Clare Lynton
September 1, 2020

Q&A with Lookout Cave Underground Motel, MD Sami Kambouris

Referred to as the opal capital of the world, Coober Pedy is an opal mining town in the South Australian outback, 845km north of Adelaide. Here residents live mostly underground, to get away from the sorching sun - you'll find homes, bars and even churches in these underground walls, known as 'dugouts'. One of these is the Lookout Cave Underground Motel, where you can find yourself a night within the sandstone carved walls from AUD$160. We speak with Managing Director, Sami Kambouris to learn more about this unique stay.

Whether you choose to channel yogi meditation zone or villain's lair, if 'underground cave stay' doesn't feature on your travel bucketlist, you're missing out.

Photo by South Australia

Tell us about The Lookout Cave story — how did it all get started in 1993, and how has it evolved over time?

Before the motel was established it was originally a family dugout along with 2 x 1 bedroom dugouts and 1 x 2 bedroom dugout. The owner of the land resided in the family dugout and he rented out the others to opal miners, to help make a means to an end.

As the property was so large, the original owner dreamt of making more accommodation so he decided to build the motel. He converted the family dugout into the reception area and caretakers residence. Keeping the dugouts as apartments, he then excavated the now impressive hallway that goes some 50 metres deep into the hillside and started building the motel rooms. This was started in the late 80’s and completed by the early 90’s. We are the third owners of the business and since acquiring it in 2010 have completed refurbished all the rooms and apartments and hopefully (in the not too distant future) we will have redone the front of the property and put a new BBQ area and pool in.

Photo by @jenna__charles

What does a perfect experience at The Lookout Cave look like?

That’s a great question because its not just another room in another motel or hotel, it is an underground room excavated out of sandstone rock! Not only do we offer travellers the comforts and service they expect from traditional accommodation providers, but our guests get to experience sleeping underground — which for many is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

You can count on one hand how many places around the world offer the opportunity to stay in a cave. Guests often comment on how they have the best nights sleep because it’s so dark and quiet and they love the striking rich colours of the natural sandstone rock. Not to mention it also stays a constant 20–25 degrees underground all year round!

An added bonus that you can’t do at many hotels is venture to the rooftop for spectacular views over town. Sunsets in the outback can light up the sky with amazing colours that even the best cameras can’t capture. It’s something you have to see for yourself.

Photo by The Best Hotels

What’s your one favourite (possibly secret) detail about The Lookout Cave motel?

My favourite detail (and it was unknown to us originally) is a thick vein of white gypsum in a couple of our dugouts. The gypsum was covered up in one apartment by a brick wall and it was painted over in the second one. After pulling the brick wall down to expose the sandstone and jack-picking all of the white paint off the walls, we were left totally surprised and astounded at what we found. Both the Diggers Cave and Miners Dugout showcase the gypsum seam and it really adds to and enhances that unique underground feel.

Describe who The Lookout Cave experience is designed for?

People travel for lots of different reasons. But the person who wants to journey through the Australian outback and beyond while feeling that total relax, unwind and slow down, can’t go past Coober Pedy and stay a night sleeping underground at The Lookout Cave.

Photo by Sarah Beekmans

How has COVID affected your stays and team? What changes have you had to make, or are hoping to see?

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has had a monumental impact on all of us and has changed the way we live (and evidently travel). As restrictions ease and people start to travel and holiday again, we understand that safety and cleanliness will be high on the guest experience list.

As part of our ongoing commitment to the well-being of our staff and guests we have implemented new practices to ensure guest rooms and common areas at the motel are in line with new covid-safe models of hygiene and cleaning throughout the tourism industry.

Moving forward we just hope to see things get back to normal!

Photo by @tamaramonks

What do you think is important in re-igniting domestic Australian travel in the next 12 months?

Campaigning to the public to see their own backyard is paramount. Australia is just so vast and boundless and whilst everyone is doing it tough during this pandemic, much of regional/outback Australia needs the support of our fellow Aussies to keep us going.

In the interim and where you can, we encourage travellers to book direct with accommodation providers and help keep the money in Australia, this will in turn help Australian businesses get back on their feet and get our economy going again.

Photo by @delevenbytess

Give a shoutout to other local Aussie experiences in Coober Pedy that deserve a visit!

Umoona Opal Mine & Museum —  The museum is completely underground and free for tourists to walk through. It has a lot of information about first nations people in this area, the geological history (including dinosaur bones), opalised sea shells and has a vast array of opals and opal jewellery. The guided tour through their opal mine and the story of opal is very informative and a must do for gem enthusiasts!

Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park —  The breakaways are low lying mesa hills approximately 30km North-North East of town. They’ve been the backdrop to many films like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Mad Max — Beyond Thunderdome, Pitch Black, Red Planet and more. One of South Australia’s best kept secrets.

Serbian Underground Church —  This church has an amazing roof. The miner who dug it out used a round tunnel machine, and the way he cut and curved the roof in a series of concave shaped forms is truly amazing! Just to get a level flat roof people find difficult but to curve and concave it with this type of sandstone rock is something to be admired. It’s usually unmanned but tourists can go in, turn the lights on and take photos of it. Just turn the lights off when you leave and be sure to leave a gold coin donation!

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