Willow and Opal Hunting in Coober Pedy – Yes, we found some!

If Willow could roll her eyes they would be rolling out of her fluffy little skull right now. Look at us. Steph and I sitting in the van in the middle of the night rummaging around a plastic container of sandy little rocks we had just found, holding them up to the light of our head torches, looking for that play of colour, a dance, a shimmer, the tell tale signature of a Coober Pedy Opal.

Willow looked at the two of us, our backs hunched and our attention captivated by those silly little shiny unicorn rocks. How hilarious we must have looked as we squinted at each one, spinning it around in our dusty fingers before placing it back in the container.

We were meant to leave Coober Pedy after a 3 day visit, but that was over 2 weeks ago, for the unimaginable happened, Steph and I got the fever. Opal fever.

Let’s go back to the beginning.

Where is it?
Other places we have visited

After leaving the Eyre Peninsula we slowly travelled North where we met up with Camp Winnie at Lake Hart. The campsite at the Lake Hart salt lake is an impressive little place and the perfect spot to watch the sunset and catch up with some old friends.

You may remember a couple of years ago we met up with Shannon, Lisa, Jess, Chloe, and of course travelling cat Bonnie when they were touring around Tasmania. It seemed that Bonnie and Willow were still not interested in being friends which is a real shame because they have a lot in common!

Please check out their YouTube channel where they have some exceptional content from their ongoing travels around Australia. Of course, Bonnie gets a good amount of screen time as well!

It was really nice to catch up with everyone and after 2 nights by the salt lake we said our goodbyes until next we would meet (probably Western Australia at the end of the year!)

A week later we found ourselves in Coober Pedy, the Opal City.

Coober Pedy is a fascinating town in that most of it is underground. There are homes, gift shops, hotels, cafes and bookshops each built from what was once an opal mine.

Since opal was discovered in 1915, people have been boring into the hills and desert plains in search of the elusive opal that formed in sandstone seams millions of years ago. With temperatures in summer known to reach 48c it wasn’t long before people realised they could keep cool by renovating the old workings into homes known as a dugouts.

Fortunately for us, it was the middle of winter and a dry but sunny 17c when we arrived to explore the town. There were many relics lying around including old mining equipment and even a spacecraft prop used in the movie Pitch Black (2000).

Coober Pedy has a population of around 2000 people and is home to about 16 opal shops where tourists flock to purchase the colourful minerals for themselves.

Steph and I aren’t into jewellery so had no inclination to spend thousands of dollars on one. Instead, we wanted to find one for ourselves.

The next day we went to Jewellers Shop Rd on the Eastern side of town – funnily enough there are no opal shops on this road. There is, however, piles and piles of material bored out of opal mines known as mullock heaps. These heaps often contain small amounts of opal material and visitors are free to have a go at finding them.

Steph and I got to work scouring the heaps, not quite sure of what we were doing. All throughout the piles were pieces of colourless and valueless opal material known as potch. It was a matter of checking each piece we found to see if it had any of that glimmer and colour that showed it to be true opal material.

Half an hour later we found our first piece, cracked but with the slightest hint of green dancing like a hologram in its centre. It was beautiful.

We wanted more, but there were a few things to do first.

Over our first week in Coober Pedy there were a few touristy spots we wanted to explore. One of my favourite places was the Old Timer’s Mine.

There we went on a self-guided tour of a real mine from the 1910s and visited the underground museum which features a great collection of things and the most impressive statues carved into the sandstone walls. Connected to the museum was a real 1960s dugout home that visitors can wander through.

Steph and I visited the underground Serbian Church, and we were lucky enough to be in town when the Opal Festival was on. We got to see Casey Chambers perform and a fire show. At the Big Winch cafe we were treated to an amazing lunch – thank you Steph’s mum.

And of course, Willow and I had to get a photo in front of the Opal City sign.

As fun as all those things were, Steph and I had something else on our minds – more opals. In particular, something really special to put in our keepsake box.

We purchased a UV light and set out into the opal fields, parking up amongst the mullock heaps. How strange it was to stand on what was once a desert plain now changed forever into this bizarre alien landscape.

But this is no place to be complacent. Alongside each mullock heap would be a shaft that extended 10-30 metres through the sandstone below. Willow would have to remain on leash whilst venturing outside the van, and Steph and I had to be darn sure of our feet as we walked through the heaps.

Out on the fields lay all manner of equipment used to extract the opal bearing sandstone from the earth, from original hand winches to more modern excavators and blowers. Steph and I made sure to check all peg tags to make sure we weren’t stepping onto someone’s active mining lease.

As night fell, Steph and I headed out with the UV torch, scouring the heaps for signs of opals that had slipped through an old miner’s hands. The UV torch causes the opal material to glow brightly against the dark of the night. When we found a piece we would switch our head torches on to see if it was horrible colourless potch or a true glimmering opal.

Through the night we discovered that the opal material wasn’t the only thing to glow out there. All manner of critter would light up as we passed the UV torch over them; we spotted adorable lizards and gigantic grasshoppers.

Then we found it.

As the two of us were scratching around one particular heap I hear Steph yell out. I stop what I’m doing and join her. As we flick on our head torches Steph pulls the small rock from the earth and holds it up to the light. Reds, blues, and greens, they all dance together as she rolled it around in her dusty palm.

‘This is it, we got it!’ I say as she hands it to me to take a look at.

Now, at this point in the story, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. This wasn’t a million dollar opal, or even a hundred dollar opal, for the surface was cracked from years of sitting in the harsh desert sun. But as Steph and I crouched there with that rock twinkling before us, it was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen.

We found a few other little opals before we left Coober Pedy to head North. As we did, the opal fever lifted and Willow was glad to have us back. The nights are cold in the outback winter and she much prefers to be snuggled up under the blankets with us instead of waiting for us to return from our late nights hunting for silly little unicorn rocks.

In the jewellery shops of Coober Pedy lie opals with price tags ranging from hundreds to hundreds of thousands, but if you ask me, none shine so bright as the little opal that Steph and I found together. In the blackwood keepsake box I crafted in my brother’s workshop we placed the little rock, next to the shard of crockery we found in the cottage garden before we left, and by the little bottles that will be filled with memories to come.

Now every time we open that box we will be reminded of those two weeks and how Willow loved to roll around in the outback dirt, and if you ask me, that’s worth a million dollars.

Profile Photo

Van Cat Meow

Please try again.
Thanks for joining us! A welcome email is on its way to you!

Come along for the ride!

Willow has captured the hearts of thousands around the world as she travels through the wilds of Australia. Join our newsletter and see for yourself.

As seen on:

Lonely Planet

The Daily Telegraph

Business Insider

People Magazine

Sunrise TV



Cart Item Removed. Undo
  • No products in the cart.