Welcome to Coober Pedy, the weirdest town on earth

in travel •  last month

Coober Pedy Spaceship

Around campsites and caravan parks in Coober Pedy the leading question among travellers is: "Where are you heading?". The unspoken understanding is that nobody could possibly have come all this way with Coober Pedy as the end goal. It is at least 6 hours from a major town north or south with nothing but 4wd tracks left or right. The spacecraft situated on the main road with no effort offered at explanation is my first indication that I have landed in a very strange place.

This is a land so arid that it took folks in the know 66 years to work out how to make water consistently come out of a tap. The heat so unforgiving that locals dig houses in to the ground for some reprieve among hills so rich in opals that one bloke made $250,000 AUD digging the hole that he lives in. Needless to say, he extends regularly.

These invisible underground bunkers give the town a sense of being a largely unoccupied wasteland of muted red dirt and pebble strewn vacant lots. It looks like a tough town, down on its luck. It is, in fact, anything but. The opal mining and quirky underground housing make it a tourist mecca for folks such as myself passing through on their way to the big red rock in Central Australia. It is half ghost town, half Hollywood Boulevard hustle.

Inside Coober's underground

 Stairway to the underground bar at Coober Pedy Underground garden at Coober Pedy

Safe-Safe

I roll in to town wondering if the dangerous ghetto vibe should concern me and head to the WikiCamps recommended camp site behind the Op Shop. This makes perfect sense after a couple of weeks out the back of Bourke, everything doubles as something else. The supermarket/newsagent/post office/pharmacy is a common conglomeration thus not an eyebrow is raised as I head to the local thrift store for a place to sleep.

On arrival I am greeted by the custodian, Gary, he is a kind man who tells me with what appears to be soul destroying regret that he's full and will have to send me down to the creek. I ask if it is safe down there and he looks intently in to my eyes and tells me it is "safe-safe". He gives me some tips on bartering like I'm in Bali and lets me know where to get a good feed at a fair price before telling me to set up camp down at the creek and not give it a second thought, "safe-safe". He repeats his catch cry with that same meaningful eye contact. As though the repetition of the word and intense human connection is required to combat the heavy police presence and barbed wire compounds I've noticed on my way through town.

Coober Pedy main streeet

Coober Pedy's main street and resident spaceship

One of the multiple underground museums tells the tale of European settles arriving to find a 'bleak uninviting spot', little has changed for the outsider. The town is an ironic twist of resistance to visitors and a reliance on their tourist dollar. I head down to take a look at the creek which unsurprisingly contains no water being, I later learn, a dry creek bed that gets by on the odd dribble of rain from time to time. I trust my instincts despite Gary's assurances and book in to one of the local caravan parks who, I am informed on check in, lock their barbed wire topped gates at 10pm and warn me to keep all valuables locked away during my stay. Then they tell me how safe it is and urge me to wander the streets at night. Coober Pedy is a juxtaposition, I still have not been able to ascertain whether I was safe-safe or at risk-risk during my stay.

Around town

A walk down the main street is a surreal experience mostly comprised of the repeated thought: "What the hell IS that?". Kitsch displays of various oddities and a web of tunnels that lead to underground bars, hotels and cafes make for one of the most entertaining and baffling wanders down a street I've ever experienced. Abandoned items are used here, nothing goes to waste and the main road is speckled with old buses, cars, and mining equipment turned to good use as window displays. A creative solution given the general lack of windows in an underground bunker. The general consensus appears to be the more bizarre the better.

Abandoned bus Coober Pedy VW Bug

But wait ... there's more

Coober Pedy is certainly fascinating but I came here for two reasons, none of which were to see the town. Firstly I needed somewhere to sleep on the road to Uluru and there isn't much else around. Secondly, and far more importantly, I came here because of an odd fascination with the Dingo Fence. This is the longest fence in the world at 5,600km, designed to keep the dingoes to its north away from the cattle and sheep to its south, and its northern most point is accessible within the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park about half an hour outside of town. I jumped on a bus for the sunset tour from the Caravan Park and got more excited than I care to admit about seeing some bits of timber and wire.

Dinfo Fence Coober Pedy Breakaways Conservation Park

The dingo fence at Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Area

What I discovered was that within this park are a lesser well known bunch of rocks that should be as famous as the big red one. Emerging from the map-flat landscape are a series of mesas that will take your breath away. As the light changed to sunset the sky lit up the shifting colours of these profoundly beautiful arid hills. After more than two weeks in the Outback I remain astonished by the diversity of colour in a place that on first sight appears to monotonously brown and red.

Breakaways Conservation Park

One of the Breakaways mesas

I came to Coober Pedy for somewhere to rest my weary head, what I got was the surprisingly delightful insanity of this weird little gem and a nature experience that was nothing short of spiritual. If you're traveling through the heart of Australia take some time here, its worth much more than an overnight stop.

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Note: All images and words in this article are created by me and copyright. All information within this article was gathered during museum and tours during my stay at Coober Pedy.

I also put pictures and words in the following places:

Instagram | Facebook |EyeEm | My Blog

Some more pictures from around town:

From the Opal Cave Lookout Another abandoned bus repurposed

Store front Street Hustle

The Opal Cave

!steemitworldmap -29.020181 lat 134.754939 long Welcome to Coober Pedy, the weirdest town on earth d3scr
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apner post ta onek valo hoiche.

Wow! I have to go there! looks just amazing!

It is one place I would love to visit.

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Definitely recommend you do it. Certainly an interesting experience.

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I have no doubt, I have one problem, if I want to go to ALL the areas I would like, I need to start now!

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Ha ha I can definitely relate to this problem

Can you upload some more pictures of the town?

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I think I have a few more. I'm out and about today at Uluru but I'll add them to the end of the post a bit later

great review. i like your writing style.
i do find coober pedy fascinating.
a little bit lije being in a mad max movie, with that wild west feel and a tinge of danger.

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Hey that's a great description. It is absolutely like landing in a real life Mad Max scene. Thanks for saying nice things about my words, that means a lot

I am surprised I have never heard of Coober Pedy before, what with a crashed spaceship in the middle of town that nobody talks about and all . This was an excellent article, well written and informative. You have raised my curiosity and I will now embark on a tour of google to try to learn more about this spaceship (edit: now I know where it is from). Thank you - I look forward to reading more of your articles.

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Ha ha so glad I got you interested enough to go researching. The spaceship blew my mind. Anywhere else it would be "hey, we have this super cool thing, check it out." In Coober Pedy its just there as though it is the most ordinary thing in the world. Thanks for your feedback on the article. Much appreciated.

Super kool post! Love the history and pics you've provided. I remember watching one of the "Mad Max" films when the lil' pilot guy was down in his underground home and wonder if this is where it was filmed? If so, kinda koool to see it and learn about it so many years later. Enjoyed!

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Thanks so much. I'm not sure on the Mad Max indoors scenes. I do know that in at least one of the early Mad Max films that Coober Pedy was featured in the outdoors scenes

supercool, do you have any more photos of the underground malls, businesses, houses? that's really piqued my interest.

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Hey :) I don't think I do but I'll have a look and see. If I find anything I'll upload it in the next hour or so to the end of the article

This post received a 20% vote by @mrsquiggle courtesy of @choogirl from the Minnow Support Project ( @minnowsupport ). Join us in Discord.

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Nice post ☺ followed and upvote you...hope so you will do same for me 😊

This is a great review @onethousandwords. I would encourage you to edit so it shows up on steemit worldmap.
https://steemit.com/travel/@steemitworldmap/steemit-worldmap

So you would add a line (no bold text, no apostrophes) that says:
!steemitworldmap XXX lat XXX long title of your post d3scr

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That took me a really long time to work out but I think I did it! Thanks for the tip

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It did! I just checked for you.

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Sweet. Thanks :)

Very nice post! Looks like a cool place!

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Thanks. It is certainly an interesting place. Definitely worth a visit

Heya, just swinging by to let you know you're being featured in our Daily Travel Digest Post!

If I got it right it's your first time being here, so congratulations!!! If I ever make it to Australia, I kind of have to come and see this place, it looks so incredibly unique!

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Thanks so much. That is quite cool.

Found you on travel digest. Brilliant post. We did a 2 month roadtrip through Oz in 2016 (my posts are on steemitworldmap), missed Coober Pedy, but sure am glad you shared it with us! Following you now!

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Thanks:) I'm only doing 6 weeks in just a small part of The Outback. It is such a huge country, I'd love to travel around for a year or so.

Congratulations @onethousandwords!
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Awesome. Thanks

It has that Wild West feel. Nice photography. Thank you for Sharing. :)

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That is the perfect analogy for it.

This post received a 15% vote by @mrsquiggle courtesy of @choogirl from the Minnow Support Project ( @minnowsupport ). Join us in Discord.

Upvoting this comment will help support @minnowsupport.