Coober Pedy is known as the opal mining capital of Australia, or as Australians will tell you, the opal mining capital of the world. Heading into Coober Pedy along the Stuart Highway, it is extremely easy to think “there’s nothing here but desert” and for the most part, you would be spot on. So 846km north of Adelaide later, and you are pretty much here. You can tell quite easily that you’ve arrived though. The whole surrounding landscape is flat, aside from the seemingly millions of mullocks that are everywhere.
You can even see a couple on the right side of the cover picture, just beside Lars’ head. And, well, the other reason you can’t miss the fact you’ve arrived is the huge ass sign that says “Coober Pedy” on it. You know, stating the obvious and all.
You’ll also notice beautifully annotated safety signs around. These things are basically warnings that there are mine shafts all over the place and be careful you don’t fall because no one is going to be able to find you amongst the thousands of shafts if you do actually fall. Those that made it here before me also clearly believe that there are pirhanas in said mine shafts, and lets not forget the brilliant guide on “how to dispose of an English backpacker; ask them to take a picture”, which being an English backpacker, I found quite hilarious.
When you actually arrive in town you’ll notice just how deserted it looks (no pun intended), but given we’re in the middle of the desert here, I guess it’s kinda expected. Though I didn’t get a chance to take a decent shot during the day, here you see a pretty good idea of how small this town actually looks (with a population of like.. 4000)
Right now you’re likely thinking.. what the hell? there isn’t anything in that picture! The thing about Coober Pedy, is that the majority of the people that live there, live underground. Some building are 50-50 subterranean, others are completely underground. It really isn’t all dark, dingy and full of creatures like you would probably expect though. The stone that lines the walls makes for some really nice homes. Obliging with some “rules” I didn’t actually take pictures where I shouldn’t, but here you can see our underground dorm.
Not too hot, not too cold. The desert heat tends to warm the rock up and it becomes warm inside, but because you’re underground, when the night air cools right down, the warmth stays inside and the result is a constant, comfortable temperature in the middle of the desert. Absolutely genius if you ask me.
You can’t really go to the “opal mining capital of the world” and not have a clue about opal mining. So we had a bit of a guided tour of one of the mines, and learnt a bit about how it works, what all the machinery is and all that lark. I won’t spoil it because I suggest you do the same. The pros will do a much better job than my butchery of an explanation anyway. But in case you were wondering, the inside of a mine looks a lot like this:
Just be aware that at pretty much 6 feet tall (180cm) there are parts of that mine I felt a little bit less safe than my shorter fellow travellers. Just mind you don’t smash your head on the roof of the mine, or whatever the hell the top part of it is called.
So after setting up camp in our underground abode, going to see some baby kangaroos at a kangaroo sanctuary, and otherwise exploring Coober Pedy, we called it a night. Ready to rise nice and early in the morning to go and see the beautiful sunrise.
If you’ve traveled with women before, (or if you are one) you’ll surely know the tendency to spend far too long trying to look good and less time actually getting to lookout spots ready for sun up. Sorry everyone, I had to leave you behind so that at least I could be selfish and watch the sunrise myself. I saved you some pictures though:
You might be noticing a slight theme with many of my posts in that, sunrises and sunsets (except in Darwin) just do not happen for us. You might also notice from these pictures the there is a hell of a lot of cloud in the sky considering we’re in the middle of the desert. Yep. It rained. Only I could manage to be in the middle of the Australian desert and get rained on. Don’t worry, I see the ironic side of it, and I’m quite content in knowing it is something that not many people will get to experience.
Eventually the others caught up to me at the top of this hill (which I took a previously scouted shortcut to reach). I’ll leave the stories behind these a secret for those wishing to head to Coober Pedy, I don’t want to ruin all of the fun for you.
Moving on to searching for opals. We headed over to some mullocks and decided to have a skim over to see if we could find anything that had been missed. Why not? Obviously the guys that depend on this for a living will look damn hard to make sure no opals get past their prying eyes, but they too are human and humans make mistakes. It didn’t hurt to look!
It did rain though, as I said, and I managed to get absolutely drowned. Being as stubborn as I am, I wanted to keep looking for a long ass time. Sadly, we had to leave Coober Pedy and continue our journey, but I did find a really small, non-coloured piece of opal (potch). I don’t care that it was worthless, I found it and it is mine! Ha!
And there you have it. Don’t judge Coober Pedy by its small stature, it really is a different, exciting place to visit and there are a whole bunch of fun, interesting things to get up to while you’re there. If you aren’t time constrained, I would also recommend taking a look at expanding your travels a bit further around Coober Pedy before heading back along the Stuart Highway.