We stop again about 10 miles south of Anna Creek Station homestead (at 6 million acres or so, Anna Creek is the largest cattle ranch in the world, eight times bigger than the legendary King Ranch in Texas), this time to plot our way through a giant mudhole.

So far, we've only come across a few muddy patches and some deep ruts, but nothing to faze the Subarus. But as we watch Chris' Land Cruiser, gray water halfway up its doors, slither for traction, it's clear we're going to need an alternate path. The upstream side of the mudhole is a mess, but a couple of prods with a stick suggests a firm gravel base under the silt on the downstream side, though a nasty gutter midway means we can't race through the soft stuff. The Outbacks scrabble a little for grip in the silt, and the front bumpers bounce off the gutter, but we're back on the road without trouble.

After a stopover at William Creek for a scenic flight over Lake Eyre, we arrive in Coober Pedy just at nightfall and check into the Comfort Inn. Despite the prosaic name, it's actually a complete hotel dug into the side of a hill. It gets hot in this tough opal-mining town -- 130 degrees is not uncommon in the summer -- so before the advent of air-conditioning, many of the miners took to living underground, out of the sweltering heat. I had a quiet, comfortable room with a view -- of rock walls and ceiling.