The Town of Opals

The quirkly little town of Coober Pedy exists to mine opals and it can be a huge part of a person’s life if they live here. However, those people do have to find ways to relax. Like playing a round of golf.

Yes, it is real, and yes, you can play golf if you’d like. It just might be a bit different than most courses that you have played on in the past.

Our guide pointed out that most people will actually play at dusk/night here, as the daytime temperatures are simply too hot to play. That big black mark in the foreground is the ‘green’. I liked a sign as we drove in that said ‘stay off the grass’.

From the golf course of Coober Pedy we made our way to an Opal museum, where we got a quick demonstration on how they smooth out the opals found.

Remarkably fast and easy to do! And voila, you have an opal. This one was done very quickly as the opal itself wasn’t worth much at all, but for nicer stones a lot more time and care is taken.

The tour of the Opal lifestyle continued with a house. This is how many will live in Coober Pedy, underground. But they’ve got all the same facilities as a normal house would have. TV, kitchen, bathroom, etc, all modern and shiny. There are a few requirements and design considerations made though, given the circumstances. The kitchen and bathroom are placed as close to the side of the hill / above ground portion. This is because of the piping necessecities. This is especially important if a pipe has to be replaced or bursts, you don’t want to dig up your whole house to get at it, just a small portion.

Another design feature is air shafts – each room has to have 2 ventilation shafts to the surface to allow the free-flow of air. Pretty important to have good, clean air! But otherwise it felt like a┬ápeculiarly┬ádecorated┬áhouse, lacking in windows. And this lack of windows was probably most apparent in the bedroom where you can easily┬áachieve┬ácomplete darkness for sleep…any time of the day.

Then we dug lower into old opal mines. Here are where riches were made or squandered, in the depths of the earth in search of sparkling white and translucent stones.

There are many ways to dig for opals: by hand, by machine and using explosives, and combinations of those.

Opal mining is such a big part of the way of life that explosives could be bought at the local supermarket, up until recently. Turns out having easy access to explosives might be a bad idea at times…the police station was blown up a couple of times.

Here is a small vein of Opal. You can slightly make out the colour in the picture.

And this is what a modern tunnel looks like, machine cut and fairly smooth. It returned us to the surface where we began our search for our very own opals. Some opted to buy one in the gift shop. For others, we would get our hands dirty.

Getting out into the fresh air we began what is called ‘noodling’. This is digging through discarded piles of dirt from mining in search of opals that have been missed. You can find some surprisingly excellent pieces of opal – our tour guide Woody, just the tour prior found an opal worth ~$3,000. It was probably a little bigger than the face of a man’s watch. So it doesn’t need to be very big to be worth a lot, but it does have to have lots of colour.

After 30 minutes of searching many had already gone back to town empty handed. A few of us, myself included, found small bits of opal, but we wouldn’t be making our fortune here. I opted for a walk back to town and climbed a hill for a panoramic of Coober Pedy.

Our last hour or so in town was spent at the Kangaroo rescue. Kangaroos are nocturnal normally, thus are at high danger of being hit by road traffic. As well, the Aboriginal people can still hunt the kangaroo as part of their lifestyle. Both situations can result in a baby kangaroo being left to fend for itself without a mother. Normally, they would die in the harsh climate of the outback, but at times they find people who bring the baby Joey to the Kangaroo Rescue center in Coober Pedy. It was feeding time for some of them.

They really enjoy their milk. If young enough, the Center will try and rehabilitate the kangaroo then slowly transition it back to the wild if it can support itself. Some here at the center are life-long residents though, as they might be too injured (or in one case, too dumb) to survive in the wild for long.

Woody feeding the youngest Joey, who was very cute.

The kangaroos here are very used to humans so it was a good chance to meet them. I was surprised – they are very SOFT animals. I would have thought their fur would have reflected the difficult living conditions and have been hard and wiry. Turns out that kangaroo fur is fluffy and velvety.

The baby was also brought around for a closeup and some kisses. It was very cute.

Activities finished and lunch consumed, we packed into the bus and departed from the strange world of Coober Pedy, heading north once again.

One thought on “The Town of Opals

  1. Next time you go to New Zealand try out the Heaphy track. It is probably one of the most varying great walks in New Zealand in terms of scenary, and my personal favourite!