Coober Pedy Travel Guide: A Life Underground

23 May 2023
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Australia is known for its weird and wonderful outback towns, and Coober Pedy is one of the best. Famed for its underground lifestyle and quirky locals, it's still considered the opal mining capital of the world!


Coober Pedy Travel Guide: A life underground

Find out where to go, what to see and where you can stay in our must-see Coober Pedy Travel Guide: A life underground. 




There's nothing normal about Coober Pedy, including its' location.


Kanku-Breakaways Coservation Park is a must. Credit: SATC

Still known as the opal mining capital of the world, (it produces at least 50% of the world’s supply) this dusty old outback town is approximately halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, and close to the geographic middle of South Australia.

This means that Coober Pedy roughly 850km north along the Stuart Highway (A87) if you’re travelling from Adelaide via Port Augusta, or about 700 km’s south of Alice Springs along the same stretch of road.


Take the long way to Coober Pedy. Credit: SATC

Given the distances involved, the most efficient way to get to Coober Pedy is obviously to fly, which you can do from Adelaide via Regional Express Airways, but if you really want to experience the outback, there’s no substitute for the open road!

Any long distance road trip like this requires careful consideration. There can be hours of nothing between small towns and regional outposts, so be sure to take advantage of petrol stations (and water breaks) whenever you seem them! 

The Opal Inn Hotel, Motel and Caravan Park is a popular hub for all types of travellers to Coober Pedy.


Centrally located and offering a wide variety of accommodation types, family rooms here include a kitchenette for meal prep, a dining area and comfortable beds, and all rooms include air conditioning so you can escape the heat outside.

If you’ve arrived with a caravan, campervan or tent, there are over 50 spacious powered sites, and all visitors have access to facilities including open-air BBQ's, a laundry facility and the onsite restaurant and bar.

The park's campfire is a perfect place to star gaze and stay warm as the cool desert night draws in, and if you're travelling with your furry best friend, ask about the parks' dog-friendly sites.



Port Augusta
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The land around Coober Pedy is the traditional home of the Indigenous Western Desert people. This includes the Antakirinja, Kokatha and Yankunytjatjara groups, many of whom still live in the area which includes nearest neighbours Oodnadatta and Andamooka.


Coober Pedy does 'weird and wonderful' better than most. Credit: SATC

Literally translated to mean ‘white man in a hole’ in the local language, the town of Coober Pedy as we know it today was first established in 1915.

Famously, it was fourteen-year-old prospector Willie Hutchison who stumbled upon the first opal, setting in motion a chain of events that brought thousands of hopeful miners to the town and establish it as the world’s premier supplier of opals.

Coober Pedy still produces the bulk of the world’s opal supply - about 15-20 million dollars worth every year - and continues to attract hundreds of hopeful miners to the region. One of the biggest finds was the so-called ‘Jupiter Five’ in 1989 by Steve Zagar, weighing in at 26,350 carats!

Jupiter Five is an opal, not a band. Credit: Macs Opals

Relying on tourism to the region as much as the opal industry, today there are around 3500 permanent residents of the town, most of whom live in ‘dugouts’ - houses carved into the earth in order to keep the searing heat away.


Yep, there are spaceships in Coober Pedy. Credit: Almany

The population is famously multicultural, having attracted nationalities from all over the world, and because of its somewhat apocalyptic look, the town has hosted several major Hollywood films.

These include the original Mad Max films, Priscilla - Queen of the Desert and Red Planet, and if you're interested you can still find the odd prop lying around town!

As you’ve probably already gathered from the above, Coober Pedy is a fascinating place. Here are five things to do in Coober Pedy we highly recommend.

1. Fossick for opals!


'Noodling.' It's a thing in Coober Pedy. Credit: @exploreshaw 

Otherwise known as ‘noodling,’ unless its a declared private mine (there are many of these so be careful - falling down holes is a legitimate risk here), anything you find in Coober Pedy is yours to keep!

Noodling is essentially digging through the many types of mud and sand that have been discarded by the major mines and trying to find undiscovered opals. Good Luck!

2. See a real opal mine


Nothing is heavy underground. Credit: SATC

On the main street of Coober Pedy is Ummona Opal Mine and Museum. It is free to enter and there are multiple historical displays, however, the main reason to go is to get a guided tour of the once working opal mine.

A museum includes a number of fossil displays (including one dinosaur found in the area), and takes you through the Aboriginal history of Coober Pedy.  It also has one of the best displays of cut and polished opal stones anywhere, and yes, it’s very cool down there!

3. Take a photo at the ‘Coober Pedy’ sign


Hollywood Shmollywood. Credit: SATC

Hollywood has theirs, so why shouldn’t Coober Pedy?

As cheesy as it might be, you won’t regret a photo with this iconic sign which you’ll see as you enter town. 

Because of its popularity, don’t expect to be alone, unless you’re prepared to beat the sun and enjoy one of the outbacks most spectacular sunrises from a unique vantage point.

4. Tour the opal shops


Show us your opals. Credit: SATC

Be prepared to haggle, barter and deal your way around the strip of opal shops that exist in Coober Pedy. While beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, you’ll never be closer to the source than this famous row.

There is jewellery, souvenirs and all sorts of opal-themed goods to choose from, just don’t leave Coober Pedy without something to remember your visit.

5. Say your prayers - underground!


Churches might be our thing now. Credit: @exploreshaw

Again, because of the heat, worshippers have been forced underground in Coober Pedy, providing a unique religious experience.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is one of the most famous and widely considered the most beautiful. Built as recently as 1993, for a small donation you can tour what is the first underground Catholic Church of its type in the world.



Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park and Dog Fence

One of the most incredible sights around Coober Pedy, this otherworldly landscape is an absolute must-do.

Visit the ‘Moon Plains’

Just down the road from the Breakaways is the Moon Plains, a bizarre place that makes you feel like you’ve left planet Earth and landed on the Moon!

Say G’day to Crocodile Harry’s House

One of the town’s true originals, the Latvian-born Crocodile Harry aka 'Gemstone Harry' is not only claimed (by his own fans) to have been the inspiration for Crocodile Dundee, but also fought for the Germans in WWII.


Earning one of his many nicknames. Credit: The Baltic Times

Sadly no longer with us (he died in 2006 at the age of 81) the underground home of Arvid Blumenthal - as he was known to his parents - survives with all manner of quirky decorations and parphernalia from his wild life on display. A little ‘off-the-beaten-track’, but then again, what isn’t around here?

See a drive-in movie!

Saturday nights are movie nights at Coober Pedy’s outdoor drive in theatre. A great setting with no light or noise coming from anywhere else in the town.

Grab a cold one at the underground bar 

Desert Cave Hotel really lives up to its name! Apart form a bar, there’s an underground shopping arcade with a souvenir shop and restaurant. Here’s your chance to embrace the underground lifestyle!


Moonscapes by moonlight. Credit: Getty Images


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