After our outstanding experience in the red centre of Australia it was time to continue with the rest of our trip and start heading south. Coober Pedy is a massive 750 kilometres from Uluru, which meant an entire day on the bus with our tour group. Expecting to spend the day sleeping we climbed aboard the bus in the dark of the morning, clutching our pillows and blankets. We drove steadily south as dawn broke and daylight woke us from our slumber. Our tour guide Sam, who had been driving in silence whilst we slept, decided enough was enough and it was time to rise and shine. After a quick breakfast and fuel stop he put our brains to the test with an elaborately thought out and well planned quiz. The windscreen was transformed into a score board with some washable markers and Sam queued up some music before we continued our journey in to South Australia. The quiz brought out the competitive side in all of us and lasted for several hours. After a hard fought battle we were delighted to be on the team that was crowned joint champions. Due in part, of course, to our expert knowledge of 1980’s rom-coms, power ballads and the teenage mutant ninja turtles. We spent the rest of the journey trying to solve riddles that no one seemed to know the answer to.
After much hilarity we finally arrived in Coober Pedy, the opal mining capital of the world. Opals were first found here in 1915 and a century later fortunes are still being made, not that you would know it when you arrive in town. There are discarded heaps of gravel lining the streets and dust hangs heavy in the air. Stray dogs wander freely over vast areas of waste ground covered in what looks like old building rubble. The whole town sits under the watchful glare of its famous landmark, The Giant Winch, towering overhead and adding to the post apocalyptic scene. But when you look a little closer at Coober Pedy, just below the surface in fact, there is a surprising amount of life in the town.
Temperatures soar in Coober Pedy but the residents have found a unique way of dealing with the extreme temperatures; they live underground. Yes that’s right, just like the children’s TV classics, batman and the wombles, the residents of Coober Pedy burrow underground to create their lairs. On closer inspection, the rubble covered waste ground has small metal vents dotted about it, providing air to the underground homes.
Living below the surface is quite a tradition in town and it keeps homes much cooler in summer. After touring an opal mine we journeyed underground to visit an exact replica of an early dwelling. Next we were led into what we were told was a modern underground house. Complete with wood panelling, a boxy TV and an ultra modern VHS video recorder. It was a real insight into the appalling conditions Australians had to endure in the 1980’s.
That night after a sampling the local hospitality, we channelled our inner womble by sleeping in an underground bunkhouse. Bleary eyed and a little worse for wear, the following morning we left Coober Pedy and continued on our journey to Flinders Ranges.