Sunday, October 1, 2017

Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy Airport
Views of town

Coober Pedy is a small town about halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway. It has become a popular tourist attraction especially since the sealing of the road was completed in 1982 and a large tourism industry has built up since. The population is about 1500 with another 2000 in the general area so it is still a very small town. Coober Pedy takes pride in its multiculturalism with at least 48 nationalities amongst its residents.

Because of the heat (temperatures average over 100 degrees in the summer) most people prefer to live in ‘dugouts’ which are literally dug into the hillsides. The rocks maintain a fairly constant temperature in both summer and winter eliminating the need to air conditioning. Since the cost is about $10,000 per room, it is even economical to dig your house rather than build it once you have purchased the hillside. Rooms can be built to any size and made to feel homey in spite of the lack of windows. As our guide said, cutting out a ledge for knickknacks or books or even seating is an easy addition to the home. The walls are a beautiful red and black varnished to stop the dust that would otherwise be a big problem. Bathrooms and kitchens are placed close to the entrance to lower plumbing costs. Toilets require a septic tank, but some are able to simply use an old mine shaft in spite of the legal prohibitions against that practice.

Our hotel and museum
Our hotel lobby
Most of the hotels in town are also dugouts. Our hotel was one of these. We had been told we would be sleeping underground, but it felt like any other hotel room other than the fact that the walls were all obviously carved out of the hillside. Our hotel also included a museum, restaurant, bar, and shops all underground.
Another museum
At least four different museums have been created out of old mines to show off both lifestyles and mining techniques. The town also has at least 15 opal shops, many run by miners who advertise being direct to consumer without middleman markups. It’s hard to tell if this is actually true, but it is a good marketing ploy.

Catholic Church

The town has several churches including a Catholic church on the main street, a Greek church and cemetery on a side street, and a large Serbian church away from downtown. The Serbian church was built with mining money when a successful Serbian miner left his money for the building of the church. It is much larger than the Catholic church and includes some excellent carving work and a separate large meeting room.
The Serbian Church exterior

One of the most intriguing parts of town is the golf course. Golfers carry their own grass mats as their is no grass. (Actually there are two spots of real grass in town. One is at the high school and the other is at the oval where they play Aussie Rules Football and cricket.) There are a few shrubs, but no tree or water hazards. No need for additional sand traps either. Greens are black, oiled sand which golfers must rake when they have finished putting. I played on similar ‘browns’ when I was in Ghana. There the putting was made easier by sloping the sand just around the holes. Because of the heat, most golf is played at night with night-glow balls. The club has a reciprocal agreement with St. Andrews in Scotland, the only club in the world with such an agreement. Our guide told us that some golfers join Coober Pedy without ever coming to down just to take advantage of that arrangement.

Warning to non-golfers

One of the 'greens'

From a tourist perspective, our travel agent told us we did not want to drive to either Coober Pedy or Uluru because of the distance and condition of the roads. While it is about 500 miles from Adelaide and another 500 miles to Uluru and that is more time than we wanted to spend on the road this trip, the road itself is sealed and it very good condition all the way to Darwin. If we had more time, driving would have been an excellent option allowing us to see much more of this wild country.

Additional scenes around town. Note the humor in some of them.

Space ship from a Vin Diesel movie
We thought it was left over from a Mad Max movie

The first tree in town, a metal sculpture
Photo of a dust storm.
Not while we were there.

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