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Coober Pedy opals and the awesome underground houses

Coober Pedy Welcome Sign

On the road to Coober Pedy

After visiting Woomera yesterday, our next destination was Coober Pedy. The distance from Glendambo to Coober Pedy was only 250 kilometers. However, the more we drove to the north the more wild it got. All the way from Glendambo was a desert with only small shrubs, very monotonous. 

There was only one section where the route was covered with small trees and bigger shrubs. It is very easy to fall asleep while driving so it is important to drink coffee, play music, talk, do trivia or any activities to help you stay awake.

Travel Spiced Life

Australia’s roads can be really boring in outback – stop every two hours for a small break

Sign - Animals on road
Typical in outback - Animals wandering on road sign

We quickly worked out why. Aside from the road, over a distance of about 3km, we noticed 6 cows in various stages of decomposition and a few kangaroos or what was left out of them. This completely changed our perception – we were tensely scanning the overgrown roadside, but the visibility was poor due to the densely growing bushes. 

After some time we started to reason with our panicked minds – it probably happened at night, big road trains drove with full speed and animals had no chance to escape… So, we relaxed a bit, only to see a grey kangaroo jump on the road 200 meters in front of our car!

Marius began to brake, and in that instance a whole troop of kangaroos ran out of the bushes! One of them almost touched the front of the car. After this encounter, we drove slowly and carefully….

Roadtrain
Roadtrains are very common in outback as they deliver goods

Stuart Highway - important Australian route

Stuart Highway is a very busy road linking the south with the north of Australia. It’s the only road transport route between states. Because of that we passed a lot of road trains today. 

Those who have never seen a road train, I have four words – It is a beast! Some states allow up to 4 trailers, and this makes the road train 53.5 metres long! Try to overtake it… It’s a real challenge. 

The distance of 250 km passed us very quickly, although the landscape in the window changed constantly. The fact is, that it was still a desert, but the vegetation changed every few dozen kilometers. Once the dominant color was gray grass, then everything was lush green. The color of the ground also changed from gray to ocher to auburn – it looked fantastic.

Arriving in Coober Pedy

The first thing we saw when we were on Coober Pedy outskirts was this fully dirt coated 4WD car (below). Look at this car. I imagine the off road must be pretty challenging here.

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

Coober Pedy is a one of a kind town and it is a must see when you are on Stuart Highway. They are famous for their opals. Interestingly, Australia has 95% of the world’s supply of commercial opal and most of it comes from the fields around Coober Pedy.

The town has a main road with shops, hotels and other facilities on the left and right. Pretty typical, right? Now, the unusual part – there are no homes, just lots of small hills with dozens of TV antennas and vents! 

Yes, 70% of Coober Pedy’s population lives underground! We decided to visit such a house today. Who knows, maybe we will like it and this will be our next hometown?  The temperatures are constant underground – around 24 degrees throughout the entire year. I like it.

Coober Pedy Welcome Sign

Coober Pedy underground housing

People only need permission from the council and once acquired, can dig a nice house in the rock. I like it too. The house (if you can call it a house) that we visited was six meters underground and it was quite pleasant. Specious rooms, very cozy. But there are no windows, no daylight whatsoever. Nope, a home that looks like hole in the ground is 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 quantity of precious opals that are mined there. If I add, that people could buy explosives in their grocery shop and blast extra “guest rooms” as a weekend project… well, town as no other.

Coober Pedy - Underground Tour
Coober Pedy Underground Church

Next we visited a Croatian church carved in rock and a small cemetery. One of the tombstones caught our attention – a large beer barrel and a small beer embedded in the tombstone – I think everyone can guess what was the man’s favorite activity…

Coober Pedy - Croatian Church
Coober Pedy - Croatian Church

Speaking about a brew, we witnessed a distressing situation – someone broke in at night into a fellow traveler’s car that was camping next to us and took a box of beer and passports (it was an overseas tourist). Thankfully his passport was returned to reception, but beer whereabouts remain unknown…

Coober Pedy cementary

You must know that Coober Pedy Caravan Park was locked for the night for security reasons. As I mentioned in my previous post, also Coober Pedy is in a so-called dry zone and alcohol restrictions are in place. What it means there are strict hours when you can buy take away alcohol, we will be asked for identity and you cannot have an open bottle or consume alcohol in public places.

Breakaways Conservation Park

Our next destination for the day was Breakaways Conservation Park and dog fence located 32 km of Cobber Peddy. This wasn’t any dog fence, but a 5,300 km long, two meters high barrier preventing dingo dogs from crossing over to the pasture fields. In the past this fence was over 9000km long!

Breakaways Dog Fence
Breakaways Dog Fence

From the Breakaways lookout we were able to see two outcrops called – Caste and Salt & Pepper. What was interesting we had to get a permit from the information center to see Breakaways. The land is owned by Antakirinja Matu-Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal Corporation and it is under constant maintenance. When you are there you see only some rock formation and it is hard to believe that it is actually a conservation park that has real 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. At the end we had to take her away by force. Obviously Nell wanted to climb them all and we had to restrain her quickly as this is the Aboriginal land and respect for sacred places was necessary.

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