40 Coober Pedy Facts: Learn All About The 'Opal' Capital!

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Oct 13, 2023 By Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Originally Published on Feb 02, 2022
It was officially named after John Coober Pedy

The town, known as Coober Pedy, has a population of around 1,700. After 1900, the discovery of opals in the area saw the population increase dramatically to reach its current peak.

Opals are found in some of the dunes that surround Coober Pedy. These dunes were formed as part of extensive sand sheets made during the last ice age.

The word 'opal' comes from Greek and means 'dear one.' The town is also called Darling's Well. It was officially named after John Coober Pedy, who discovered the find in 1868.

Although John Coober Pedy is thought to have been born in Sydney, his wife Mary Ann Motherwell first gave birth to their son, named Albert William. This family subsequently moved to Coober Pedy, where they lived until 1912. The town was gazetted as a service center in 1877, then a goldfield in 1892, and an opal field in 1897.

The first mine shafts were sunk in 1899 by the Midland Opal Company. At that time, the population peaked at around 1,200 people. The following year, the first telephone line was put in place.

Five years later, the Central Australian Opal Company opened its mine shafts, and within a year, the population had dropped to 600 people. However, by 1903 it had recovered to 1,000 people and then it continued to rise steadily.

In 1924-25, Coober Pedy produced nearly half of all the opals mined in Australia, with some nine million carats being produced. The town continued its mining activities until 1955 when it closed down permanently due to a lack of water supply.

Coober Pedy Location

Coober Pedy is located at the northern end of South Australia, 540 mi (870 km) north of Adelaide, on the Stuart Highway.

  • The area lies within the town boundaries of Andamooka and Woomera and is 342 mi (550 km) southeast of Alice Springs.
  • It is to be noted that Alice Springs is a popular gateway for exploring the Red Centre. A stony, treeless desert is also a part of this area.
  • If you are looking for some adventure in the interior desert region, do not miss out on the beautiful Alice Springs within the Opal Fields.
  • Coober Pedy is situated in a large saltpan near an area known as the Northern Territory-Queensland Boundary.
  • The town lies at 24 degrees 34'South 127 degrees 15'East. It has an average elevation of 0.87 mi (1.409 km) above sea level.
  • Coober Pedy is nestled between the border of the Simpson Desert and the Oldman River. Climate Coober Pedy can be understood with this.
  • The Oldman River support several towns, including Yulara and Tennant Creek.
  • The town was originally called 'Old Man Station,' but later changed to 'Old Man.' When the railway line was constructed in 1923, a settlement along the track called Coober Pedy developed amid opal mining.
  • The name 'Coober Pedy' was coined by a miner who wanted to christen his family's new home after his wife.

Coober Pedy History

Coober Pedy was the site of Australia's biggest opal strike, which occurred between 1880 and 1884.

  • Over 21 million carats of opal were mined from the town during this period. The discovery of the precious stones in 1868 saw Coober Pedy become a hub for the opal industry.
  • Mining reached its peak in 1925 when nearly half of the opals mined in Australia were produced within Coober Pedy.
  • In 1910, Australia's first underground train opened at Coober Pedy. The train was used to transport supplies and miners.
  • The Coober Pedy Mines Rescue Station is the only mines rescue station located in a mining town and is owned by the Department of Minerals and Energy.
  • There are two other rescue stations in NSW located on Wilpena Pound (the Mount Remarkable Station) and Wollar (the Wilpinjong Station).
  • The station consists of an underground bunker, built during World War Two, with a workshop and vehicle refueling pump installation for mine rescue and vehicle recovery purposes.

Coober Pedy Weather And Climate Conditions

The climate here is quite consistent and the change of weather has been discussed here.

  • Coober Pedy features a hot desert climate with an average annual rainfall of 9.29 in (23.59 cm). Most rains fall between May and August, during summer and autumn (the wet season) when thunderstorms are frequent.
  • The wettest month is February, with rain falling on an average of two days. Spring (March-May) and autumn (September–November) are the driest months of the year, as they experience few or no thunderstorms, though these months typically see some of the lowest temperatures of the year.
  • Severe frost is possible in winter, and snow may occur a few times during the winter months. The average maximum temperature for July is 93.2 F (34 C) and the annual minimum temperature averages 51.8 F (11 C).
  • The average maximum temperature for Coober Pedy in winter is approximately 39.2 F (4 C), less than that recorded during summer.
  • The average minimum temperature is around 35.6 F (2 C) lower in winter than in summer.
  • The hottest temperature ever recorded in Coober Pedy was 117.68 F (47.6 C), which was measured on January 11, 1963, while the coldest temperature ever recorded was 15.26 F (-9.3 C) on November 5, 1972.
  • The average maximum temperature for Coober Pedy during summer is approximately 39.2 F (4 C), higher than the average maximum temperatures recorded during winter.
  • The average minimum temperature for Coober Pedy in summer is around 37.4 F (3 C), more than in winter.
  • The highest temperature ever recorded in Coober Pedy was 121.28 F (49.6 C), which was reached on January 22, 1970, while the lowest temperature ever recorded was 24.62 F (-4.1 C) on July 20, 1976.

Coober Pedy Famous Places To Visit For Tourists

Coober Pedy is one of the most important opal mining areas globally.

  • The town center offers many well-preserved buildings and landscapes, including the Coober Pedy Opal Mine Museum, which shows how to mine opals, Coober Pedy's local stores, art gallery, and tourist information center.
  • The historic railway station is a building that dates back to the '20s when the area was first established as an opal town. This building is now a beautiful, welcoming visitor sight to all who come here and also has a bar to support all visitors during their stay here.
  • Coober Pedy has two opal mines, the Coober Pedy Opal Mine and the Mary Kathleen Opal Mine. Both operate on a 24-hour basis.
  • The Coober Pedy Opal Mine is an open-cut mine situated under the town of Coober Pedy, which is run by the Sapphire Mining Company Ltd (SMC). It was founded in 1893 by Robert W. Stuart, a founder of Yulara. This mine has been in operation for over 90 years and is Australia's oldest operating opal mining operation.
  • The Mary Kathleen Opal Mine is a large operation run by MacMahon's mining company. It is a large open-cut mine on the deserted Alice River Station near the old Coober Pedy townsite.
  • It is to be noted that Opal is an ancient stone that is formed within the earth, made up of silica (or silicon).
  • It is a mineral formed when water drips through the rock and silica is dissolved within it. It then hardens when it is exposed to the elements.

Did you know?

The Opal Capital of the world is not a place for people who like adventure and the multicultural community presence. It is a gateway to the Oodnadatta and William Creek communities. A mail run takes place from Coober Pedy to these communities and outback homesteads.

  • It has a unique history and landscape, making the visit to South Australia more fascinating.
  • John McDouall Stuart, a Scottish-born European explorer, was the first to pass near the site.
  • The Opal Capital of the world was established in 1915 when Wille Hutchison discovered opal. After that, many opal miners started moving and came into this town to live and mine.
  • According to the 2016 census, there is a population of 1762. It is a small town with a large diversity, and that's the beauty of it.
  • The nearest ocean you can find is the Southern Ocean, about 223 mi (360 km) away from Coober Pedy. There are also two towns found closest to the Opal capital of the world. One of them is Lyndhurst which is 233.6 mi (376 km) away. The second one is Yalata, which is 244.82 mi (394 km) away.
  • Coober Pedy is known for its unique way of living. It is known as the opal capital of the world. There are large amounts of precious opals which are mined in this city. But it's also famous for its below-ground residences and accommodations.
  • As so much mining is done, there are many dugouts. People started making homes underground. If you visit this town, you can live in those beautiful underground hotels. There are mines also which are open for tourist visits.
  • One of the reasons this town is considered dangerous is because of the vast amount of flies found here. It almost feels like it's a plague.
  • According to the residents of this town, flies are prevalent. These flies are also considered good for the ecosystem and are excellent pollinators. It's a scorching and dry place, so the flies go wherever they can find the moisture. So due to large dung by the cattle, there are too many flies.
  • Coober Pedy produces a large amount of the world’s white opal. People live underground where it's cool in summer and warm in winter.
  • The first opal in this town was discovered by a 14-year-old boy in 1915. By 1916, a big flat was established. After the world war, many minors started coming, and there was an increase in production.
  • There is a light, porous host rock which is known as sandstone. Opal can be found within the sandstone as veins in horizontal levels or steeply dipping verticals. Distribution can be unpredictable, and opals may not be persistent from one claim to the next, but Coober Pedy is the world's largest producer of precious opals.
  • Speaking of other minerals and oil reserves, Rann opened the Cairn Hill Mine/ Copper Gold mine in August 2010, and the IMX resources operated this.
  • Earlier in 2009, Rann opened Prominent Hill Mine in the southeast of Coober Pedy. In 2013, a unique tight oil resource was found in the Arckaringa Basin.
  • The name Coober Pedy was derived from 'KUPA PITI,' which is an aboriginal phrase translated as 'water hole' or 'white man in a hole.' It was a designated town in 1960, and rapid development was seen in the '60s and '70s. The government council was established in 1987.
  • While there is less population in this underground town, the diversity is inspiring. Around 60% of the population lives underground, as it is more suitable according to the weather. Underground homes are an interesting aspect of this town.
  • Many miners come here because of the large amounts of opals found here. People who don't want to live in the city's hustle also come here for accommodation.
  • Speaking of all things underground, you can find some beautiful underground churches here. The Serbian orthodox underground church is one of the popular tourist attractions here, just like the Catholic Church.
  • Did you know the interior walls of this underground church are covered with bas reliefs of saints carved in stone, and even the religious school and priest house is located underground?

Apart from the interesting shopping experience in the Opal Shop, you can visit the Umoona Opal Mine and Museum, the perfect representation of Coober Pedy's Opal Mining Industry. It is safe to say that Umoona Opal is an award-winning museum.

You may also want to visit the 13 Hutchison street - Three-Roomed Dugout, and nine Hutchison street - Coober Pedy Catholic Church, both of which are listed heritage sites.

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Written by Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason

Bachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason picture

Adekunle Olanrewaju JasonBachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

With over 3+ years of professional experience, Olanrewaju is a certified SEO Specialist and Content Writer. He holds a BSc in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos. Throughout his dynamic career, Olanrewaju has successfully taken on various roles with startups and established organizations. He has served as a Technical Writer, Blogger, SEO Specialist, Social Media Manager, and Digital Marketing Manager. Known for his hardworking nature and insightful approach, Olanrewaju is dedicated to continuous learning and improvement.
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