A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about backpacking

Mining for Opal in Coober Pedy, Australia!

Frontier life in the Opal Mining capital of the world.


Our first venture into Central Australia. Where copious amounts of flies and mosquitoes are your worst nightmare and water is scarce. Coober Pedy, situated a 1000 km north of Adelaide along the Stuart highway is a place literally surrounded by hundreds of miles of nothing in every direction. It’s a place for outcasts and adventurers. A place where real rebels can feel at home. After crowded coastlines and busy, polluted cities, our true outback adventure starts here.


Coober Pedy is known for its opals and dug-out houses and thus has placed itself on the tourist map. Opalized fossils of dinosaurs are world famous finds in this territory. Opals are basically gems from a long gone desert sea. As most of Australia was underwater up until 120 million years ago. Pieces of opal show a brilliant spectrum of colors which is quite unusual in a stone. It has the unique ability to split white light or ordinary sunlight into beautiful colors and is therefore extremely rare and valuable. So can you blame all these opportunists still trying to live the dream?


Coober Pedy supplies about 80percent of the world’s requirement for opal. It all started with this young fellow about a hundred years ago, looking for some water for his family’s exhausted form of transportation, their camels. He stumbled upon something shiny and precious looking. Not long after, people starting digging and holes, that seemed no longer useful for finding opal, were used as housing..
We stayed with an Austrian Opal Miner in his large and very comfortable dug-out. We helped renovate an extension to the house in return. It was a true Coober Pedy experience, which people usually pay big bucks for.
The Aborigines didn’t name it ”White man in a hole” for nothing. ( Kupa = white fella / Pedi = hole in the ground).


Thursday night, everybody goes to the local pub, including us, and the locals are extraordinarily friendly. This is where we got asked to sign “The Petition”. The company in charge of the electricity and water supply in the area had just announced that it would raise its prices about 300 percent…We had just read about it in the local newspaper and thought it was an outrage. How dare the government not do anything about this! These folks, who obviously don’t have a choice, are already paying unaffordable bills. Coober Pedy is one of those places where buying a simple thing such as a bottle of water will set your travel budget seriously back. Have a look at these beer prices.


Even though all of the folks we met and had conversations with, were all very genuine and warm hearted, there was one thing that struck us as unusual. Here in the middle of nowhere, far into the outback, nobody seemed to speak highly of the ”Black Fellas”. We had encountered the Aborigine culture in the cities, seen the art work in the museums, heard their story over and over again and agreed that it was very sad indeed. So when we arrived into this part of the country where their numbers were far greater and the chances of seeing and experiencing their lifestyle were very real indeed, it turned out to be a bit different than we had expected. The first thing you see when you enter Coober Pedy is an abandoned city where aborigines aimlessly walk along the streets, sometimes sitting in groups gathered in the little shade a tree in the parking lot could offer. People usually try to avoid being outside for about 8 or 9 months out of the year during the hotter part of the day. The indigenous people though don’t really seem to mind and they don’t seem to care about their appearance either. There’s a certain sense of entitlement hanging in the air and I can surely understand why. It’s a complicated situation with a probably equally as complicated solution, but so far all the Australian government has been doing is throwing a fair large amount of money at the Aboriginal community. Some of them certainly didn’t mind coming up to us, to ask for a few dollars as if they were homeless and then immediately afterwards went inside a bottle shop (liquor store) to buy a cheap cask of wine. Alcoholism, certainly seems to be the major issue within all communities across the country. We were told that what you see on the streets are the outcasts. They have been kicked out of their communities because of bad behavior. These communities seem to keep to themselves though and we have yet to go visit one of the many found scattered around the outback . We heard nothing but good things and are certainly looking forward to finally meeting some of these exceptional people. There were many stories told to us by different locals about the many incidents that had occurred involving that one kind of Black Fella. I guess it’s the same anywhere right? Us, White Fellas try and stay clear from the troubled ones as well now, don't we? It’s all relative in the end.


All in all, I’d say our Coober Pedy excursion was a major success. We found some opals… I’ll admit it was in our hosts backyard, though. They were the chunks he didn’t value much and had thrown away. They still looked like little treasures to us!!


Flemish Girl.

Posted by flemishgirl 22:56 Archived in Australia Tagged desert outback hot flies mining backpacking dust nothing opal mosquitos helpexchange.net coober_pedy opal_mining dug-outs opals black_fellas white_fellas renovate renovation petition

The Great Ocean Road.

South-west Victoria, Australia. Hitchhiking, camping and hiking.

It must certainly ring a bell when you hear someone mention "The Great Ocean Road". If it doesn't.. What if I mention the Twelve Apostles? Does that sound familiar? Well, as we’ve experienced last week, pretty much the whole world knows about it and it is THE major tourist attraction in Victoria, Australia. Tour buses of every size cramped full with little Asians passing us by every minute, while we are standing on the side, of what for the most part is a one lane windy 243 kilometers (150 miles) long coastal road, with our thumbs up in the air. It stretches from the cities, Torquay and all the way west up to Warrnambool. The road was built by returned soldiers and is the world's largest war memorial, dedicated to casualties of World War I. Honestly, nobody really talks about this important historical detail. What the GOR is famous for is the limestone rock formations, which are slowly crumbling into the ocean. There aren't really twelve apostles, it’s more like 8. In recent years, a couple of these important landmarks collapsed, one actually with tourists still one them. The London Bridge incident anecdote was told to us by a friendly local giving us a ride. Now called the London Arch, cause there’s no longer a connection with the mainland, that’s the part that gave way in 1990. No one was injured, but it left two tourists stranded until a helicopter came to rescue them.


Originally we would have liked to walk the Great Ocean Walk. A 104 km walk starting in Apollo’s Bay almost all the way up to the Twelve Apostles. Instead we chose for a combination of hiking and hitchhiking. It turned out to be a very eventful 3 days, filled with amazing sights along the way and unexpected experiences. The first day was spent trying to get out of Melbourne as quickly as possible. We used public transport to get to Torquay, the start of the Great Ocean Road. Bell’s beach, a world famous surf beach was the first thing to check out. The weather was perfect for surfing and we did get to see locals have a try at some nice tricks. Our first ride was with a surf dude, with his over-friendly pup in the back of his 20 year old van, just making his way back home from Bell’s Beach. I thought that suited the start of our trip. There are a couple of free camp sites along the way but they were mostly located of the road for quite some kilometers. Finding camp spots wasn’t an issue. Rides on the other hand proved to be a bit more difficult. Lots of tour buses and tourists in rentals. We basically relied on locals to give us rides and they did, only our waiting times were a bit longer than what we were used to.

One goal I had set out for myself was to spot some koalas in the wild. There are heaps of them to be found around the Kenneth and Wye river area and the Otway National park. So we got a ride into Wye river with a local delivery guy and he told us to go to the back of the camp grounds and look up in the trees. And there they were. My first koalas! They’re usually found hanging around or dozing off in the bigger eucalyptus trees.


We had to do at least a part of the Great Ocean Walk and decided to tackle the last bit towards to Twelve Apostles. We started at the beginning of Port Campbell National park, where all the good stuff is to be found. The sky finally cleared up and it was the perfect day for a much needed photo shoot of the most important part of the GOR.


After about 7 kilometres of walking along the magnificent cliffs (with all of our stuff on our backs going up and down the whole time may I add) overlooking the Great Southern Ocean, the Twelve Apostles came in sight. Unfortunately the Great Ocean Walk doesn’t go all the way up to them, so we had to hike a bit along the highway. The first big sightseeing stop of significance was the Gibson Steps. They take you down to the beach, so you can really admire the height of those cliffs and some Apostles in the distance. If the tide is out enough you can walk along to the rest of them, keeping in mind you have to get back in time, there’s no way back up on the other side of the ridge. (I actually think there were signs and it wasn’t really allowed, but we saw folks doing it.) Hitchhiking from one point of interest to another (as they are quite close to one another) wasn’t that hard. It has to be said though the place was over-run by tourists so we didn’t get rides that fast.


Finally we made it to The Twelve Apostles! They are pretty impressive to see from close by and it was all definitely worth it. Even though we still think it has nothing on the Washington coast though. We should start calling it the Ten Thousand Apostles and rename the 101, The Great Wild Ocean Road.


The next amazing place was The Loch Ard Gorge. The gorge is named after the ship "The Loch Ard", which shipwrecked at this location. There still is a cemetery you can go visit there. An extensive walk all around the place is highly recommended. Some incredible formations make for some very interesting views.


The Great Ocean Road and all of it’s wonders ends officially in Warrnambool. There is still much more along the way to see only we didn’t have a vehicle at our disposal, so we had to be content with what was accessible to us and take the rides that were offered to us.
In conclusion, everybody knows what The Twelve Apostles are and would recognize them in photographs. Well having seen them with my own eyes (and we worked hard to get there by hiking the last part of the Great Ocean walk), I can honestly state that the whole area is damn spectacular and they are truly one of a kind. Another great little adventure completed successfully.


A Flemish Girl Down under.

Posted by flemishgirl 01:25 Archived in Australia Tagged twelve_apostles melbourne victoria great_ocean_road hiking surf locals wild surfing geelong loch_ard_gorge camping backpacking backpackers surfer hitchhiking torquay koala's kenneth_river wye_river great_ocean_walk warnambool bell's_beach

The Rules of Packing your Backpack.

Need help deciding what to bring and what not to?

Stop packing right now! Get rid of all that crap in your backpack , please.. yes, I’m talking to you. Toss everything out and let’s start over together. No more dilemmas and almost panic attacks. I’m here to help..

First of all, it is a backpack you’re trying to pack. Think about it. That means everything you put inside of it will be carried by you and you alone on your own back. That will stop you from trying to stuff more useless objects in there, will it not?


Okay, now that you realized the most important rule, we can go over the basics. Clothes, toiletries, camping gear (optional), electronics (optional, although I doubt that these days there’s still people traveling without a camera or cell phone). Long term travel or short term travel, it doesn’t really matter. You’ll still need all of the same things.

Let’s talk clothes first. Most of you take half of your closet with you on holidays right? You should see some of those girls and their backpacks, I’ve encountered in hostels before. They carry like 10 pairs of shoes around with them! Why? I’ll admit it’s definitely everybody’s biggest problem, trying to pack light. Even I made mistakes in the past, but I learned from them and here are my positive results. One pair of flip-flops and one pair of sneakers/hiking boots, five pairs of underwear, a sports bra, 4 pairs of socks, 1 short summer dress, 1 long summer dress, 1 bikini, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of leggings, 1 pair of jogging pants, 2 tops, 4 T-shirts, one long sleeved shirt, 2 hoodies, a hat and a light but big scarf. Now this is not much at all, I know, but they are all very versatile pieces of clothing. Plus I can still look very trendy, despite what you’re thinking. For example my scarf has been used as a knapsack, picnic blanket, towel to lay on on the beach, head wrap for the sun, sarong and scarf for when it gets colder. Dirty clothing can always be washed in a sink with a piece of soap or a bit of shampoo! Don’t carry around all of your dirty clothes inside your bag for too long. It will start to reek fast! Another thing I’ve learned from my first long term backpacking trip, is to take your favorite clothing with you instead of your old, ripped up stuff. It’ll make you happy and not want to go shopping all the time :).


Toiletries are also a necessity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be smart about them! What I personally have with me at all times is a toothbrush and toothpaste, 2in1 shampoo/conditioner (preferably organic), one comb or brush, one bar of soap, 1 razor (a girl’s gotta shave her legs once in a while), tweezers, nail clipper, cotton swabs, body butter, lip balm, sunscreen, hair bands, mascara, tampons (of course!), baby wipes (they’re good for everything, especially during camping trips), small first aid kit, Iodine tablets (for producing drinking water), anti-mosquito spray (preferable organic), painkillers and anti-histamines. I can swear to you, I don’t need anything more than this. I am, after all, traveling non-stop. I can always go to a local department store if I need anything.


If you plan to go hiking and camping, you might want to make your pack a bit lighter of course. Make some space for water and food. We decided to take camping gear with us this time around and have found it very easy to make the extra space available in our backpacks. A marvelous tip for finding discount topnotch camping gear is going to your local specialized Outdoor’s shop and check if they have garage sales. This means returned items from unsatisfied customers for less than half the original price. Sometimes there is something wrong with it, but usually it’s more because it’s too small or short or the wrong color. That’s where we went looking (REI, Seattle) and got a super fancy tent,


2 sleeping mats and 2 very comfy and warm sleeping bags for a total of 300 bucks. I can tell you that the price of it all together new would have been more than double that price. We also have a flashlight, pocket knife, a small one burner gas stove and one small pot and recently acquired forks. You don’t need more, well maybe a book, but that’s pretty much it.

By now, we have gotten the electronics part down as well. You could easily travel without a laptop but I personally can’t, so we have a netbook and a small external 1TB hard drive that we carry around with us. Connor can’t go without taking fabulous photographs everywhere we go, therefore we have a fairly new digital camera with us as well, plus a cell phone. Don’t forget the most important part. A internationally convertible adaptor for charging your batteries. We have a wonderful little thing that does it all in one.

Time for the last tips. A couple of things you wouldn’t think you’d need, but will prove to be super useful. Rubber bands (multiple uses), ziplock bags (for waterproofing or just space saving), pillow cases (separate the inside of your backpack into compartments or just as a laundry bag), a rain jacket is never a bad idea either or a journal to keep track of your adventures. Have a small rucksack with you as well for carry on purposes or as a day pack. We also save a lot of money on having or own water bottle. Instead of buying water all the time, we fill ours up pretty much anywhere.

Well, I think that’s about it. I hope this was helpful and please, if you have questions.. ask away!


May you all have many grand adventures without too much back and/or shoulder pain!

Love and Peace,

Flemish Girl.

Posted by flemishgirl 01:05 Tagged backpack camping back discount backpacking rei weight toiletries shoulders garage_sale electronics

Looking for my paradise...

Stories from a Flemish girl traveling the world with her soul mate. They are in search of the perfect piece of land to start building their dream house. But while doing so they are learning all about being self-sufficiency and sustainability.

28 °C


"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is the gods honest truth!
Think about it. How many of us dream of traveling around the world?
How many of us have envied others who have taken off one day and done it?
How many sat back while mumbling if only they weren't so busy at work?
If only they had the time or money?
If only this.. if only that... BE REAL, folks!
To travel the world is not a question of money or enough time off. It's all about your willingness to just go ahead with it all and take the plunge into the unknown!
Okay. Okay. I will admit this. It has to be kind of in your blood. You got to have an adventurous personality and not be too attached to something back home. Or you can do it like me. Meet your husband while traveling and take him along for the ride.
Long term travel does not have to be expensive. The way we are doing it, doesn't really cost us a whole lot. Granted you have to make money somehow at some points during your travels (which we'll talk about later) to fill up the never ending hole in your wallet. But there are ways to make those well earned dollars (or euros) last for a very long time.
These ways will also make your experiences a hell of a lot more interesting and more real.
Maybe you just like to pay big bucks for some relaxed "reading by the pool with a cocktail in your hand - never really leaving your hotel" kind of holiday. That's perfectly okay. Really. Once in a while we all like to just do nothing and enjoy the relaxy-taxi (as I call it).
But what I am talking about is long term exploration. Leaving everything on hold back home. Wondering what is out there. Wanting to meet these strange but wonderful cultures in person.
It's not easy for an individual with these dreams who doesn't have the know-how to just get up and leave.
And that is why I'm writing this blog.
We want to share.
We want YOU to know OUR secrets.
We want you to gather the knowledge we have gathered.
So you can enjoy it as well.
So you can explore the world and open your eyes.
To be happy and free, just like us.

Love and peace,

Flemish girl.

PS please note my first language isn't English, actually English is not even my second language :)
This blog for me is about spreading some love.

Posted by flemishgirl 20:55 Archived in Australia Tagged travel backpacking dreams cheap_living

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