When I first saw Coober Pedy, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
I felt like I was walking into the outback’s wild west.
The town is stark and moon-like, and there’s not many trees.
There are small mounds of mine tailings everywhere, and a raw, anything goes edginess to the town.
You really do feel like you’re driving into the set of a Mad Max movie!
Some 70% of the town’s 3500 residents live underground to escape the blistering summertime temperatures.
Despite the town’s less than picturesque appearance, it’s a relaxed and friendly place, with many charming quirks.
Is it worth a visit?
Absolutely. There’s much more to see here than just a bunch of tourist shops trying to sell you overpriced opals!!
Why You Should Visit
That’s an easy question to answer: Coober Pedy is one of the most unusual, unique places in Australia, and perhaps the world.
It’s one of those places that you really have to see to believe it’s real.
As the town is located in one of the hottest and most inhospitable climates in Australia, many people live underground to escape the oppressive summer heat.
You’ll be able to visit underground houses, underground cafes, underground churches, stay in underground hotels, visit an underground bookstore, and roll out your swag in Australia’s only underground camping area!
Then there’s the opals which bring people to this stark landscape. You can visit working opal mines, mine for opals yourself, buy opals and visit historic mines which explain how opal mining was done in the old days.
Until recently, the area was the largest producer of opal in the world. In fact, opals are so important, they gave the town its name back in 1915.
‘Coober Pedy’ is an English adaptation of the local Aboriginal (Dieri) words ‘kupa piti’, meaning whiteman’s holes.
And when you’ve had enough of opals, there’s a lot to explore around the area: the Moon Plains (where Mad Max 3 was made), the Breakaways, the Dog Fence, and further afield, places like William Creek, Lake Eyre and the Oodnadatta Track.
Ideally, two nights/three days in Coober Pedy is generally enough to see the highlights, and visit the Breakaways at sunset (a MUST!)
It’s located right on the Stuart Highway, a full day’s drive from Adelaide – 835 kilometres (518 miles)- and half a day’s drive from Alice Springs -688 kilometres (427 miles).
You don’t have to drive, though.
The Ghan Rail service stops in Coober Pedy four times each week, and it’s a stop on the Greyhound-Pioneer bus service as well.
Also, a lot of budget backpacker tours stop overnight here, too.
If you’re driving, know you’re getting close to the town when you start to see white mounds start popping up on the vast, flat horizon.
You’ll also know you’re getting close if you’re using the Telstra 3G network for your mobile phone, and you’ve suddenly got reception again after a long break.
The town itself is small and easy to get around.
There’s one long main street, which has two supermarkets that carry all the usual food and grocery items.
There’s a large hill in the middle of the town, into which most of the underground motels are built.
You can walk just about anywhere in the town in 10 minutes, and you’ll find most of the attractions dotted around the main street.
See & Do
One of the biggest attractions in Coober Pedy is just seeing the town itself!
The town is full of bizarre and quirky sights – like this unusual sculpture that’s up near the Big Winch, and right near a lookout that will give you panoramic views of the town.
There’s also the Big Winch:
However, visiting underground homes and churches, and seeing how people live here are a must!
We’ve been here in January when it was 47°C (116F!!), and staying underground was a must. It’s why more than 50% of the town’s people live in underground homes that are locally called ‘dugouts’.
No matter what the temperature is outside, underground homes and hotels are a constant 23°C – very pleasant even on the hottest summer days.
Several residents open their underground houses (dugouts) to the public for tours:
You can also visit the Umoona Opal Mine and Museum halfway down Hutchinson Street (that’s the main street) where there’s an underground house display along with a mine display and an Aboriginal interpretive display.
Another place you mustn’t miss out on is the Old Timer’s Mine.
This is it an historic opal mine that was first dug in 1916. You can take yourself on a self guided walk to one through the mine, its displays and check out the two underground homes there as well.
Of course, visiting a real working opal mine is something that lots of people like to do when they visit the town.
The good news is that there’s quite a few working opal mines to visit. We recommend a visit to:
Which is located on the Stuart Highway near the turn off to enter the town. Just look for the big truck painted in Port Power colours (Port Adelaide are an AFL football team).
And you and you couldn’t possibly leave Coober Pedy without going to one of the many opal shops and seeing an opal cutting demonstration.
Most shops are more than happy to give you a demonstration of how opals are cut and polished and will explain to you difference between singlets, doublets, and triplets.
But it’s not all just opals!
The Breakaways are striking hills that are deeply eroded, full of rich red, orange and white colours.
The best times to visit are in the early morning with an early evening.
This is when you’ll get some absolutely spectacular photographs as the colours leap out at you and constantly change.
You’ll need a minimum of two hours to visit the Breakaways. The road is passable by all vehicles, but a 4WD is recommended.
If you don’t want to drive to the Breakaways yourself, then you can arrange a tour through Radeka’s Backpackers.
As well there’s the Dingo Fence – a unique piece of Australian heritage that’s still maintained today.
This is the longest dog fence in the world, and it’s located about 30km north of the town.
And don’t forget – it’s only an hour’s drive to William Creek and the Oodnadatta Track and only two hours to Lake Eyre.
All of this makes Coober Pedy is a great base for exploring South Australia’s remote outback – and a reason for you to spend more than one night here.
Where to Stay
Something you have to do when you visit is spend a night in one of the town’s underground motels or hotels.
We visit Coober Pedy fairly regularly and have stayed in everything from a 4 Star hotel to undergroun backpacker’s accommodation. As we said above: there’s an underground campground!
The town has lot of accommodation choices both underground accommodation and above the ground options.
There’s also two caravan parks -both have shady sites and pools- and several B&Bs as well.
When to Visit?
Winter (May-September) really is the very best time to visit.
Try NOT to visit in January or February. Many tourist attractions and restaurants are closed, and it’s very bloody HOT!
We visit every year in January, and almost fall over from the heat! It’s simply too hot to get out and see things, and there really is no shade.
Average summer temperatures range from 36°C (96.8 °F) during the day and 20°C (68°F) at night.
January is the hottest month of the year, with temperatures of 42°C during the day being very common. We’ve visited when it’s been 47°C (116F) and it’s very comfortable.
No matter when you visit, we’re sure you’ll find Coober Pedy one of the most remarkable and memorable places in the outback. Check out our other pages on Coober Pedy for more information.
- Coober Pedy Facts
- Coober Pedy Accommodation