The Underground Attraction Of Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy the Breakaways

The red centre of Australia is harsh and extreme place. The sun blisters on the dry, cracked earth, creating a desert landscape that only the hardiest can survive. Yet there is something about Australian deserts that intrigues and entices tourists in vast numbers. This no doubt has something to do with their unique beauty, their weird geological formations and even stranger animals that call these wide open spaces home. Or it could simply be that fact that when you are here, you cannot help but feel detached and isolated from the hustle and bustle of modern day life. The opportunity for solitude doesn’t come about very often these days. The outback offers the perfect opportunity for exactly this, but just be prepared for the heat of the extreme desert.

If you aren’t too keen for the bare landscape of the desert but still want to experience the true outback, the little South Australian outback town of Coober Pedy will be perfect for you. Positioned a whopping 846 kilometres north of Adelaide and 645 kilometres south of Alice Springs, Coober Pedy is largely isolated and is a journey in itself getting there. Remember that travelling through the outback requires care and preparation, and should not be undertaken lightly. So be sure to plan ahead because all the effort will be worthwhile once you reach this amazing town. Highly regarded as the opal capital of the world, this is where over 70 per cent of the worlds opals come from. Eighty years of mining have left the town looking like some kind of lunar landscape, with mine shafts and mullock heaps scattered around its surface.

Although the landscape of Coober Pedy is intriguing by itself, it is what lies beneath the surface that makes Coober Pedy so unique. The high temperatures of over 50 degrees have forced the residents underground, and almost 80 per cent of the population live in houses dug into the ground. These ‘dugouts’, as they are affectionately known, have all the modern facilities you would expect to find in a normal house, including the running water and tiling, and they cost a fraction of the price. The insulation of being underground makes for a more comfortable living style, also making it one of the most unique forms of living in Australia. It also explains the town’s Aboriginal name of Coober Pedy, ‘Kura Piti’, which translates into ‘White Mans Burrow’.

Many of the chief attractions here are also underground. The Desert Cave offers the most prestigious accommodation in Coober Pedy, and is well worth the novelty of spending a couple of nights in an underground hotel. You will also find the world’s only bar and gaming room built beneath the earths surface, which is also home to an amazing exhibition of photographs and artefacts that pay tribute to the early settlers to the region and the hardships they faced. There is also an underground art gallery that showcases some of the best works of artists from Central Australia. It also has a dazzling collection of gemstones that will draw you in.

To gain a true sense of the opal culture here, it is absolutely essential that you pay a visit to a real mine. The Umoona Opal Mine and Museum is one of the premier tourist attractions in town, and offers the perfect introduction to opals. Guided tours will show you how they cut and polish the stones, while the interpretative centre explains the history and process of mining, through the demonstration of award winning documentaries. There is also a display of fossils found in the mines, and a genuine dug out home on display. The gift shop here will allow you to take a souvenir of your time here home and your very own piece of opal jewelery.

From the moment you drive into Coober Pedy, you will be welcomed by the local, who display a relaxed and laid back attitude towards life. For such a small town there is an incredible ethnic diversity here, with over 45 different nationalities being represented. Thus there is a general vibe of tolerance and acceptance, which quickly rubs off on visitors, who are welcomed with open arms.

If you venture outside of the town itself, you will come across several breath taking natural attractions that have featured in many Hollywood movies of the past and present. The Breakaways are a series of flat topped mesas formed over the years, and the Moon Plains are a vast expanse of rocky plains unlike anywhere in the world. Both are just a short drive away and are a must-see while in the area. The Coober Pedy experience is one that is unsurpassed and unlike any other one in Australia. So start your planning now for true gem of a time!

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