Sleeping Underground in Coober Pedy, South Australia
As an alternative to the typical tourist sights in Australia, Caroline Eubanks tells us about the time she spent the night in an underground bunker and went 'noodling' for opals in South Australia.
After spending a few days sleeping in the dirt at Uluru , my travel companions and I drove south on the Stuart Highway, leaving the Northern Territory behind in favour of South Australia. I had been to the state on a previous trip, spending a few days in Adelaide for the annual Fringe Festival. This part of South Australia however, was nothing like the state capital.
We spent the night in the dusty mining town of Coober Pedy. Featured in the movies Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Red Planet and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for its Mars-esque landscape, Coober Pedy’s primary export is opal. Citizens live in underground houses to escape the oppressive heat and the infamous outback flies. The local Aboriginals called the area ‘kupa-piti,’ or white man’s hole. You’d be surprised how glamorous an underground house can be, complete with running water and electricity.
Our night’s accommodation was at the Umoona Opal Mines, which had an underground bunkhouse for tour groups. It was cool, dark and quiet, which were the ingredients for a perfect night’s sleep, especially when compared to the mornings I woke up shivering in my swag in the Northern Territory.
In town, there’s an underground bookstore, church and hostel, not to mention an opal shop on every corner. There are a few grocery stores and restaurants, but tourism hasn’t quite overtaken Coober Pedy the way it has in some Australian towns. If you’re not in the mood for opal mining, you can check out the Breakaways, a mountain chain that looks like another planet. Near it is the Dog Fence, the longest fence in the world, which was created to keep dogs from attacking cattle.
If you’re headed to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon, the 700 kilometer drive to Coober Pedy is worth the trip. You can join a tour from Alice Springs or Adelaide or even rent a 4 wheel drive and make the 7 hour trek yourself. Who knows, maybe you will strike it rich when you “noodle” for opals!
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