The South Australian frontier town of Coober Pedy is really like no other mining town in Australia.
Sure, there’s lots of red dirt and it can get mighty hot sometimes, just like in other mining towns. But in Coober Pedy, about 50 per cent of families escape that heat by living underground. You can pray in underground churches, peruse in underground museums and art galleries and stay a few nights in the award-winning underground hotel – the Desert Cave.
Coober Pedy came into being after opal was discovered in 1915. Now supplying most opals on the international gem market from 70 opal mines, the town prides itself as the "Opal Capital of the World".
The 2011 Australian census put the town’s population at 1695 and it’s estimated that residents hail from no less than 45 countries, so you’re sure to discover a diverse multicultural mix.
Located 846km from Adelaide on the Stuart Highway, this is not a big town by any means. But there are two largish supermarkets, the friendly Coober Pedy Area School and a 24-bed hospital offering 24/7 accident and emergency care.
There are also daily bus services from Adelaide, a train service on the legendary Ghan railway linking Adelaide and Darwin, and two-hour flights to Adelaide with Rex Airlines.
The major industries these days are tourism, opals (sold from 30 opal shops) and, increasingly, large scale mining operations.
The Prominent Hill mine, fully owned and operated by OZ Minerals, is located about 130km southeast of Coober Pedy. The mine produces some of the world's highest grade copper concentrates and is a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) operation employing about 1200 employees and contractors.
OZ Minerals also owns the Carrapateena copper-gold project, one of Australia’s largest undeveloped copper deposits which is located about 250km south east of the Prominent Hill operation and currently at an advanced exploration stage.
Outside work hours, there are lots of quirky things to see and do in Coober Pedy too. You can play a few rounds on a novel golf course without a single blade of grass. Golfers carry a piece of turf to tee off, and often play with glowing balls at night to escape the heat. In a fascinating twist, it’s the only club in the world with reciprocal rights to Scotland’s Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
Coober Pedy is also on the doorstep of some of Australia’s most beautiful outback scenery. A must-see at sunset is the Breakaways Reserve and Moon Plain – the colours are absolutely amazing. Out to the east you can also explore the famous Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks, and quirky outback towns like William Creek, Oodnadatta, Mungerannie and Birdsville.
"Best Greek food I have ever had at Tom & Mary's Greek Taverna in Coober Pedy. And the pub has Coopers on tap. Does it need any more?"
- John, Qld
Ever lived in Coober Pedy? Tell the world...