After spending two weeks in Adelaide I had planned to take the Greyhound bus to infamous Alice Springs. While following the road on a map, my finger stopped at a town called Coober Pedy. The name sounded familiar and I remembered watching a documentary about the town on TV a couple of years ago. It was known for two things: Opal mining and temperatures so hot that people there live under the ground to cool down. As a former geology student and curious about how it feels to sleep in a tent at over 40°C, I decided to use my hop-on hop-off ticket to visit the treasure hunter town of Australia.
My good friend Felix who had hosted me for the last two weeks at his girlfriend’s flat took me to the central bus station. After a melancholic farewell I got into the bus, ready for the Outback. The aborigine who was sitting behind me had been escorted to the bus by two policemen. He was stone drunk and smelled like a goat. He kept on asking me what time it was and which bus stop was next. I shared some of the sweets I had in my backpack with him, which he thankfully ate with a big smile on his face. At some point he got out of the bus and I fell asleep.
I arrived in Coober Pedy at 5 a.m. The Opal Inn was closed until 7 a.m. but luckily I met Rob, the housekeeper, who showed me the campground. After I pitched my tent and took a nap for two hours, I checked in and took a walk through town. Coober Pedy was mainly quiet during the day, everybody was hiding in the shade of their houses. I easily drank five litres of water and only had to pee once the whole day. Even the flies were thirsty and stuck to my face like gum on a shoe to get every last drop of my sweat. I had planned to find a local who would take me with him under the ground to look for Opals. So I started a little bar tour in the evening hoping to find someone who I could convince to show me the old mining area after a couple of beers. It was quite difficult though, with the miners being very distrustful to a stranger who was asking for a good spot to find gemstones. I felt like someone who was looking for wealth in Klonedike during the Gold Rush.
I ended up having dinner in an underground restaurant where I met Cedric and Olivier from France and Charley from the UK who where on a Working Holiday Trip and working in the place. After my meal and a couple of nice cold beers I was introduced to Ben, a friend of the owner. He happened to be a miner and finally promised me to show me one of his secret spots. After a very warm night in the tent I had breakfast at a small bakery where Cedric and Charley worked too. During the day I checked out some of the sightseeing areas like the underground church and the orphanage wildlife station and many Opal shops.
All day I was excited to meet Ben in the evening for the field trip. He picked me up with his old van and we drove to the old mining fields. The landscape was covered in big piles of overburden. Next to every pile was a hole with the diametre of a water barrel leading vertically for several metres below the surface. Ben maneuvered his vehicle through this maze of cavities and hills pinpoint to his secret mining spot. After unloading a bunch of rusty ladders we started connecting them one by one inside the hole until they reached the ground of the cavity.
The horizontal channels of the mine weren’t much wider than the manhole but it was cool and absolutely fly-free down there. Opals light up under UV-Light, which we used in order to find the gemstones. After a couple of hours of mining, we had a beer at the Underground Restaurant whilst examining our finds. The owner of the restaurant offered me to spend the rest of my stay at his underground house together with the other backpackers.
The day after I moved to the amazing cave-home. Although it was perfectly cool, it felt a little weird. The guys and I went to see the sunset together at the Breakaways Conservation Park, colourful canyon like rock structures north of Coober Pedy. After the weekend it was time to leave the odd but beautiful town. Olivier drove me to the bus station in the early morning where I caught the Greyhound bus to Alice Springs, curious to see sacred Uluru…