Carol and Adam, one of our 2020 ambassador families and the faces behind Barefoot and Breastless shared with us their first red dirt caravanning experience from Coober Pedy,. which includes underground churches, opals and even dinosaurs! Check out their story below!
Australia is full of spectacular, stunning, awe-inspiring and quirky places! Coober Pedy falls under the latter! It’s definitely somewhere I was interested in seeing and in March whilst travelling along the coast of South Australia, north of Adelaide, we decided to venture on quite a large detour to Coober Pedy! So, with a sense of curiosity and excitement we set off north into the outback of South Australia.
Coober Pedy is a 5 hr 25 min journey (541 km) north from Port Augusta along the Stuart Highway. This seemingly endless road through the red dirt is simply stunning and an experience in itself with some spectacular views of the surrounding terrain. We started our drive from Port Broughton and allowed 2 days, stopping only to refuel and for short breaks. We stopped to top up the tank in Glendambo at Spuds Roadhouse. We loved the quirky, rustic nature of Spuds which did not disappoint with a selection of essential groceries and takeaway food which included some smashing hot chips! Make sure you try them! There are a couple of fuel stops available between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy. Our suggestion is to top up your tanks at both. We do carry two 20litre jerry cans of diesel onboard allowing us to make any spontaneous trips and knowing we have plenty of fuel is comforting.
With plenty of roadside free camps and a couple of roadhouses to choose from there isn’t any worry of where to pull over for the night to get some rest. We pulled into a free camp near Glendambo called Mulga Camp which was approximately 300 odd metres off the side of the highway tucked away in the scrub with a nice clearing and plenty of firewood. It just so happened that the flies were absolutely terrible that afternoon, we have never seen so many so make sure you pack your fly nets! We were still able to watch the sun set over the red dirt, put our drone up in the air and take some brilliant shots. We often use WikiCamps to find our camps for the night and although Mulga Camp had no facilities, it was a peaceful and beautiful first red dirt camp experience!
Next morning with an early start we continued on to Coober Pedy. The drive into town is somewhat surreal because as you approach you start seeing mounds of dirt piled in patches on the outskirts of town from thousands of disused mine shafts. There are also trucks and odd looking mining vehicles, some put together using old cars, vans and busses! There is really nothing around Coober Pedy and it’s so different it could almost be mistaken for another planet! First stop was for a picture under the famous Coober Pedy mining truck sign!
Upon arrival we checked into the Oasis Tourist Park in the middle of town which is conveniently located an easy five minute walk to the local IGA which is quite impressive for an outback town and fully stocked with all that you would need. Once setup at our powered ensuite site the boys headed straight for the pool, quite the relief after a long drive with the temperature exceeding 35 degrees! It’s a hot little spot this time of year which is why a lot of residents live underground! The owner of the park, George, runs his own mini bus tours of the town which we would highly recommend. You could drive yourself around but the tour gives you a unique insight into Coober Pedy life and the characters who live it! The tour takes you to two underground churches, underground homes, an underground opal mine, museum with an award-winning documentary about the history of Coober Pedy in the only underground cinema in Australia, the famous opal fields, a unique golf course and fossicking for your own opal. There is nothing that sparks my boys imagination more than a treasure hunt and that’s basically opal mining in a nutshell! Throw in underground houses called “dugouts”, dinosaur and prehistoric sea creature fossils and quirky movie props from movies like Mad Max, what more could you want?
George has a small Opal fossicking pit set up at the park for the kids. He spent time showing the boys how to spray water on the stones to see if they contained opal and we literally couldn’t tear them away. They found a few pretty fragments that they still talk about and keep in their little treasure boxes in the caravan. George is a true gentleman and happily shares his time and stories with his guests.
Coober Pedy is renowned for its below-ground residences, which are built due to the scorching daytime heat. We were all fascinated to see other underground structures, churches, bars, hotels and houses and imagine what it would be like to live there. They are literally called “dugouts” because they are dug out of the hilly landscape. You are no longer allowed to mine in the town centre of Coober Pedy but if you were to find opals whilst digging out your home then well done you! The underground residences and hotels are quite impressive. The rock walls are coated with a clear sealant to prevent dust build up from the sandstone and the floors are finished with either smooth concrete, tiles, and floating timber floors. The electrical wires, lighting, and plumbing are all chased into the walls and ceilings and there are no windows. They say a best nights sleep is at Coober Pedy due to the comfortable underground temperatures and pitch black darkness. Air circulation underground is via several ventilation shafts conveniently located dependent on the size of your residence. All very interesting.
You may have heard there are thousands and thousands of holes everywhere in Coober Pedy. These are the Opal fields. It is highly advised not to venture into these areas alone as the holes are around 30m deep and dangerous for obvious reasons. George took us through some areas of disused mines in the minibus and they are quite fascinating.
One quick tip when booking your caravan site at the Oasis Tourist Park, if you want a drinking water connection for your caravan make sure you ask for a site with a water connection. We assumed that our en-suite site would have a drinking water tap however it did not with only a handful of sites having water available. All taps in the park are padlocked and for an additional fee you can have a site with water and given a key. Water is precious in this part of the world with the water closely monitored. We discovered there are several coin operated drinking water filling stations/taps in town which are useful to fill up your water tanks in your caravan prior to arriving to the park if need be.
The kids gave Coober Pedy a 10/10, their favourite part being finding opals! I particularly enjoyed the museum which was in an old disused mine. It describes the story of mining in the area which is the whole reason Coober Pedy exists! It was also amazing looking at the jewellery and opals in the shop, all shapes, sizes and colours, some priced astonishingly high! The beauty of the Opal is that each stone is so unique and colourful.
We spent 3 nights 2 days in Coober Pedy and definitely a spot I wouldn’t miss whilst travelling a lap of Australia. As fate would have it we are likely to head back there on route from Alice Springs back to SA for Christmas, our route having been disrupted by coronavirus and I for one am looking forward to it!
We are very excited to welcome Carol & her family to our 2020 Ambassador Family and can’t wait to follow their adventures.
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