Coober Pedy opals and the awesome underground houses

Coober Pedy Welcome Sign

On the road to Coober Pedy

After visiting Woomera, we hit the road again and headed towards Coober Pedy, a distance of only 250 kilometres. However, as we drove further north, the landscape became increasingly wild and untamed.

For most of the journey, we drove through a barren desert with only occasional small shrubs to break up the monotony. The only exception was a section of the route where the road was flanked by small trees and larger shrubs.

It was easy to feel drowsy while driving through such a monotonous landscape, so we made sure to drink coffee, play music, and answer trivia questions to help us stay alert.

Travel Spiced Life

Australia’s roads can be really boring in the outback – its a good idea to stop every two hours for a small break

warning sign

Aside from the boring road, over a distance of about 3km, we noticed several dead cows and kangaroos. This completely changed our perception, and we were on high alert, scanning the overgrown roadside, but the visibility was poor due to the densely growing bushes.

Hema - South Australia

Hema’s HX-1 Navigator

Explore Australia with Hema’s HX-2 Navigator, the ultimate GPS system for on and off-road navigation.

Hema HX-2 Navigator

We reasoned that it probably happened at night, and big road trains drove at full speed, leaving animals no chance to escape. However, our relaxed state was short-lived when a grey kangaroo suddenly jumped onto the road just 200 meters ahead of our car.

Marius hit the brakes, and in that instant, a whole troop of kangaroos ran out of the bushes, narrowly avoiding a collision with our car. After this encounter, we drove slowly and carefully, with a newfound respect for the wildlife around us.

Road trains are very common in the outback as they deliver goods

Stuart Highway – important Australian route

Stuart Highway serves as a busy transportation link between the southern and northern regions of Australia, and it’s no surprise that we saw a lot of road trains during our journey. These mammoth vehicles, some with up to 4 trailers, can be up to 53.5 meters long, making it a real challenge to overtake them.

As we covered a distance of 250 km, we noticed the landscape outside our window changing constantly. Although the area was still a desert, the vegetation varied every few dozen kilometers.

We observed a transition from grey grass to lush greenery, and the color of the ground changed from grey to ocher and even auburn, presenting a stunning view. Despite the long journey, time flew by as we marveled at the ever-changing landscape.

Arriving in Coober Pedy

As we approached the outskirts of Coober Pedy, the first thing that caught our eye was a 4WD car completely coated in dirt (see photo below). It made us realise just how challenging off-roading must be around here.

Coober Pedy - fully dirt coated car
Coober Pedy – fully dirt coated car

Coober Pedy is a unique town and a must-see destination on the Stuart Highway. It’s famous for its opals, and it’s interesting to note that Australia holds 95% of the world’s supply of commercial opals, with most of them coming from the fields around Coober Pedy.

The town has a main road with shops, hotels, and other facilities on the left and right, which is pretty typical. But what’s unusual is that there are no traditional homes above ground, just lots of small hills with dozens of TV antennas and vents!s! 

Seventy percent of Coober Pedy’s population lives underground, so we decided to visit one of these underground houses today. Who knows, maybe we’ll like it so much that this will become our next hometown? The temperatures are constant underground, around 24 degrees Celsius throughout the entire year, which is a major perk.

Coober Pedy Welcome Sign

Coober Pedy underground housing

People only need permission from the council to dig their own underground home, and once acquired, they can create a unique and cozy living space. The house we visited was six meters underground, and surprisingly, it was quite spacious and pleasant.

However, it was also quite dark and lacked any natural light, which made it feel a bit claustrophobic. Ultimately, while I can appreciate the unique charm of an underground home, it’s probably not for me.

Coober Pedy underground house
Coober Pedy underground house

Why do people live in Coober Pedy?

The answer is simple – because of opals. The town is sometimes referred to as the “opal capital of the world” because of the number of precious opals that are mined there. Additionally, people can buy explosives in their grocery shop and blast extra “guest rooms” as a weekend project, making it a unique town with a distinct culture.

Next, we visited a Croatian church that was carved into rock and a small cemetery. One of the tombstones caught our attention, it had a large beer barrel and a small beer embedded in it. I think everyone can guess what the man’s favourite activity was.

Coober Pedy - Croatian Church
Coober Pedy – Croatian Church

Speaking of brews, we witnessed a distressing situation during our stay. Someone broke into a fellow traveler’s car that was camping next to us at night and stole a box of beer and passports (as the owner was an overseas tourist). Fortunately, the passport was returned to the reception, but the whereabouts of the stolen beer remain unknown.

Coober Pedy cementary

Please fix: As I mentioned in my previous post, Coober Pedy is in a so-called dry zone and alcohol restrictions are in place. What it means is that there are strict hours when you can buy takeaway alcohol, and you will be asked for identification. You cannot have an open bottle or consume alcohol in public places. Additionally, the Coober Pedy Caravan Park is locked at night for security reasons.

Breakaways Conservation Park

Our next destination for the day was Breakaways Conservation Park and the dog fence located 32 km from Coober Pedy. This wasn’t just any dog fence, but a 5,300 km long, two-meter high barrier that prevents dingoes from crossing over to the pasture fields. In the past, this fence was over 9000 km long!

Breakaways Dog Fence
Breakaways Dog Fence

Breakaways lookout offers a stunning panoramic view of the unique landscape, which is characterised by several flat-topped mesas, sandstone cliffs, and an array of other rock formations.

From the Breakaways lookout, we were able to see two outcrops called Castle and Salt & Pepper. What was interesting was that we had to obtain a permit from the information centre to visit Breakaways. The land is owned by the Antakirinja Matu-Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal Corporation, and it is under constant maintenance. When you are there, you see only some rock formations, and it is hard to believe that it is actually a conservation park with defined boundaries.

Breakaways lookout
Breakaways lookout

The view was a bit like the scenery from a Looney Tunes cartoon Coyote and the Road Runner. Nell was delighted because she could throw stones into the abyss. In the end, we had to drag her away. While it was tempting to climb the rock formations, we knew that it was necessary to respect the sacredness of the Aboriginal land.

Breakaways lookout is a truly mesmerising sight that should be on any traveler’s bucket list.

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4WD Equipment Checklist

GPS Navigator or compass

Maxtrax – if you get bogged, you can use it for additional traction

Tire Deflator – deflate tires quickly when going on dirt or 4WD

Air Compressor – inflate tires quickly after going back on bitumen (we use MM)

Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)

UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency

Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road

High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks

Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking

Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places

Additional fuel canisters

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