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One of the things I love the most about doing a road trip is that you get to see the “in-between” places. They aren’t the major sites and aren’t places you would necessarily visit on their own, but they fill in the picture of a place.
Coober Pedy was one of the places I was most looking forward to on our drive from Melbourne to Uluru. Coober Pedy is a wild-west town in the Outback of South Australia renowned for the opals that are mined there. Located 850 km north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway, Coober Pedy is remote. Although there is an airport, most people get here by driving. If you don’t have your own vehicle, check out our post on campervan rentals in Australia.
As you approach the town you will start seeing mounds of dirt piled haphazardly everywhere and signs to watch for unmarked holes or mine shafts. Opals were discovered here over 100 years ago giving birth to a town in one of the most inhospitable places in Australia. There are no trees, little water and summer temperatures can easily reach 50 degrees C. It is an extremely desolate place and locals have adapted by living underground in homes called dugouts. This provides natural air conditioning and a welcome respite from the dust and sun.
Visiting Coober Pedy is quite an interesting experience with its piles of dirt strewn around outside of town, the haphazard layout of the town and the opal shops on every corner. Tourism is playing an increasing role in the town and many business rely on visitors coming to see their quirky town.
While you could spend a few days exploring this unique town with its underground churches, restaurants, hotels, opal shops and mines, if you are pressed for time, here are the best things to do in Coober Pedy in one day.
Where to Stay in Coober Pedy
Without question, when visiting Coober Pedy you have to stay in one of the famous underground hotels. Live like the locals do: underground. The underground hotel rooms have all modern conveniences, but there is no missing the fact that you are underground. The rough rock walls add to the experience and it is definitely something you should do in Coober Pedy.
We stayed at the Comfort Inn Coober Pedy Experience and we think it is the best Coober Pedy accommodation option. While the rooms are underground giving you that unique Coober Pedy experience, they are clean with all modern amenities. They even have a family apartment with 2-bedrooms – perfect for families. Click here to check the latest prices.
If you are camping you can stay at the underground campground : a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Things to do in Coober Pedy in One Day
There are a number of ways to experience Coober Pedy. Since we were short on time and only had one night, we opted to visit the Old Timer’s Mine and Umoona Opal Mine and Museum. While we got a good taste of Coober Pedy, you could easily stay two nights and have more time to explore the town.
Coober Pedy Sign
As you come into town, make sure you stop for a photo at the Coober Pedy sign with a large truck hoisted high into the air.
Old Timer’s Mine
The Old Timer’s Mine is located right beside the Comfort Inn and is a great introduction to opal mining and the history of Coober Pedy. This is an original opal mine that dates from 1916 that you can explore on a self-guided tour. You don hardhats as you climb through the old tunnels with helpful explanations about how the opal was located and mined and the early settlers. There is also a museum which provides a fascinating glimpse of early life in Coober Pedy, including an opportunity to walk through a dugout house.
We spent an hour here and were really impressed with the whole experience. Both the kids and adults learned a lot and had fun imagining life working in the mines a hundred years ago. They also do guided tours three times a day. We paid $40 for a family ticket with a 20% discount because we were staying at the Comfort Inn next door.
Umoona Opal Mine and Museum
The Umoona Opal Mine and Museum is another one of the top Coober Pedy attractions. We would have loved to join in the guided tours (10 am, 2 pm, 4 pm daily) but ended up looking around on our own. On the guided tour you watch a 20-minute video on opals, see an example of a modern and older dugout home and learn about what life is like living underground.
The Museum has great exhibits explaining how opals are formed, the Aboriginal history around Coober Pedy and the history of the early white settlers. The showroom and opal shops is well stocked with helpful staff. Our kids enjoyed picking out a small opal souvenir. The Museum is free to explore and tours cost $12/adult, $6/child.
Other Things to do in Coober Pedy
- Tom’s Working Mine- learn how opal is mined in the modern era on a 1-hour guided tour (10 am, 2 pm, 4 pm) $28/adult, $14/child 5+, $75/family (2+2)
- Underground churches – We had a quick look around the Revival underground church next to to the Comfort Inn, but there are quite a few underground churches you can visit.
- Dugouts – while you do get to see a dugout home at both the Old Timers Mine and the Umoona Opal Mine, you can also visit…
- Go Noodling – A popular activity for kids (or older kids!) is to go “noodling”, where you look through a pile of mining leftovers for small chips of opal.
I am so glad we had the opportunity to visit this interesting Outback town in Australia. Sleeping in an underground hotel is definitely one of the most unique places we have stayed. Staying two nights would allow plenty of time to see the town’s sites, but even if you only have a day or a few hours, you can get a good sense of the place.
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