If you’re planning a road trip between South Australia and the Northern Territory, Coober Pedy will be a logical place to stop. If you’re wondering about the best things to do in Coober Pedy, then we’ve got you covered.
Coober Pedy is one of the most unique, interesting, and dare I say it, weird places we’ve ever been. If you like quirky and eccentric places, you will love Coober Pedy just as much as we did.
I had wanted to visit Coober Pedy since I first learned about it as a little girl in primary school. Let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed.
We spent nine days in Coober Pedy as part of an outback South Australia road trip. We arrived just before a big rain event which closed the road to Oodnadatta for a week. During our nine days we managed to check out almost every attraction in town.
This blog post contains our review of all our favourite things to see and do in Coober Pedy.
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Getting to Coober Pedy
The only direct flights to Coober Pedy are from Adelaide with Rex Air. Flights depart Adelaide on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can also return to Adelaide on Monday, Wednesday or a Friday.
Coober Pedy is situated 850km or 9 hours drive north of Adelaide and 687km or 7 hours drive south of Alice Springs. This makes it a perfect place to stop for a few days if you’re travelling between the two.
From Adelaide head north to Port Augusta on the Augusta Highway, and then take the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy. If you’re driving south from Alice Springs, take the Stuart Highway.
NOTE: If you’re entering South Australia from the Northern Territory, there are quarantine regulations which forbid bringing fruit, vegetables and other food items into the state. Check out the SA Govt website for further up-to-date information.
If you’ve driven along the Oodnadatta Track, you can reach Coober Pedy along the Kempe Road. This road is unsealed and may be closed during wet weather.
You will need a car to get around Coober Pedy. Budget and Enterprise offer rental cars from the airport, but most people arrive with their own vehicle.
There are several unsealed roads around town, but the surface is like clay, so the road conditions are usually good, unless there has been a lot of rain. You can keep up to date with road conditions on the dit website. For the Breakaways access road conditions, check with the Visitor Centre.
Best time to visit Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy has a desert climate, which means hot dry summers, and cooler dry winters with cold nights. The average daily maximum temperature is 36 celsius (97F) in January although temperatures over 40C (104F) are very common during summer.
In the winter, the night time temperatures can drop into the low single figures. The average minimum temperature in July is just 6C (43F).
The annual rainfall is only around 150mm (less than 6 inches), with rain falling on only 30 days a year. We visited in late June 2023 when the town received over 50mm in 36 hours. The normally dry, dusty town turned to mud!
The best time to visit Coober Pedy would be in the Spring or Autumn, when the daytime temperatures are in the mid 20s and the nights are not too cold.
Where to stay in Coober Pedy
There is a great selection of accommodation in Coober Pedy, both above ground and underground.
The one thing we didn’t do in Coober Pedy that we wish we had, was stay in an underground motel or Airbnb. There are so many to choose from – check out availability and pricing on Booking.com here:
There are several caravan parks in town with all the usual facilities. We chose to stay in the free camping area next to the Old Timers Mine. Camping in tents is permitted here along with caravans and RVs.
The toilets to the right of the museum are open 24/7 for campers use. The campsite is also pet friendly. Donations in the museum gratefully accepted.
Best things to do in Coober Pedy
Known as Opal City, Coober Pedy is the centre of Opal mining in Australia. Opals were discovered here in 1915 and a lively city sprung up, attracting all sorts of characters seeking their fortune. Summer temperatures here get so hot, the miners burrowed into the hillsides, building their houses underground.
You’ll find plenty of evidence of past and present mining around the town, from the limestone rock piles on the outskirts, to the blower trucks scattered around town. There are several opal mining museums and of course many opal shops if you want to buy opal jewellery.
Old Timers Mine
The Old Timers Mine is one of the original opal mines in Coober Pedy. It was begun in 1916 just after the discovery of opals in the town a year earlier. In 1968 Ron and Jenny Gough were expanding their dugout house when they discovered the disused mine. The mine entrance had been backfilled, hiding it for decades.
The Goughs opened the mine as a museum. You can do a self-guided tour through the tunnels to learn about how opal mining was done in the early days, with pick and shovel. You’ll be handed a map with numbers, and when you find the corresponding numbers in the tunnel, there are written descriptions of what you’re seeing.
You’ll see a few seams of opal still in the walls of the tunnels, and it’s easy to understand the “opal fever” that struck so many people who came here.
The Gough family lived right here, and their “dugout” house has been preserved as it would have looked in the 1960s. All the furniture remains, so you can wander through and really get an understanding of living in an underground house.
The mine is now run by Nick Farantouris, who has lived in Coober Pedy most of his life. He is a great character to stop and have a chat to after your tour through the mine. We learned a lot about growing up in Coober Pedy and how life has changed over the last few decades.
The self guided tour costs $15 for adults. Once you’re done with the tour, there is a shop with opals for sale, and a small pit outside for the kids to “noodle” – which means to pick amongst the discarded rubble looking for opals that the miners missed.
Tom’s Working Opal Mine
Once you’ve seen how mining was done back in the day, it’s time to check out how it’s done now, and Tom’s Working Opal Mine offers guided tours to learn the more modern methods of opal mining, with the big machinery.
You’ll be given a blacklight torch and can see some of the opal seams in the walls of the mine as you walk through. The guide will demonstrate the “bosun chair” which is how the miners get up and down into the mine – sadly they only let kids have a ride!
You’ll also see the blower trucks and learn how they work like a giant vacuum cleaner to suck all the mullock out of the drive (mine shaft) and deposit it above ground for the miners to pick through.
We did a guided tour with Mila who came to Coober Pedy in the 1960s from Czechoslovakia and has been involved with opal mining all her life. She was a real character, and we highly recommend this tour.
There is a public “noodling” area just by the carpark if you want to try your luck. Noodling is the process of picking through the discarded mullock heaps and you may just get lucky.
This tour costs $38 for adults and bookings are recommended. Tom’s Working Opal Mine is open from April to October, and tours run daily at 10am and 1:30pm. You can also do a self-guided tour for $15.
BONUS They serve free tea and scones after the guided tour!!
Umoona Opal Mine and Museum
The Umoona Opal Mine and Museum is right in the middle of the main street of Coober Pedy. The museum is free to enter, and there is an award winning movie about Opal mining showing here throughout the day.
You can take a guided tour through the Umoona Mine. Tours are available at 10am, 2pm and 4pm daily except Tuesdays when the museum is closed. Tours cost $14 for adults and $7.50 for children.
Public Noodling area
Just north of the town centre is an area where you can “noodle”, which means digging on the surface looking for Opals. You require a permit if you wish to dig underground. We dug for about 5 minutes but didn’t find anything.
We were surprised to learn that at least half the population in Coober Pedy lives in dugout houses. However, with constant temperatures between 22-24 degrees its little wonder.
There are a number of underground houses that are open to visitors including Faye’s which was built by three women, and even includes an underground swimming pool! Our favourite was the house in the Old Timers Mine.
The Big Winch
The Big Winch is on the hill above the town. You can drive to the top where there is a carpark, or walk up the (steep) concrete path if you’re coming from the Old Timers Mine. In addition to the Big Winch, there is a Blower Truck, and a restaurant. This was our favourite place to watch the sunset in Coober Pedy.
If you want to eat here we would recommend booking a table, although both times we visited we managed to get a good table outside – maybe because it was cold and most people wanted to be inside!
There is also a 360 degree cinema here which shows a movie of the surrounding area including the Breakaways.
Coober Pedy Signs
There are several large signs in Coober Pedy where you can get that perfect Instagram shot with you (or your vehicle).
You’ll find the Coober Pedy Blower Truck sign and Opal City sign on the Stuart Highway, just before you turn off into town. There is a large area where you can drive in and line up to park in front of the sign for a photo.
There is a large Coober Pedy sign up on the hill near the Big Winch. This one is a little tricky to get to, you’re better off walking from the town. From Brewster Street, turn into Naylor Place and then you will see the little trail that heads up to the sign.
Not only do the residents of Coober Pedy live underground, they also worship underground. As testament to the multi-cultural and multi-denominational population, there are many different churches in town.
St Peter and Paul Catholic Church
The Catholic Church is located right in the centre of town. It’s only a small church, but the main feature is the stained glass window.
The Anglican Catacomb church is a couple of kilometres from the town centre, and features an altar made like a mining winch.
Serbian Orthodox Church
The Serbian Orthodox Church – the Church of St Elijah the Prophet, is the largest church in town, and the furthest from the centre. This church was built in 1992 by Serbians who had come to look for opals, and other volunteers.
The stained glass window here is very impressive, as is looking down onto the church from the gallery. This was our favourite underground church in town.
FUN FACT: In the movie Limbo, the protagonist Travis visits the Serbian Church, the exterior shots are of this church but the interior shots are of the Catholic Church of St Peter and Paul.
Boot Hill Cemetery
On the way back to town from the Serbian Church, drop into the Boot Hill cemetery. This is not the only cemetery in town, but it may be the weirdest. Well, the cemetery isn’t weird, but some of the graves definitely are.
There’s a grave decorated with a beer keg, one shaped like a medieval castle, and even a gravestone for a cat! One of Coober Pedy’s most infamous characters, Crocodile Harry, is buried here in a very plain grave.
Crocodile Harry’s Crocodile Nest
If you want to see the quirky weirdness that is Coober Pedy in one place, you can’t go past a visit to Crocodile Harry’s. Harry (real name Avid von Blumenthal) was a Latvian Baron (according to himself) who came to Australia after fighting for the Germans in WW2.
He hunted crocodiles in the north of Australia in the 60s before coming to Coober Pedy in 1975, where he hunted Opals. Intrepid visitors to Coober Pedy would go visit Harry in the 80s and 90s and he became a bit of a cult hero. My dad claims to have visited Harry when he went to Coober Pedy.
The interior of Harry’s dugout is covered in grafitti, photos, memorabilia, and women’s underwear. According to Harry, the knickers hanging around his dugout home belong to all the women he’s bedded.
After Harry’s death in 2006, his home has been kept as it was when he lived here. The home is now opened as a museum. The entry fee is $7 which you pay into an honesty box just inside the door. Crocodile Harry’s is around 6km from Coober Pedy.
Kanku – Breakaways Conservation Area
The Breakaways are a series of low hills that were once connected to the Stuart Range, hence the name. The hills are a variety of colours, and the best time to visit is sunset when you can see the colours change as the light drops.
Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Area is located around 30km from Coober Pedy. You can access the area from either the Stuart Highway or from the Kempe Road (the road to Oodnadatta).
There are several landmarks in the park, such as the “Castle” and “Salt and Pepper”. You can see these landmarks from one of the two lookouts, but the best way is to drive through on a loop.
If you enter the park from Kempe Road, you’ll drive through the Moon Plain, a vast, barren, rocky red dirt area. You’ll then drive along the Dog Fence, before driving through the Breakaways and arriving at the Breakaways lookouts.
We preferred Lookout 2 (Angkata) – there were less people here and we thought the views were better, especially at sunset. Try to time your visit so you’re here for sunset. The Breakaways was one of the highlights of our visit to Coober Pedy.
The road through the Breakaways is unsealed and may be closed during wet weather. Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Area is owned and jointly managed by the Antakirinja Matuntjara Yankunytjatjara people and the government. There is an $11 entry fee to the park which you can buy online or from the Coober Pedy Visitor Centre.
BONUS: You can bring your dog to the Breakaways – but you need to keep him on a leash.
Dog (Dingo) Fence
Speaking of dogs, when you visit the Breakaways, if you drive out to the Moon Plain you’ll see the Dog Fence. The 1.8m high dog fence stretches for 5,600km across three states. The fence was built in the 1930s to keep dingos and feral dogs away from the rich sheep grazing pastures of the south east of the country.
When you visit the Breakaways, you can drive alongside the fence (or cycle, like we did).
As soon as we arrived in Coober Pedy we became curious about these weird trucks everywhere. Apparently, there are at least 60 around the town. We learned that they are called Blower Trucks, and operate like a vacuum, sucking the dirt out of a mine shaft after it has been blasted and deposit all the dirt on the surface.
The miners can then sift through this dirt and rocks to (hopefully) find opal. Surrounding the town are white dirt and rockpiles, that have been left by the blower trucks.
Many of them seem to sit idle, but we wanted to see one in action. We finally saw it at Tom’s Mine and as a bonus we saw the operation from below, in the mine. Nigel even got to have a go shovelling the mullock into the pipe.
Coober Pedy UFOs
At the top of the hill by the Big Winch and the Italian Club, you might come across the UFO. This is not another discarded movie set, but rather the ruin of a half-built house.
The spaceship outside the Umoona Mine is a movie prop from Pitch Black, a movie Vin Diesel made before he was famous. There’s also a couple of crashed “rockets” in the free camp outside the Old Timers Mine, also discarded movie props.
You will find the Coober Pedy Wellbeing Labyrinth just by the football oval. There is plenty of parking available. Walking this classic 7 circuit, 25m diameter labyrinth is said to promote peace and well-being.
When we were walking through town one day we came across an olive grove, and learned it was part of the Coober Pedy Public Orchard, which is owned and managed by the district council. All the fruit and olives here are available to the public free of charge.
Desert Cave Hotel Underground Bar
Sadly the one thing we found missing in Coober Pedy was a quirky outback style underground bar.
The Desert Cave Hotel has a bar, which is “underground” although it doesn’t really feel like it. Unfortunately it’s really just like any other big hotel bar, and we thought there was no atmosphere here.
We found the Big Winch a much better place to go for an evening coldie.
Suggested Coober Pedy Itinerary
Day 1 – Arrive Coober Pedy
Whichever direction you’re late from, you’ll probably arrive in the afternoon. Stop off at the Welcome to Coober Pedy sign for a photo. Drive up to the Big Winch to get the lay of the land. There are great 360 degree views from here.
Visit the Old Timers Mine for a look at how mining was done in the early years and see a great example of a dugout house.
Watch the sunset from the Big Winch.
Day 2 – Coober Pedy Sights
Take a walk around the town and check out some of the sights including the Umoona Mining Museum, the St Peter and Paul Church and Josephine’s Art Gallery. Stop in at the Visitor Centre and get your permit for the Breakaways.
After lunch, visit Crocodile Harry’s Crocodile Nest then do a loop through the Breakaways. Drive 15km up the Kempe Road and turn into the Breakaways. You’ll drive along the Dog Fence and pass the Moon Plain before dropping down to drive through the actual Breakaways.
Watch the sunset from one of the two lookouts.
Day 3 – Coober Pedy Sights
In the morning head out to Tom’s Working Opal Mine for the 10am guided tour.
In the afternoon drive out to the Serbian Underground Church and on the way back take a stroll through the Boot Hill Cemetery.
Day 4 – Leave Coober Pedy
Make sure your fuel tanks are full, stock up on any groceries you need from the IGA and say a fond farewell to the quirkiest town in Australia.
Food and Water
You can fill your water tanks at the taps by the visitor centre and council offices. There is a meter by the taps, but it wasn’t working when we visited. Simply pay your $1 per 30 litres to the Council Office or Visitor Centre.
There is an IGA supermarket in town which was well stocked for our entire visit. Prices were a bit higher than in Adelaide, but I guess that is to be expected.
There is a Dump Point by the Visitor Centre.
There are several fuel stations in town, and they all seem to keep their pricing the same. If you’re heading further afield, we would recommend filling up in Coober Pedy, as the next fuel is a couple of hundred kilometres in any direction.
Phone and Internet
There is a good 5G Telstra Tower in the middle of town, and a 4G Optus Tower. We got great phone and internet reception the whole time we were in town. The reception only lasts about 5-10km from the town centre.
Check out our Coober Pedy Travel Video
You can watch the video here, or on YouTube
How long should you spend in Coober Pedy?
Most people and blogs suggest a 2 night stay in Coober Pedy. However depending on where you’re coming from and going to, you may not have much time on your arrival day or departure day to check out the town. We would recommend at least two full days (three nights) in town.
Do you need a car in Coober Pedy?
There is no public transport in Coober Pedy, so unless you take a guided tour you will need a car to get around to see some of the sights out of the centre.
Do you need a 4×4 in Coober Pedy?
While many of the roads around the town are unsealed, the surface is like clay, so when dry, it’s very smooth. After heavy rain (which almost never happens!) the roads become muddy, so you may need a 4×4 then. Often the roads will be closed after rain.
What is special about Coober Pedy?
Coober Pedy is one of the most unique towns in Australia. The desert landscape looks like something from another planet, and is made even more eerie with all the mullock heaps left over from underground mining activity.
The environment is very harsh, and the weather ranges from summer days well into the 40s, and winter nights can be freezing. For this reason, early settlers who came here seeking opals built there homes in their disused mine shafts. Even today, over half the population lives in underground houses (called dugouts). The temperature in a dugout will be around 24 C (75F) year round, day and night.
Do people still live underground in Coober Pedy?
Yes! Around half the population still live in dugouts, and there are several underground house museums in town that you can visit to get an idea of what life is like. You can even spend the night in an underground motel or Airbnb.
Can you still find opal in Coober Pedy?
We spoke to a long time local about current mining in Coober Pedy and he told us that the population has reduced from around 6,000 in the 70s and 80s to around 1,800 people today.
The main reason for this is that there really isn’t so much opal being found these days. Having said that, there is definitely still opal to be found, and you’ll see mining operations going on around town.
Is Coober Pedy safe?
We had heard stories of people having issues with safety in Coober Pedy, particularly being concerned about leaving their caravans during the day. After spending 9 days in town we never had any issues, nor did we hear directly from anyone who had. We did see a few people drinking on the streets, but they didn’t bother us.
Our biggest concern was the large number of large dogs in town. One day we rode our bikes out towards the Breakaways, and we were scared by a couple of large dogs on the loose on the edge of town. Most of the dogs were secured in peoples yards though and just barked very loudly.
Where to Next?
Continue your road trip north into the Northern Territory, and check out our Central Australia Road Trip Itinerary. Or, if you’re planning to visit outback South Australia further, check out the Oodnadatta Track .
Need help planning your Coober Pedy Itinerary?
Drop a comment down below with your questions, or get in touch via email. We’d love to help you plan your trip.