Only in OZ #11 – The Big Winch, Coober Pedy, South Australia

Last Updated on March 3, 2017 by Red Nomad OZ

Big Winch, Coober Pedy, South Australia

Like a giant sword of Damocles, Coober Pedy’s Big Winch looms over the head of a hapless tourist. Well … actually, it’s Pilchard, sacrificing himself for the photgraphic greater good – so you can see just how big the ‘Big Winch’ actually is! Luckily for him, the perspective is an optical illusion – and he’s in no danger at all.

The Big Winch clearly supports Coober Pedy’s claim as ‘Opal Capital of the World’ – its presence would immediately overwhelm any pretenders to the title!!

This remote frontier mining town, just ‘up the road’ from the Woomera turnoff, deep in the South Australian outback, has much of its accommodation underground to beat the heat – an odd experience we just had to have on our first visit (2004, when these photos were taken).

Great for the non-claustrophobic – the absence of windows can be disconcerting – we awoke in the dead blackness of night to a pinging sound from the air vent above. A sandstorm? Metal contracting in the cold night air?? Friday-night-post-pub night revellers flicking gravel at the vent (as one does)??? No, it was raining!  Yes, RAINING!!  Arid? Desert?? Yeah … right!

Underground at Coober Pedy, South Australia

The paranoid may reflect on the ease with which terrorists could use the vents to decimate the town with poison gas, but can probably rest assured that Coober Pedy isn’t a strategic or politically viable target.  Unless there’s something I don’t know …

Who’d destroy a town with such a unique landmark, anyway? Loud and proud about its heritage, the ‘Big Winch’ at the Visitor Information Centre leaves the tourist in no doubt as to the town’s main industry. Nor does the moonscape of mullock heaps stretching to infinity over the horizon – the visitor’s heap is said to yield treasures the miners have missed …

Getting lucky at Coober Pedy

Although it’s my sad duty to tell you that the experience of finding a valuable gem on a tourist mullock heap CAN be faked!

But be warned! Come to this town indifferent to opal (as I was) at your peril!! Yeah, so I didn’t buy the AMAZING $800 ring I immediately fell for, I now have a new (the unkind would say ‘rabid’) desire to possess this fabled gemstone – and I bet you will too!

That’s what’ll keep you coming back!!

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  1. That looks like quite the adventure! Although, that underground accommodation looks a bit scary! it would be really cool to find a little gemstone though!

  2. @Manzanita – Yeah, baby! 47C and it feels like your eyeballs are shrivelling …
    @Mary – The opals sure make it all worthwhile!! The pings in the night just add to the general vibe!

  3. I’m rather taken with the thought of an underground town, pings in the night and all. As it happens I love opals and would fit right into the town. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  4. @Manzanita – It’s even more fun looking for gemstones in the gemstone shops!! And … there’s also an underground campground!! Coober Pedy above ground temp yesterday was 47C (~125 F) – is that hot enough for you??!!
    @Kath – see previous post re Big K, who’s crotch, I believe, is now covered by flood waters! My historic Big Orange photo shows it still actually orange! And the Big Prawn of Ballina is now white – not the tasteful pink/red of yesteryear.
    @Windsmoke – the threat of such things is pretty remote …
    @River – seen one citrus fruit, seen them all! Maybe it’s time to upgrade the tube to a piece of jewellery!!

  5. @Kath; so it’s a big pink grapefruit now?

    My dad went to Coober Pedy once when I was little and brought me back a little tube of opal chips. I don’t know where they are now.

  6. Wouldn’t mind spending a night underground it would be awesome until!, terrorists and poison gas is mentioned no thanks :-(.

  7. Ah yes, we Aussies love a ‘big’ anything, don’t we? Some of the less speccy ones include the big wine cask at Stanley winery, the big hay bales in the Coonawarra, the Big Koala (with a gift shop where its crotch should be) and the big Orange in Berri, SA that is now so sun-faded it’s a big Pink instead.

  8. Looking for gemstones can be fun. My visitors to Montans ask to go gem hunting. We have mostly sapphires and garnets. Glad to know where they have opals. If they strike out in Montana, I’ll tell them to go to Cooper Pedy. It would have to be hotter than hades upstairs to get me to sleep in the underground hotel, although the idea is fascinating. I’ve never even been in my basement (it’s more like a cellar).
    Love and Peace

  9. @Glen – Yeah, the winch is so NOT what you’d see on your London commute!
    @Katie – Even better, the opal shops are also underground, so you can browse in cool comfort!
    @Toni – one night was enough for me! Now I’ve had the experience, more than happy to stay above ground in the caravan park!
    @Jayne – maybe it’s time for another giveaway over at your blog!!
    @Andrew – yes, temp is in the low to mid 20’s! Beats the 40+ day after punishing day summer temps above ground!

  10. I’ve loved opals since I was little, the other half and feral kid have joined the local lapidary club where they buy bucket loads of opal shards for polishing…and to make me drool lol.

  11. We visited back in about 1990/91, and found it fascinating. The dugouts are so cool but I don’t know if I could sleep in one…. the lack of windows would get to me, I’m sure.

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