The Coober Pedy collection
Updated: May 25
Just like the town's opal miners, travellers to Coober Pedy may have to dig a little, but those who look in the right place, will be rewarded with some magnificent colour.
Coober Pedy is about as isolated as an outback town gets, surrounded by desert and covered in dust. Anyone travelling between Alice Springs and Adelaide will drive past the entrance to the town.
At first glance, the town does look a bit tired. But travellers who limit their visit to the petrol bowsers are missing out. Here's why.
Kanku-Breakaways Conversation Park
Get your $10 vehicle permit—$8 for concession— from the Visitor Information Center and then drive around 30km to the north of Coober Pedy. The Breakaways are limestone formations, of significant importance to traditional owners, the Antakirinja Matuntjara Yankunytjatjara people.
Tip #1: Visit at the end of the day for a magnificent sunset over the formations. There are currently no facilities at the park, so use a restroom in Coober Pedy before you head out.
Coober Pedy residents and traditional owners do not require a permit to enter the park. The dirt access road is kept in good condition and caravaners can take their rigs on a drive through the park.
This is a place of surprises—much like the whole of Coober Pedy—on one of my visits, an archipelago choir was singing at the lookout.
Then of course, there was the day the community ran a marathon!
Umoona Mine & Museum
This is one of my favourite touristy things to do in Coober Pedy. It is immediately obvious why it has won a number of awards.
Its well laid-out underground exhibition includes a video on the history of opal mining in the area, plus a tour of an underground home and old mine area. The gem shop has a pretty good selection too.
Tip #2: Travellers who don't have a lot of time should put this museum on the high priority list.
Cost: somewhere between free and a lot!
Old Timers Mine
I didn't get to visit this one, but my kids (and husband) said it was really good. Over a week later and they can still tell me about it. A quick glance at the website reviews look pretty favourable and it was also recommended to us by a local.
Cost: Visitors can do a self-guided tour and wear a hard-hat which is a measure of greatness according to my kids. $5/$20/$40
Big Winch Lookout
It's worth a few minutes to drive up here. It's free and has good views of the town in each direction. It also has Coober Pedy's first tree (made from an old truck that didn't make it).
On the hill (Italian Club Road), overlooking the town, this place is a cavernous salute to retro-decorating and times gone by. There is a good range of drinks at reasonable prices plus a great view with room for the kids to run around outside. I really enjoyed this place.
There are lots of places to stay underground. They aren't cheap but the novelty value is definitely there. They range from back-backers to upmarket. My kids absolutely loved exploring our underground motel.
Serbian Orthodox Church
There are several underground churches in Coober Pedy, but this one is probably the most well known. For a gold coin donation you can see its beautiful stained-glass windows and rock-carved walls.
Eating out and groceries
There are plenty of places to eat in town, but it's tough if you're vegetarian and don't want to eat pizza every night!
Carter's IGA on the other hand has an exceptional range of fresh and prepared foods on its shelves including plenty of offerings for those with dietary needs.
Waffles and Gems
Confused? Me too! In fact I almost missed out on one of the greatest gems in Coober Pedy! Not only does Roz and her partner make possibly the best pancake and waffle mixture in the outback, but they are opal prospectors too and have a range of opal products and other souvenirs.
Kids will love this! Roz dumped some potch (small flakes of opal) into the carpark so that my kids could scratch around and make their own discovery. While it wasn't enough for them to make their first million, it was enough to make great big smiles.
Josephines Gallery and Kangaroo Orphanage
This is a really nice, purpose-built art gallery that doubles as a kangaroo and other wildlife nursery. Travellers can purchase a range of local and other art from here. From time to time the gallery hosts artists-in-residence like Tommy Crow.
The gallery is open for afternoon feeding times—check the board—and visitors can help to feed the orphans.
Public noodling area
I didn't make it here with my kids, but I took a quick look before they came to join me. Apparently the local prospectors dump their potch here, so kids are likely to find a little treasure of their own, as well as get dirtier than you thought possible!
Sunshine and silence
Visitors and residents are pretty much guaranteed sunshine most days of the year. However, I've now experienced a little rain in Coober Pedy twice over the last two months - a most unexpected event.
And there's something else too. The silence. It's profound. The desert air, pink sunrises and the absolute silence enveloped me every morning I went out for an early run - and it was magic. You can't get that in the city!
More information on Coober Pedy.