Our Own 1000: The Opal Capital Of The World – Coober Pedy

Posted by on May 31, 2012
sunset coober pedy

Amazing sunset

Today we do have an amazing article about the intriguing Coober Pedy for you. Keep on reading to find out, why this desert city deserves to be in our list of The 1000 Places To See Before You Die.

Why Would Anyone Go To Coober Pedy?

Back in 2011 when we already knew the rough schedule of our trip around the world, we started watching documentaries about the countries we were planning to visit.

Mine Hills

Hundreds of Mine Hills

One documentary about Australia mentioned Coober Pedy and I immediately knew that I wanted to go there:  A city in the middle of nowhere with hope for everyone that they might find riches in the opal mines of Coober Pedy.

To be honest, I couldn’t even remember about the opal, but I knew there was this city in the Australian Outback with the landscape looking like thousands of giant molehills. That alone was reason enough for me to decide that I wanted to go there.

From Adelaide, our last big stop, it was only a “short” 850 km drive north on the famous Steward Highway.

Trying to find that opal

Trying to find that opal

Our friend Chris, who we met in Koh Tao, thought we were crazy to go through the middle of Australia, since – as he put it – there is nothing there.

If you are looking for cities and action, you might want to agree with him. But things like Coober Pedy, Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the experience of true Outback are well worth the trip. And of course, don’t forget about the mesmerizing wildlife of eagles (and lots of them), camels and emus – for some reason not so many kangaroos.

The Opal Capital Of The World

opal polishing

Opal polishing

Coober Pedy is known as the opal capital – about 70% of all opal in the world is found in Coober Pedy and 97% is found in Australia.Don’t be ashamed, if you have no clue what opal is, I didn’t know either before we got to Coober Pedy.

Opal is a precious gem which developed more than 50 million years back and today is found in only a few places in the world. I did read through the entire Wikipedia post about Opal, so I could then give you a brief overview how Opal has formed. Well, if you really want to know, then go to Wikipedia or check out this site (shorter, not as scientific explanation). This stuff is a bit too complicated to be put in just 4 sentences.

white opal check the price tag

Beautiful opal

The amazing thing in Coober Pedy is that anyone is allowed to mine for opal. You just need to get a mining license and then you can get a claim of either 50mx50m or 100mx50m where you are allowed to mine for opal for 3 months. This brought many people to Coober Pedy looking for opal and hoping to find fortune in the opal mines.

Just to get a feeling how much opal is worth, there a pieces smaller than my thumbnail that cost more than $500. At the Coober Pedy Comfort Inn Underground Motel we were shown two pieces of opal that together were smaller than a golf ball and had a total worth of $67,000.

Underground church coober pedy

The underground church

As you can imagine, finding those pieces can be quite difficult. So basically you are digging through the rock and hoping that you will find the needle in the hay stack. One brochure said that there isn’t even a great science behind finding opal. Just throw your hat and start digging wherever it lands.

So you might look for opal for a year and not find anything and then suddenly you find a pocket worth half a million dollars in a single day.

What To Do and See in Coober Pedy

Underground sunday school

Underground sunday school

During the summer it gets very hot during the day and very cold at night in the winter, so the people in Coober Pedy decided to flee this heat/cold by moving underground.For the mining they had all the rock moving equipment anyways, so it wasn’t hard for them to build their homes in underground caves. There are even underground camping sites and underground churches.

Luckily for us, there was one underground church that had service on Wednesdays and it happened to be the church that is similar to the church we go to back home (except for the underground part).

Comfort Inn Underground Motel

Comfort Inn Underground Motel

So we went to church at Underground Revival Fellowship Church. Pastor Deane also runs the Coober Pedy Comfort Inn Underground Motel next door, which is basically an old opal mine transformed into a Motel.

Pastor Dean and Ben (I think he is his grandson in law) were really kind and after we got to talking a bit about our faith, they offered us a tour of the motel and the old mine the motel was built in. So if you are going to Coober Pedy, I strongly encourage you to stay at the Comfort Inn and see the church for yourself. If you are in town on Sundays (at 7pm) or Wednesdays (7.30 pm) you might even want to go to the service.

Breakaways Lookout

Breakaways Lookout

If  you want to know even more about mining in Coober Pedy you can visit one of the many mines that offer tours. Some will even let you do some noodling yourself (that means looking for opal in previously crushed rocks).

Also, check out the Breakaways and the Coober Pedy cemetary – there are some crazy grave stones there…

So Why Did We Make It One Of Our 1000?

Coober Pedy is truly worth being one of Our 1000 and I am glad that we have seen this place.

Breakaways Lookout

Breakaways: salt and pepper

I don’t think there is any other place in the world that has so much history and so much uniqueness to it than Coober Pedy. And most importantly, you probably won’t find any other place in the world that still has the feel of the gold rush phase to it.

Believe me, I almost wanted to convince Soni that we should come to Coober Pedy to try our luck for a few months. That probably wouldn’t have fit in with our goal of the 4 hour workweek, but it sure would have been a lot of fun. I am still tempted to do some googling about getting that mining license.

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