Take a look inside Coober Pedy, the Australian mining town where residents live, shop, and worship underground

Coober pedy
Residents have turned the old opal mines into makeshift homes to escape the oppressive heat. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
  • Coober Pedy is a small town in the Outback of Southern Australia.
  • Many of Coober Pedy’s residents live underground to escape the region’s immense heat.
  • Homes, bars, a church, and more can be found underground in what the locals call “dugouts.”
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Coober Pedy is located in South Australia, over 1,000 miles (1,609km) from Canberra, the country’s capital city.
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The location of Coober Pedy. Google Maps
The town is referred to as the “opal capital of the world.” Coober Pedy is an Aboriginal word that roughly translates to “white man in a hole.”
The town’s summer months can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
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The barren landscape surrounding the outback opal mining town of Coober Pedy. Reuters
Even in the shade, it’s common to feel temperatures of 100-plus. Much to the dismay of locals and visitors, there’s little rainfall to provide relief from the harsh sun.
Due to the dry climate, water can be scarce sometimes.
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A sign telling people to conserve water in Coober Pedy. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
According to ABC News, Coober Pedy sources its water from the Great Artesian Basin located about 15 miles (24km) away from the town.
While Aboriginal people have long inhabited the region, miners first moved to the town in 1916.
Opal miner
A miner holding an opal stone. Ian Waldie/Getty Images
After World War I, soldiers returned home and began mining the terrain for opal, a precious gem.
Coober Pedy was once covered by an ocean, which helped create the town’s opal mines.
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Rare boulder opal in Coober Pedy, Australia. Dmitry Chulov/Shutterstock
When the water receded, the minerals from the ocean’s seabed filled cracks in the earth and created colorful opals in the terrain.
As opal mining settled into a steady – but less booming – business, Coober Pedy residents began turning discarded opal mines into permanent dugouts.
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Coober Pedy. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Many turned the mines into makeshift homes to escape the oppressive​ heat.
With the homes’ cave-like exteriors, the process of going underground may seem like a venture into the unknown.
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Coober Pedy. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
The town has an eerie, other-worldly feel to it, despite being home to around 2,500 residents, according to the District Council of Coober Pedy.
But some 80% of the local population have made homes inside the sandstone.
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A home in Coober Pedy. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
They’ll likely spend most of their lives there, escaping the harsh Australian sun and making their home beneath the Australian Outback.
Once visitors are down there, it’s actually pretty homey.
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Faye’s Underground Home. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Rooms like this, the bedroom of Faye Nayler, a woman who picked and shoveled her own home in 1960, are the norm.
Faye Nayler and two friends managed to build a bar, a swimming pool in the living room, and a full eat-in kitchen.
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Faye’s Underground Home. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
The underground homes have all the amenities of traditional ones — internet access, electricity, and water.
Today, it’s billed as a tourist attraction called Faye’s Underground Home.
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Faye’s Underground Home. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
The only difference between “normal” homes and those in Coober Pedy is that these homes have no access to sunlight.
It’s still inhabited by the caretakers of the home, who give guided tours on a daily basis.
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Faye’s Underground Home. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Visitors must pay an entrance fee to tour Faye’s Underground Home, but it’s considered one of the must-see spots in Coober Pedy.
Guests can also attend a church service.
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A church in Coober Pedy. ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock
The church is located 55 feet (16.76m) below the Earth’s surface.
Inhabitants can also buy a good book at the town’s bookstore to pass the time.
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A bookstore in Coober Pedy. Eric-Paul-Pierre PASQUIER/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Underground Books was converted from a 1930s-era mining shaft into a small bookstore filled with Coober Pedy history books and more.
Tourists looking for the authentic Coober Pedy experience can check out the Desert Cave Hotel.
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The lobby of an underground hotel in Coober Pedy. Reuters/Dave Pratt
The hotel bills itself as “quiet, cool, dark and airy” on its website, adding: “Get the best night’s sleep of your life.”

The town of Coober Pedy is only accessible by a small airstrip, by coach tour or private car, and via the Ghan railway line running between Darwin and Adelaide.

The hotel features a bar, pool room, restaurant, and gift shop.
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An underground game room in Coober Pedy. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
A room in the cozy inn that runs for around $US150 ($AU203) a night.
People do need to come up for food, however.
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Supermarket in Coober Pedy. Travel Outback Australia
Both of the town’s supermarkets are located on the same street above ground.
There are also a number of tourist shops in the town.
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The Opal Bug in Coober Pedy. fritz16/Shutterstock
The Opal Bug is an opal shop in Coober Pedy that sells everything from the gems to jewelry and watches. However, many visitors also like to visit the shop to see the famous opal-colored Volkswagen Beetle.
Other souvenir shops cater to both locals and tourists.
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Store in Coober Pedy. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
This store’s outdoor sign advertises that it sells everything from DVDs and video games to fossils and opals.
Holes in the ground from the old mine shafts are found throughout the town.
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Mining shafts around opal mining town Coober Pedy, Australia. Fat Jackey/Shutterstock
Inhabitants and visitors need to watch their step, especially at night.
The town makes sure people know the dangers of the deep mine shafts.
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Signs in Coober Pedy. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Signs just like this one are scattered all over the town.
Mining equipment and abandoned vehicles can also be found scattered around Coober Pedy.
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Abandoned mining equipment. SusaImages/Shutterstock
Australia produces roughly 95% of the world’s precious opal supply, and mining is still a popular trade in Coober Pedy. However, most mining is fully mechanized today.