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Coober Pedy

Opal Town in the South Australian Outback

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Coober Pedy, South Australia

Coober Pedy: Land of opals and trackless deserts

© Australian Tourist Commission 1999

The opal town of Coober Pedy, 535 kilometres north of Port Augusta in South Australia, has always held a strange fascination for many Australians, not that a high proportion of them have ever been there.

Coober Pedy is a place like Oodnadatta, farther north along the Oodnadatta Track, which skirts the normally waterless Lake Eyre, whose name conjures stretches of arid desert, marvelous rock and sand formations, and a natural stillness that speaks of vast distances and solitude.

What differentiates Coober Pedy from any number of Outback towns in Australia is the fact that it lies in the country's best-known opal region and about 1500 of its people (roughly half its population of around 3000) live up -- or down! -- to its Aboriginal name: Coober Pedy, usually translated as "whitefella’s (white man's) hole in the ground."

Bleak desert landscape

To those who’ve seen the Australian movies Mad Max III (Beyond Thunderdome) or Priscilla Queen of the Desert, their bleak seemingly out-of-this-world Outback landscape is distinctively that of Coober Pedy.

It is a landscape so patently (and potently) Australian (and beloved of directors and cinematographers) but which somehow seems to call up a kinship with America’s once-upon-a-time Wild West.

Coober Pedy, a mining settlement, is a rough town hewn out of the desert fringes of South Australia. It is hot and dusty in the daytime in summer and freezing cold at night in winter.

Underground living

No wonder, many in Coober Pedy have chosen to live in underground dugouts, and a visitor to this place can, in fact, secure accommodation in an underground hotel or be toured through underground homes.

Located on the Stuart Highway, somewhere between South Australia’s Port Augusta and the Northern Territory’s Alice Springs, Coober Pedy is almost an obligatory stop for travelers on the highway in order to experience the unique Outback character of this fascinating Australian opal town.

Port Augusta itself is an interstate crossroads town where you can head west through the Nullarbor to Western Australia, east to Broken Hill and Sydney in New South Wales, south to South Australia’s Adelaide, and of course north to Alice Springs and Darwin in the Northern Territory.

The Stuart Highway is a sealed road which roughly, and often erratically, parallels the railway of that well-known train, the Ghan, from Adelaide to Alice Springs, as well as the desert routes of the camel drivers of an earlier time.

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