Coober Pedy

Town Profile : Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy


We were very excited when we rolled into Coober Pedy.  It had been on our list of things to do for ages, and after delays in Darwin and Alice Springs, we were finally here!


When the town came into view, it was very much what we expected – dry and dusty, with buildings built into the sides of the Stuart Ranges.   As we cruised through town, we understood why Coober Pedy is the Opal Capital of the World.  There were opal shops everywhere, as well as old blower wrecks and noodling mounds.  Nearly everything was opal related.


We had a look around, ate lunch at John’s Pizza Bar, filled up on some cheap diesel (cheaper than Alice Springs) and headed back to the Oodnadatta Track.


Coober Pedy



In 1915, Jim Hutchinson, his son William, and two other blokes went to Coober Pedy to look for gold.  While the men were out looking for water, William found an opal.  Eight days later, the first opal claim was pegged.  In 1920, the site was renamed from the Stuart Range Opal Field to Coober Pedy, an anglicised version of the aboriginal words ‘kupa piti’, which means ‘white man in hole’.


After the Great Depression in the 1930s and 1940s, opal prices went down and mining came close to stopping until 1946 when an Aboriginal woman named Tottie Bryant found opal at the Eight Mile Field.  This rejuvenated the opal industry and Coober Pedy developed into a modern mining town.


Fast Facts

  • Australia supplies about 95% of the world’s commercial opal and 70% of that comes from Coober Pedy.
  • Most of the opal that’s found is called potch – dull opal – but the other 10% is beautifully coloured and is qualified as precious.
  • The population of Coober Pedy stands at around 3,500 people, with about 60% being European.
  • The soldiers who returned from WW1 introduced the idea of living in a dugout – an underground home. Underground home temperatures remain at a steady 24ish °C throughout the year, whereas the outside temperatures can exceed 40°C during summer.  About 50% of the population live underground, and in case you’re wondering, a new underground house with five rooms can be constructed for around $25,000.


Coober Pedy


Points of Interest

The Big Winch

Sitting at the top of the hill that overlooks the town, The Big Winch is old and rundown.  While Juz went over to check it out, Dave was hijacked by a clingy man from Hong Kong who did his best to sell us some opals from his own private mine shaft but ended up scaring us away instead.


Umooma Museum

This was a fascinating stop with heaps of historical information about the area.  The museum was fitted into an old opal mine, and while they offer guided tours, we saw ourselves around.


There was a great section with prehistoric bones of animals that lived in an ancient inland sea and there were also opals for sale.  We learnt about triplet, doublet, and solid opals but walked away empty handed because everything was very expensive.


Coober Pedy


Saint Peter & Paul’s Catholic Church

The first underground catholic church in Coober Pedy. When we walked in, we found that it had the same chlorine smell as all the other underground places we visited that day, but unlike other churches with high ceilings and cavernous halls, the St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church is a little claustrophobic.  We didn’t spend much time in there.


Coober Pedy



If you want to try and find some opals yourself, there is a public noodling area to the north of town that consists of dry, dusty mounds of dirt.  We knew we would have no luck finding opals because we have no idea what to look for so we decided it was time for lunch.


The term ‘noodling’ evolved from ‘noduling’, looking for nodules of opal in the rock.


John’s Pizza Bar

We chose this place for lunch because of the awesome prices, but the food is also awesome and the venue is licensed.  We enjoyed cheap wine and beer with our cheap steak sandwich and yiros, which were the perfect size to satisfy our midday hunger.


The Breakaways

About 30 km north of Coober Pedy is a string of low hills that have ‘broken away’ from the Stuart Ranges.  The main feature is the Castle, or ‘Salt and Pepper’, two outcrops – one is solid white while the other is a sandy, yellow colour.  This landmark has featured in films such as Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.


Coober Pedy


The Painted Desert

On the road between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta is a turnoff for the Painted Desert.  This beautiful and desolate landscape of white, yellow, red and purple soil sits right in the middle of nowhere.  The road in and out was in good condition without too many corrugations so the diversion is well worth it.


Coober Pedy  


Once we were done with Coober Pedy, we headed back to the Oodnadatta Track via William Creek.  The road was good, and it would have been a smooth ride if we didn’t have to watch out for silly bush chooks that went out of their way to run in front of the Troopy.  Lucky for them our brakes work, otherwise they wouldn’t have lived to see another day.


Coober Pedy



Coober Pedy

Eating Out : John’s Pizza Bar, Coober Pedy SA

Coober Pedy


We were absolutely starving and after having a quick browse for what was available in town, there was no question where we were going to have lunch.  John’s Pizza Bar not only looked good and smelt good, but the prices were pretty good too.  It’s a family owned and operated business that is run by the Ikonomopoulos family and has won many awards due to their great quality, affordable food and delicious pizzas.


We walked in and discovered that the place was licensed.  Brilliant – let’s have a drink while we wait for our food.  Dave got the steak sandwich and Juz got a mixed yiros. We didn’t have to wait too long for our lunch to arrive.


Coober Pedy


Both were served with a small side of delicious, crunchy chips, which was totally unexpected. Juz stuffed these into her yiros… just because.


Coober Pedy


Apart from being the perfect size to satisfy our hunger, both of our meals were absolutely delicious.  All up, our two drinks and two meals was about $30 – which is an awesome deal for lunch and a bevy.


Planet Burgers - Juz's Mexican chicken souvlaki

Eating Out : Planet Burgers, Exmouth WA

It was a Friday night, we were having a few drinks and Juz was gagging for a chicken parmigiana.


Unfortunately, we were in Exmouth and it WASN’T Wednesday, which means that the chicken parma at the pub was $30 instead of $19.  We simply could not justify paying that much for a meal so we did some research and found out about Planet Burgers.


Planet Burgers


They’ve been operating for over 20 years and sell food out of a trailer behind the pub.  Their main meals are burgers and souvlakia, but they also do hot dogs, chicken nuggets and chips.  Dave and Juz were keen on a souvlaki – Dave got the marinated lamb souva while Juz went with the Mexican chicken souva.  We shared a medium sized serving of chips, but in hindsight, we should have gotten the large chips because they were AMAZING!  Crisp and golden on the outside, yet fluffy and soft on the inside.



Dave’s lamb souva disappeared pretty quickly while Juz relished over the tender chicken, spicy jalapeños and sour cream.  We were really impressed with Planet Burgers – the total price for souvlakia and chips for the both of us was $34, a little over the price of one meal at the pub.  We went back to the trailer when our bellies were full and had a nice chat with the chick inside, who had also travelled around Australia.  After we gave our positive feedback, we went back to the hostel for more drinks and chats with random travellers.


As the night progressed, our thoughts diverted back to those magnificent chips.  Juz was the first to wander off to get some more chips from the trailer.  Unfortunately, she watched them close up shop so she crawled into the Troopy and passed out.  Not long afterwards, Dave went to get some chips but by that time, the trailer was gone.  He found Juz in the Troopy and helped her stumble to the dorm and tucked her into bed.