Coober Pedy facts to know before you go – Australia’s underground town

Coober Pedy is the self-proclaimed Opal capital of the world. It’s a million miles from anywhere, in the middle of the arid Australian Outback and just a stone’s throw from the South Australia and Northern Territory border. After Uluru, it was the next stop that excited me the most about our trip from Darwin to Adelaide, but was it everything it’s hyped up to be? Let’s explore some Coober Pedy facts to prepare you for your outback visit and make sure you’re not disappointed!

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Coober Pedy Facts:

The Basics:

Population: 3,500 (approximately)

Elevation: 226 metres above sea level

Time Zone: Australian Central Standard Time (UTC +9:30).

Daylight savings: Between October and March

Postcode: 5723

The history:

What I enjoyed most about our trip to Coober Pedy was learning about its history at the underground museum (more on this later).

When Opal was found in the area in 1915 it started a mining boom that populated the area. Up until this point the land was only used as a passing point for nomadic Aboriginal Tribes who knew of the coloured stone but held no value to it.

Coober Pedy got its name in 1920, which comes from the Aboriginal fraise ‘Kupa Piti’ which means white man’s hole.

Over the years Coober Pedy has seen many mining booms and is known internationally as The Opal Capital of the world due to how much has been found and continues to be found here.

Now Coober Pedy is still a functioning mining town but it’s also a popular tourist destination thanks to its underground homes, film connections and quite honestly; it’s extreme weather conditions.

Getting to Coober Pedy:

It doesn’t matter which direction you’re coming from, on the drive towards town there really is nothing. No plant life or waterways, seemingly no wildlife; until night falls at least, then its ‘roo central. It was hard to imagine a town so far away from anywhere in the hottest part of the continent, where the people had to be so resourceful to survive the heat, they started building their houses underground.

From Adelaide:

The most common route is from Adelaide. This will take you almost 9 hours on the Princes Highway, with notable stops being Port Augusta, the South Australia Salt Lakes and Glendambo – the town who’s infamous thanks to the sign below.

Distance: 850km

Time: 8 hours 45minutes

From Darwin:

This was the route we took as part of our central Aus road trip. You’ll pass places like the Devils Marbles, Uluru, Kings Canyon, West McDonnell Ranges and a lot more (You’d be insane to not stop at these places – so add that to your drive time).

Distance: 2,183km
Time: 23 hours 15 minutes

You can find out what we got up to while we were in the NT Here

From Sydney:

This route will take you through Canberra, Mildura and Port Augusta through some really pretty (and often flat) farming districts.

Time: 21 hours 40 minutes

Distance: 2,087km

Want some day trip inspiration from Sydney? Check out this post

From Melbourne:

From Melbourne to Coober Pedy you’ll go through the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide, and then North from there through the Salt Lakes and Port Augusta.

Time: 16 hours 35 minutes

Distance: 1,570km

From Brisbane:

This is one heck of an inland road trip, and honestly if we had more time we’d probably do it. It’ll take you through Texas (yes, really!), Broken Hill and no doubt a tonne of changing landscapes as you cross through QLD, NSW and SA.

Time: 26 hours

Distance: 2,471km

From Cairns:

This isn’t too dissimilar from what we did, except we went up to Darwin first. From Cairns you’ll pass through Porcupine Gorge, Australia’s Dinosaur trail (Winton, Richmond, Hughenden) and Alice Springs.

Time: 31 hours

Distance: 2,804km

From Perth:

This looks like another great road trip option if you’re starting out on the West and wanting to head North. It’ll take you through the Nullabor, Kalgoorlie, Eucla and Port Augusta.

Time: 30 hours

Distance: 2,921km

Coober Pedy Facts:

The Weather:

First things first: we strongly recommend you stay away from Coober Pedy between December and February, summer time. We visited in late December and temps hit 47’c… and there’s no shade in Coober Pedy. So if you’re in a camper van trust us, you’ll struggle even with aircon (which we don’t have).

It’s also worth noting that most touristy things (that we’ll cover in more detail a little later) close during summer because of the weather. And if they’re not closed completely their hours are very limited.

April – October Is when Coober Pedy has the best weather for visitors as it averages lows of 6’c and highs of 25’.

It’s dry all year round, with Coober Pedy not really having much greenery or rainfall it doesn’t experience high humidity.

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The Facilities:

We were really surprised at just how much Coober Pedy has in terms of banks, shops and service stations. We were expecting a pretty derelict rural city set up more for tourists than locals, but what we found was the opposite.

This doesn’t mean it has a big shopping mall and the usual range of supermarkets though because it doesn’t. What it does have though is a well stocked IGA and a local family ran supermarket. Both of which have fresh fruit/veg and the usual basics.

Other businesses here include plenty of Opal shops, a Westpac bank, a Post Office, a selection of mechanics if your car needs some TLC and most surprisingly a Shell, BP and a Caltex so at least you can shop around to find which is marginally cheaper.

There’s also quite a large outdoor play area for the kids, public toilets and plenty to keep the tourists busy.

Things to do in Coober Pedy:

So the question is, what exactly is there to do in Coober Pedy? Well. In December, not a lot because we found it all to be shut BUT I’ve done some digging to bring you some Coober Pedy facts, so here are some touristy things you can do if you time your visit right!

Photos provided by See Ya Latta.

Umoona Opal Mine & Museum:

Opening times: 8am-6pm

Entrance fee: Free

Tour times: 10am, 2pm, 4pm daily.

Tour cost: $12

This was a highlight of our trip and not because it was the only thing open and was an escape from the 47’c… ok, maybe that’s why but anyway…

The Umoona Opal Museum provides a really interesting look into what life used to be like in Coober Pedy when they were first establishing it… They had to get water shipped in from Adelaide every week!!

We didn’t take part in a tour but if you want to see a fully working Opal Mine up close, Umoona Opal Mine & Museum offers you the chance to do just that. Then at the end of it all, there’s an Opal shop that has a beautiful collection of local Opal memorabilia.

If you’re in the area and want to learn more about the place you’re in, we highly recommend this museum. And if you’re in the area looking to escape the heat… we recommend it for that too!

Faye’s underground house:

Opening times: 10am – 5pm, closed Sundays.

Entry fee: $10 per person, $15 with a guide.

Unfortunately, Faye’s house was one of the closed tourist attractions in Coober Pedy when we were there but it looks like a really interesting tour to do.

Faye’s home is exactly what it says it is, an underground ‘cave house’ with an old mine attached. The tours tell you about Faye, her life in Coober Pedy and how she ‘built’ her house and mine herself.

Tom’s working Opal mine:

Opening times: 9am – 5pm, closed Sundays

Tour fee: basic tour $15, mini guided tour $22, fully guided tour $28

Tour times: Full guided tour 10am, 2pm, 4pm. Other tours 8am – 5pm

Yes, you’ll not be surprised to learn that Coober Pedy’s main attraction is it’s opal mines. There are plenty of different tours to choose from or you can do all of them and see how differently they’re all ran.

Tom’s working Opal mine has been open since 1988 and is slightly different to others due to the fact they let you use a piece of the equipment to try and find your own piece of opal, and if you’re lucky enough to find some they let you take it home.

Josephine’s Kangaroo Orphanage:

Opening/public feeding times: 12pm & 5:30pm

Entry fee: Free but donations appreciated.

Josephine Kangaroo Orphanage is home to orphaned, lost and injured Kangaroos. During the public feeding times, you’ll be able to meet the residents and learn about their history. It’s completely run by volunteers so any donations are appreciated.

Catacomb underground Church:

Opening times: 24/h, Sunday services 9:30am

Entrance fee: Free

The Catacomb underground church was named after the Catacombs in Rome and represents a place of serenity, it isn’t to be confused with the Catacombs of France… you won’t find walls built from bones here. It is an interesting place to walk around and as with all of the underground tourist spots in Coober Pedy, it provides a nice relief from the heat

Photos provided by Through Her Eyes

Big Winch Lookout:

Opening times: NA

Entrance fee: Free

The Big Winch Lookout is the best place to get amazing views over the area. Situated next to a historical Big Winch you’ll be able to see for miles across the flat, arid desert that the Coober Pedy people call home

The Big Minor:

Opening times: NA

Entrance fee: Free

On a mission to find all of Australia’s ‘Big Things’? Cross the Big Minor off your list at Coober Pedy. You can see the statue for free or take a look around the shop that owns it… Opal shop, of course.

The Underground Library:

Opening times: Mon – Fri 8.30am – 5pm Sunday 11am – 4pm closed Sat

Entry fee: Free

We’ve loved exploring Australia’s libraries, as a van-lifer, they’re a necessity sometimes if you want a relaxing place to get some free WiFi. Coober Pedy’s library is without a doubt the most unique we’ve seen. There’s free WiFi, computers and printing available as well as all the usual library stuff.

Visit the Dingo fence:

Opening hours: NA

Entrance fee: Free

This is one of our favourite Coober Pedy facts… Coober Pedy is the shared home to the longest fence in the world, and if you have a 4×4 it’s worth seeing to appreciate the amount of work and organisation it must have taken to build. It’s 2,250km long and crosses 3 states to prevent sheep from being attacked by dingos. It’s a 2-hour return journey from Coober Pedy but honestly, the scenery is amazing.

Accommodation in Coober Pedy:

Due to the limited amount of shade available in Coober Pedy, hostels and hotels are the most common option here. That’s possibly also due to the fact that most of these options are caves/underground.

You can find more Coober Pedy accommodation options here

With these Coober Pedy facts, you should be all set to have an incredible visit to one of Australia’s most deserted towns. Have you been to an underground town before? Or even visited Coober Pedy? We’d love to hear about it!!

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