Page 26 - SilverKris March 2014

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A
s we approach Coober
Pedy, I picture our
party from above: ants
adrift in a capacious desert
sea. It has taken four days to
drive the 2,000km from our
home in Sydney to this town
in the centre of the South
Australian outback. When
its straggling, dust-coated
outskirts come into view, my
family and I take comfort in
reconnecting with civilisation,
though the place looks
desolate at first sight.
Utilitarian buildings are
strung haphazardly about.
But it is below ground, in
post-WorldWar I dugouts,
where many of the townsfolk
live – and worship in its
underground churches.
Without these holes, even
the hardiest of settlers might
combust in the summer heat.
Temperatures here dive and
soar, from freezing in winter
to more than 40°C in summer.
We are staying at Riba’s
underground campsite (
camp-
underground.com.au
). Entering
through a narrow and sloping
tunnel with a low ceiling, a
damp and musty smell assails
us before our eyes adjust
to the dimness and uncover
walls that are striated in tones
of rust and gold.
The cavern is larger than
expected. With a whole wing
to ourselves, we decide to
sleep “al fresco” – sans tent
– and simply throw our air
mattresses and sleeping bags
onto the dirt floor.
That night we barbecue
our dinner in a camp kitchen
above ground and take a tour
of the opal mine adjacent to
the campsite. Earlier in the
day we had visited Faye’s
Underground House (above),
a dugout fashioned with
picks, shovels and bare hands
around 50 years ago.
After completing our final
ablutions above ground,
we retire to our quarters
below. My 16-year-old
daughter fears momentarily
that she will suffocate. Her
younger sister distrusts the
unadulterated darkness that
consumes us once our lamps
have been extinguished.
But their brother – typical,
perhaps for a 15-year-old
boy – falls into a sleep as deep
as this underworld we are in.
I lie beside my husband and
smile into the darkness at the
improbability of it all.
In the morning, beams of
golden sunlight drill through
the campsite’s ventilation
shafts. Resurfacing, we find
that the world is just as we
left it: blindingly bright and
endless, the very opposite of
our hiding place in the earth’s
darkest folds.
E S S E N T I A L S
been there
26 | SILVERKRIS.COM
PHOTO
GETTY IMAGES
Going
down
under
CATHERINE MARSHALL
spends the night
in an underground
town in South
Australia’s famous
opal fields.
HIDDEN
BOLTHOLES
IGLOO
Snuggle down into a polar
sleeping bag and spend
the night within the icy
walls at the Engelberg-
Titlis igloo village in the
Swiss Alps.
iglu-dorf.com
MINE
Descend 155m to the
world’s deepest hotel
room in the disused Sala
Silvermine in Sweden.
The suite is surrounded
by shafts and cavities
carved out over four
centuries of silver mining.
salasilvergruva.se
UNDERSEA
At TheManta Resort
on Pemba Island off
Tanzania, fish peep into
your bedroomwindows.
The underwater room
is below a floating
structure – located
250m from shore – that
includes a bathroom,
lounge and sundeck.
themantaresort.com