Over the last few decades, the opal industry has opened new doors with exciting discoveries in Ethiopia and Mexico. However, Australia has undoubtedly always been the largest supplier of opals. As both a continent and a sovereign country, Australia is composed of vast and varied terrain. There are gemstone and opal deposits scattered across the Great Artesian Basin, from the outback to Gold Coast. So, where is the opal capital of the world?
Get ready to go down under — not just to Australia, but on a journey beneath the earth’s surface to discover a hidden city in the Outback where opal flourishes: Coober Pedy.
Unlike many gemstones that can be found across the globe, opals require a specific climate and terrain to grow. See, opals form from dried silica deposits from millions of years ago when Australia was part of a supercontinent called Gondwana. At that time, the supercontinent covered central Australia in ocean water. Over time, water trickled into the crevices of the earth’s crust to begin drying over millennia.
Here, sandstone seeps into the crevices where the water runs down and evaporates. What’s left behind are small silica seeds that grow for 5-6 million years under the immense pressure and heat of the earth.
Today, miners dig into the earth to discover the treasures left behind from this meticulous process. The largest area to produce opal? Coober Pedy, in South Australia.
Of course, we’ve seen recent Ethiopian Opal discoveries, but Australia remains the frontrunning supplier of over 90% of the world’s opal.
And 70%? Well, that comes straight from the underground mining town of Coober Pedy.
Coober Pedy is considered the opal capital of the world since it’s responsible for 70% of the global production of opal.
Why is Coober Pedy an opal mecca? As the oceans that covered the Gondwana supercontinent dried up over millions of years, the shorelines hardened and left behind vast silica deposits. Millions of years later, what’s left of that ancient sea is central Australia — an arid, sandstone mounded desert called the Outback.
The nucleus of the region is Coober Pedy. Where is Coober Pedy, and what is it famous for?
With more than 70 opal fields along the Stuart Ranges, the town is a hotbed for opal mining. So much so, residents primarily live in underground homes called dugouts.
If you’re itching to learn where you can find an underground town that’s been named “the opal capital of the world,” let’s unearth the hidden city of Coober Pedy.
Coober Pedy is located in the Outback region of northern South Australia. The hundred-year-old town has always had roots in the opal mining industry, but over time has evolved to become a tourist destination where wide-eyed visitors clamor to get a glimpse of life underground.
When you visit, you’ll quickly realize the fabric weaving through the town is opals — from the above-ground warning signs of “unmarked holes” to the subterranean neighborhoods that spindle through the sandstone underground.
But it isn’t just opals that live underground; it’s the people, too, along with churches, museums, bars, and museums. If the opal is underground, why do the residents live there, also? We’ll have to do a little digging beneath the surface to answer that!
The same conditions that make Coober Pedy optimal for growing opals are unbearable to humans. The summertime temperatures scorch up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit!
Not surprisingly, 3,500 residents in the town are opal industry professionals. With little shade above ground and zero plantlife, the natural solution to the arid climate was to move underground! What started as temporary shade for miners turned into a completely new lifestyle, with over half of residents living in dugouts.
After all, what better way to find opals than to live with them?
Over the years, this lifestyle attracted interest from around the globe and became somewhat of a novelty travel destination. Presently, visitors can take a tour underground to learn about the city’s famous opal mining roots at the Umoona Opal Mine & Museum.
There are also underground hotels for tourists to experience life underground like the locals!
If you visit in Springtime, you might catch the yearly Coober Pedy Opal Festival!
As you can see, the very roots that built this town are made of opal, which is why it’s considered the opal capital of the world!
Naturally, there have been phenomenal discoveries over the years.
The opal capital has garnered astonishing discoveries since its inception in 1915. Below, we’ll explore some of the exciting Coober Pedy opal finds.
The world’s largest, most expensive opal ever discovered, Olympic Australis, was mined 30 feet below ground at Coober Pedy’s famous opal field, Eight Mile, in the mid-1950s.
In 2003, a local miner discovered The Virgin Rainbow, a gorgeous black opal at the Three Mile Fields.
In 2016, miners discovered 65 million-year-old opalized pearls from once-living sea creatures.
Aside from the town’s famous discoveries, Coober Pedy opal is globally beloved for its rich play of color.
Every day, local miners excavate colorful opals and export them around the globe.
Coober Pedy is an other-worldly destination where dry climates and desert heat waft above a glistening underworld. Colorful opals grow into the sandstone and form from evaporated silica from the ancient dried-up seabed. Now, hundreds of residents live, work, and mine underground to keep the pulse of this thriving opal mecca alive and thriving.
Call it quirky, call it eerie, call it adaptation at its finest, but the eccentricities that comprise this unique town have left a mark on the gemstone industry and given it the well-deserved title of “the opal capital of the world!”
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