Coober Pedy, a town where people live underground

Coober Pedy South Australia

Coober Pedy is so different to any other town in Australia

The first time I heard that people live underground in Coober Pedy I didn’t know what to think of. What does it mean to live underground? Do they live in caves? Visiting the opal capital of the world thought me different. It turned out to be an interesting trip.

In the middle of the desert you find a town which is so different to anything you have seen before. There are no trees but there is a lot of dirt. Other cities are far away – Alice Springs is 689 km to the north and Adelaide 846 km to the south. A town that is literally in the middle of nowhere. This town is called Coober Pedy. If you ever visit, check out these things to do in Cooper Pedy. And if you don’t intend to ever go there, have a look at the photos in this post and travel virtually with us.

We are coming from the north on the Oodnadatta Track, a popular route in the Outback, and then take the dirt road leading to Coober Pedy. We want to see the Painted Desert that’s why we take this route. The landscape of the Painted Desert is totally different to anything we have seen before.

Painted Desert South Australia

We feel like we are standing on another planet

There are two lookouts and both worth a stop. It was pretty hard to choose two photos only of this fascinating landscape. It looks unreal. That’s how it probably looks on the moon.

Painted Desert South Australia

The colors of the Painted Desert are incredible

After taking lots of photos Marcel has another job to do. We have a flat tire. Well, there are worse places to change a tire. Check out this Video:

We approach Coober Pedy from the north. Usually visitors stop in Coober Pedy on the way from Adelaide to Alice Springs traveling on the Stuart Highway.

Coober Pedy South Australia

Welcome to Coober Pedy, South Australia

The weather is a bit crazy and it looks like a storm is coming. From the lookout in town we have an amazing view over the town and the dramatic sky. On top of the small hill we nearly get blown away, the wind is so strong. And then it starts to rain, huge drops are falling. We wait it out and no more than 5 minutes later the rain stops.

Coober Pedy Lookout

From the lookout we have perfect view over the town

This is what it is like in the desert, unpredictable weather and harsh conditions. One day the temperatures rise to 40 degrees and at night it can drop to 5 degrees, or in winter even below zero. These are things that make living here all but easy.

Coober Pedy looks odd. The town is in South Australia but far away from everything. The closest bigger city is Alice Springs, 689 km away.

Why people in Coober Pedy live underground

The heat is unbearable and in winter, it’s freezing cold. And there are no trees. In the early days, when people settled in Coober Pedy, power and fuel was expensive. Therefore people could not afford air-conditioners and heaters. This is how the residents came up with the idea to build houses underground. The temperatures underground are quite constant all year round.

When I first heard about people living underground, I thought they live in a dark cave. But I was completely wrong. The underground houses look like normal houses. They just do not have windows but the rest is all the same.

The houses have been cut into the hill. The driveway is either sloping or rising.

Underground house in Coober Pedy

This is how an underground house looks like

But what is it, that people came to Coober Pedy? The secret lies underground again. It’s the opal. Coober Pedy is the opal capital of the world.

Opals were found in the area of Coober Pedy in 1915. The opals are high quality and very popular all around the world. Coober Pedy is still the world’s major supplier of opal. For me this sounds quite impressive, especially after seeing this town myself. When driving around the town, Coober Pedy doesn’t look very attractive. The interesting part of Coober Pedy lies underground.

But why do people choose to live here?

Thousands of people came here to find success and wealth. When opal was found in the area, many people were hoping to get rich. They leased a mining plot and started digging. But it’s all about luck and finding the right spot. If they were lucky and bought the right plot, they may have found opals. But it can also be that they bought a plot with no valuables in them. Then it’s bad luck.

The population of Coober Pedy is approximately 3’500 and about 60% of the people are European. Many of them migrated from southern and eastern Europe after the Second World War.

Opal mining in Coober Pedy

This is how it looks like around Cooper Pedy, piles of dirt everywhere

There are still hundreds of active mines in the area. Tourism is another big industry. Many people come to buy gems but many do only visit the city and like to learn more about the opal mining and about life underground.

Cool self-guided mine tour – Old Timers Mine

Old Timers Mine Coober Pedy

Great self-guided at the Old Timers Mine

We love to learn more about how opal mining works and how it looks like. In the Old Timers Mine we can walk independent through the real mining tunnels. The original opal mine we walk trough dates back to 1916. Like this we can imagine how they worked in early days.

Old Timers Mine Coober Pedy

The mine shafts in the Old Timers Mine are very narrow

Opal Coober Pedy

A great example of an opal. Not easy to find this gem in all that dirt

Old Timers Mine Coober Pedy

The machines they use for opal digging look pretty basic

The entry fee for the Old Timers Mine & Museum is AUD 15 per adults, AUD 5 for children, AUD 12.50 concession and families pay AUD 40.

More things to see in Coober Pedy

You want to see more things underground? There is an underground bar, an underground café and underground churches. Or you can camp underground or book yourself a room in an underground hotel.

Underground Church Coober Pedy

Inside the St Peter & Paul’s Catholic Church in Coober Pedy

If you walk around town you find a lot of artistic creations. We love it.

Coober Pedy South Australia

There are plenty of photo opportunities in Coober Pedy

And above the surface we recommend the scenic drive to the Breakaways and the Moon Plain. You need a permit to do the drive which you get in the information center in Coober Pedy.

Breakaways Coober Pedy

Do you remember the movie Mad Max ‘Beyond Thunderdome’? Then this landscape may look familiar to you

Where is Coober Pedy?

Coober Pedy is in South Australia on the Stuart Highway on the way from Alice Springs to Adelaide.

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Things to do in Coober Pedy


What do you think about Coober Pedy? Could you imagine living underground?


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