Coober Pedy Opal Fossicking - Coober Pedy, SA

Coober Pedy Opal Fossicking

With a little luck, a rockhound can have a heady day digging for opals at Coober Pedy, about 600 km north of Adelaide. All you need to become a weekend opal fossicker are a Miner's Right, a pick and shovel, a strong back, and a constitution able to withstand desert temperatures.

Miners at Coober Pedy and nearby Andamooka (a hundred km away) dig out more than A$30 million worth of opals annually. They pock-mark the ground with small crater-like surface diggings and sink mine shafts running underground at a shallow angle. The Coober Pedy field has yielded a 135-ounce opal, and the Andamooka field was the source of the 220-ounce "Desert Flame of Andamooka". As an amateur, you can sift through the piles of old rubble and scratch into the walls of abandoned mines.

Above ground, it is impossible to distinguish on sight persons who have struck it rich and those living off credit. But the wealthy miner often lives in a dug-out dwelling as luxurious as a city apartment, with several rooms, wall-to-wall carpets, stereo, and cock-tail bar. One of the largest such dugouts, Aladdin's Cave, has 11 rooms and a shop covering 3,420 square feet. All miners-successful or hopeful-work their claims between 3 and 10 am when temperatures are relatively cool (in summer, mid-day heat can climb to 50°).

More than 100 million years ago, the sea covered this area of Australia, laying down sediment and entrapping the silica solutions that developed into opals. The gems are found in foot-thick seams of sand-stone, below layers of rock and jasper.


To the casual traveler seeking an outback experience, the arid, lunar-like landscape and the unusual little town of Coober Pedy have appeal enough. Nearly half of the residents live under-ground (even the church is underground.). Thus, the name of the town: Coober Pedy, Aboriginal for "white fellow live underground."This underground way of life is one fascination of Coober Pedy. You can visit the church and the Opal Cave, a three-room cavern where you can see opals cut and polished and see one of the world's finest opal collections. Opals, mounted and unmounted, are available in Coober Pedy at prices considerably lower than in the larger cities.

In addition to Coober Pedy and Andamooka, you can visit gem mining areas at Lightning Ridge in far northern New South Wales (home of the famous black opals) and in the Anakie District of Queensland, an important sapphire-producing area where good stones can still be found near old diggings and where visitors can fossick around established workings.


Coober Pedy, SA, 5723