Old Timers Mine
This is probably the best chance you’ll have to see real opals still in the ground. As you don your hardhats and descend into the depths of this historic mine, you begin to feel the anticipation the first opal miners must have felt back in 1916. Your kids will point with excitement at all the glimmers of precious stones in the walls around you, still waiting to be dug out. As you all peer into the shadowy hand-gouged shafts, it will seem as if time has stood still. You’ll see miners (life-sized models) busily at work. Travel further and you will discover a whole underground lifestyle, including real dugout homes, still furnished, and a post office.
Crowders Gully, Coober Pedy; (08) 8672 5555
■ The opportunity for kids to try their luck at noodling. There are real bits of opal to find!
A 14-year-old boy called William (Willie) Hutchison was the first European to find opals in Coober Pedy. Willie was the youngest member of a syndicate searching for gold in the area in 1915. When the party split up to look for water, he was left behind to mind the camp. Against orders, he wandered off looking for water himself. When the others returned and couldn’t find Willie they were anxious and angry. Then the missing boy came strolling back, grinning from ear to ear. He had found not only water, but the world’s largest opal-bearing region. In the museum you can read a letter Willie wrote to his mum, and view the opal he found.
■ This tour is self-guided (and multilingual) so you can vary the pace to suit your kids. There are lots of interesting stories to read along the way, but if the kids get impatient they can run ahead and start to noodle (fossick for opals) in the pit outside. At the time of writing, the mine was preparing audio guides that you might like to try.