Situated in the rugged South Australian outback about eight hundred and fifty kilometers north of Adelaide, Coober Pedy is one of Australia’s best-known opal-mining settlements -- a fact that makes it a popular stop-off for adventurous backpackers looking for a hostel while traveling on the Sturt Highway between Darwin and Adelaide. It’s a rugged place with a fascinating, wild-west kind of vibe, and a population of just under two thousand people. If you’re looking for a truly unique Aussie outback experience, Coober Pedy is a place that you’ll definitely not want to miss.
Apart from opals, the thing that Coober Pedy is most famous for is its underground buildings, carved by miners to protect themselves from the harsh outback summers. There are underground shops, churches, galleries, and houses, and backpackers will be glad to learn that there is an underground hostel as well so they can also have the unique experience of sleeping underground. "Dug-outs," as these man-made caves are called by locals, come in many shapes and sizes ranging from rustically basic to extremely luxurious, in an arty unconventional sort of way. Backpacker hostels in Coober Pedy tend to be more on the rustic side, but if you’re willing to sacrifice luxury for a genuine outback experience that won’t be found anywhere else in the world, you’ll definitely want to give these a try.
Coober Pedy has been a popular stop on the Australian backpacker trail for years. It’s situated about a day’s drive north of Adelaide, en route to popular destinations such as Uluru, King’s Canyon, Alice Springs, and Darwin. It’s also serviced daily by Greyhound coaches. Sometimes travelers bypass it in the rush to get to these big-name tourist attractions, but you should absolutely visit here for a few days at least to fully experience the ambiance and meet the local characters.
There are plenty of local tourist operators who can show you the local attractions, as well as local artisan jewelers who make beautiful unique creations from the beautiful opals that have been unearthed in the town. If you’re a bit of a fortune-hunter, you might also want to give mining a try, although most visitors prefer to just spend a few hours fossicking around in the mullock heaps, looking for discarded pieces of lower-grade opal (potch), which are still very pretty, although not of any value.
Small outback towns like Coober Pedy are also great spots for backpackers to look for work, due to their itinerant population. Local shops, hotels, roadhouses, and restaurants regularly employ backpackers, and many international travelers enjoy the experience of living in the outback, as it’s so different from anything that they can experience in their own countries. Coober Pedy hostels provide affordable and friendly accommodation for budget travelers -- whether they’re just stopping in town briefly or are spending a few months working in town.
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