Have a go at mining in Coober Pedy and
see if you find a sparkling opal.
Over 70 per cent of the world’s opal is chipped out of the ground in Coober Pedy, so if you are keen to have a go at finding your own gem (and it’s easy!) head out to South Australia.
Opal was discovered in 1915 but it wasn’t until the 1960s that hundreds of enthusiastic young men from Europe headed to Coober Pedy to mine small parcels of land with the hope of striking it rich.
One miner certainly did! The largest opal in the world was found in the town in 1956.
The “Olympic Australis” weighs 17,000 carats (3450 grams and is valued at AUD$2,500,000! It is housed in a special security safe at Altmann & Cherny’s showroom, 128 Exhibition Street, Melbourne, and you can see it during showroom hours.
After decades of mining the opal fields are covered with mounds of debris from prospecting shafts and the hills are a warren of underground dwellings – it looks a little bit like the surface of the moon.
Over half of the town’s 4,000 or so residents live underground with homes that range from one-room hand-dug bedsits to rambling subterranean mansions with swimming pools and fancy fixtures.
In summer, when outside temperatures can reach a sizzling 50˚C, these underground homes keep cool (around 22-26˚C), while in winter the homes are warm without the need for artificial heating. You can even stay at an underground hostel in Coober Pedy.
Opal mining is pretty good fun, and you can try your hand at it by taking the Down ‘n Dirty Opal Tour. On the tour visitors are given hard hats, torches and hand picks and a chance to hack at the walls of the Quest Mine to find opal.
And when you do find it, the rivers of light are unmistakable.
- Australian working holiday visa will allow you to work and travel your way around Oz!
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