Coober Pedy Travel Guide

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View of Coober Pedy

View of Coober Pedy

Vincenzo Mandile -

Coober Pedy is reputed to mean 'white fellow's hole in the ground', and this is a very good description of the place. The 'opal capital' of Australia (and the world) largely consists of holes in the ground. Not only are thre over 25,000 mine shafts in the area (so mind your step!), a large percentage of the population actually lives in dugouts to shelter from the harsh enviroment: summer temperatures can rise up to over 50ÂșC, while the winter nights get freezing cold. These weather extremes make Coober Pedy a popular tourist destination. You will have to look very hard to find a place more desolate looking than this. In fact, if you walk around, you may recognise scenery from the post-apocalyptic classic Mad Max II, which was filmed here.

To take a good look at the scenery, you can visit Breakaway Reserve (permits can be obtained from the tourist office or Underground Books), about 35 km north of Coober Pedy. It's a colourful area of mesa hills and rock formations pretty accesible to convenional vehicles despite the mainly unsealed roads.

Inside Cooper Pedy you can learn everything there is to know about opals from several opal-related sights. You can first get orientated in the Umoona Opal Mine & Museum (Hutchison Street), which houses information on opal mining, an actual opal mine, several old and modern dugout homes and Aboriginal displays. Then you can try your luck at the Jeweller's Shop, an opal field in the north-east of town, where you can fossick through the waste dumps for opal yourself. If that doesn't work out, you can buy some from one of the many opal outlets around town. Several other tours of mines, both discarded and working, can be taken.

One of the most bizarre features of Cooper Pedy is the abundance of dugout homes. Originally, these used to be worked out mines that were then used as shelters against the climate. These days they are usually cut out especially to serve as residences. You can visit several of these homes. The most eccentric is probably the one a couple of km down Seventeen Mile Road belonging to Crocodile Harry, a Latvian baron who emigrated to Australia and spent 13 hunting crocodiles.

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