Coober Pedy might not be at the top of your bucket list – the small South Australian town is smack-bang in the middle of nowhere, and aside from being a destination on the Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert road trip, you probably don’t know much else about the place.
Look, I wouldn’t say you should plan a trip where the only destination on your list is Coober Pedy, but you’d be a fool to skip the quirky mining town as part of a longer outback road trip through SA’s amazing open spaces.
I hit up Coober Pedy on route to Alice Springs from Adelaide. This stretch of the Stuart Highway – the long, straight track that connects the bottom and top of Australia – is pretty desolate. In similar advice I gave about the Oodnadatta Track, it’s imperative you fill up on fuel every chance you get, carry water in the car and check in with friends/family along the way.
To be honest, I was excited to see Coober Pedy, but didn’t expect a lot from it. I knew it from Priscilla, but beyond getting my Instagram snap at the sign upon entry, I hadn’t thought very far ahead.
Turns out Coobs has HEAPS to offer. Here’s what I did in 24 hours.
1. Stay In A Dugout
One of the coolest quirks about Coober Pedy is its dugouts. Homes and hotels built into hills around town to naturally create a more liveable environment in what is quite a relentlessly hot township, some date back decades while others have been modernised.
I stayed in the Desert Cave Hotel, the first underground tourist accommodation in Coober Pedy and still going with dugout hotel rooms. These are not for the claustrophobic – while they are roomy and temperate, the no-windows factor can creep you out if you’re not great with enclosed spaces. Having said that, it is an experience and a half to sleep with no air-con on a sweltering night, and have your room maintain a lovely 22C temp.
2. Check Out Crocodile Harrys
Seen Crocodile Dundee? Go stream it before your trip – the character of Mick is allegedly based on this guy, a super hot drifter type who set up in his own cave system carved into the side of a hill outside of town.
Harry is long gone, but his home remains open for tourists to visit. Because it’s unmanned, expect heaps of graffiti from decades past honouring the late, great ladies man. Also, expect boobs.
3. Go Opal Hunting
There is literally a spot where you can freely fossick for opals in Coober Pedy, the town known globally for its opal mines. Yep, you just pull up and get sifting in the dirt. You’ll want to know what to look for – don’t expect to spot a shiny, polished opal or anything. It’s a good idea to head to some of the opal stores on the main street first, have a look at what they’re selling, and ask them for tips on opal fossicking.
We went to Waffles & Gems, which – yep – sells both waffles AND gems. Grab a country-style milkshake (read: an actually amazing one) and ask the folks inside about spotting a good opal. We got some invaluable tips on everything from opal pricing to how you’re meant to fossick. Oh, and they’ve got some “opal fossicking” you can do out front, too. It’s meant to be for little kids but hey, who’s judging?
4. Grab A Beer Next To The Servo
You read that right – the restaurant next to the local servo, Outback Bar & Grill, is one of the best spots in town for a beer and a feed. And not in that way of “well, this’ll do” – it’s genuinely delicious tucker and icy cold beer.
I had never, ever eaten inside a servo and had good food until I visited Coober Pedy.
5. Head To The Kanku-Breakaways
If you want to know what it would be like to drive across Mars, this is surely the closest you can get in Australia. The Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park is less hiking, more road touring – follow the track and cruise through red dirt, black sand and multi-coloured mountains for the IG snaps of your DREAMS.
Also worth hitting up is the Dingo Fence, once of the longest structures in the world at 5,614 kilometres. It was built in the 1880s to keep the dingos out (not “keep the rabbits out”, that’s another fence) and from the Breakaways, you can see it all the way through to the horizon. Mad stuff.
6. Head Down Into A Mine
The Old Timers Mine or Tom’s Working Opal Mine are the big guns out here. Head underground with a hard hat on and suss the conditions opal miners used to work in – and do work in today, depending on which one you hit up.
It is a wild experience to get down into the Earth, and it’s not something you get to do often. Also, it’s cooler down there – a huge bonus on a blisteringly hot day like the day we went.
7. Check Out A Time Warp Dugout
Faye’s Underground Home is EVERYTHING if you’re a retro fangirl like me. This dugout, built over ten years by two women, is an Australiana icon and well worth a peek if you’re in town.
The ultimate snap has to be the indoor pool. Would I want an indoor pool in my dugout? Probably not. Do I love this one? Absolutely yes.
If you wanna make Coober Pedy a road trip destination this year, my advice is absolutely do it – given it’s almost 9 hours away from Adelaide, it works best as a stopover from SA’s capital to Alice Springs or Uluru. If you’ve got heaps of leave, why not do the whole of the Stuart Highway up to Darwin? Hey – we can’t go overseas for a while, may as well check out what this Great Southern Land has to offer.