This subterranean desert town has more to offer than opals. Check out my Top 11 picks for things to do in the quirky town of Coober Pedy, South Australia.
I’m Melissa (Liss) Connell and this is my personal travel blog. The Slow Lane chronicles my Aussie adventures in my 1974 Kombi, with my furry sidekick Sandy. As the co-founder of Exploring Eden Media, I write articles (and post books) as I travel. Check the postage stamp on your book order and you’ll see where I am right now!
Coober Pedy produces over 80% of Australia’s opal and it’s the largest opal producing region in the world. It was originally named ‘Stuart Range Opal Mines’, but was re-named in 1920. Coober Pedy is a combination of two Aboriginal words, Kupaka and Piti. Kupaka is a Mutuntjarra word for ‘white man’ and Piti an Antakirinja word for ‘hole’.
1. The Breakaways
33km north of Coober Pedy, along a very corrugated dirt road that turns off the Stuart Highway is The Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park. The landscape here is breathtaking, with colourful mesa-top mountains rising up from the desert floor. We arrived just before sunset and we stuck around until all of the cars had gone. Watching the full moon rising over this landscape is something that I’ll never forget.
2. Coober Pedy’s ‘Hollywood’ sign
Coober Pedy has been the set for a few Hollywood movies including Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Pitch Black, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Red Planet. Earning the title ‘Hollywood of the Outback’, it’s only right that there’s a Hollywood-style sign looming above the city! Walk up to it via Naylor Place below the sign.
3. The drive-in
If you fluke it (like we did) and you’re in Coober Pedy for a Saturday night, head on down to one of Australia’s last drive-in cinemas. Tune your car radio to play through your speakers, or park close to their in-ground speakers scattered throughout the grounds. If you’re got a big rig, park in the row at the back. Come at 7 to get the best spot, the flicks begin at 7.30. And, in case you didn’t read the numerous signs, no explosives allowed in the cinema!
4. Underground bookshop
Print’s not dead! (Even though this bookshop is ‘buried’ underground). Open Monday-Saturday, this quirky bookshop has a range of books, outback maps and souvenirs. A great place to chill out on a hot day.
5. Old Timer’s Mine & Museum
This labyrinth of tunnels was created by miners in 1916 and then rediscovered during the ’60s when the landowner began excavations for his new dug-out home. These days, it’s a tourist attraction and one of Coober Pedy’s best. You can walk through the tunnels, check out the opal showroom and museum and you can also see a re-created underground home. Open every day 8.30am-5.30pm.
6. Umoona Opal Mine & Museum
Another great mine and museum in town, entry is free into Umoona and it’s open every day from 8am-6pm. There’s an Aboriginal interpretive centre and walls full of historical pictures and information.
7. The dog fence
The 2m high dog fence (also ‘the dingo fence’) is the world’s longest continual construction, stretching over 5,000 km’s from The Gold Coast in Queensland to the north of Ceduna in South Australia. Yep, it’s longer than the Great Wall of China. It was built by settlers in the 19th century to protect sheep from Australia’s native dog, the dingo.
8. The Big Winch
Yep. There’s a winch. And it’s big. Following in Australia’s tradition of ‘big stuff’ serving as tourist icons in obscure locations, the 8m high Big Winch’s major drawcard is its amazing location, perched on top of a hill that looks out across town and at The Breakaways. Come at sunset. Desert colours as dusk never disappoint.
9. A spaceship
On Coober Pedy’s main Street, Hutchinson Street, you’ll find a spaceship parked in front of an opal shop. Such is the randomness of Coober Pedy. As mentioned earlier, lots of films have been made here. The spaceship is a prop that was left behind after the sci-fi movie ‘Pitch Black’ was filmed here.
10. Serbian Orthodox Church
Pop a gold coin into the collection box as you descend into the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is tunneled down into the earth. You’ll immediately feel the drop in temperature and you’ll notice the eerie / peaceful silence as you descend into the main cavern. This Church of Saint Elijah the Prophet was built in 1993 and is the prettiest of Coober Pedy’s underground churches.
11. Faye’s Underground Home
Half of Cober Pedy’s population live underground, where the temperature sits comfortably in the mid 20’s year-round (even when it’s 50 degrees celsius outside). Faye’s Underground Home was dug-out by three women back in the 60’s using picks and shovels. Girl power! I love the swimming pool in the living room 🙂
Thanks for reading! Drop back from time-to-time as Sandy and I continue our journey to the Kimberley, Western Australia (I will upload more blogs – read them all here). And please – if any of the information has changed or if you know of more great spots, please leave them in the comments below 🙂