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There’s an eerie air in Coober Pedy, South Australia. It’s hot, dry, desolate, quiet, dusty, and burnt orange. But despite its small size and barren landscape, there are still some fun things to do in Coober Pedy.
You’re surrounded by scrap metal, rotting cars, and mounds of orange dirt with doors tucked into the side and cars parked out the front.
You’d think it was deserted if not for the odd car throwing up dust as it puts into town. It’s one of the quirkiest and most unique places you can visit in Australia.
This small town has only a few thousand residents and yet it’s known for being the Opal capital of the world. It’s also known for its underground dugouts where people live to escape the scorching heat.
If you’re thinking of visiting Coober Pedy but you’re not sure what to do there, keep reading for some of our favorite attractions in the town.
- Is Coober Pedy Worth Visiting?
- Where is Coober Pedy?
- What Makes Coober Pedy Special?
- Things to Do in Coober Pedy
- 1. Visit The Old Timers Mine & Museum
- 2. Check Out The Serbian Orthodox Church
- 3. Admire The Views From The Big Winch Lookout
- 4. Admire the Views From The Breakaway
- 5. Learn About Opals at Umoona Opal Mine
- 6. Check Out Josephine's Gallery & Kangaroo Orphanage
- 7. Look Out From The Dingo Fence
- 8. Check Out The Spaceship From Pitch Black
- 9. Watch A Movie At Coober Pedy's Drive-In Cinema
- 10. Admire the Moon Plain
- Coober Pedy Restaurants
- Coober Pedy Accommodation
- Final Thoughts on Visiting Coober Pedy
- Other places to visit in South Australia
Is Coober Pedy Worth Visiting?
Coober Pedy looks like a scene out of an apocalypse movie. You stand waiting for the zombies and aliens to come walking down behind it.
I don’t want to say this in an insulting way, but I think Coober Pedy is cool.
The air is not cool. In fact, it’s stinking bloody hot. So hot that people are forced to live underground! See that’s what makes it so cool. Ha! Have I lost you yet?
Coober Pedy is a fun place. There’s not a great deal to do there, but just being in this unique landscape and seeing how people live here is so darn fascinating.
There is no other town in Australia like it. It’s remote, desolate, and has unique accommodation options – and for that reason, it’s definitely worth visiting. Especially if you want to get off the beaten track in Australia.
Where is Coober Pedy?
Coober Pedy is located roughly halfway between Adelaide and Darwin in South Australia (with not much life in between!) It’s 846 kilometres north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway.
On the drive up from Streaky Bay we drove past a gorgeous landscape of salt lakes and vibrant desert colours.
You know you’re almost at Coober Pedy when you start seeing mounds of dirt piled up as far as the eye can see – it’s the waste excavated by the opal mines.
It’s not just the homes that are underground, the shops, hotels, swimming pools, churches, and even a campground are all under the earth as well.
What Makes Coober Pedy Special?
You might be thinking; why on earth would anyone live here if it is so hot you have to live underground?
Coober Pedy is the biggest supplier of Opals in the world. Opal was first found in Coober Pedy on 1 February 1915 when a teenager, William Hutchison, stumbled on the “Surface Opal Nobbies” while gold prospecting with his father.
People have flocked to the region since.
Coober Pedy, like everywhere in Australia, lies on aboriginal lands. The traditional owners are the Arabana, Kokatha, and Yankuntjatjarra people. Its traditional name is “Kupa Piti”, which is Kokatha for “white man’s hole.”
But, tourism is now just as important as the mining industry. We loved it for its complete quirkiness and desert beauty.
Things to Do in Coober Pedy
Now you know a little bit more about why you should visit Coober Pedy and how to get there, it’s time to show you my top things to do in the town.
Below are some attractions you should not miss…
1. Visit The Old Timers Mine & Museum
The Old Timers Mine is the recommended place to learn more about the Coober Pedy opal history.
At first I didn’t think it was going to be much of an experience but don’t let looks deceive you, because not much looks inviting from the outside.
We loved exploring the museum and the mine shafts.
This mine is from 1916. The original miners had filled in the shafts and hidden it, presumably to come back later to get the rest of the opal but didn’t return.
When it was time to extend his underground home in 1968, Ron Gough accidentally discovered the hidden shafts AND opal waiting in the wall.
Instead of taking the opal and selling it (and making a LOT of money) they left it in the wall and opened up the museum to the public. It’s a self-guided tour that’s fun and informative.
We learned a lot about opal mining and the stories of the people who spent painstaking hours under harsh conditions to strike it lucky!
The Coober Pedy opal museum shows how miners, usually working alone, would dig the shafts and blast holes and winch the dug soil up to the surface, all by hand, with only candles and carbine lamps for illumination.
The tour also takes you through some of the original underground homes. The Old Timers Mine is the perfect thing to do in Coober Pedy with kids if you’re looking for something educational AND fun.
Out the front is a little noodling pit. What is noodling I hear you ask? It’s searching for opals amongst the rubble.
2. Check Out The Serbian Orthodox Church
This is the largest underground church in Coober Pedy, about 3km south of town.
You enter via a sloping walkway to the underground. Religious icons and statues have been carved out of the wall.
Head up stairs to the balcony for views and a look at the stained glass window of the Sturt Desert Pea, the floral emblem of South Australia.
We found it a little underwhelming based upon rave reviews we’d heard of it. Cost is $5 donation per person. I don’t think it’s worth this as there’s not a lot to see, nor information on it.
But, it might be your thing so the choice is yours!
3. Admire The Views From The Big Winch Lookout
You can’t miss the Big Winch. Walk up if you can embrace the heat. Otherwise drive up and check out the sweeping views over the apocalyptic landscape.
This is the place to watch the sunset. We had an overcast day so it didn’t put on a show for us.
I’m still not sure of what the point to the Big Winch is – just another Coober Pedy quirky thing!
4. Admire the Views From The Breakaway
The Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park lies 32km north of Coober Pedy.
It consists of colourful low hills which have broken away from the Stuart Range, hence their name “The Breakaway”.
There are two lookout points and the arid, barren landscape makes it hard to believe this was once part of the great inland sea 70 million years ago.
With its flat-topped mesas and striking sandstone colours, it sure is pretty! Sunset is when it’s meant to come alive the most.
You should note that to get to the Breakaways you must drive along a dirt road so be careful and drive slow.
5. Learn About Opals at Umoona Opal Mine
Umoona Opal Mine opened in the 1920s but now operates as a museum and Opal Shop.
If you’re looking for quick things to do in Coober Pedy, then you can take a short tour of their underground mine.
You will learn about the different types of opals and their quality, how Coober Pedy came to be the capital of opal mining, why people live in dugout homes, and see examples of mining machinery.
Tours take place daily at 10.00am, 2pm and 4pm. If you do the tour, you get a discount at the souvenir shop.
6. Check Out Josephine’s Gallery & Kangaroo Orphanage
Where in the world can you find a kangaroo orphanage combined with an aboriginal art gallery? That’s Coober Pedy!
This is one of the only art galleries in the town where you can see aboriginal arts. It was established in 2008, and not only takes in orphaned kangaroos, but all Australian wildlife such as wombats, birds and reptiles.
You can learn about Aboriginal Cultural on a heritage talk, where you’ll learn about the meaning behind the art, aboriginal weapons, bush medicine, and tales of the Kaiditchi man.
7. Look Out From The Dingo Fence
The Dingo Fence in Coober Pedy is a fascinating sight to behold, not only for its sheer size and length but also for the stories it holds.
This dog fence is the longest fence in the world at 5,300km, and is not only a testament to human ingenuity but also serves as a barrier to protect livestock such as cattle and sheep from predators.
Its bleak and stark surroundings make for an otherworldly experience, and it’s a must-visit destination for anyone looking to rediscover the rugged beauty of the Australian outback.
8. Check Out The Spaceship From Pitch Black
The spaceship in Coober Pedy is a unique tourist attraction. It was used as a prop in the 2000 sci-fi movie Pitch Black, and was left here after filming finished.
It sits in the yard of the Opal Cave Shop and is a great backdrop for photos.
9. Watch A Movie At Coober Pedy’s Drive-In Cinema
If you’re looking for fun things to do on a Saturday night in Coober Pedy, then consider catching a drive-in movie like they did back in the 1965 when the movie theatre was built.
Time seems to have stopped in Coober Pedy and this outdoor cinema is still the way to catch the latest movies in the town.
Check the ‘what’s on’ calendar to see what’s showing during your visit.
10. Admire the Moon Plain
The moon plains are about 15km north-east of Coober Pedy and look like the barren terrain you’d find, well, on the moon.
In fact, you may even recognise the mysterious lunar landscape that surrounds this town, which rises out from the desert floor.
Mad Max one, two and three, Beyond Thunderdome, Down & Under and many other movies have been filmed here.
Coober Pedy Restaurants
It’s not often you’d find a South Autralian outback town with huge ethnic diversity, but Coober Pedy has a population of 3,500 and over 45 different nationalities.
There’s a great community vibe here. What insight does that give you into what’s on offer in Coober Pedy?
That’s right – incredible food.
We really didn’t experience much as our stay was short, but for a small town you will find only a handful of options. Outback Bar And Grill comes highly recommended and is a great place to find BBQ food.
Waffles & Gems is a great place to get some waffles for breakfast. Big Winch 360, which is a tourist attraction known for, you guessed it, its big winch, but it also has a decent cafe (and a 360 cinema, strangely). It’s a great place to go for an even meal at sunset because it also has amazing views of the surroundings.
For evening drinks, head to the underground bar at the Desert Cave Hotel.
The pizza at John’s Pizza Bar was exceptionally good and exceptionally large! You can dine in or takeaway.
Whichever you choose, spend some time looking at the celebrity wall to see who has passed through the town and enjoyed John’s pizza.
Coober Pedy Accommodation
There was no way we were spending the night in the camper trailer. It wasn’t the blazing heat that made that decision for us, but the fact that we were in Coober Pedy and the point of coming here is to go underground.
Coober Pedy is an Aboriginal word for White Mans Burrows. Half the town lives in Dugouts, inexpensive underground homes that have all modern amenities and consistently maintain a temperature of 25 degrees year-round.
We wanted the best place to experience this and after going back and forth between reviews, we settled on The Underground Motel.
It was cool, literally. The girls thought it was amazing to be sleeping underground, especially their little nook of coloured sandstone walls their bed fit in. It became their Princess Bed and the stage of a brilliant princess fairy rescue play.
We grabbed a takeaway pizza from John’s Pizza Bar and ate it in our room.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy is a hidden gem in the heart of the South Australian outback, offering a unique blend of rugged beauty, cultural diversity, and quirky adventures.
From exploring opal fields and mines to sleeping in an underground hotel, or admiring the grandeur of the Dingo Fence, this town will leave you in awe of its charm and allure, making it a must-visit destination for any avid adventurer or history buff.
For a different side of Australia, Coober Pedy needs to be visited.
Video of Coober Pedy
Watch this video for Kalyra’s perspective on Coober Pedy:
Other places to visit in South Australia
- A visit to Flinders Ranges National Park (ancient Ikara)
- Things to do in Eyre Peninsula, South Australia (road trip itinerary)
- Highlights of 4 Day Kangaroo Island Road Trip
- 11 Amazing Food & Wine Experiences at Barossa Valley Wineries & Adelaide Hills
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If you’ve been to Coober Pedy, feel free to leave your best tips and recommendations in the comments.