While we’re not talking about an interstellar black hole here, this entire subterranean community seems more likely to be found in outer space than here on Earth.
Smack dab in the middle of the state of South Australia is the town of Coober Pedy. Nomadic aboriginal peoples have called this arid piece of land home for centuries, but this town started to grow after a gold prospector and his son made an exciting discovery just over 100 years ago.
“In January 1915,” CooberPedy.net explains, “the New Colorado Prospecting Syndicate, consisting of Jim Hutchison and his 14-year-old son William, PJ Winch and M McKenzie had unsuccessfully been searching for gold south of Coober Pedy. The men had set up camp and were searching for water when young Willie found pieces of opal on the surface of the ground. This was on the 1st February 1915 and 8 days later the first opal claim was pegged.”
Opal is the national gemstone of Australia and Coober Pedy is home to huge displays of the precious stone. The dusty community also contains the highest concentration of mining for opal in the world.
As miners developed the area, it quickly became clear that it would be practical to use old mineshafts as dwellings. Daytime temperatures in the central Australian desert regularly top 100 degrees, while underground, the temperature remains cool without the need of air conditioners. As time went on, people found that it cost about the same to build a home underground as it would be to build a home in the hot desert sun.
Geographically, the area has been likened to a moonscape — there’s a lack of water, it’s dusty, and there are lots of small hills, some of which are natural, and others are the piles of dirt cleared out from the quarter million mines that have been excavated in Coober Pedy.
There are so many hills and holes that the town has installed this peculiar sign telling you to not run or risk plummeting into a deserted desert mine shaft.
About 20 miles outside of town, there’s an area called “Moon Plains.” The only thing that makes the area seem as if it’s terrestrial is the presence of seashells strewn across the desert floor. These shells are 150 million years old — remnants from when the Australian continent was under the ocean.
Visiting Coober Pedy from the capital of South Australia, Adelaide, requires a nine-hour drive through the desert. When you arrive, you have a choice of underground hotels and hostels that cater to both gem buyers and backpackers.
One of the spots tourists are encouraged to visit is the Serbian Orthodox Church, featuring, “Rock carvings in the walls, high roof ‘ballroom’ style design, and stained glass windows help to make the Serbian Church one of Coober Pedy’s most awe-inspiring structures.”
There’s also a town golf course. Golfers carry their own strip of astroturf and typically play at night with glow in the dark balls — it’s too hot to play during the day.
So if you’d like to slip into this black hole, consider visiting Coober Pedy for its annual Opal Festival or make it a stop on your trans-Australian adventure.