Discover the best things to do in Coober Pedy, home to the Opal capital of the world and known as the town where people live underground in NSW!
There’s so much more to Coober Pedy than Opal mining, this quirky South Australian outback is home to a labyrinth of underground hotels, homes, museums and even the first underground Catholic church.
Guest writer and Italian ex-pat, Lucia Bonizzato, is here to take us on a journey of the best things to do in Coober Pedy!
For the last 10 years, Lucia has called Australia home, but travelling is in her DNA. With eight years experience in the tourism industry, Lucy has travelled to almost 50 countries! From the extreme South of Patagonia to the highest mountain chain, The Himalayas, or from post-war zones like Syria to the stunning honeymoon-style beaches in the Cook Islands; Lucy has experienced more countries and cultures than most.
Follow her journey at @luciabonizzato to discover more travel stories from an outdoor lover and tips for making Australia even more memorable.
Table of Contents
What makes Coober Pedy unique
Everything started back in 1915 when a teenage boy was just looking for water with his father but instead, he found what then became one of the most precious and beautiful gems in the world: the opal.
They soon realised it was not just a simple rock and money could have been made from that. Swarms of miners soon after started coming to this little forgotten area in the middle of nowhere. The population grew so rapidly that in 1920 the city of Coober Pedy was officially founded.
This tiny town in the Australian Outback is now considered the world’s Opal Capital City.
An astonishing 95% of the world’s blue and green mineral is actually found here and it is now considered the National gemstone.
Did you know that the blue one is the rarest one and, the most expensive opals ever sold was worth a whopping $1,000,000?
Currently, there are between 1,000 and 2,000 people living full-time in Coober Pedy, coming from over 50 countries all around the world.
Most of the investors and miners spend just a few months of the year here due to the extreme weather temperatures and conditions in the summer season.
How to get to Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy is literally in the middle of nowhere and getting here is not an easy task. There are 3 main ways to reach the town:
1. Drive to Coober Pedy
In my opinion, this is the easiest and fastest way to reach the centre of South Australia. It gives you the freedom to discover surrounding areas and to travel at your own pace along the world-famous Stuart Highway.
From Adelaide it is around 850kms and almost 10 hours drive.
From Alice Springs it is around 750 km and 8 hours drive.
You might be familiar with roads and the Stuart Highway in the Australian Outback. Well, if you don’t know, it looks like you are on Mars. You might not see a single person for hours and petrol stations can be a mirage. Make sure you gear up with your favourite snacks and drinks because you are embarking on a trip of a lifetime!
2. Take a flight
Cut out hours on the Stuart Highway, by plane is another great and fast way to get there. There is one airline that connects Coober Pedy and the state capital city Adelaide. Flights are daily with Rex and rates start from around $250-$300 one way
3. Catch a bus
This is an amazing alternative if you don’t have a car. Coober Pedy is well connected to both Adelaide and Alice Springs thanks to the bus line, Greyhound bustling down Stuart Highway daily.
From Adelaide, the journey is around 11 hours; from Alice Springs, it is just over 7 hours.
The temperature can get as high as 50°C from October to March and the locals are living underground to escape the heat. Therefore, the best time of the year to visit Coober Pedy would be during winter, ideally May to September. In between seasons would be great fun as you would have more luck in finding your own opal.
Best things to do in Coober Pedy
Surprisingly there are so many things to do in Coober Pedy.
If you are planning to spend a weekend getaway from Adelaide here or you are simply on your way to Adelaide from the gorgeous Red Centre, make sure you spend enough time in town, immerse yourself in the surreal culture and atmosphere and live like a true Aussie local.
1. Visit a Mine Underground Museum
Coober Pedy is all about mines and opals and if you ever get the chance to visit, a mine tour needs to be your number one thing to do.
There are a few different museums you can choose from and they all have great reviews:
Umoona Opal Mine
The largest underground museum, Umoona Opal Mine runs tours daily, has a large Opal shop and even an underground cinema showing the award-winning movie, ‘Story of Opal’.
Old Timers Mine
Ran by a mining family since 1962, Old Timers Mine still hand cut their own Opals!
All of the underground museums offer an introductory story about the town, how it all started and how it evolved in the last 100 years.
Wonder around the kms and kms of tunnels, meters underground, discover how miners used the famous Blower Truck to dig holes and what they need to do in case they find a gem. You are here to learn about the different types of minerals, from the most common to the rarest ones, accompanied by a local guide.
2. See the Underground Houses
Did you know that there are more than 2 million holes and tunnels in this small town?
Because temperatures during the summer months get too high, the first settlers decided that instead of building houses above the ground, they could use the empty holes and tunnels they have previously dug and live in them. That’s how dugouts were born.
Did you know that it can be over 50°c outside but 23°-24°c inside the underground houses?
If you make it all the way to Coober Pedy, a visit to a dugout is a must. If you decide to tour the Umoona Museum, included in your ticket is also a tour of a real and modern underground house. Oh, and be careful when they turn the lights off because there are no windows and doors, it will be pitch black!
3. Visit the First Underground Catholic Church
You will be surprised by what they have built underground in Coober Pedy and trust me, I was not expecting to find a church either.
You are probably thinking to see just one right? Wrong! There are 3 underground churches in this town.. and not even 2,000 people living here.
The most famous and the first one you need to check out is St Peter and Paul Catholic Church.
If you have that extra time, have a glimpse at the Serbian Orthodox Church of Saint Elijah the Prophet.
4. Learn about Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Orphanage
Every person you would talk to in town knows about Josephine and her love for kangaroos, so make sure you visit Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Orphanage as it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Coober Pedy.
It is a great way to learn more about Aboriginal art and their culture, and absolutely don’t miss the didgeridoo performance from Terry! You will understand in-depth the huge amount of work Josephine and her team do on a daily basis trying to rescue little joeys, orphans from mums killed mainly on the Stuart Highway.
Entrance to the Aboriginal Art gallery is $10 and please make sure you book the orphanage visit in advance as it is always pretty full.
5. Take a picture at the famous Coober Pedy sign
Have you always dreamt of going to world-famous Hollywood and taking a selfie with the white sign on top of the hill? Well, no need to go all the way to the U.S.A because Coober Pedy SA has exactly the same!
Surprise surprise, for Coober Pedy locals, one sign was not enough so they decided to welcome tourists, travellers from all over the world and miners with 2 of them.
The most famous one is by far the Big Blower, a symbol of the city and the reason why thousands of people have tried their luck in the last almost 100 years.
I would also suggest going there for sunset, the colours behind the signs are just spectacular.
6. Enjoy the scenic view
Most of the things in Coober Pedy are underground but there are still a few buildings you want to look at from above. Head to the Catacomb Church and you will not be disappointed. You get to experience, from the top of the church, one of the best views of Coober Pedy.
Sit down, have a cold beer if you like and just immerse yourself in the red dunes, the dusty roads and the roaming of people living their everyday life.
7. See a movie star, the Coober Pedy Spaceship
You thought that people underground were weird? Well, I bet you didn’t see this coming hey?
Yes, there is a spaceship here. Why? The unique landscape of Coober Pedy has been used to film some world famous movies such as “Mortal Kombat”, “Pitch Black”, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” and the spaceship was used as a movie set.
8. Take a trip to Mars at Kanku Breakaways Conservation Park
If you got here by car, do not miss this! You will seriously experience the most beautiful and breathtaking landscape you have ever seen in your life. If you always wondered what Mars would look like, well this is it.
Kanku Breakaways Park is a protected zone just 25 kms outside Coober Pedy and I would suggest coming here for either sunrise or sunset.
9. Visit the famous Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest
Have you ever heard about Crocodile Harry? Harry was a crocodile hunter in the Northern Territory. He decided to live his last years in Coober Pedy, where he died in 2006.
His house is truly one of his kind, representing Harry’s personality, his love for women and his eccentric lifestyle.
10. Play golf at Coober Pedy Golf Course
Are you a golfer? Personally, I’m not, but you can’t miss such a strange golf course and it turned out to be one of the best things to do in Coober Pedy!
The 18-hole course has been ranked top 10 strangest golf courses in the world due to its unique location and terrain! There is no grass on the field and players would need to try their luck on dusty red sand, typical of the area.
Oh and don’t forget to take a picture with the “off the grass sign”! 🙂
11. Enjoy a movie night at the Drive-In Cinema
The only drive-in cinema still open and operating in South Australia is right here, in Coober Pedy. Opened in 1960, unfortunately, they had to close down in 1984 due to low demand but luckily they reopened again in the late 90’s.
It is now open once a week, on a Saturday night. Tickers are pretty cheap: $20 per car (up to 7 people per car).
Best restaurants and cafes in Coober Pedy
The most unique part of Coober Pedy is the underground City, it is where you will find the best-hidden gems. As the locals live underground during summer, it makes sense that their businesses are underground.
12. But first, let’s go to an Underground Bar
Everyone prioritises the bar, right? The Desert Cave Hotel is home to the World’s only underground bar and gaming room! Have a drink or a meal at The Crystal Cafe inside and you will not be disappointed.
After a cold beer, it is now time to have a proper meal.
13. Breakfast at Waffles and Gem
Waffles and Gem in Coober Pedy is a nice little cozy breakfast and coffee place right in the heart of the town serving up delicious waffles and buttermilk pancakes. A fantastic way to also get to meet the locals who have grown up in Coober Pedy and to understand more about how the town has evolved over the years.
Try their special Belgian waffles with ice cream on top and you will be very happy.
14. Outback Bar & Grill is a must
You can’t have an outback holiday without visiting the Outback Bar & Grill in Coober Pedy, right? Located in the heart of the town, this cozy diner is great if you would like to have a dining experience in probably the best restaurant in Coober Pedy. I would suggest having the burgers and the schnizelz here, and wash it all down with a nice cold beer.
15. Eat at the famous John’s Pizza Bar
The pizza was huge and the owner told us they have been voted one of the best pizzerias in Australia for several years in a row. Oh and when they ask, always order the large one.
Coober Pedy Accommodation
16. Sleep in an Underground Hotel
You can’t leave Coober Pedy and not experience a night underground! Forget about camping in a swag or a fancy 5* luxury hotel, there is nothing more authentic, real and local than a hotel dug deep and surrounded by thousands of years old opals incurred in the red and ocher-coloured rock.
There are so many different options, from the only underground caravan park in the world, hostels, motel, budget friendly options to more luxury ones.
17. Camp in the only Underground Campground in the world
Riba’s Underground Caravan Park is the only one in the world! Head underground and pitch up your tent for a truly unique experience. There are BBQ facilities above ground and powered caravan sites so you can choose to sleep under the stars if you wish.
Coober Pedy is of the most unique, exciting, special, quirky places on Earth and a trip here will never be forgotten.
Best Things To Do In Coober Pedy
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A big thanks to Lucia for sharing this guide! If you would like to share your favourite places in Australia, simply fill out our Write For Us Form just like Lucia did, and we’ll get back to you shortly.