Opal was found in Coober Pedy on the 1st of February 1915 by 14 year old Willie Hutchison when he wandered off from his camp in search of water. He found the water and he also returned to the camp with a big bag of opal!
The first opal miner rush came in 1919 and more than 90 years later there are 3,500 people living in the town and there are more than 250,000 mines shafts in the area. Due to the quality and the quantity of the opals being mined, Coober Pedy quickly became known as the opal capital of the world. There are over 70 opal fields in Coober Pedy and it is the largest opal mining area in the world.
Life and living in the outback is harsh and Coober Pedy is no exception. The town is surrounded by desert and the entire area is devoid of trees - you won't see one for miles and miles. This is due to the arid nature of the area and that the early miners chopped down what they could to make their homes and mine shafts.
The heat in Coober Pedy is extreme - the summer temperatures are scorching and can often reach 50 degrees Celsius. Winter temperatures can plummet to below zero.
An innovative solution for residents is to live in a dugout - a cave of sorts. A home or shop is built into a hillside. The entrance is on ground level but the interior is entirely underground. Approximately 80% of the residents live underground and there are many non-homes that are underground too - accommodation (including camping), restaurants, galleries and even a swimming pool. 2 of the local churches are underground and are a popular tourist destination. Their doors are open to those who wish to have a look around.
I would highly recommend a visit to the underground museum - the Umoona Opal Mine and Museum. Join in on the mine tour, it's a brilliant tour and at approximately $10 it's great value. There's a tour through an early miners dugout through to a modern day underground home. You'll get the history of Coober Pedy in a documentary which is screened in the theatre and there'll even be a live cutting and polishing demonstration of opals.
And, what a bonus - tourists can stay underground too. There are many different accommodation options - ranging from backpacker hostels to 5 star luxury hotel rooms - all underground!
It's an amazing experience to sleep in an underground room - it really was one of the highlights of my week away to the Red Centre. There was no noise from the outside, nothing penetrates that sandstone hill. The backpackers hostel that I stayed in was clean, bright and spacious and I had a wonderful night's sleep.
My husband and I stayed in Coober Pedy twice and a trip to an from Melbourne to Alice Spings ia Uluru. We loved Coober Pedy. We went to a couple of the museums and did a tour of the town and the Breakaways. Did you get to the Breakaways, they are certainly a sight to see.