Did you know that the meaning of Coober Pedy is "white man's hole"?
And visiting this town, you soon discover there are a lot of holes in the ground. A visit to Coober Pedy in the outback of South Australia, is an experience. It’s a town like no other.
It’s a trip that is worthwhile doing. At least once.
Read on, and see the reasons we think you might want to visit next time you are out in that part of South Australia.
Prepare yourself for opal overload. This is what Coober Pedy is famous for, and the small town has more opal shops than you can possibly visit. In fact, by the end of your stay, you will probably not want to see an opal again!
Surrounding the town, is ample evidence of the opal boom, with small to large mounds of excavated dirt, dug from the hard ground, in a quest to find that elusive and rare opal. They are the white man holes I mentioned earlier. The landscape is covered with these molehill-like piles of dirt, and that in itself makes quite a striking view.
Want to see how opals are excavated? Then there are a couple of places where you can see how it happens and also, how it used to be done in the olden days.
We visited the Old Timers Mine and got a glimpse into the past. Also we got to try our luck at “noodling”, which means looking for opals from crushed up stone, excavated from the opal fields.
Did we find our fortune? No.
But the kids collected small shards of stone, which contained minute traces of opal, and was a lot of fun!
2. The Breakaways
About 33km outside the town is a range of flat topped mesas in the arid region of this part of South Australia.
What makes them special occurs at sunset, when the colours of the mesas change, giving a remarkable view of this land, that was once covered by an inland sea.
It is spectacular to see this landscape and worth the short drive.
Important note: You do need a permit to enter this reserve. You can purchase it for $2.20 per adult at the Coober Pedy Tourist Information Centre.
There are no purchases at the reserve (not that we could see anyway). You don’t know you need this until you have arrived at the entrance to the Reserve (on a dirt road, OK for 2WD).
And one last thing on the Breakaways, take a fly net for your head. You will need it! The flies were atrocious.
3. and 4. Dingo Fence and Moon Plain
What is exciting about a fence? Actually, not a lot. But at least if you see it, you can say you have seen the longest fence in the world! And its three times longer than the Great Wall of China!
Designed in the 1880s to keep dingoes from feeding on the sheep, it remains in place today, winding through South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.
You pass this fence on the way to see The Breakaways.
Also take note of the surrounds on the way to the fence, known as the Moon Plain.
This is the lunar like landscape, unlike anywhere else in Australia, and feature in films like Mad Max due to its uniqueness. Once a forest stood here, but now millions of years later, its a sea of rocky plain stretching endlessly.
5. The town of Coober Pedy
Apart from the vast array of opal shops in Coober Pedy, take the time to look around the town itself.
There are a number of places where you can experience underground living (most residents choose this option to escape the heat of harsh summers, and live comfortably).
We stayed in underground accommodation, so did not need to go to any homes where you can see how residents live.
Additionally, as part of the Old Timers Mine tour, they have kept the original residence of previous owners, and that is part of the tour. Save your money on seeing another underground home, and do this tour!
In one day you can see all the sights of Coober Pedy (in and around the town). That is ample time.
Accommodation options are plentiful – we chose to not camp there as it was such a unique experience for the children to sleep underground, and we were thankful for that cooler option, on a day when it was 36 degrees!
We recommend this town for a stopover and a glimpse into a lifestyle so different from our own.
Have you been here? What did you think of this town?