My fascination with Coober Pedy began when I read a little blurb about this mining town in Lonely Planet’s Australia guide. It sounded like an interesting, off-the-beaten-path sort of destination and I immediately began researching and planning a trip out to South Australia to check it out. Located 685 kilometers from Alice Springs and 846 Kilometers from Adelaide, Coober Pedy is remote. It's known as the opal capital of the world. Since the town began as a mining boom town and has a severe desert climate, it seemed natural that much of the city would grow under the desert sand in abandoned mines. Essentially, Coober Pedy is an underground town. With a population numbering less than 4,000, it really feels like a step back in time to the old outback. Everyone knows everyone; its that kind of town!
We started from Alice Springs and it took us basically a day of driving to arrive in Coober Pedy, with not much to stop and look at or do on the road between, just flat outback glistening into the distance, with Wedge Tailed Eagles soaring overhead. When we finally arrived it was going on dusk and we made our way straight to our lodging at the Radeeka Downunder. We chose this particular motel because it was reasonably priced and offered underground rooms. I figure, if you want to experience the underground town, you should sleep underground.
The Radeeka Downunder is an old mine from the 1960s that was converted into a hotel in the 1980s. It offers standard motel rooms, along with budget room and dorm beds. The entrance and check in area are above ground, and then you descend about 7 meters downstairs to get to the rooms which are like little caves. Although a bit claustrophobic, the rooms stayed nice and cool amidst the heat of the summer.
The next day we went on a tour, primarily because we wanted to relax and not worry about directions and driving. The tour took us to all of the major attractions in the area: an opal factory, the Dingo Fence (longest fence in the world), The Moon Plain, and some real underground homes. The tour was easy and well worth the price. The opal factory was educational; we learned how opals are mined and saw a polishing/cutting demonstration. Our favorite part was touring the underground homes. They were really beautiful and felt like genuine houses, not caves. One even had an underground swimming pool!
After two nights and a full day in Cooper Pedy we got back on the road and started the long drive toward Adelaide. Overall, it was a great experience. If you are looking to do something different in Australia, definitely check out Coober Pedy!