Opal Mining

There are hundreds of working opal mines around town, the elusive gems at the fore of everyone's consciousness. If you're keen for a fossick, tour operators or locals may invite you out to their claim to 'noodle' through the mullock (waste pile) for stones. Watch out for unmarked shafts, and never wander around the opal fields at night.

Dugout Homes & Churches

Even when it's face-meltingly hot here in summer, subterranean temperatures never exceed 23°C – no air-con required for underground houses! The same goes for churches (miners are big on faith and hope).

North of Coober Pedy

The Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park is a stark but colourful area of arid hills, mesas and scarps 32km north from Coober Pedy along a rough road − turn off the highway 22km west of town. Entry permits (per vehicle per 24 hours $10) are available at the Coober Pedy Visitor Information Centre; note that Indigenous land owners may change this process at some stage in the future). Get some solid directions from the visitor centre, too.

An interesting 70km loop on mainly unsealed road from Coober Pedy takes in the Breakaways, the Dog Fence (built to keep dingoes out of southeastern Australia) and the surreal, table-like Moon Plain on the Coober Pedy–Oodnadatta Rd. The earth here has an oddly crusty, fractured surface: if it's been raining, you'll need a 4WD (and often even if it hasn't).

If you're heading for Oodnadatta, turning off the Stuart Hwy at Cadney Homestead – 151km north of Coober Pedy,with caravan and tent sites, motel rooms, basic cabins, petrol, puncture repairs, takeaways, cold beer, ATM and swimming pool – gives you a shorter run on dirt roads than the routes via Marla or Coober Pedy. En route you pass through the aptly named Painted Desert – a lumpy landscape of rock outcrops, coloured deep red, brown, orange, yellow and white (bring your camera).

In mulga scrub about 82km from Cadney Homestead, Marla (population 100) replaced Oodnadatta as the official regional centre when the Ghan railway line was rerouted in 1980. Marla Travellers Rest is here, with fuel, motel rooms, camp sites, a kidney-shaped pool, a takeaway cafe, supermarket and a vast tiled bar area (easy to hose out?).

Frontier-style Mintabie (population 60) is an opal field settlement on Aboriginal land 35km west of Marla − there's a general store, restaurant and very basic caravan park here.

From Marla, the NT border is another 180km, with a fuel stop 20km beyond that in Kulgera.