Coober Pedy: not so under-ground after all

from July 8

Today we crossed into South Australia and arrived in Coober Pedy! I had long heard about the famous underground town in the middle of the outback, and I was so excited to see it. I imagined the entire town as a modernised version of  the historic underground city tours I did in Seattle and Edinburgh, and I was sadly disappointed. Most of the town is now above ground, and the houses that are “underground” still have street entrances but are merely built into the side of a hill rather than below street level.

The history of how houses started being built that way is interesting – soldiers returned from WWII and were used to living in the trenches, so they thought a useful solution to the lack of timber for buildings in the outback would be to dig underground instead. The trend continued because underground homes cost less, from importing materials to minimal ongoing heating and cooling costs.

When we arrived in Coober Pedy, we went straight into a tour of an opal mine. I thought we would visit an actual, functioning mine, but instead we viewed one that has since been turned into a tourist destination. It was hard to breathe down there, and I got a bit claustrophobic, so I’m glad the tour didn’t last long.

I have to admit: most of the opals I saw I found quite ugly and with clashing colours, but I did find a ring I liked and shelled out some money for that. It’s really the only thing I found of significance that I might want to take home to commemorate this trip. Most of the Aboriginal artwork and craftsmanship isn’t real (it isn’t Aboriginal if it’s “Made in China”), and I’m not that impressed with it.  So I’m happy I found something I like, and because it is a pure opal, not a duplicate or triplicate, it should last a long time.

We briefly enjoyed our pizza dinner, and a Dutch girl Suzanne and I shared a bottle of wine, but the owner of the restaurant kicked our group out after less than an hour because he had another reservation for our table. We weren’t finished our wine so we bottled it up and took it with us to the next bar, emptying our water glasses so we had cups to finish the wine with. I felt like I was in college again, sneaking booze into the bar and topping up our drinks in the bathroom.

To end the night we went to a kangaroo sanctuary where they rehabilitate orphan and injured kangaroos. I saw a joey so small that he was still used to being in his mother’s pouch, and because the mother was killed, the sanctuary owners simulated an adorable little pouch for him. The joey was was so cute and so small; he hadn’t even taken his first hop yet. The rest of the older kangaroos were fascinating too, looking at how easily they bound away and how soft their fur was. I could have spent all night looking at them.

Tonight we are being upgraded from sleeping outside on the ground to indoor bunk beds. Pretty swank.

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