Getting to know the ultra quirky opal mining town of Coober Pedy is quite the experience. For starters, its location on a completely treeless plain surrounded by a breathtakingly empty lunar landscape is unforgettable.
Hundreds of once-used opal mining shafts pock-mark the surrounding landscape like a vast canvas of forgotten dreams ... many a down-at-heel prospector over the years has staked a claim and sunk his pick & shovel with hopes of hitting the mother load of opal.
We can walk back through time and see and feel what life was like for these long-ago fortune hunters at the Old Timers Mine in town. It's an authentic, really well laid-out maze of underground rooms and tunnels with story boards of fascinating history and photos on display throughout.
Another thing about Coober Pedy: it's HOT. To keep cool, nearly half the population lives in underground homes called 'dugouts'. Temperatures outside in summer can climb up to the 50s, so the locals discovered many decades ago that digging deep to keep their homes cool was a very inspired idea. The homes are dug out of a surrounding hillside and sit at an average temp of 23-25 deg C all year round. Nice.
Chances are, that's where you'll be too, if you stay overnight - underground.
Our favourite place to stay is the Country Comfort Coober Pedy Experience Hotel. We're always beautifully looked after by hosts Debby and Val Clee and their staff, who go out of their way to help us out with airport pick-ups, tour ideas, local eating recommendations and the most roomy, comfortable underground accommodation you could want. And there are loads of rooms, so it's great for a big group. You can even head to the motel's dining room, the Soft Rock Cafe, for REAL coffee - who knew!!
Last time we went, it happened to be my birthday so our group of 12 pilots gathered at the Italian Club up on the hill for sundowners with a view, then headed down to the main street to John's Pizza Bar & Restaurant. Catherine gave them the heads-up and they even baked me a cake!
"Best pizzas in the outback" is their claim, and I'm here to put a rubber stamp on that. Their photo board reads like a Who's Who of the celebrity world - actors and celebs who have been drawn to Coober over the years for film shoots in this most unique of outback locations.
It may be remote, but Coober Pedy airport is positively sophisticated! Only about a ten minute drive from town, it has Avgas H24 swipe bowser, a long sealed strip, and a large secure, sealed parking area for an overnight, or longer, stay.
So why not give Coober a go? We called in one of our WardAir adventures, on the way from Ayers Rock down to William Creek. I think it's time we did another of these Red Centre getaways ... always places to go, routes to plan ... how's that leave pass going?