As part of our central Australia trip take two, we passed through South Australia on our way back to the West. Along the Stuart Highway, it is hard to miss the interesting and quirky town of Cobber Pedy. We are always looking for interesting things to do with our family. Here are our top-ten favourite things we did over a few days in town which we thoroughly enjoyed, and we recommend you check out if you ever get the chance to visit.
1. Feed an Orphaned Kangaroo
One of the absolute favourites for the kids was the opportunity to feed baby kangaroos at Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Orphanage. The couple who run this place have been rescuing roos for many years, and have about 10 mostly adult kangas in their backyard, plus a few joeys that get fed and enjoy an indoor life. The joeys are bottle-fed for up to 12 months or more – which is typical when with the mother. The adults are fed banana chips and wasabi peas! Yes, you read that right, apparently, the leaves of many native plants that kangaroos feed on are rather bitter, so by accident they realised the roos enjoyed the taste of the wasabi peas, so continued feeding them with this delicacy. You get to grab a handful of the mix, and hand-feed them over the fence, while they give you a spiel on each roo’s background. You can also bottle feed and cuddle the joeys. You can feel the love and compassion they have for each of the rescued kangaroos. The place is also an art gallery, featuring loads of great local indigenous art and other bits and bobs.
2. Go Noodling for Opals
Noodling is the art of sifting through leftover mining dirt to find small bits of opal, the main gemstone which is found in Coober Pedy. There are several places to do this for free, such as the public noodling pile, or after you do some of the mining tours they let you noodle through the remains. The kids loved this rather dusty activity, which can really reveal some hidden treasures.
3. Take a Tour of an Old Mine
There are many mine tours around town, but the Old Timers Mine & Museum appealed to us because you can do a self-guided tour and take your time to read and see all the displays, perfect for when you have kids. It has preserved the original way opals were mined in Cobber Pedy and is interesting to compare to the more modern techniques if you get to go down one of the working mines around town. There are lots of good, albeit ageing exhibits, and a friendly shop at the end where you can buy opals galore.
4. Explore the Breakaways and Dog Fence
Just 30kms out of town are The Breakaways, one of Coober Pedy’s top tourist attractions. It certainly didn’t sound that exciting to see some colourful sand hills, but they turned out to be very interesting. There are several lookouts to drive to, to view the unusual landscape of amazingly colourful sand, showing an array of very different colours literally in the same hill. There are some dramatic barren landscapes that look like the surface of the moon, and are featured in two of the Mad Max movies. As you loop around back to town you pass the old dog fence which is a whopping 5,300km long, spanning three states. It was built to protect the many sheep on stations from the wild dingos. You need to purchase a park pass from in town before entering the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park.
5. Stay in an underground house
Staying in an underground house was a great experience for the kids. You might not think that the accommodation itself can be fun, but this house was like a little cave with rooms that extend off from the main living area. It was a little like a rabbit warren, which for the kids was super cool.
6. Sunset at the Big Winch and Lookout
The big winch is located at the highest point in Coober Pedy, where you can get a great 360o view of the town. The winch is very tall, reaching 8m above the ground, and was originally built in the 1970s. It is a great place for kids to run around the base on top of the hill. There are some metal sculptures, a tree which was made out of scrap metal to ensure during the drought there would still be a tree in town, also a truck which is from the set of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. There is also a cafe and shop, with a 3D movie experience which we didn’t do.
7. Catch a Movie at the Drive-in
There is a local drive-in that shows a new release movie every Saturday night. It is rare enough to see a drive-in in most parts of Australia, let alone in this town that is very small and really remote.
8. Browse for Opals
Along the main strip of town, there is an abundance of opal shops to visit. From old and derelict, to eccentric and weird, to some more upmarket types. Coober Pedy has them all, each vying for the tourist dollar. Our favourite was the Opalios, which gave a mini-box of opal rocks to every child that went into the store. Great customer service. In the end, we fell for the hype and purchased an opal necklace, how can you resist this impressive colourful gemstone.
9. Check out a museum
There are a couple of opal museums around town. The Omoona museum has a very impressive and informative entry corridor with great displays and interesting reading about the history of Coober Pedy, and geological explanations of the formation of the opal gemstone itself. In the end, it is also a shop but was well worth the visit with no pressure sales at all.
10. Visit the Giant Coober Pedy Sign
Our final recommendation is to visit the giant Coober Pedy sign on the hill (there is also a well-photographed sign and old truck at the entrance to town). All white, this sign stands out atop the hill, visible from anywhere in town. We walked to it from the Big Winch. It is not a very obvious path to get there, but a great selfie opportunity when you arrive. Our kids were disappointed it wasn’t still colourfully painted yellow and red by the teams from The Amazing Race Australia!
As you can see we had a very memorable time in Coober Pedy. At first glance, you might not think it is a great place to visit as a family, but as you dig deeper (do you like the pun?) and spend the time looking around, you will find more than enough to keep your family happy..