Look beneath the surface of Australia’s Coober Pedy town, because there’s a secret world buried underneath – literally. In this vibrant yet barren desert landscape, the people live in underground spaces carved in dusty caves where miners used to look for precious opals.
According to a report from Smithsonian, Coober Pedy is the Opal Capital of the World providing an estimated 70 percent of the world’s opal production. Mining for opals has become the town’s main industry with precious minerals being discovered like the recently found opalized pearls that date from over 65 million years ago. The lust for such rich finds left its mark on the surreal expanse, which is now marred with thousands of holes, TIME reported.
Half of Coober Pedy’s population now live in dugouts inspired by the town’s mining culture. It’s a complete subterranean community including an underground museum and even intricately designed churches like the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The otherworldly atmosphere now attracts a steady stream of tourists who are eager to experience the bizarre subterranean peace.
“People come here to see things differently,” Robert Coro, managing director of the Desert Cave Hotel in Coober Pedy, explained. Certain sections of the hotel are buried, which is common in the town. “It’s that kind of adventure mentality that attracts people here in the first place.”
But the inhabitants didn’t move underground for the kitsch. Instead, the townfolk moved into the hillside holes to escape the desert’s intolerable heat – or even the chilly winter nights. In these underground dwellings, the temperature is a 75 degrees all year round.
“To an outsider the place looks really amazing and weird,” photograher Antoine Bruy told TIME. “But when you go there actually it’s just their daily life. It’s very common to have a dugout, to live underground.”