No, neither had I.
But there it was, a sign just before Wilcannia “Underground motel. The first and still the friendliest”. Even without her glasses on Helen couldn’t miss it.
“Did you see that?” she asked. It was no use pretending, she was very excited “That’d be great, I’d love to sleep underground.”
There was also no use pointing out that I even hate driving through the M5 tunnel, though that might have more to do with everybody somehow forgetting how to drive when they get in there than it does with being slightly claustrophobic.
So we left Wilcannia and turned right for White Cliffs. After all, it was only 95k down the road – a short detour.
On we went, through flat, scrubby, harsh countryside where somehow cattle and sheep miraculously find grass to graze on. Past dam after dam and creek after creek that were bone dry with the red earth turning to dust in the heat. With only the odd emu for company – the birds that could fly had all taken off for somewhere else.
Until we came across a couple of mounds in the middle of nowhere. Opal country.
Why anybody would be out there in the first place to even discover opals I don’t know. But they were, and now White Cliffs is a moonscape of craters, all individual opal mines.
Sitting in the cool, inviting water of the hotel’s swimming pool, while looking out at the broad expanse of the outback plain and with a cold glass of Printhie sparkling wine waiting for me, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Except I was soon going to have to descend into the pits of hell and sleep in a pitch black underground bunker.
But first dinner, and a champagne sunset that you only get in the outback. It was stunningly beautiful. (I’m going to get a plug in here – the lone tree sunset photo will be available for sale via the website once I get back home and sort through all the photos. I think that’s one of my favourites so far).
The place is a rabbit warren of dug-out rooms – some for sleeping, hidden corners containing lounges, even a boardroom. And it’s very, very cool underground (cool as at respite from the heat outside, and cool as in … cooool!).
I crashed. I slept like a baby. I wanted to get up in the middle of the night to see the stars, but when I did finally wake up it was 6.15am. Time to get up and see the sunrise. But I couldn’t. Without natural light I found it very difficult to wake up properly.
But eventually I dragged myself out of bed and outside to a sunrise almost as good as the sunset, a lone kangaroo nibbling on the grass 10 feet away from me, and morning dip in the pool before breakfast.
What a way to start the day. And a highly recommended experience for anybody out this way.