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Coober Pedy
South Australia
Coober Pedy01.JPG
The town of Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy is located in South Australia
Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy
Location in South Australia
Population 1,762 (2016 census)
Established 1915
Postcode(s) 5723
LGA(s) District Council of Coober Pedy
Region Far North
State electorate(s) Giles
Federal Division(s) Grey
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
27.5 °C
82 °F
14.1 °C
57 °F
129.5 mm
5.1 in
Localities around Coober Pedy:
Mount Willoughby Mount Willoughby
Mount Barry
Anna Creek
Mount Clarence Station Coober Pedy Anna Creek
Mount Clarence Station
Ingomar Mount Douall
Footnotes Adjoining localities
Coober Pedy Opal
High-quality Coober Pedy rough opal from the Dead Horse Gully area

Coober Pedy is a town in northern South Australia, 846 km (526 mi) north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway. The town is sometimes referred to as the "opal capital of the world" because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined there. Coober Pedy is renowned for its below-ground dwellings, called "dugouts", which are built in this fashion due to the scorching daytime heat.

The name "Coober Pedy" is thought to derive from the Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means "whitefellas' hole", but in 1975 the local Aboriginal people of the town adopted the name Umoona, which means "long life" and is also their name for the mulga tree.

In the 2016 Australian census, there were 1,762 people in Coober Pedy.

The Milky Way seen over Coober Pedy


Aboriginal people have a long-standing connection with the area. The first European explorer to pass near the site of Coober Pedy was Scottish-born John McDouall Stuart in 1858, but the town was not established until after 1915, when opal was discovered by Wille Hutchison. Miners first moved in about 1916. By 1999, there were more than 250,000 mine shaft entrances in the area and a law discouraged large-scale mining by allowing each prospector a 165-square-foot (15.3 m2) claim.

The harsh summer desert temperatures mean that many residents prefer to live in caves bored into the hillsides ("dugouts"). A standard three-bedroom cave home with lounge, kitchen, and bathroom can be excavated out of the rock in the hillside for a similar price to building a house on the surface. However, dugouts remain at a constant temperature, while surface buildings need air conditioning, especially during the summer months, when temperatures often exceed 40 °C (104 °F). The relative humidity rarely gets over 20% on these hot days, and the skies are usually cloud-free. The average maximum temperature is 30–32 °C (86–90 °F), but it can get quite cool in the winter.

Coober Pedy is a very small town, about halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs. It has become a popular stopover point and tourist destination, especially since 1987, when the sealing of the Stuart Highway was completed.

Visitors attractions in Coober Pedy include the mines, the graveyard and the underground churches (the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church). The first tree ever seen in the town was welded together from scrap iron. It still sits on a hilltop overlooking the town.

Heritage sites

Coober Pedy has a number of heritage-listed sites, including:

  • 13 Hutchison Street: Three-Roomed Dugout
  • 9 Hutchison Street: Coober Pedy Catholic Church and Presbytery
Opalized fossil bivalve, Coober Pedy Opal Field, South Australia
Opalised mollusc shell from a Coober Pedy mine


The District Council of Coober Pedy estimates the population to be around 3,500. Approximately 60% of the people are European, migrating from southern and eastern Europe after the Second World War. In all, there are more than 45 nationalities represented.

Sport and recreation

The local golf course – mostly played at night with glowing balls, to avoid daytime heat – is completely free of grass, and golfers take a small piece of "turf" around to use for teeing off. As a result of correspondence between the two clubs, the Coober Pedy golf club is the only club in the world to enjoy reciprocal rights at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

The town also has an Australian rules football club, the Coober Pedy Saints, established in 2004, which competes in the Far North Football League (formerly the Woomera & Districts Football League). Due to the town's isolation, to play matches the Saints must make round trips of over 900 kilometres (560 mi) to Roxby Downs, where the rest of the league's teams are located.

The town has a drive-in theatre. It opened in 1965, but became less popular after 1980 with the arrival of television to the town, and ceased regular operation in 1984. It was re-opened in 1996.


Coober Pedy has a desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh). Typical of a desert climate, diurnal ranges are higher than in most places, with an annual average high of 27.5 °C (81.5 °F) and an annual average low of just 14.1 °C (57.4 °F). From December to February, the weather warms up and summer temperatures range from 35 °C (95 °F) in the shade, with occasional dust storms. The annual rainfall in the area is low and amongst the lowest in Australia, at around 130 millimetres (5.1 in) per annum.

Climate data for Coober Pedy Airport
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 47.4
Average high °C (°F) 36.7
Average low °C (°F) 22.3
Record low °C (°F) 12.0
Precipitation mm (inches) 13.4
Humidity 18 22 22 26 33 41 37 29 24 22 21 20 26.3
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 1 mm) 1.6 1.7 1.4 1.6 1.7 1.9 1.2 1.3 1.6 2.0 2.6 3.0 21.6
Source: Bureau of Meteorology


Coober Pedy is situated upon the edge of the erosional scarp of the Stuart Ranges, on beds of sand and siltstone 30 metres (98 ft) deep and topped with a stony, treeless desert. Very little plant life exists in town due to the region's low rainfall, high cost of water, the sandstone and lack of topsoil.


The mail truck to Oodnadatta, 2007

The town is served by daily coach services from Adelaide by Greyhound Australia. The Ghan train serves the town through the Manguri Siding, 42 kilometres (26 mi) from Coober Pedy, which is served by trains once weekly in each direction. Passengers on The Ghan are not usually allowed to disembark at Manguri unless they have prearranged transport, due to the siding's isolation and the extremely cold temperatures at night.

Coober Pedy is a gateway to the outback communities of Oodnadatta and William Creek, which are both located on the Oodnadatta Track. There is a twice-a-week mail run from Coober Pedy to these communities and other outback homesteads. It carries the mail, general freight and passengers.

Regional Express also has direct flights to Adelaide, from Coober Pedy Airport.

Preceding station Journey Beyond Following station
Alice Springs
One-way operation
The Ghan
towards Adelaide only


In May 2009 South Australian Premier Mike Rann opened the $1.15 billion Prominent Hill Mine, 130 kilometres (81 mi) South East of Coober Pedy. The copper-gold mine is operated by OZ Minerals. In August 2010 Premier Rann opened the Cairn Hill iron ore/copper/gold mine operated by IMX Resources near Coober Pedy. It was the first new iron ore mining area opened in South Australia since the 19th Century. Due to low iron ore prices, the Cairn Hill mine was closed in June 2014.

Oil reserves

Coober Pedy - Inside jewelry shop
An underground jewellery shop in Coober Pedy

In 2013 it was reported that a potentially very significant tight oil (oil trapped in oil-bearing shales) resource has been found near Coober Pedy in the Arckaringa Basin. This resource is estimated to hold between 3.5 and 223 billion barrels (560×10^6 and 35,450×10^6 m3) of oil, which provides the potential for Australia to become a net oil exporter.

In popular culture

Both the town and its hinterland, for different reasons, are very photogenic and have therefore attracted film makers. The town itself was the setting for the 2006 film Opal Dream and is a pivotal location in Wim Wenders' 1991 film Until the End of the World.

Its environment also attracted movie producers, with parts of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Pitch Black having been filmed in the area.

  • An episode of Dirty Jobs: Down Under with Mike Rowe visited Coober Pedy.
  • The town was featured in an episode of House Hunters Off the Grid called "Cave Me, Maybe in Coober Pedy, Australia" on HGTV.
  • Coober Pedy was also featured in Top Gear Australia, where Steve and Warren put two city cars on the mail run from Coober Pedy to William Creek via the Oodnadatta Track.
  • Coober Pedy is also a part of the open world environment of the 2016 racing video game Forza Horizon 3.

In philately

A rare exhibition cachet, signed by Coober Pedy Postmaster Alfred P. North, was discovered in Memphis, Tennessee on February 3, 2016.

To date, it is the only known example of this cachet in the world.

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