three parts and beings in a small theatre. The first part is a Welcome to Country film that runs for about five minutes. You learn about the local Aboriginal people and their connection to country.

For the second part you walk down a set of stairs and into a circular theatre. This second video, filmed over 12 months, describes the local area, some history and showcases the beauty of the vast outback of South Australia.

For the third part you go back to the small theatre you started in and another five minute video is all about locals and Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy is based on Aboriginal words and means ‘white man in a hole’. What an apt name for this town.

The whole show runs for about 40 minutes and we all enjoyed the 360 degree cinema and thought it well worth a visit.

Back at camp the kids enjoyed a swim in the heated pool while I set up our communal area for dinner and got our outside TV tuned in so we could watch the second game of the State of Origin.

Katie cooked hamburgers for dinner on her Weber and we all enjoyed our dinner outdoors watching the game. Happy to report that NSW won the game so that’s one game each. The third will be the decider.

Awesome camp in the desert

It had rained a little overnight at Port Augusta but not enough to be a nuisance. The boys swags were a little damp but they’d dry out quickly. They’d slept really well snuggled in their swags. Ben said the rain did wake him up but he fell back asleep in no time.

Maddie had put her toe through the front of her joggers so while Rich and the boys got the camp packed up Katie, Maddie and I set off to find a shoe store. We managed to find a SportsPower store and Maddie chose a gorgeous pair of hot pink sneakers. She’ll be easy to spot from now on!

After fueling up we set off towards Coober Pedy. I was quite excited when we made the turn at the sign saying Coober Pedy and Alice Springs. I love a road I’ve never been on before! I’ll be able to draw more lines on our map.

A Pipeline runs alongside the road from Port Augusta to Woomera to supply water to the little communities of Pimba, Woomera and the RAAF base.

There were ‘jump-ups’ off in the distance, flat topped hills that rise up out of the flat land surrounding them. It really is desert around there.

Before we arrived at Pimba we pulled into a lookout to check out the view of a huge salt lake called Island Lagoon. The lake is so huge it stretches away to the horizon. We were also a bit surprised by how much water was in the lake.

Stopped at Spuds Roadhouse at Pimba to top up our fuel $2.68L. The most expensive fuel yet. Pimba is a tiny dot on the map with only about 10 houses and a pub. The Roadhouse has a free camp area that looks like it might get really busy but you’d be jammed in like sardines in a tin.

Spuds Roadhouse, Pimba SA

We decided to drive the short 7km into the town of Woomera which is still an active RAAF base. 147 people call it home although the town can house up to 6,000. It has all the infrastructure to support the larger population with a large school, youth centre, a 6 lane bowling alley, tennis courts, swimming pool, general store, medical centre, dentist, tourist information centre and Heritage Centre.

Woomera was established in 1947 as a site for launching British experimental rockets. Between 1960 and 1972 NASA operated a deep space tracking station at nearby Island Lagoon. The testing range covers 127,000 square kilometres and is known as the Woomera Prohibited Area.

The big attraction for us though was the Rocket Park. This gravel park is spread over two blocks and contains displays of many of the different types of rockets that have been fired at Woomera.

I was fascinated by the remains of the rocket that took Australia’s very first satellite into orbit in 1967!

After a lunch break next to the Rocket Park we headed back out to the Stuart Highway and turned northwards again. It is 548km from Port Augusta to Coober Pedy and we didn’t plan to go all the way in one day but stop somewhere in the desert and camp there.

The Stuart Highway is a very good, wide, tar road. We were surprised that there wasn’t more traffic as it is the main road up through the centre of Australia. The road is crossed by wide cattle grids and after each one is a sign letting you know the name of the station you are now driving through and whether the road is unfenced. At first I thought this was a bit silly as you can see the fences when the road is fenced. However I changed my mind when I thought it is to let people know that there may be stock in the paddock the road is going through. If the road is unfenced then you need to be aware of that danger.

The highway is named after explorer John McDouall Stuart. Stuart was born in Scotland in 1815 and came to South Australia in 1839. He became one of the most successful explorers in Australia’s white history leading many expeditions to the centre of Australia and the Top End. Alice Springs was once a town called Stuart until it was changed in 1933. Stuart has been described as being a wiry, man with a big black bushy beard. He must have been a tough character when you see the land he crossed many times on horseback.

John McDouall Stuart

Just north of Pimba were more huge salt lakes and we’d been told that Lake Hart was a good camp spot. It looked like it might be too as we drove past but we hadn’t done enough km’s so kept going. Lake Hart is enormous and was full of water shimmering in the sunlight. Maybe that would be a good spot on the way back.

We eventually pulled up around 4pm at a spot marked on WikiCamps as being a large, flat area where you could get well away from the road. It was a perfect desert camp spot.

We quickly ‘circled our wagons’ to block off the wind and put our awnings out to dry after being rained on overnight at Port Augusta. Rich and the boys got a little fire going whilst I cooked our tuna mornay & rice dinner in the motorhome.

What a fantastic night we had sitting around our little camp fire singing old Scouting songs and some modern ones. Katie even gave the kids some dancing lessons. They were hilarious. I haven’t heard the Katie and kids laugh so much.

We turned off all our lights and were amazed at the stars. The sky seems bigger and the stars seem closer out in the desert.

On to Port Augusta

Guess who came to the motorhome for scrambled eggs & bacon?

Our tickets for the Sound & Light Show included a visit to the museum in the daytime so after breakfast we packed up camp and drove up to Steamtown to do the guided tour.

Sadly we were all a bit disappointed as our tour guide was not very good. It went downhill from the minute he introduced himself and told us he didn’t want to be there. Oh dear!

Nevertheless we spent the next hour checking out the locomotives, the carriages, the turntable and roundhouse that we’d seen in the dark the night before.

One interesting story our guide did tell us was about a lady Fireman. She was a little tiny thing and all the blokes thought she wouldn’t be able to keep up with he job. However she proved them all wrong and was asked many times how she did it. She was half the size of most of the Firemen. Her reply was always “a little and often”. Meaning she shovelled the coal into the boiler in small amounts but often. The men all remember her fondly. Our guide sounded most impressed that he knew her.

We left Peterborough around 11am and continued our journey towards The Red Centre. We passed through Orroroo and arrive in Wilmington around 12 noon. We took advantage of the dump point and pulled up next to the playground for a lunch break. The two youngest ones really enjoyed the swings. We always appreciate these facilities especially in the little towns we pass through.

Whilst there a local fellow wandered though the park and stopped for a chat. He told us about an amazing lookout only a few kms out of town in the direction we were going. It sounded good so once we’d got going we kept an eye out for the turn to Hancock’s Lookout.

It was a 7km rough gravel road to get to the lookout but it was well worth it. What a spectacular view! You could see the Spencer Gulf and Port Pirie away to the south, Port Augusta to the north and, as it was a clear day, we could even see across the gulf to Whyalla on the other shore. Riley thought it was really cool.

The stunning view from Hancock’s Lookout

Our journey continued across The Remarkables via Horrocks Pass. It was a winding road but didn’t take too long. We came through the other side and you could see the gulf spread out before you. The other thing we noticed immediately was the 50 or so wind turbines. I didn’t remember them being there when we came through in 2016 so I had to Google it. Sure enough the Port Augusta Renewable Energy Park only began construction in 2020. So far it includes 50 wind turbines and a solar farm.

A little further along towards Port Augusta we passed the Sundrop facility and I do remember this one from our previous trip. Sundrop is a huge solar greenhouse facility that grows produce for Coles.

Once we arrived in Port Augusta we did a drive by of the Port Augusta Sports Club RV Park however it is just a gravel carpark and the RV’s were very close together. We didn’t fancy that. We continued on over the bridge where massive roadworks were going on, creating traffic havoc, and called in to the Discovery Park – Port Augusta. I’m a member of G’Day Parks so it was $36 for a powered site. We were able to get two sites next to each other and we quickly set up camp.

The boys got their swags out to sleep in.

Katie took advantage of having a laundry and got all her washing done in one big load whilst I only had a small load and got it done in the motorhome.

Richard settled in to read his book, Riley chose to stay and read his book and be in charge of picking the washing up from the dryer whilst the rest of us went to look for a supermarket. We’d prepared a list of meals for the next week to last us until we get to Alice Springs.

Back at camp it had rained a little but not enough to wet everything. A little more rain was forecast overnight so this would be a test for the boys in their swags.

Our camp at Discovery Parks – Port Augusta

Peterborough, SA

What an interesting town is Peterborough, South Australia. Peterborough began as a private subdivision in the late 1800’s. The land was owned by a Heinrich Koch and after he heard that the railways would be coming through he subdivided his land into town allotments. The town was named Petersburg after the land’s original owner Peter Doeke however the name was changed in 1917 due to anti-German feeling due to WWI. Many of the town’s German street names were also anglicised.

With the discovery of silver and other minerals in Silverton and Broken Hill and the development of agriculture in the area a more efficient mode of transport than bullock drays was needed to transfer produce to the harbour at Port Pirie. Bullock drays did the job but they took a long time and it was very hard work.

Peterborough is at the point that surveyors decided would be the meeting place of rail lines coming from Silverton/Broken Hill to Port Pirie and from Burra via Teworie and from Peterborough to Alice Springs.

These lines were all completed in the late 1880’s. The town grew and pretty soon a passenger stations, good shed, post office and the Petersburg Hotel (the first of four) were built. These were followed by a school and several churches. Shops were built and small industries started to appear. These included a butter factory, an ice works, brick kilns and a cordial maker.

The town became the largest rail depot outside Adelaide with workshops, a 23 bay roundhouse and a three gauge turntable.

We drove right through the Main Street to get to the Tourist Information Centre which is housed at the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre. We called in to collect our tickets for their Sound N Light Show we’d booked the day before. I’d seen the entry for their RV Park on WikiCamps and it showed a large sign that said Self-contained vehicles only, no tents or swags so I thought I’d better ask if our boys were OK to sleep in their swags beside our two self-contained vehicles. Sadly the answer was no. What to do?

After a bit of chat we all decided that the RV Park was so convenient, being walking distance, that the boys could sleep inside for the one night. Riley slept in the motorhome and Ben slept on the lounge in the van.

We got our camp set up with our RV’s facing each other. There were about 20 or so other RV’s already parked up. The RV Park is a very large grassy and flat area just on the edge of town. You can stay for free for 72 hours. There are lots of rubbish bins but the dump point and potable water are back in town.

Peterborough RV Park

The kids got out their scooters and, with helmets on, we set off to walk to town. We followed the pathway from Steamtown to the Main Street. It’s only about six blocks long. Along the way we stopped off at the Newsagency as I’d read that they have a model train set up that was worth a look. Katie stayed outside with the scooters whil Rich and I took the kids inside. Wow what an impressive model railway. It is a model of Petersburg in all its railway finest in the 1960’s. The detail is amazing. The kids were happy to watch it for a good half an hour.

We continued on and found the sculpture of Bob the Railway Dog. The story of Bob could fill an entire post on its own. Suffice to say that Bob was a much loved character on the railways and was know far and wide. He would ride the trains wherever and whenever he felt like it and was know to travel to Broken Hill, Oodnadatta, Mt Gambier, Melbourne and Sydney. He even took the tram in Melbourne and rode on a Murray River paddle steamer. Apparently when Bob heard the whistle of a train he was off! Bob was adopted by the Enginemen (train drivers) of the SA Railways who paid his annual registration. Bob died in 1895 and was mourned by many.

Behind Bob the Dog is the Town Carriage Museum. This is a 1916 first-class sleeper car which was used on the very first train across the Nullarbor from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. Inside are displays of the history of Peterborough as well as artifacts and other memorabilia. The best part though is to sit in one of the sleeper compartments, press the button and all of a sudden you are on your way to Broken Hill. The windows have been turned into screens and you really feel you are on the train watching the scenery go by. This was an excellent museum and the best part….it’s free.

We walked back past the new Town Hall built in 1927 and I just had to have a peek inside at it’s gorgeous interior. Check out the photos below!

The kids enjoyed a fun time at the Skate Park amongst some local kids. I love watching the kids at the skate park. They love it!

Back at camp we ate our Shepherds Pie that had been cooking while we were out walking. We rugged up against the cold night and set off to walk back to Steamtown for the Sound n Light show.

All rugged up for the Sound n Light Show

Wow, it did not disappoint. You enter through the Tourist Information Centre into a huge shed with a glowing T Class Locomotive belching out steam. You feel like the train has just pulled up a few minutes ago. Then the guide shows you outside, in the dark, to a beautifully restored carriage that is sitting on the turntable. You sit inside the carriage facing the roundhouse and then the show starts. A very professionally made movie shows the story of Peterborough and the railways. At various times the locos and carriages in the roundhouse are lit up.

It was very well done. The most dramatic part was the description of the only head on crash on the northern lines. It was quite scary and had a very sad ending with the Engineman and Fireman losing their lives. The poor Fireman had his leg severed at the thigh and, although he was rescued, succumbed to his injuries. Maddie doesn’t remember that bit as she fell asleep.

We all loved the show! Do this one if you are in Peterborough but it pays to book as seats are limited.

We walked back to the RV Park guided by our headlamp torch and it was not very long before everyone was sound asleep.

Farewell NSW, hello SA

We said farewell to Broken Hill after an enjoyable stay at the Racecourse. We recommend this great spot for anyone passing this way. We had a quick stop at the dump point and I was surprised to see a John Dynan mural on the wall. He’s a popular artist in these parts. He has a gallery out at Silverton.

We had quick stop for fuel and swapped a gas bottle on the motorhome, and set off towards the NSW/SA border some 50km away.

We had a short stop to take a photo before we crossed over the border at the tiny village of Cockburn. There’s not much there except a couple of houses and a pub. Even the old roadhouse was closed.

Stopped for a cuppa at Warwirra Creek Rest Area at the end of kilometres of road works. It’s real desert country around there. Pretty flat countryside for as far as the eye can see with scrubby low bushes and saltbush. Hardly a tree in sight. In the distance on our left are some low rocky hills and that’s all that breaks the horizon. I called Riley on the UHF to see if he felt like he was in ‘the outback’ yet and he responded with an emphatic ‘sure do’.

The next tiny village was Olary. Just a tiny spot on the map.

Next up was Mannahill. It has a little Rest Area with a plaground. A Police station, a pub, a lovely old Railway station and about ten houses. I wondered what the people who live there do. It’s out in the middle of nowhere.

We were passed by a very long freight train not long after going through Mannahill. It seemed to go on forever and must have been going fast as it very quickly caught us and was gone into the distance

The next little village was Yunta with a very busy truck stop. There is a Heavy Vehicle Checking Station at Yunta however it was closed so we didn’t need to go in. Yunta has a rest area with toilets and picnic tables. A few vans were making use of the area with people having lunch. We just drove straight through.

We finally came to Oodla Wirra and this is where the SA Quarantine Station is. There was a very friendly inspector who came on board and quickly checked our fridge for quarantined fruit and veg but what we hadn’t already used we had given away in Broken Hill. Ben and Maddie did a great job walking around camp giving away our fruit. We were waved through quarantine in very quick time.

We left the desert behind and began to see farming land before we reached our destination for the day when we arrived in Peterborough. This tiny town of just 1500 people was once the thriving heart of the northern part of SA Railways with some 100 steam trains passing through each day. In its heyday the town was home to some 6,000 people and many of those worked on the railways. That has all finished now and Peterborough is now a tourist town. We all looked forward to learning more about this fascinating little town.

Relaxing day at Broken Hill

Don’t you love a relaxing day? We had one those on our last day in Broken Hill. We all enjoyed a sleep in and spent the morning catching up on washing, cleaning our RV’s, reading and generally enjoying the warm sunshine. It was a glorious day at Broken Hill with hardly a cloud in the blue sky.

Pa decided he was going to have a reading day and was quite happy to be left at camp while the rest of us piled into ENNY (Katie’s 4×4) and set off to town. Riley and I were dropped off at the Mining & Minerals Museum while Katie, Ben & Maddie hit the shops looking for stuff for the van. The museum is housed in an historic building owned by the Broken Hill Council. The building was a Bond Store built in 1892.

Riley and I spent an hour or so exploring the great little museum which has excellent displays of all the minerals found in the Broken Hill area. There is a short video that shows the history of our planet and the formation of the rich Line of Lode, as the ore seam is called in Broken Hill. It took millions of years to create this wealth just waiting for someone to find it.

The displays include a 42kg nugget of silver. It’s huge! Many of the minerals found in Broken Hill are some of the best examples found anywhere in the world.

The museum is the home of the Silver Tree. This incredible sculpture is made entirely from silver and depicts the story of Charles Rasp who discovered ore in Broken Hill and thus began mining in the area.

I do recommend a stop at this little museum when in Broken Hill. The entry fee is a donation. Well worth it.

Katie, Ben & Maddie were still shopping so Riley and I wandered down the street to visit the Sufi book shop. What a fascinating store. It is full of books about Islam and Sufism, spirituality, health & well-being, Philosophy and poetry, incense & essential oils, clothing and middle eastern rugs and tapestries. They even sell Hookah pipes. While there a man came in and asked the assistant how to get to the mosque and she gave him directions. He also asked about Halal stores in Broken Hill. He was directed to the Sufi Bakery and told to check with them.

Fabulous mural on the Sufi Book Store

Katie picked us up and our next port of call, after a visit to the hardware store and a quick stop at the Reject Shop, was to Bells Milk Bar. Bells Milk Bar is Australia’s longest running milk bar and walking in the door is like stepping back in time to the 1950’s. What a gem of a place. We all had milkshakes and a ham & cheese toastie for our lunch The children all declared the place ‘awesome’.

The milk bar started life in 1892 as Fenton’s Confectioner & Cordial Maker. It was renovated in 1938 and became Bells Milk Bar. It was further renovated in 1956 and it is pretty much the same today. Definitely put this one on your list of things to do in Broken Hill. The milkshakes are delicious.

Across the road from the milk bar is a playground and the kids enjoyed a half hour play there. I took the opportunity to call the Steamtown Historic Railway in Peterborough and book us all in for their award winning Sound & Light Show for the next evening.

Back at camp we found Rich still reading his book. He’d had a lovely quiet day. We cooked a leg of lamb in Katies Weber and I did the veggies in the motorhome. Yum, who loves a lamb roast? We followed it up with a fresh fruit salad so we could use up most of our fruit before we cross the border into SA. What we didn’t eat we would try to give away to other travellers.

That ends our stay in Broken Hill. We plan to head off in the morning and get to Peterborough. First thing though we will use the dump point then go into town for fuel and a gas bottle. We filled up with water before going to bed and packed up our chairs, table and awnings. We were all ready to continue our journey.

Day out to Silverton

We were woken to the excited sounds of the children as they watched the horses in training going by right past where their swags were set up. It made us laugh to see the children all rugged up in their fire coats sitting in their camp chairs that they’d line up against the fence so they could watch the horses.

We were all up early and ready to go off to Silverton for the day. Our first stop was to the Historic Day Dream Mine to do an underground tour. The kids were very excited about going underground.

To get to Day Dream Mine you head out of town on the Silverton Road then take a right onto a gravel road. It is another 13km along this road and through a couple of gates to the mine site. The road was a typical outback gravel road with some good sections and others that were very corrugated. Katie enjoyed the drive.

I was astonished when we were approaching the mine to see a sign beside the road that said this was the site of a township in the late 1800’s and some 500 people lived there. It is such a remote location.

When you arrive at the Mine you check in with the lovely Maggie (who has a strong Afrikaner accent) and she takes your order for tea, coffee, milo and scones. Then you wait out on the verandah for the tour guide.

Scattered around the main building are lots of old mining machinery and tools. There is a toilet block back up the hill.

Our guide Jeremy arrived and gathered our mixed group. We had lots of grey nomads, a couple of young people and we had the only kids. Jeremy led us onto the mine site for the surface part of the tour and explained the mine was established by prospectors wandering through the area and finding substantial deposits of lead, tin, zinc and silver. Word got out and more prospectors followed. Remember these prospectors would have all come on foot.

The mine grew and we were shown where the black powder was stored in an underground dugout to keep it at the right temperature.

We were shown to where the windlass used to be above the shaft and then we were led to a shed where Jeremy gave a safety briefing and we were issued with hard hats with lights. We’d been told when we booked the tour to wear sturdy shoes so we’d all worn our boots.

Jeremy led us down into the mine and it was very steep with steps just cut into the rock face. At times the ceiling was so low you had to bend over double. Luckily there’s a hand rail to hold on to.

For the next hour we were led up and down tunnels all carved into the rock by hand. At the bottom we were about 130 feet underground. The tunnels were mostly very narrow and then occasionally opened up into wide spaces. Jeremy explained that this is because the ore body the miners were following must have widened there and all the ore had been removed creating a big wide space.

Children as young as 8 years old worked in the mine sorting ore. They were used because they were small and could fit in tiny spaces. Although about 3 years of doing this was enough for the children to start losing their eyesight so they were then moved above ground. Our kids were amazed by this.

We passed an exhibit of old mining tools and a wooden wheelbarrow called a ‘Cornish barrow’. They were called that because they had no legs and were used to get in and out of smaller spaces than a usual wheelbarrow could fit.

At one part of the mine we came to a large opening and there was room for the whole group to sit around in a circle. Here Jeremy demonstrated how the miners working in threes would drill the holes in the rock. One would hold the spike and the other two would swing the sledge hammer in a rhythmic tap tap. Pity the poor guy holding the spike. It was his job to hold it steady and after each tap turn it a quarter turn so it drilled into the rock. Broken or sliced off thumbs was a common injury. Remember too that those miners were working by candle light.

Riley got to help with the demonstration and he was the spike holder!

There were two candles burning and Jeremy asked us all to turn off our headlamps. We were left with just the two candles and that is how much light the miners would have had. Incredible! Then Jeremy snuffed them out. It was pitch black. You could not see your hand held in front of your face! No wonder miners had horrific accidents such as falling down shafts.

As we had climbed down into the mine to exit we had to climb back up. Once back on the surface we had to hand in our hard hats and we were counted by Jeremy to ensure we had all returned to the surface.

The next tour group was assembling so we found a lovely sunny spot on the verandah where we were brought our previously ordered scones with jam and cream and hot drinks. The scones were delicious and the hot drinks were served in tin mugs. These were very welcome after our tour underground.

We left the Day Dream Mine and headed back out to the Silverton Road. On the way we asked everybody for a rating out of 5. We got 4.5 to 5 from everyone so we all thought it was a great experience.

A Mulga tree. These trees used to be everywhere around Broken Hill but most have been cut down to use as timber to shore up the mines. They are a very slow growing tree and this one could be hundreds of years old.

Silverton is only a short drive from Broken Hill and we’ve been there quite a few times already. However the children had never been and Katie hadn’t been there since she was a teenager.

Silverton is a lovely historic town with a current population of about 60. At it’s heyday in the late1880’s it had a thriving population of some 3,000. Silver and lead were found in the area and the town grew from there. The Silverton Tramway was built in 1888 to link with the SA railways and was Australia’s first private railway.

As Broken Hill mines were established Silverton fell into decline. Many of the buildings were transported to Broken Hill on jinkers pulled by camels, bullocks or donkeys. This is why so few buildings remain in the village to this day.

Although Silverton has a small population it is a vibrant community and the area has become famous for its popularity as a film set. Many movies and commercials have been made in and around Silverton. A Town Like Alice, Mad Max and many many commercials. The iconic Silverton Hotel has been used in many of those.

We stopped off at the old Gaol which is now a very good museaum housing memorabilia from Silverton’s past. Then we walked around the corner to the Silverton Hotel for some lunch. Our plan to drive out to Mundi Mundi Lookout was squashed as the road was closed due to the filming of a new Chris Hemsworth movie. Apparently he drove through just before we arrived at Silverton.

So after a quick drive around town we headed back to Broken Hill. We headed out of town again to visit the Living Desert and the Sculptures. The kids all declared the horse their favourite one. The view from the top of the hill is amazing. We recommend a visit here to any visitor to the area.

We had a quick stop at the Supermarket before heading back to camp. The kids played on their scooters, Katie met another couple camped with a New Age Bilby, and we all enjoyed delicious home made chicken burgers for dinner. What a great day!