Sadly the bus tours from the Big4 Stuart Range Caravan Park were not able to be run as the bus driver had influenza and was contagious. The receptionist recommended we try Noble Tours so we’d called them and booked in for the morning tour. We had to be up bright and early though as the tour began at the Umoona Opal Mine & Museum at 8.00am.
We were all up and ready to go by 7.45 and set off towards town. The Umoona Opal Mine & Museum is in the main street and has a large carpark out the front. We were able to park there and leave the car there while we headed off on tour in Noble Tours 4WD bus.
Our tour guide Aaron arrived promptly at 8.00am and led our small group into the Umoona Opal Mine & Museum. This excellent museum opened in 1985. The entry to the museum houses Aborignal artifacts and some models of mining machinery. The photo gallery follows and this excellent display showcases the history of the town.
The Fossil Museum showcases the rich fossils found in the area that was once underwater in the Euromanga Sea. From tiny shellfish to marine dinosaurs such as the ichthyosaurus and plesiosaurs. There is even a plesiosaur called Umoonasuarus. It was. Primitive plesiosaur that lived in the freezing inland sea long after its relatives were extinct elsewhere in the world.
There is an Underground Cinema and an Opal shop.
Our group was led through the labyrinth of tunnels and into a old fashioned dugout (undergound home). This shows a dugout that would have been dug out using hand tools. The rooms are small and the ceiling very low.
Next stop was an example of a modern dugout, a much larger construction made using modern mining machinery. The spaces were larger and the ceilings higher. The best part about living undergound is the constant temperature. It is a steady 19-25 degrees below ground. Coober Pedy can be freezing in winter and blowing hot in summer above ground. Approximately 50% of the population of Coober Pedy live underground. Most dugouts are excavated into the sides of hills rather than dug from mine shafts. Modern dugouts range from simple one bedroom dwellings to a 21 room mansion.
We were then led into the opal mine and were shown the various mining techniques used and where to find the opal. We learnt that mining for opal is mostly about luck. You could sink a shaft and find nothing then someone could come along later and mine that same shaft just a few more inches and find thousands of dollars of precious opal.
There are only approximately 100 miners left in Coober Pedy and there are no big corporations. Mining for opal does not have a rate of return that the big corporations require. There’s no BHP out here!
Interestingly we learned that the local Aboriginal people who still follow their traditional culture will not live underground. They believe the underground is home for spirits and not for humans to live in so they choose to live in normal houses on the surface. These can be expensive to live in as their electricity costs are high due to having to run air conditioners and heaters. You don’t need either of those in a dugout.
A good quality dugout will set you back $250,000 – $400,000 whilst a house on the surface can be picked up for $100,000. Of course there are always exceptions and we did see a few lovely homes on the surface while some of the dugouts didn’t look so great. It’s a bit hard to tell with a dugout though as it may only be a front door on the outside but inside is a full 3 bedroom home.
Next stop on on the tour was the underground Serbian church. What a stunning dugout.
Then we all piled back on the 4WD bus and headed out of town where we drove across what is known as the Moon Plain. However they were not looking very moon like due to the recent rain and there was grass everywhere. I could imagine how it would usually look though, barren and rocky.
Next we stopped at the Dog Fence. This fence is the longest fence in the world and is 5,600km long. The fence was built to protect the valuable sheep and wool industry from dingos and wild dogs. Dingos and wild dogs can kill or maim up to 50 sheep in one night and the fence has done a great job of stopping that from happening. It has to be constantly repaired and traverses across South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.
Next we had multiple stops to check out the stunning Breakaways. This series of sandstone ridges is renowned for it’s beautiful colours and we were not disappointed.
Our tour then took us back to town via the opal fields. The Coober Pedy Opal Fields are the largest opal fields in the world. It is estimated that only 20% of the fields have been mined so there’s probably a lot more opal to find yet. It is the most bizarre looking landscape with all those conical piles of dirt from the shafts. There are 1.5 million to 2 million mine shafts in the opal fields. This is why tourists are not allowed anywhere near the opal fields. It is too dangerous. I loved the signs around town telling people not to walk backwards in Coober Pedy in case they fell down a shaft.
Our tour guide even drove us into the opal fields to show us his own mining claim.
We arrived back where we started and all declared the tour well worth it. We’d all learnt so much and Aaron was a great tour guide. We recommend Noble Tours to anyone visiting Coober Pedy.
After lunch I took Ben and Maddie to the Skate Park just which is not far away on the road into town. They had a great time playing there and on the playground next door. Back at camp I took Riley, Ben & Maddie to the pool. They played a boisterous game of ‘piggy in the middle’ using ‘Oscar’, a little yellow plastic man that Maddie found in my peg bag. I couldn’t understand how they could be in the water. I sat up on one of the deck chairs and I was wearing jeans and four layers on top and a hat to keep warm. The kids assured me the water was warm!
To celebrate Richard’s birthday we had a delicious BBQ dinner of lamb chops served with a potato with coleslaw & cheese, and corn on the cob.
We had a lovely FaceTime chat with our grandchildren, Zara and Henry, and it was so great to see their faces. I love technology.
We’d had a big day so everyone was happy to go to bed early so we could get a good nights sleep before our big driving day the next day. We’ve got 688 km’s to get to Alice Springs so we’d probably camp in the desert along the way before arriving in Alice on Wednesday.