December 6, 2002, Newsletter Issue #105: Coober Pedy, South Australia

Tip of the Week

Population: 2103 Opal was discovered at Coober Pedy in 1315, today it is Australia´s largest and oldest opal mining town, known the world over for the unusual underground lifestyle its inhabitants have been forced to adopt to escape the fierce summer heat. Coober Pedy is on the main Stuart Highway. Its most notable feature is the moon-like landscape of opal mines, holes in the ground dug by several generations of miners and simply left there untended after being discarded. Care should be taken when walking around the area. The mines area is made up of around thirty working fields stretching outwards in a radius of up to fifty kilometres from the town. There are certain rules of behaviour visitors should observe - including avoiding fossicking for opal in and around miner´s claims. Ask permission before searching for opal in tailings heaps (´mullock´ heaps). Visitors can stay in a choice of underground accommodation.

Browse the shops for opals. If you don’t know your opals, stick with a guide who knows, as you could wind up with cheap low-quality stones.
Visit the opal museum in the centre of town. Learn about opals and some mining history.
Visit an opal mine and underground home. There are a number of organised tours you can take.
Go fossicking for opals. Best to do this in a designated opal field.
If you have the time and wish to do it, travel with the mail truck on a 600-kilometre round trip from Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta and William Creek for a different traveling experience.

There are more than a quarter million mine shafts in the Coober Pedy area, and visitors are warned to be on the lookout for them when traveling alone -- or run the risk of falling into one and remaining undiscovered for days on end, or not being found at all.
In fact, straying by one’s self around town, especially by a woman, is advised against, and it’s not just falling into a mine shaft that is the danger.
Unless you´re already traveling with a group, it may be best to stay with organised tours, or stay very close to the heart of town.

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