Coober Pedy – Heading Underground

Coober Pedy

Image: Copyright SATC

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I knew we were visiting Coober Pedy, (847 kilometres north of Adelaide, South Australia) I knew it was going to be really hot, it was the opal capital of the world and that people lived underground. Other than that, I knew very little about the place.

I was fascinated and couldn’t wait to experience being underground for myself and to really get a good idea on the appeal of this quirky, crazy place.

Image: FROSAT & Singing Bowl Media

Meals and Entertainment

Its population is around 3,500 people but that is depending on whether there has been a recent opal ‘find’ or not. They say that approximately 60% of its locals are Europeans who migrated to the region after the second world war. That is so evident in the fabulous variety of food options in the main street. We had the best pizza at John’s Pizza Bar. The place is a bit of an icon with plenty of photos on the wall of famous faces who have visited and enjoyed a meal there. Following this we made our way over to The Desert Cave Hotel for a drink and some entertainment. This hotel was really nice. It’s still underground but very modern and stylish. Be warned though, we paid $9 for a beer!

Although it is home to such a wide range of ethnicities, it still maintains it’s uniquely Australian character. Due to most people working in the mines, there is no shortage of explosives on hand. You will see many signs dotted around requesting that no explosives be brought into premises such as the town’s theatre. We were told a story of a local who forgot he had his explosives in the back of his ute and then casually threw his cigarette butt out the window, only to have it fly into the back and BOOM!

There isn’t a great deal to do in Coober Pedy and from what we heard, even the new roundabout was blown up when the locals couldn’t figure out how to use it properly.

Beautiful white opal

Image: FROSAT & Singing Bowl Media

Living and Working Underground

Coober Pedy is an Aboriginal word meaning White Mans Burrows. With the heat souring in this town you completely understand why most of the population have opted to live in ‘dugouts’ or underground housing instead of being on the surface of the land. Maintaining a temperature of around 25 degrees the natural insulation is perfect. From the outside you simply see a whole heap of vertical air shafts sticking out from the ground.

Underground bunkhouse accommodation

We stayed in an underground bunkhouse for the night. It has an earthy smell when inside, but it wasn’t over powering or offensive. I have to say it was a great temperature inside and we had a really good nights sleep.

Umoona Mine and Museum

Image: Copyright SATC

Umoona Opal Mine and Museum

The next morning, we visited the Umoona Opal Mine and Museum. I really wanted to buy an opal ring as it is my birthstone. I wasn’t disappointed. There was such a huge variety of jewellery available to purchase and when the ring I chose was too big, they happily resized it for me while I waited. The tour was fantastic. We saw a great example of an underground home including the living room and kitchen, then entered into the mine where we learnt about opals, noodling (where they sort through discarded dirt / waste that has been extracted from the holes searching for opal) and life as an opal miner. It’s estimated that around 80% of the worlds gem quality opal is supplied from Coober Pedy. They also showed us a great short documentary called ‘The Story of Opal’ in their theatre as part of the tour.

Cost is $10 adults and $5 child.

Coober Pedy has a hospital but still relies heavily on the medical and emergency care of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. When we visited there was one Doctor who serviced 3000 people and was much adored by the locals. He had lived there for 17 years. They also have a dentist who visits once every 6 weeks. So you had better hope that you time it well if you have a toothache or need dental care as the other alternative is a 5 hour drive to Port Augusta.

Breakaways Conservation Park

We made our way out to Breakaways Conservation Park (33 kilometres north of Coober Pedy) to see the most amazing arid scenery. The impressive flat – topped mesas are fantastic as they rise from the bare earth with their gorgeous colours. The huge area was once filled with water and looking over the massive expanse it isn’t hard to image what it would have been like all those years ago. This park, like Coober Pedy is very popular with filmmakers. The Breakaways is featured in Vin Diesel’s Pitch Black. Apparently the best time to view the Breakaways is at sunset as the colours come alive.

We really enjoyed Coober Pedy, there are a lot of different places to stay and eat and the people we met were warm and welcoming. There has been issues in the past with thefts but it all comes down to being vigilant and using common sense when travelling. Don’t leave your valuables in your car overnight or in plain view, do your research on the best places to stay and visit and trust your instincts.

We believe Coober Pedy and sleeping underground is something you must have on your bucket list and experience for yourself. 

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