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Coober Pedy: The Town Hidden Beneath the Australian Outback

If you stay for more than ten days, you may never leave.

| 2 min read

If you stay for more than ten days, you may never leave.

How would you feel about living in the middle of nowhere, 300 miles away from the closest civilization?  Not only that, it is a place that is very hot, extremely dry and prone to dust storms.  It doesn’t sound like somewhere many people would like to call home, but the 3,500 people who live in Coober Pedy, wouldn’t have it any other way.

Coober Pedy, or Kupa Piti in the indigenous Arabana language meaning “white man’s hole,” can be found in the state of South Australia.  It is a opal mining site that began in 1915, when white men starting digging holes after the first opals were discovered.  It is now home to miners from all around the world.  

Coober Pedy remains the largest opal find in the world, with gems sometimes found just lying on the sandy surface.  90 percent of opals come from Australia.

Opal is formed from a solution of silicon dioxide and water.  As water runs down into the earth, it picks up silica from sandstone and carries this solution into cracks and voids of faults or decomposing fossils. Then the water begins to evaporate and silica is left behind.  This cycle continues over very long periods of time, and eventually opal is formed.

The climate at Coober Pedy is ideal for opal formation.  It consists of alternating wet and dry periods, and the Cretaceous (chalk-containing) clay sediments found in the soil produce both silica and white kaolin — a type of mineral.

However, there are many different types of opal, and the type that forms around Coober Pedy is white opal.  Although white opals are much more common than others, they are quite beautiful and can sometimes display several different colors throughout the gem.

Most of the people who live in Coober Pedy live underground in order to avoid the scorching sun and heat.  It keeps them cool during the summer and warm during the winter at a fairly constant temperature of 24 degrees Celsius year-round.  It is also a very beautiful place to live with fantastic food, beautiful bedrooms and, obviously, jewelery stores!

A jewellery shop in the underground village of Coober Pedy

photo credit: Lodo27 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The locals have a saying that if you stay for more than ten days, you will never leave.  And while most of the residents of Coober Pedy were themselves visitors at one point, the question is: Why did they decide to stay?

It came down to a feeling of freedom, surrounded by miles and miles of red sand, and not to mention the hope of getting rich quick by finding some opals.

Check out the short video below documenting the mining town of Coober Pedy.


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