Take the iconic Stuart Highway from Adelaide, travel 9 hours north and you’ll come to the quirky and unconventional opal mining town of Coober Pedy (the name means white man hole in the aboriginal language of this area). It’s the largest opal mining area in the world and the home to 70% of the worlds opals.
It’s estimated half of the locals here live underground, while most of them at least socialise and or work underground in what are known as dugouts. If you visited this town in the heart of summer you’d probably work out pretty quickly why you’d want to go underground!.The dugouts remain at a cool 24 to 25 C (most rooms have ceiling fans) while outside temperatures can reach over 50c!
Coober Pedy is renown for its lively characters who have come from all corners of the world to this isolated mining town to try their luck in the often difficult and dangerous pursuit of opal mining. Some have made fortunes, some have not, nearly all seem to have remained here. It gets under your skin I am told.
One of my first questions when we arrived was where to go to meet some of these larger than life Coober Pedians… the Caltex station at 9am and the Shell station at 5pm was the response. So off we headed and we weren’t disappointed.
We only had one day and a morning to explore this unusual and very likeable town which was not nearly long enough, hopefully I’ll get back to spend a little longer and photograph some of these wonderful outback characters in their dugout homes.
The iconic welcome sign below
Don’t walk backwards out here they kept telling me!
Or this might happen (see Danger below)!
No explosives to be taken into the drive in either thank you!
(Coober Pedy drive in is one of the last surviving drive ins in Australia). For screening times go to www.cooberpedydrivein.org.au
The dugouts are excavated into the hills of the town. These hillsides are so stable they allow huge ceiling spans in rooms and enable the possibility of extending a dugout home by purchasing the neighbouring property and tunnelling through. Some of the larger dugout homes spread up to 450 sq m).
Shut…no free opal!!
We were kindly invited to a locals house to see him polishing and working on his rough opals (while wearing a beautifully polished opal).
If you are in town on a Sunday morning make sure you attend an underground church service as we did at the Catacomb church (above and bottom left is the Catholic Church, bottom right is the beautiful wooden cross of the Catacomb church).
Both of the images below were taken in the underground Catholic Church (which can be visited most days I believe).
Below the stunning and unique underground Catacomb church alter
Drive half an hour outside of Coober Pedy to see the spectacular Breakaways (in the Kanku-Breakaways conservation park) as the sun sinks
Like these guys
The first of our two nights after our long drive we headed to the underground Desert Cave Hotel
I have never seen waffles, coffee and gems sold all together in the one place. Only in Coober Pedy!
Again no one home for the free opal!
Such sweet and generous girls, who whizzed up and down the street a few times while I photographed them. So joyful.
A friend grabs a selfie down with miner Jim at Old Timers Mine. https://www.cooberpedy.com/old-timers-mine/
The Old Timer’s Mine is an original opal mine dating back to 1916 and for reasons unknown to anyone some old miners had back filled the shafts hiding the mine and never returned to dig up the opal.
Then in 1968 Ron and Jenny Gough discovered the old mine while excavating through a wall of their dugout house to make another bedroom for their second child! They then (along with Rod Wells and his wife Annie) opened up the old mine up, developed it and it was re-opened as the Old Timers Mine in 1988. Here below are a couple of rooms from their dugout home.
Leaving Coober Pedy and hitting the isolated and dusty road to the smallest town in Australia, William Creek. See you there in the next post.
Jam Bed and Breakfast, you’ll love meeting Julie, a warm and welcoming hostess.