Once a magnet for fortune hunters, these days Coober Pedy is more of a hideaway for hobbits. The desert town in South Australia is actually quite mesmerising. Here are 12 things to do in Coober Pedy.
Things to do in Coober Pedy
1- Meet the locals
Wherever you go you’ll easily strike up a conversation. Most of the town’s folk are pretty friendly and the people who live there are interesting Outback characters.
Many have come here from far-flung parts of the world and have lived in Coober Pedy for decades.
Seek out the old timers who have fascinating tales about their wonderful discoveries.
Stories about digging out enough opal in 20 minutes to buy two houses in Melbourne are pretty common.
Talking about homes, some of the underground homes in Coober Pedy are surprisingly luxurious. Think indoor swimming pools, custom-designed closets. polished timber floors and rooms decorated with oil paintings. Some homes have gyms, media rooms and wine cellars.
2- Shop for opals
Opal was discovered in 1915 and in the 1960’s hundreds of Europeans came to Coober Pedy hoping to dig up a fortune.
They purchased mining rights to small parcels of land.
A tour of Coober Pedy’s opal fields reveals mounds of debris from prospecting shafts.
If you see a well-dressed foreigner wandering around, he’s likely to be an opal buyer from overseas. 70% of the world’s opal comes from Coober Pedy and dealers from places like Hong Kong send the stones to China to be cut, polished and set.
3- Visit a real underground home
Most of the town’s residents live underground as it sizzles in summer (around 50˚C) and it’s freezing in winter.
Over 40 years ago, Faye Naylor came up with the idea of building an underground house.
She chipped away at the rock for three years with rough hand tools.
Others continued her work and these days you can visit Faye Naylor’s Underground Home, which has a wine cellar and a swimming pool.
4- Play golf in the world’s quirkiest golf course
Do you dream of playing a round of golf in St Andrew’s?
Well, the 18-hole Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Course has reciprocal rights for members to play nine holes at Scotland’s St. Andrews’ Balgove in January.
5- Attend the Opal Festival
The annual Opal Festival is a real hoot. Coober Pedy is a multicultural mixing pot of over 45 nationalities.
This is the best time of the year to meet everyone in one spot (imagine Croatians, Serbians, Bosnians and Greeks relaxing over a friendly beer while cooking lamb on the spit).
6- Explore an opal mine
The Old Timers Mine was discovered in 1916.
No one knows why the original miners backfilled the shafts so the opal was hidden until 1968 when a surprised resident discovered the mine while renovating their home.
The dimly lit tunnels are atmospheric and the life-sized mannequins are a little spooky, although the poses do give you a good idea of what went on in the mining heyday.
You’ll get the idea opal mining was pretty tough but most miners kept going for the thrill of finding that next big stash.
7- Fossick for opals
Any opal miner will tell you it’s addictive. Bring your own tools and try your luck away from the crowds or join the Down ‘n Dirty Opal digging tour for a bit of fun.
Armed with hard hats, torches and handpicks you’ll get to hack away at the walls of the Opal Quest Mine.
Who knows what you might find? Apparently, a lucky visitor found themselves an opal worth $50,000.
8- Walk in the footsteps of the dinosaurs
Umoona Opal Mine & Museum has much more than opals.
120 million years ago, Australia was part of Gondwana.
Coober Pedy was right at the bottom of a polar ocean, near the Antarctic, brimming with marine reptiles and bizarre animals such as the Umoonasaurus (a plesiosaur similar to the Lochness Monster).
9- Walk on the Moon Plains
Not far from Coober Pedy, the Moon Plains is a landscape of brown ochre and yellow dirt. According to conspiracy theorists, this was where the Apollo moon landing was faked.
Not long after the Apollo landing was in the news, the Adelaide Advertiser published a photograph of the lunar landscape next to one of Coober Pedy’s Moon Plains.
Most people couldn’t tell the two apart.
10- Channel your inner Luke Skywalker
The lunar landscape has captured the imagination of apocalyptic filmmakers who have left props strewn around the area.
There’s a giant alien spaceship parked in front of the Opal Cave underground complex and other props from movies like Red Planet and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
11- Sleep in the underground hotel
The Desert Cave Hotel is the place to stay. You’ll be surprised how well you sleep when you’re underground.
It has everything you need including an underground café and opal shops.
12 – The Coober Pedy Mail Run
The Outback Postman delivers mail to remote stations in South Australia.
Join the Coober Pedy Mail Run when the postie delivers the mail and see what it’s like to live in this remote region.
13- Watch the sunset
Stand at the lookout on top of the Opal Cave and watch the flaming sunset. It’s a crimson sky that glows like a giant opal.
Discover South Australia
Most visitors to South Australia usually head to Adelaide. Here are some great suggestions for things to do in Adelaide.
How to get to Coober Pedy
You can fly, drive or get to Coober Pedy by train (The Ghan Railway runs from Adelaide to Alice Springs and the train stops at Manguri Station, 47km from Coober Pedy)
When to go to Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy is a place of extreme climate. The best time of the year to go is when the climate is cooler, between April and October.
Find out more about South Australia here: