They don’t call it Down Under for nothing. Welcome to Coober Pedy, a bustling Australian town 846 km north of Adelaide, where everyone lives underground. On the surface, the place looks pretty deserted. With just a few hotels and, randomly, a golf course dotted around, the place has the air of an abandoned town. In fact, around 3,500 people live there. It’s just that most of them (60 per cent) live below the surface – in homes burrowed out of caves.
The town of Coober Pedy is often referred to as the “opal capital of the world” because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined there. Located in the remote South Australian desert, where temperatures reach 125 °F / 51 °C, this small mining town with a population of 2,000 is also famous for its underground residences (“dugouts”).
They solved that problem by building ‘dugouts’ – caves bored into the hillsides. Bizarrely, some of the houses even have faux-windows to hang their curtains round. Well, you’ve gotta love those net curtains.
A standard three-bedroom cave home with living room, kitchen, and bathroom can be excavated out of the rock in the hillside for a similar price to building a house on the surface. However, dugouts remain at a constant temperature, while surface buildings need expensive air-conditioning.
Coober Pedy was founded in 1915, but only in the 1980s the town became known around the world. In 1981, a local named Umberto Coro realized the earning potential that this sleepy, underground settlement held, so he built the town’s first hotel.
Today, it’s common to find international tourists flocking to Coober Pedy, choosing to stay at either the Desert Cave Hotel, or several other local inns and private subterranean houses. What attracts tourists more than anything else is the unique chance to sleep underground, in dark, cool and spacious rooms. Designed in such a way that the interiors reflect the reddish colors of the rock, the underground accommodations of Coober Pedy never disappoint. The houses have storage areas, walk-in-closets, bedrooms, cozy kitchens. Besides the interest of subterranean sleeping, the town has a network of underground shops, bars, museums and churches to visit.