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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 Big Island of Hawai'i

30 outstanding days on only 300 bucks

sunny 25 °C

Our whole month of November was spent enjoying every single minute of it hitchhiking, camping, couchsurfing and helpXing around the Big Island. It was definitely the first time we’ve encompassed all of these alternative means of traveling in one journey and it turned out to be the best trip EVER! The only money we spent, was on beer and food..


We had one minor setback, being that the airlines had lost our tent. Well that is, part of our tent. So what does every normal person do in that case, except for getting furious and demanding the tent back as soon as humanly possible? You go to Walmart and buy a shitty version of what should have been your ultimate camping gear. The airlines eventually decided they were not reliable (Boo that Delta!) so we grew some balls and contacted the tent company online. They loved our story and were willing to help us out by sending a replacement for free. Now that’s cool! Thanks Kelti! Camping is allowed everywhere despite what the tourist related media tells everyone.


It is common knowledge on the island that as long as you behave and clean up after yourself, you can camp wherever you’d like. They just want to keep that little fact to themselves though so their local secret spots will not be overrun by tourists. We understood this perfectly and played by the rules. One well kept secret was Kiholo bay on the south Kohala coast. We camped and swam right in between the green sea turtles.


Hitchhiking has never proven to be so easy as on this island. Sometimes people even stopped to ask if we needed a ride without even sticking out our thumbs.


Lots of hippies on the Big Island and as you can guess also a large quantity of certain substances. Rides resulted frequently in free beer, free food, free advice and this one particular time an invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner by a remarkable man. Donnie is a retired professor, member of WWOOF and runs a ‘salad’ farm on the hillside on the Hamakua Coast. During the ride to Hilo, he immediately started to educate us with local facts and how to be a successful grower. On the way back to his place for the festivities on that day, we got invited again twice by locals. Suffice to say we found this island a very friendly and welcoming place. Nobody judges here. Everybody just lets his freak flag fly. Especially on the Puna Coast, where one can find many enlightening guru’s and their groupies. Time’s different here too. There’s no such thing as being on time. You’re on Hawaiian time. Everything’s a lot more relaxed.


There wasn’t much couchsurfing to choose from, but we managed to stay with 4 different hosts and they were all equally as kind to us. We will without a doubt hold Bob, our lovely host in Hilo, in our hearts forever. We stayed with him a couple of times while passing through. He knew how to throw a party! Thanks to this online network we also got to stay overnight in the backstage room of Honoka’a’s ‘30s theatre. We made heaps of new friends. I realized inserting the word heaps sometimes into my vocabulary makes me fit in a bit more here in Australia. :)

Now our helpX experience on the island was certainly very fitting for Hawaii. We were staying for a week within a vegan community. The original members and their stories go way back, so I can accurately say they probably started to whole movement. Our work involved simply daily tasks and in return we learned a whole lot about Veganism. Including some delicious recipes! We had a view of the ocean and Maui from our little love shack in between the papaya and avocado trees. It all felt very Hawaiian for sure.


Another very memorable moment during this trip was our 3-day hike into Waimanu Valley and one to treasure forever.


You start your hike from the Waipio Valley lookout at the end of the road. Unless you get a ride from someone with a four wheel drive, you’re going to have to suffer through a very steep descent into the valley. Anyways it’s worth it. We met this local kid who’s family still lives down there and he gave us some useful tips for Waimanu, which is the next valley over. To get there we suffered 5 hours of constant up and down hiking as once you go over the big valley wall there’s still 12 gullies to make your way through. And the hardest part of getting there was not the much feared steep ascent of the first valley wall. It was the steep descent into Waimanu. My legs had given up somewhere halfway down, but somehow I managed to make it to the campsite. There are some amazing waterfalls to hike to in the back of the Valley….. this place was magnificent! So worth it!

When you are on the Big Island one thing you certainly can’t skip is Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park and if you’re lucky there could be a surfacing lava flow you can walk up to and be in awe of mother nature’s creation. We tried to save that for the end, but as it turned out when we actually got to the park there was no lava to be seen anywhere any longer. We did see, when we were couchsurfing on the Puna coast, the steam clouds coming from the spot where the lava hits the ocean water and the heat waves coming from the new lava surface.
If you want to go to Hawaii, go to the wondrous Big Island. It has it all. Postcard picture beaches, rainforests bursting with fruit and waterfalls, immensely green valleys and green sand beaches, petroglyphs and last but not least a live volcano. Why wouldn’t you go there?

Love & Peace,

Flemish Girl

Posted by flemishgirl 18:30 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls beer volcanoes valley camping hawaii national_park petroglyphs couchsurfing helpexchange.net big_island hithhiking vegan veganism green_sand_beach sea_turtles kiholo_bay waimanu waipio

Meeting Oscar.

No animals were harmed writing this entry.

sunny 25 °C

While I’m writing this blog I’m overlooking the whole of Melbourne ‘s distant horizon being set on fire by a very exquisite sunset. Currently I’m staying at a HelpX place that is a B&B located on top of Mount Dandenong. It is the highest point of Dandenong Ranges National Park and located 40 odd kilometers east of downtown Melbourne.

Choosing not to stay in the city any longer was probably the best decision I could have made this time of the year. Since the Australian Open 2011 is taking place right now at this exact spot. Not to mention the floods and shitty weather who have driven all the tourists and backpackers into the city. I was there the day before yesterday and let me tell you that the sight and experience of it made me fear for Australia Day , 26th of January. My Goodness.. I’m going to the countryside for sure before that comes along.

As there are no guests staying in room number one, I have the opportunity to hang out by myself in the room for a couple of hours whilst enjoying the view. I can see downtown and the bay perfectly and all that is considered greater Melbourne area. Right now the sky’s turning an extremely intense color of red, but in 20 minutes or so from now when the lights will start to come on, this view will blow your mind just as much as during the daytime. You’d probably think you’re in LA honestly. That’s exactly what it looks like.


Excuse me for not even having mentioned my friend Mister Cockatoo yet. He’s hanging out on the balcony. You are not supposed to feed wild birds cause it makes them dependent, I know. But he’s the house cockatoo. I don’t think he’s got a name but I named him Oscar, after Oscar Wilde.


Mister Cockatoo likes to just prance around with his yellow Mohawk fiercely sticking up. He keeps on looking at me with such curiosity. Cocking his head in all directions just like a real cock-atoo is supposed to do. In my imagination he lit up a cigar and shook his feathers and asked me: “How about a glass of cognac, dear.” So immediately I realized he was reminding me of Oscar Wilde for some inexplicable reason.

I almost completely forgot to mention the sustainable part of this entry. My, my..
This B&B who charges 250 AUD per night has compost toilets in all of the rooms. The guests might sometimes react a bit baffled. But they get their water from a rain catchment system so they opted for saving some extra water. Smart, very smart and very sustainable.

Anyways nighttime has fallen over Melbourne and I feel like I’m high up in the air, seated on a plane, slowly circling over the city. As this vista is making me remember many landings during the night in numerous large American cities.
Oscar has gone to bed.
And I’m thinking about doing the same.

Flemish Girl.

Posted by flemishgirl 02:59 Archived in Australia Tagged cockatoo sunset mount park australia city day national balcony b&b oscar dandenong helpexchange.net wilde

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