It’s funny how the weather can affect things while travelling either the best laid plans get thrown out the window and you’ll head home, or simply change the plans like in our case. Our base to explore for a week was the unique outback town of Coober Pedy in SA.
Known as Australia’s opal mining capital with underground buildings, a landscape full of mole hills and mines it needs to be visited at least once on anybody’s travel. History states that about 150 million years ago inland Australia was covered by a vast ocean and when it started to dry up the water and silica ( commonly called crystalline Silica, also referred to as quartz, is a common mineral, found in soil, sand, granite, concrete, rock, etc ) seeped into cracks and the earths faults.
Basically over time chemical reactions happened and opals were formed, and in 1915 the first opals were found by Willie Hutchinson. With nearby mines the Cooper Pedy area produces 85% of the worlds stunning opal supplies, and they say if you cant find colour here you're not looking.
The word got out and a year later miners rushed to the area with a town being established. Today it's a busy place with plenty of opportunities to explore the dugouts and mines and todays records state that theres about 260,000 shafts across the landscape.
We asked the question - why cant the old on es be filled in. ?…. well, coming from old Tom at Tom’s mine tours, he was saying that they could but, when if the miners were to cut in to an old mine all of the soft and unstable dirt would flow into the new mine like water and possibly killing the miner. Which all makes sense when you do one of Tom’s tours underground.
He is the second owner of this working mine operation where he delves deep into all things opal and the culture surrounding it. He takes you through a maze of tunnels, shows you raw opal colour still in the hard mother rock, tools of the trade, and if you're lucky even have a go of some of the gear ( under supervision of course ). No question is too hard for old Tom, wether they are true or not is a different story.
Around 50% of the townsfolk live underground due to the extreme temperatures in summer, and interesting enough there’s over 40 different nationalities making up the population. Today multi-culture is still alive in town but according to locals not what it used to be.
The town has the usual tourist attractions with plenty of opal shops, there's a grassless golf course, mine tours, an underground church, motels, plus - if you're a tent camper you can set it up underground at Ruby’s caravan park. The town was originally named Stuart Range but this was officially changed to Coober Pedy by the Mining Association in 1922. It’s thought that the Coober Pedy meaning is what the local Aborigines saw as strange activity of 'white men down holes’.
With low rainfall the town pumps water from 25km away from a deep artesian bore after failed attempts by the government to establish several local water sources. The first program was to build a 2 million litre tank underground but was deemed unreliable, then in 1967 a de-sal plant was built to treat salty water pumped from 100m below the surface but it didn’t produce enough water for the town.
Cooper Pedy has the Stuart Highway running through it but it also has opportunities to explore the desert regions to the east towards the infamous Oodnadatta Track and our plan was to head up the Kempe Road towards Oodnadatta.
But that’s for next time !!