The original plan had been to head to Perth for two nights from here, but it had become very apparent that this would be far too long a distance to try for such a short stay. Instead, we flew a few hours south to the opal mining town of Coober Pedy.
We departed from Ayers Rock airport and flew the official scenic flight route out towards and along one side of the rock, before doubling back around Kata Tjuta and then turning south on course. The rock was just as magnificent from the air as from the ground! We had something of a headwind as we flew south; it seemed we’d had a headwind nearly all the way around the route, which was a little frustrating. It was a much shorter flight than trying to make it all the way to Perth and back, and we were very happy with the rerouting decision that we’d made.
We landed in Coober Pedy and tied down, before figuring out how to get into town. The manager of the “Mud Hut Motel”, one of our chosen accommodation options, showed up at the airport shortly after we’d called her; she ran the local Avis and Budget franchise and gave us a rental car to drive to the motel, telling us to just leave it parked outside check-in! As it turned out, nothing was very far in Coober Pedy and the motel was just a few minutes drive.
Coober Pedy, with fewer than 1,800 residents these days, is famous for its underground “dugout” homes – the soft rock is ideal for burrowing into to make a residence, which will then stay at a steady temperature. The practice seems to have started by making use of exhausted mine workings, and much of the town is now underground, indeed it’s one of the features that brings tourists in.
We didn’t do too much that afternoon, as the heat was draining. We found a cafe for lunch after a failed attempt at visiting the well reviewed bakery (which was now shut down), and then rested in the rooms through the main heat of the afternoon. Late that day we took the short walk across the road to the Outback Bar and Grill, part restaurant and part petrol station. The food was excellent!
We could sleep in a little later than normal, and all met up at a little before 10 at the Umoona Opal Mine and Museum. After an introductory video about the history of the town, and the opal mining process, we were taken on a tour of the underground areas. The first places we visited were a pair of residences; the older showing how an the underground home was back in the 70s, and the newer still being in use by the night time caretaker of the museum. From here we ventured down to see the old mine workings. Our guide for all this was none other than the old miner himself, now in his 80s, who had worked this claim! We couldn’t have asked for a more authentic experience.
A few doors down from the museum was a combined art gallery/kangaroo orphanage. We went along in time for the noon feeding. The heat was so strong that, we were told, the kangaroos were on strike and hiding in the shade. We did still get to see and pet a 6-month old orphan who was being rehabilitated after her mother was killed on the highway.
Feeding over, the owner suggested a route to us, and we wandered off in the midday sun past the underground Comfort Inn (where we stopped to have a look around and a cold drink), and up to the “Big Winch” lookout point. There was no shortage of unusual things to see, as the photos bear witness to!
We lunched at the same cafe as the day before, and then visited the town bookshop (also the town AVGAS supplier, it turned out). After this, another afternoon rest, and dinner at John’s Pizza Bar; apparently rated the 5th best in Australia. It wasn’t bad, but I’m not sure I’d rate it quite that highly.
Click here to read the next part of the journey.