Australian Adventure (June 28 - 29, 2013)

40 Days Down Under (Day 15 & 16)

Friday, June 28, 2013
During the drive from Nyngan to White Cliffs there was so much wildlife to see. Seeing the kangaroos, emus, sheep with babies, cows, goats, eagles, and foxes is simultaneously astonishing and scary. Most of the wildlife (including sheep) is outside of the fenced yards, so drivers are in constant danger of hitting the critters, and we've seen so many wild eagles. The eagle really is a majestic bird.

You also have to watch out for oversized loads. Australia has an odd habit of moving entire homes. You have to pull off to the side of the road completely to allow these vehicles to pass.

There wasn't much else to see though. I can't remember the last time we saw such an inactive GPS.

Oddly, the GPS doubled the mileage it thought we needed to travel from Wilcannia to White Cliffs, so we woke up extra early thinking our drive was two hours longer than it turned out to be. Wilcannia was an interesting place. Almost 70% of their 600 residents are Aboriginal people, and the children's playground was by far the nicest and newest thing in the town.

We stopped at the White Cliffs Tourist Information Center (which is their local grocery store and restaurant) to get some information before heading to our lodging for the evening. I'd already done some research on White Cliffs, so I knew it was a mining town that had the brunt of its heyday back from 1898-1900. An estimated 5,000 people lived in White Cliffs back then. The majority of the current population of the town (a whopping 200 people) live in dugouts - homes built into the ground. The temperatures in summer get astronomically hot and in winter get staggeringly cold, but the temperature underground is nearly perfect all year without additional heating or cooling.

We drove to the Underground Motel, our lodging for the night, checked in, and explored our underground hotel. I can't tell you how excited I was to be staying in a hotel built into the earth! So oddly exhilarating.

The motel is really neat with a bunch of rooms, communal bathrooms, a ping pong area, area for dining, and a few rooms filled with area history. (Kris and I really liked the tribute to some of the town's longest remaining residents.)

Almost the entire hotel was built by hand (using jackhammers), and the entire complex is the size of an Australian football field (not sure if that is soccer, rugby, or cricket). The hotel started out as an opal mine that puttered out in the early 1900s, became a family home in the 1980s, and opened as a motel in 1989.

You can even traverse a long stairwell to the roof.

Kris found a nasty looking spider.

When the lights are off in your room, it's pitch dark. We had Kris turn on his camera to illustrate just how dark it was. After exploring and settling in a bit, we headed out for some town exploration.

We stopped for the 3pm tour of the gorgeous underground dug-out home of Cree and Lindsey. They are retirees building their dream home. It is a lovely place with interesting artwork and an interesting story.

Lindsey shows off the awesome artwork they've created in the wall with fossils and minerals/gems.

We liked it all the more because some of it are still under construction, so we got to see how a dugout is made. Mostly you have to remember to allow the walls to naturally arch an remember that airflow is key. They dig a section out with a jackhammer, beat it with a broom to clear it of debris, then seal it with a special paint. Much of the home was already dug out from back when it was mined. You kind of have to be open to working with what's already there.

A small portion of their home is above ground in case they have guests who are claustrophobic.

Next on the agenda...we took part of the heritage trail tour around White Cliffs. You truly get a good opportunity to see mining equipment.

If someone has a current claim on the land (usually a 50x50 metre square plot of land), the site will be fenced, and the northeast post will have a datum board which contains the claim holder's information on it.

We were lucky enough to have stopped at the Fossicker's Den. This opal and souvenir shop has an amazing proprietor, Haley, who took time to show us how to fossick and she even gave us a shovel, two sifters, and two other tools so we could try our hand at noodling. She also had two baby lambs and an elusive kitty cat.

We noodled until dark and even got a few neat pieces of potch. Kris now calls himself the Fossic King.

How to noodle (aka fossick):
Step 1: Dig up ground with shovel
Step 2: Pour contents of shovel into sifter
Step 3: Sift
Step 4: Inspect your remaining contents
Alternate Step 1: Using scraping tool, scrape ground looking for bits of shine to indicate opal.
*It is perfectly legal to fossick anywhere without a current claim. You can always noodle on the side of the roads like we did since that ground belongs to the city.

We decided not to have pasta tonight, so we went to the Visitor's Information Center for takeaway like the locals.

We caught a shimmering sunset and then it was back to the Underground Motel for a very comfortable and restful evening.

Saturday, June 29, 2013
I had such a great night's sleep. The temperature in the dug out was fabulous. Sleeping underground...who would have guessed.

We got a free continental breakfast at the hotel and enjoyed before starting the multi-hour journey toward Broken Hill. On our ride, we entered the Central Time Zone so we had to subtract 30 minutes. Yup - some of the time zones here work in half hour increments?!?

I finally got a non-blurry photo of a wild emu by the side of the road. It's tough to try to capture wildlife from a moving car.

I finished A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler, book six of the trip, and I recommend the quick read. I also started, and finished, book seven of the trip Flip by Martyn Bedford.

After arriving in Broken Hill, we stopped at the Tourist Information Center for pamphlets before going to have lunch at Mac's Oven Foods. I had a tasty mashed potato pie and amazing custard with whipped cream pastry. Kris had a bacon & cheese sausage roll and a spinach & cheese pastry.

Our stomachs full, we walked the downtown area of Broken Hill. 
While looking at the outside of an old (operational) video store, a group of five ostentatiously dressed teenage girls started belting out the Spice Girls. Seriously - at the top of their lungs were singing, "So tell me what you want what you really really want" while locking arms and almost skipping down the street. First the Macarena, now the Spice Girls. Kris looked at me and asked while completely deadpan, "Are we back in the nineties?"

We happened to pass an art exhibit being displayed in the old town hall, so we popped in. There were some truly phenomenal pieces in there. All were created by female artists.

The lady running the viewing recommended another art gallery to see the world's largest painted mural. You aren't allowed to photograph the mural.

I've started really liking going to art galleries. They are like free museums.

While at the visitor's center, we picked up a brochure for an hour long walking cemetery tour. We opted to start most of it in the car. We abandoned ship pretty soon. Some of the gravestones were nice, but most just made us really sad. Too many recent tombstones.

Our next destination was a place I'd been Facebook stalking for a while. Bell's Milk Bar is an oldtimey soda/malted shop that has tried to maintain their 1956 retro ways. They have a neat little museum in the back part of the shop with old equipment they used to use, original murals on the wall, and a great jukebox playing snappy old tunes.

While there, I got a lime spider (lemon-lime flavoring added to cordial and soda water with some ice cream). Kris got a raspberry banana milkshake. We liked it a lot, and I've plans to return on the morrow.

There is a nice Woolworth's at the town, so we did a little grocery shopping before heading back to our evening accommodation, the Broken Hill Tourist Park, for laundry, dinner, and bedtime. The shopping complex had a phenomenal mural.

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