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Coober Pedy Travel Guide: 51 reviews and 93 photos

Coober Pedy

Aptly named, Coober Pedy is Aboriginal for 'white man in a hole'.

This is one small outback town where you quite literally have to scratch below the surface to discover it's true beauty.

That beauty is Opal. This town is the Opal Capital of the world. 93% of the world's opal came from here (and the % is still very high today).
Opal was first discovered here in 1915. A young boy, travelling through the area with his family discovered ‘floaters’ - alluvial opals just lying on the surface (usually though the opal is beneath the surface, running in seams or veins in the rock/clay)
There is much mining still going on, and it's still possible for some to get lucky and make a fortune here....

I think that's what makes the Coober Pedy way of life so interesting. In many ways it is still primitive (though nowhere near as primitive as the other fairly major opal fields of Andamooka, near Woomera, or Lightning Ridge).

The lure of opal is very much like the lure of gold, obsessive, all consuming. Some miners eke out a living for years, never giving up, hoping that the next day will see the 'big find'.
Sure, life is a bit easier as the mining is done by machine these days, but it's still fairly basic - large crane like 'diggers' everywhere with large scoop metal buckets on the end.

In some cases, houses (called Dugouts) and mines are right next door to each other). When digging, 'builders' have to be careful not to dig right through the walls of their neighbour's house.
As you can imagine, there aren't any building regulations to speak of!

Please don't be put off by the general town surface photo

Sure, it is dry and dusty and you won't find any lawns or green grass anywhere. And you won't see any water or lakes because there aren't any. The water is obtained by sinking bores, then the water must go through the treatment plant to remove most of the salt.

The idea of an entire town underground has always fascinated me and captured my imagination. I'd heard tales about it for many years as a child before I finally got to see it...and it lived up to all my expectations. The underground world of this town is quite intriguing.

There's just one main street and the shops are mostly above ground. They include souvenir shops, normal stores, and, of course, plenty of beautiful opal jewellery shops (some Duty Free).

Underground Accommodations

In Coober Pedy most of the guest accommodations (and nearly all houses too) are either entirely or partially under ground (ie sometimes just the door is above ground and perhaps a porch like this motel pictured).

This is not just because of all the clay, but more because of the extreme temperatures. By living underground, the townspeople avoid the extremes - no need for heating or air conditioning as the temperature stays between 14 - 20 degrees celcius all year round. It's also a very cheap house, digging it yourself!

Coober Pedy area

Australia's soil in many regions suffers from a great deal of salinity.
The places I've travelled where this has been highly evident even to a casual glance is in southern South Australia (near the Victorian border) and here, near Coober Pedy, where you can see such attractive salt lakes as this pink one.. .. still pretty to me though everythng else is dead.
(Some of the white salt lakes are so bright they hurt your eyes and look like ice sparkling in the sun)

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:An intriguing mining settlement where fortunes can still be made
  • Cons:A REALLY long way from anywhere
  • In a nutshell:A fascinating town with buried charms
  • Intro Updated May 19, 2003
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Reviews (16)

Comments (19)

  • davidjo's Profile Photo
    Dec 16, 2013 at 2:05 AM

    Interesting the name of white man in a hole---i never knew that. CB was one of the really interesting places i visited, also stayed at the underground backpackers!!!

  • Jun 8, 2011 at 5:43 AM

    everybody living underground, I haved to see this place someday by myself !

  • easyoar's Profile Photo
    Oct 23, 2004 at 12:48 AM

    I really wanted to get to Coober Pedy when I was in Aus, but never made it. After seeing your page, I really wish I had got there!

  • Sweetberry1's Profile Photo
    Mar 25, 2004 at 4:01 AM

    Nice page and photos.. Such an interesting place.. Thanks for sharing.. ;-)

  • Alphons's Profile Photo
    Nov 9, 2003 at 1:24 AM

    Very nice page, i was in dec.2001 in Coober Pedy and this brings back a lot of memeories, greetings Alphons...

  • craic's Profile Photo
    Oct 28, 2003 at 5:41 AM

    Fascinating page.

  • aliante1981's Profile Photo
    Oct 16, 2003 at 12:32 AM

    Interesting read! And the 'useful terms'section in one of the tips is really useful!

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Oct 8, 2003 at 9:15 AM

    Interesting classification of stones. Live and learn!

  • BabciaMaine's Profile Photo
    Jun 28, 2003 at 3:44 PM

    what interesting facts about a fascinating town . Thanks

  • pepples46's Profile Photo
    May 24, 2003 at 7:58 PM

    yes, intriguing and facinating place, the tight lipped locals definitly a special 'breed'....great page Kath, thanks


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