Most of This Australian Town's Residents Live in Underground 'Dugouts' — and You Can Stay There in a Subterranean Hotel
“If you’re into truly one-of-a-kind destinations, then this has to be on your list.”
It’s a desert town like nowhere on Earth... in fact, it kind of resembles the surface of the moon. With a large percentage of its inhabitants and attractions underground, Coober Pedy is one of Australia’s more unusual destinations.
Renowned as the opal capital of the world, Australia’s national gemstone has been mined here for more than 100 years. Mullock heaps dotting the opal mine fields give the landscape a decidedly lunar atmosphere, if you can ignore the blistering heat.
The brutal conditions have led many of the South Australian town’s approximately 1,800 inhabitants to live underground. Known as “dugouts,” these subterranean homes are naturally eco-friendly, with no air conditioning or insulation required.
Beneath the surface, art galleries and churches also dot the outback town, including the spectacular Serbian Orthodox Church. Built in 1993, the church was dug out by volunteers, and at its deepest point, reaches 56 feet deep.
Beyond the town itself, spectacular outback sights await. “There is a lot of unique beauty around Coober Pedy, with the Breakaways and Painted Desert not too far away,” Brent Hill, executive director of marketing, South Australian Tourism Commission, told Travel + Leisure. “If you’re into truly one-of-a-kind destinations, then this has to be on your list.”
Coober Pedy is about a nine-hour drive from Adelaide and a seven-hour drive from Alice Springs.
When to Go
Coober Pedy’s desert climate equals warm winters with cool nights and hot summers. With so many attractions underground, it is possible to visit throughout the year; however, January and February are exceptionally hot months. A visit on either side of summer’s height may make for a more comfortable experience.
Exploring the Mines
The Old Timers Mine dates back to the earliest days of opal mining, featuring a hand-dug mine from 1916. At Umoona Opal Mine & Museum, visitors can learn the Aboriginal history of the area and the mines, while Tom’s Working Opal Mine offers guided tours. A comprehensive list of local attractions can be found at cooberpedy.com.