Coober Pedy is a small town that’s one of a kind – for being down under in the Land Down Under. Yes, it’s the world’s only underground town, and it’s in Australia.
Located in South Australia, known for being the driest state on the driest continent on Earth, the town of Coober Pedy was established in 1915, when opal was first discovered in the region and miners started settling in. The temperature and weather conditions were so harsh that the miners began digging their homes into the hillsides. All they wanted was to find some respite from the scorching sun, but in the process they ended up creating a small town for themselves. To this day, the people of Coober Pedy prefer to build their houses under the ground. Summers are harsh around here, with temperatures easily rising over 40 degrees Celsius. Air conditioning is a necessity, not a luxury, if you choose to live above ground. But the scenario is completely different in the underground homes of Coober Pedy. The temperature remains at a cool, constant 24 degrees and the humidity doesn’t go beyond 20%. Winters can be rather cold, but people are willing to make that kind of compromise.
Photo: Thomas Schoch
Although Coober Pedy has been around for long, it was only in the 1980s that the town became popular around the world. In 1981, a local named Umberto Coro realized the earning potential that this sleepy, underground settlement held, so he built the settlement’s first hotel. Since then, news of the town spread fast and people from all over Australia began to visit. Today, it’s common to find international tourists flocking to Coober Pedy, choosing to stay at either the Desert Cave Hotel, or several other local inns and private underground houses. What attracts tourists more than anything else is the chance to sleep underground, in cool, dark and spacious rooms. Designed in such a way that the interiors reflect the reddish colors of the rock, the underground accommodations of Coober Pedy never dissappoint. The houses have walk-in-wardrobes, storage areas, bedrooms, fantastic kitchens, and the underground churches are an added attraction.
To the outside world, all that’s visible of Coober Pedy is a vast expanse of land, interrupted by chimneys and shafts that seem to be sticking up out of nowhere. The town’s entire population of about 3,000 people lives underground, in a series of intricate tunnels. The name Coober Pedy is said to have originated from the Aboriginal phrase ‘kupa piti’, meaning ‘white man’s hole in the ground’. The town is famous not only for its troglodyte charm, but also for being the ‘opal capital of the world’, producing 70% of the world’s opal. Popular films have been shot here, such as Pitch Black, Red Planet, Queen of the Desert and Opal Dream. You can also see the world’s longest ‘dingo fence’ passing through Coober Pedy. You can play golf at night with glowing balls at a course that has no grass, but enjoys reciprocal rights at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Located 850 km north of Adelaide, the town of Coober Pedy has all kinds of facilities guaranteed to keep tourists entertained, like opal shops, billiard rooms, bars, swimming pools, museums, the Serbian Orthodox Church, and even graveyards. Imagine that! Burying the dead under the ground, underground.
Photo: Aldo van Zeeland