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Time to Explore Coober Pedy: The Underground Town of Australia

Coober Pedy: The Underground Town of Australia
Coober Pedy, or the opal capital of the world, is popular for two things: first, the opal, and second, its exclusive underground housing. Get to know more about this barren-looking Australian land of mines, that actually nestles a bustling town underneath.
Rujuta Patil
Last Updated: Aug 12, 2017
It is the aboriginal term, meaning 'the white man in a hole', from which the modern name of Coober Pedy has evolved.
Classified as a desert climate, it rains around a meager 5 inches every year in Coober Pedy. Lying in the Australian outback, the weather in this barren land is pleasant mostly from April to October. The tourist rush peaks during the months of April and July, or during September and October. From November onwards, to the month of March, the temperatures start rising, going up to 45°C.

To protect oneself from this scorching heat, most of the population in this town lives underground. This unique architecture of the land driving the tourism business, and the opal mining industry, are the mainstay of the economy of Coober Pedy.
The Opal Capital of the World
Coober Pedy is known by this name as it is the largest producer of opal in the world. Around 70% of the world's opal is mined here. A cosmopolitan town of over 3,000 residents in the northern part of the state of South Australia, it is home to people from around 45 different nationalities. Mining of this gem began in the early 1900s. Opal was first found in Coober Pedy on February 1, 1915, by Willie Hutchison, who was a young boy then. It was a search for gold that brought his father to this place, and while looking for water, Willie happened to notice the pieces of opal on the ground.

Earlier, it was known as the 'Stuart Range Opal Field', after John McDouall Stuart. He was the first European to explore this area in 1858. European migrants and returning soldiers after World War I flocked to the region, and the place turned into a huge opal industry over time. In the 1960s and 1970s, especially, the opal mining industry witnessed huge expansion. Coober Pedy lies on the Stuart Highway that was opened in 1987, and also is connected to Adelaide by airline services.
Opal Mines Converted to Houses
Coober Pedy - Opal Mines Converted to Houses
There are over 70 opal mining fields in Coober Pedy. People have, we must say, sculpted these underground cave homes, what are also called dugouts. Early miners began digging in trenches using their mining tools. Thus, most of these mines were converted to tiny houses, as they would start digging from the walls itself. Constructing larger dugouts using better machinery and equipment is a more recent activity.
The white- or gray-colored tubes rising on top of the hills in this area act as sources of ventilation for the dugouts. The underground homes require no air-conditioning like the surface structures, even during hot summers. They maintain constant temperatures.
Lack of water and acute rainfall demanded water to be brought from far away. However, today, an underground water source, located to the north of the town, quenches the thirst of the population. Water is pumped with the help of underground pipelines and carried up to the water stations, where it undergoes reverse osmosis.
Usually a simple dwelling, a dugout has distinct areas for the lobby, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. A few luxurious homes even have carved-in bedrooms, making them into beautiful 'underground mansions'. The interiors with finished sandstone walls appear quite pleasing. These walls are coated and sealed to avoid dust accumulating on them.
Families have very creatively crafted their resting places. A house that has an in-built swimming pool and a wine cellar, belonging to Mr. Faye Nayler, is known to be a luxurious palace underground. It was once a one-room shelter for a truck driver sixty years ago, which was extended to a large house, using picks and shovels.
Underground Churches and Motels
Underground Churches and Motels
The Serbian Orthodox Church
Saint Peter and Paul's Catholic Church is the oldest of the three underground churches in Coober Pedy. The communities living here in earlier times are believed to have dug and constructed the church manually. The 'Underground Motel' is also a famous tourist attraction and a distinct travel experience for those of us who normally stay above the surface.