Coober Pedy, South Australia
Located 846 kilometres north of Adelaide is the famous opal mining town of Coober Pedy. Known as the opal capital of the world, this outback mining town is also renowned for its underground dwellings known as ‘dugouts’ where residents live to avoid the extreme daytime heat. The town’s name comes from ‘Kupa-piti’, an Aboriginal term that means ‘whitefellas hole’. On top of its fascinating history and its residents' unique way of life, Coober Pedy is also a gorgeous slice of the Australian outback every traveller needs to experience. The incredible outback sunsets and lunar landscape make visiting Coober Pedy feel like you’re stepping onto another planet.
Things to Know About the Town of Coober Pedy
Before booking a tour of Coober Pedy, here’s some information about the town.
The region’s Aboriginal population has a strong, long-established connection with Coober Pedy, and several groups, including the Arabana, Kokatha, and Yankunytjatjara, are closely connected to the area. John McDouall Stuart was the first European to pass near Coober Pedy in 1858.
Opal Capital of The World
The location of Coober Pedy was recorded by European settlers in 1858, but a town was not established until 1915 when the first opal was discovered in the area. From 1916 miners moved into the area in great numbers and eventually established a town around the opal mine. By the turn of the century, there were over 250,000 shafts across Coober Pedy’s opal mines. Now, Coober Pedy supplies the highest-quality opal stones in the world and is a major contributor to the international supply of opal.
It’s estimated around 50% of Coober Pedy’s population live underground in ‘dugouts’, although most are dug out of a hillside rather than forming part of a mine shaft. The story is that soldier’s returning from the first world war introduced the idea of living in dugouts to the locals as a way to shelter from the extreme desert heat. Nowadays, entire hotels and shops are operating underground as part of Coober Pedy’s unique subterraneous community.
What To Do in Coober Pedy
Here are some of the most popular points of interest and attractions around Coober Pedy.
Spend a Night in an Underground Hotel
Staying a night in one of Coober Pedy’s unique underground accommodations like the Desert Cave Hotel is a must for anyone travelling through this area. The sound-proof cave walls and lack of windows mean you’ll get one of the greatest night’s sleep ever. The experience of sleeping underground is truly one-of-a-kind and is something you have to do if you’re visiting Coober Pedy.
Umoona Opal Mine and Museum
A trip to the world’s number one source of quality opals would be incomplete without visiting Coober Pedy’s Umoona Opal Mine and Museum. Originally one of the town’s first opal mines, the museum highlights the Indigenous and European history of Coober Pedy. The museum has an extensive gift store where you’ll more than likely walk away with something opal related.
Unsurprisingly, the world’s opal capital has plenty of local expertise when it comes to opals, and you can learn about this fascinating and beautiful mineral when you visit Coober Pedy. Learn about how the mineral was mined and used before going on a tour of the town’s old mine shafts and underground buildings.
Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park
Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park, also known simply as ‘the Breakaways’, is one of the most alien-looking landscapes you can find on planet Earth. Covering almost 15,000 hectares, the Breakaways feature majestic arid scenery that looks even more incredible during an outback sunset.
Crocodile Harry's Underground Nest
Perhaps the closest thing to a real-life Crocodile Dundee, Crocodile Harry was a famous retired crocodile hunter and resident of Cooper Pedy until his death in 2006. His cave, which is filled from wall to wall with the trinkets he collected, is open every day and serves as a reminder of the storied life of a great Australian.
The people of Coober Pedy don’t just sleep underground; they eat there too. Check out some of the fantastic underground restaurants in Coober Pedy like Umberto’s or Uncle John’s for a dining experience unlike any other.
Famous Movie Locations
You may recognise Coober Pedy and the surrounding regions from some of Australia’s most popular and well known movies, including The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the 1980s classic, Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome.
AAT Kings' Tours of Coober Pedy
Several of AAT King’s outback tours include a night at one of Coober Pedy’s underground hotels before waking up to experience a tour of the town’s underground opal mines, shops, and restaurants. See our related tours below.