An underground town in the Outback desert, Coober Pedy is one of Australia's most unusual places.
By Kris Madden
In the desert of the South Australian Outback, in one of Australia's hottest climates, is the town of Coober Pedy. In a bid to avoid the heat, much of it has been built underground. Visit underground houses, cafés and churches, and stay in underground hotels. Admire the lunar-like landscape, which has been the backdrop for many movies, including Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Red Planet. Coober Pedy is also known as the Opal Capital of the World, and there are plenty of opportunities to purchase the pretty gemstones – or even find your own.
HOW TO GET THERE
Flights between Adelaide (the closest major city) and Coober Pedy operate regularly with Regional Express Airlines. You can also drive here – from Adelaide the journey takes about nine hours – or take a coach.
- Fossick for gemstones
- Stay underground in a four-star hotel
- Explore the Painted Desert
Coober Pedy highlights
TOP THINGS TO DO IN COOBER PEDY
Fossick for gemstones
Don a miner's helmet for an underground tour at Tom's Working Opal Mine and see the uncut opals lining the walls. Next, head to the Visitor Centre for a map, and instructions on how to "noodle" (look for your own gemstones) in permitted areas. Finally, see the polished gemstones sparkle in the town's galleries and shops.
Stay underground at the Desert Cave Hotel
Experience what it's like to live underground with a stay at the four-star Desert Cave Hotel (there are above ground rooms available if the idea of sleeping below doesn't appeal). The hotel also has an underground display gallery illustrating the early pioneering days of Coober Pedy, as well as underground shops, a café and an opal interpretive centre.
Explore the Painted Desert
Take a 4WD day tour to the spectacular Painted Desert (also known as the Arckaringa Hills) and see the colourful hills of red, orange, yellow and white that Mother Nature has taken 80 million years to create. Once the bedrock of an inland sea, this magical area has since eroded into a lunar-like landscape of colours that change over the course of the day. It's particularly stunning at sunrise and sunset. Bring your camera.
See the Dog Fence
Covering about 5600 kilometres (3500 miles) across three Australian states, the Dog Fence, or Dingo Fence as it is also known, was built to protect farm animals from dingoes (wild Australian dogs) and is the world's longest fence. You can see a section of it just outside Coober Pedy.
Absorb nature at Breakaways Conservation Park
Take a tour to the breathtaking Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park. It's the traditional country of the Antakirinja Matuntjara Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people, who call the area Umoona, meaning "Long Life". Covering almost 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres), the park is home to an abundance of native plants and wildlife, including red kangaroos, echidnas and Australian bird species. Like the Painted Desert, it is a breathtaking landscape of many colours.
Visit an underground home
Crocodile Harry – so named for his former occupation, hunting crocodiles in Australia's Northern Territory – moved to Coober Pedy in the 1970s to fossick for opals. He became known as one of the town's most interesting characters, and lived in an unusual dugout known as Crocodile Harry's Underground Nest (fans of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome may recognise his home as the backdrop for part of the movie). Nearby you'll find Faye's Underground Home, an equally fascinating residence built by the hands of three women in the early 1960s, complete with an indoor underground pool in the middle of the lounge room. Both are open for viewings.
Visit the historic Old Timers Mine
The Old Timers Mine is a window to days of old. An opal mine dating back to 1916, it was rediscovered in 1968, revealing a wealth of opal that is still there today. There is also an underground historic home and museum to explore.
Discover Umoona Opal Mine and Museum
The Umoona Opal Mine and Museum is Coober Pedy's largest underground attraction. Learn the history of Aboriginal and European settlement in the area, view the story of the opal in an underground theatre, and view fossil remains from the vast inland sea that once covered the area. The shop has a large selection of exclusive opal jewellery.
Visit underground churches
Coober Pedy has some amazing underground churches, including The Catacomb Church, cut out of the ground's sandstone in the shape of a cross in 1944. The Serbian Orthodox Church has striking architecture and brilliant stained glass windows. Sts Peter and Paul's Catholic Church was the first to be built in the town.
Play golf on a course with no grass
Voted in the top 10 most unique courses in the world, Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Club has no grass; just sand and rocky fairways. It’s the only golf club in the world with reciprocal playing rights at the "Home of Golf", St Andrews in Scotland.
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