Trips to the opal mines at Coober Pedy

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In South Australia, the town of Coober Pedy concentrates most of the world’s opal gem flagship capable of expressing all the colors of the visible spectrum. Halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, a journey into the Australian outback, Aboriginal Heritage and present mining.

Trips to the opal mines at Coober Pedy

Photography by eyeintim

Coober Pedy is less than 4 000 inhabitants and is almost a point lost in the huge map of Australia, about 850 kilometers north of Adelaide. More than 600 kilometers separate also from Alice Springs, the main city in the heart of the continent. Even the Ghan, the train crosses desert Australia from end to end by the center from the southern to the northern end, it stops there. However, almost no tourist who does not take a memory of the remote location originating from extreme temperatures, a real tough in the desert, for Coober Pedy is known as the «world’s opal capital,» that curious iridescent gem which is regarded as Australia’s national stone. And it is said that there are even some deposits on Mars … Pins, rings, bracelets, and even unpolished stones inlaid opal often boomerangs back in the bag of a traveler who has set foot on Australian territory. The most curious of opal is almost no color but her own colors depend on how it gives them the sunlight. Aboriginal Legend has it that God created the earth down from heaven riding on a rainbow, and from there spreads its colors in the world to touch the ground …. Opals, rainbow stone, capable of expressing all the colors of the visible spectrum.

Coober Pedy

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Tourism and Mining:

The first opals were discovered in Coober Pedy on 1 February 1915, was the beginning of an activity that today accounts for almost the entire global industry, and feed a whole village by mining both as tourism. Hundreds of immigrants settled here, in the Australian outback, attracted by the mining industry, today among the inhabitants are represented by at least 45 nationalities, 60 percent of the population are Europeans arrived after the Second World War. The ethnic mosaic that was added to Aborigines, then, the most diverse in Australia.

But the story actually begins much earlier, about 150 million years, the ocean covered the area of Coober Pedy and after the retreat of the waters, seabed silicon was trapped in the bedrock. The time and nature did the rest, forming the opal, which triggered the early twentieth century a fever similar to that of gold: in those years, the surprised Indians called the region kupa piti, meaning «white man in a hole «because it was common to see old and new settlers digging the earth in search of the gem.

For thousands of years, nomadic Aborigines lived in the region: the desert is not invited to settle but to move continuously in search of food and water. Even today, the isolation and extreme temperatures make the town an inhospitable place, where people overcome the difficulties of nature (especially at temperatures above 40 degrees in summer), literally sheltering underground. While on the surface the air conditioning is essential, the temperature underground stays nice and steady: so many live in old mine galleries converted, or in houses dug into the soft rock of the region. A three-bedroom house carved into the hillside may cost the same as a house of equal size on the surface, and tourists can take this way of life by staying in a hotel basement, and the Desert Cave, which has both rooms and bars, restaurants and underground cellar. Also a refuge for the winter months when temperatures can get quite cold.

Care, deep wells …

The mining activity left the field near Coober Pedy become a sort of giant Emmental. Everywhere, numerous signs warn of the danger of running, walking without looking or step backwards: it is not unlikely ending underground, in the depths of some of the many holes.

Trips to the opal mines

Photography by Paleontour

Among the attractions of the town, the Old Timers Mine, a mine like old times, takes much of the attention. It is a mine of 1916 whose galleries you can travel in a self-guided circuit walk, passing through several display areas, two underground houses and bulldozers shows opal. Another possibility for those who want to take action is the noodling, is about finding gems in the areas specifically open to the public, using only approved tools. Tourists are generally installed in areas where they accumulate from waste rocks, and there explored carefully for pieces of opal that may have escaped the attention of the miners, with a little time and patience, not to return empty-handed. And no doubt will have learned more about the gem and its quality, useful information when trying to buy a souvenir and understand why, as the reflections and the thickness of the ore, prices vary considerably.

Tours in the Australian landscape:

Coober Pedy is also a good starting point to explore part of the Australian desert, with its endless expanses of red soil and uniquely shaped rocks carved by wind and extreme temperatures. The Painted Desert («Painted Desert») is one of the most spectacular, born about 80 million years, with rock formations where the colors change throughout the day creating a landscape always new and different. Not far away, William Creek is the smallest town in southern Australia, only twelve people, who enjoy the world’s most remote pub … A rarity, as the town of Oodnadatta, where formerly gold seekers crossed the Aboriginal and camel breeders, a species brought from Africa and well adapted to the Australian desert, as those still found on farms Alice Springs. About 160 miles north, the Witjira National Park, Simpson Desert and Lake Eyre National Park offer a desert landscape with sand dunes, salt marshes and large plateaus that seem taken directly from another planet. You can also organize a night out to watch the stars of the Southern Hemisphere Moon Plains, and go along with the local postman the road from Coober Pedy to Oodnadatta, William Creek and a few rooms away to deliver the mail. A true adventure to change the time and place, leaving the XXI century if only for a day.

Bon voyage!

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