15 Best Things To Do In Coober Pedy, South Australia | 2023 Guide

Set in the arid Australian Outback, Coober Pedy is a quirky town with a unique charm unlike anywhere else. The town earned its place on the map through years of opal mining and a bizarre moon-like appearance that feels otherworldly.

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Many of the most popular things to do in Coober Pedy revolve around—you guessed it, opals! Coober Pedy gained global fame as the Opal Capital of the World during the opal mining boom. Today, it remains both an active opal mining town and a popular tourist destination. But, there’s more to this town than the noteworthy gemstone. 

The harsh climate has driven nearly half of the population to live underground to escape the heat and pesky flies. Almost everywhere you go, life in here happens underground! 

We had fun walking around the underground network of buildings and admiring the amazing opal shops along the way. There are many places that you can visit that offer insights into the Coober Pedy history and the opal mining industry. 

Here, you can spend a tranquil early morning in underground churches, try your hand at opal fossicking, or explore the nearby natural wonders with Coober Pedy tours. Above ground, this town is just as spectacular. 

For an unforgettable trip, here are 15 of the best things to do in Coober Pedy.

Coober Pedy, South Australia
Coober Pedy, South Australia
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About The Town

Coober Pedy is famous for being the opal capital of the world, with a mining town industry built on opal fields. The Coober Pedy opal fields have graced the screens of many movies with their unearthly moon-plain appearance. And, of course, the underground houses, shops, and underground hotels are some of the most popular things in Coober Pedy. 

Coober Pedy is famous for its underground homes, with roughly half the population living in these unique dwellings. Due to extreme temperatures, the majority of the population of Coober Pedy town lives underground in modern-day dug-outs. 

It’s estimated around half of the town’s population lives in somewhat modern underground homes.

Where Is Coober Pedy?

Coober Pedy is located in the rugged South Australian Outback in the northern part of South Australia. Travelling from the Flinders Ranges all the way to Uluru, you’ll encounter some of the Outback’s most iconic sights. It’s nearly halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway.

What Is The Best Time To Visit Coober Pedy?

With its dry desert climate, it goes without saying that Coober Pedy can get pretty hot in the summer months. 

To avoid the sizzling summer temperatures and potential dust storms, the best time to visit Coober Pedy is from March to November. The days are warm and comfortable, and the evenings are cool.

During our visit in April, the daily highs were around 25°C, but nights cooled down to a comfortable 5-10°C. It was perfect!

Opal mines in Coober Pedy
Opal mines in Coober Pedy

How To Get To Coober Pedy, South Australia 

The quickest way to reach Coober Pedy is to get from Adelaide to Coober Pedy is a 9-hour (850 km) drive along the Stuart Highway. The road is sealed and easily travelled with any vehicle. The same goes if you’re coming from Alice Springs to the north via the 7-hour (690 km) journey southbound. 

You might be wondering, is Coober Pedy worth visiting if you have to drive all the way? Well, the answer depends on what you’re looking for. If you want something unique, a bit quirky, and a taste of real outback adventure, then Coober Pedy is worth a visit. 

That being said, we all know the quickest way isn’t always the most fun! Thanks to our 4WD Troopy, we drove to Coober Pedy via the famous Oodnadatta track from Marree to Marla when we visited Coober Pedy. This 617 km unsealed corrugated outback track doesn’t necessarily require 4WD, but it can cause a bit of havoc on caravans and 2WD vehicles. 

If you’re not planning to drive, you can fly into Coober Pedy on Rex’s daily flights from Adelaide or take a Greyhound. It’s a 2-hour flight from Adelaide or a much longer 11-hour bus journey.

Welcome to Coober Pedy
Welcome to Coober Pedy

Things To Do In Coober Pedy

Even if opals don’t make your heart sing, there are lots of really cool things to do in Coober Pedy. Here are some activities that can be found in this lovely town that will help you make the most of your Coober Pedy itinerary. It’s a destination unlike anywhere else, and the attractions are definitely unique!

1. Stay in Coober Pedy Underground At Desert Cave Hotel

Staying at an underground hotel in Coober Pedy is an absolute must for any visit. The Desert Cave Hotel is exactly that—an underground oasis with no AC, no windows, and no disturbances. Who would have thought sleeping in a cave would make for such a peaceful sleep! Just be sure to set an alarm because it’s way too easy to sleep in when you’re underground. 

This great hotel is located right in the town centre and offers both underground and aboveground accommodations. There’s an underground bar and restaurant on-site, along with underground shops, a cafe, and an opal mine interpretive centre.

Oksana and Max in Desert Cave Hotel
Oksana and Max in Desert Cave Hotel

2. Visit Old Timers Mine

Journey back in time to this early 1900s opal mine that earned Coober Pedy its famous mining reputation. Take a self-guided walk around the Old Timers Mine and discover the inner workings of an old mine that brought so many folks to the area. This was our favourite activity in Coober Pedy; we learned so much from spending a few hours in the mine!

The mine also has a section that shows off a typical underground dwelling from the 1920s and more modern times. You can explore the subterranean dwellings while learning about the extensive mining history the town was built on.

Old Timers Mine, Coober Pedy
Old Timers Mine

3. Check Out The Breakaways For Sunset

The Breakaways are a great example of the rugged Outback beauty that Australia is known for. Visiting the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park at sunset is one of our favourite things to do in Coober Pedy. If you arrive at golden hour, you’ll watch the sandstone tablelands turn to a rich dark red colour lit up by the night sky.

The Breakaways are located 32 km north of town and make up an Aboriginal heritage site comprising colourful hills that have separated from the Stuart Range. Grab a permit from the visitors centre ($10) and enjoy a mini road trip in the surrounding area. 

There are two lookout points for spectacular views of the tablelands, including Panorama Hill, which you might recognize from Mad Max. Then, you can explore the Big Winch Lookout and an underground Catholic church before continuing your journey further into the outback.

The journey back to the town follows the famous dog fence, a 2-metre-high dingo fence that protects sheep from native dingos. You’ll quickly find out why the dog fence area has been nicknamed moon plains with its mystic lunar otherworldly landscape. 

En route to the Breakaways, Coober Pedy
En route to the Breakaways, Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy
Max at Breakaways Conservation Park
Coober Pedy
Oksana and Max, Breakaways Conservation Park

4. Visit the Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Orphanage

While there are lots of great things to do in Coober Pedy, admiring aboriginal art and baby kangaroos is pretty up there. Josephine’s Gallery is an art gallery meets kangaroo sanctuary filled with local Aboriginal culture and artifacts. 

This fantastic organization cares for a variety of Australian wildlife, such as wombats, birds, lizards, and kangaroos, that are unable to fend for themselves. Outside, you can mingle with baby kangaroos at the kangaroo orphanage and even watch bottle-feeding

You can find Josephine’s on the main street of Coober Pedy across from the drive-in, but make sure to check their opening hours, as visitor hours are limited.

5. Umoona Opal Mine And Museum

Umoona was one of the original opal mines in Coober Pedy that has been transformed into an impressive museum. Venture below the surface and explore this underground museum and opal mine that tells the story of Aboriginal and European mining’s fascinating history in Coober Pedy

Cruise for fossils from the now-extinct inland sea and get a feel for what life is like in a dugout. The museum offers underground tours through the Aboriginal Interpretive Centre that explain how opals are formed and mined; you’ll get a really interesting insight into how the opal mines work. The experience is quite different from the Old Timers Mine and is also well worth a go. 

Be sure to stop by the souvenir shop, where you can get a custom piece of opal jewellery to take home. 

Umoona Opal Mine and Museum, Coober Pedy
Umoona Opal Mine and Museum

6. Visit A Working Opal Mine

Of course, checking out a functioning opal mine is a popular thing to do in this town. The good news is, that there are several operational opal mines you can explore. If you’re keen on exploring a real opal mine, Tom’s Opal Mine is the go-to spot. Located just outside town on the Stuart Highway, you can’t miss it. They have guided and self-guided Coober Pedy mine tours, and you can even try noodling—searching for opals in discarded piles missed by miners.

7. See A Movie At The Desert Drive-In

The Coober Pedy drive-in is one of the few remaining drive-in movie theatres in Australia. What better way to spend an evening in the desert than by watching a film under the stars. 

The drive-in has been around since 1965 and now features a digital projector that plays different movies each weekend. Tickets are $20 per car and they often play blockbusters filmed in Coober Pedy like the movie Pitch Black and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

The Coober Pedy drive-in theatre sign
The Coober Pedy drive-in theatre sign

8. Shop For Opal

Naturally, there are many opal cave shops in Coober Pedy where you can get your own piece of the famed gemstone. The shops have all kinds of different cuts and colours on display, with some even offering opal-cutting demonstrations. If you buy opals in Coober Pedy, you’ll get an authenticity certificate, as the whole town takes their opals very seriously. 

Stop by Opalios or Gaea Gems to see amazing stones and beautiful handcrafted jewellery.

Opal Shop, Coober Pedy
Opal Shop

9. Drink Underground At The Underground Bar At Desert Cave Hotel

Sip on a refreshing cocktail in the world’s only underground bar at the Desert Cave Hotel. This bar is pretty cool—and we mean that literally and figuratively. Step out of the hot desert air and cool down the subterranean style while relaxing with a beverage. 

10. Enjoy A Sunset And A Show At The Big Winch

The Big Winch is a noteworthy spot in town, offering 360° views of Coober Pedy. The Big Winch restaurant is a great place for dinner/drinks at sunset while admiring the vibrant desert landscape painted with bright reds and oranges. 

Alternatively, for a sunset spot without the crowds, you can head to the free location above the Opal Cave shop on the main street (next to Umoona Museum).

Big Winch 360 Restaurant in Coober Pedy
Big Winch 360 Restaurant in Coober Pedy

11. Eat Underground At Desert Cave Hotel’s Crystal Cafe Or Umbertos

Whether you’re craving a fancy sit-down dinner or a quick lunch, the Desert Cave Hotel’s two restaurants won’t disappoint. Umbertos Restaurant features a top-notch menu of chef-crafted dishes and wine in a relaxed atmosphere. 

Meanwhile, the Crystal Cafe serves a light buffet or à la carte breakfast and lunch from its cool underground lair. You can also pop in throughout the day for refreshments and snacks.

12. Go Opal Noodling On A Down N’ Dirty Tour 

When you’re in Coober Pedy, you’ll hear the term “noodling” a lot. It’s what the locals like to call the act of rummaging through the sand in search of opals left behind by miners

The Desert Cave offers a Down N’ Dirty Tour where amateur prospectors can get a taste for treasure hunting in the Quest Mine. Throw on a hard hat and get to know what mining in Coober Pedy is all about! 

Danger sign on a Down N’ Dirty Tour.
Danger sign on a Down N’ Dirty Tour.

13. Painted Desert Tour

Head into the picturesque Outback of Australia and explore the ancient fossils that dot the Painted Desert or Arckaringa Hills. The area, now commonly referred to as the moon plains, was once the bed of an ancient inland sea. Over millions of years, the rocks have eroded and left behind marine fossils and stunning desert scapes. The Painted Desert Tour, offered by the Desert Cave Hotel, is a day-long 4WD adventure full of history and incredible photography opportunities.

14. Outback Mail Run

Going on a mail run tour around Coober Pedy is an outback experience like none other. Join the mailman on a route through Oodnadatta and William Creek where you’ll learn about early explorers and cattle stations. The mail is delivered twice a week through Oodnadatta and William Creek, making the tour available on Monday and Thursday. You’ll then hit the track in a 4WD vehicle and discover the extensive Lake Eyre basin while delivering mail to historic outback towns. Seeing Lake Eyre from above isn’t just about getting a bird’s-eye view of the sparkling wonder, it’s also about the exciting journey it takes to get there. 

15. Visit The Interpretive Display At Desert Cave Hotel

Soak in the rich history of Coober Pedy through the colourful and informative interpretive display at the Desert Cave Hotel. Learn about how mining shaped the town, along with details on opal formation and cutting as you walk along sandstone passages. 

The display is free to visit and highlights some interesting facts about Coober Pedy.

Coober Pedy
Opal mines at Coober Pedy

How Many Days Do You Need For Coober Pedy?

We recommend spending 2-3 days in this unique tourist destination to soak in all of the unique Coober Pedy attractions. 

Plus, depending on the time of year you visit, the extreme heat might dictate how many outdoor activities you can do. Thankfully, the Coober Pedy underground is always nice and cool. 

Is It Safe In Coober Pedy?

Yes, visiting Coober Pedy is safe as long as you apply your good travel sense like you would anywhere else. Lock up your vehicle or camper, tuck away your valuables, and enjoy the opal capital!

READ NEXT: Guide to Visiting Barossa Valley, South Australia

Have you been to Coober Pedy? Do you think you could live underground in a dugout?

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