Coober Pedy in South Australia has been named as the best place to hunt for loot. Picture: Mike Burton
Travellers can join in a fossil dig at Winton, QLD. Picture: Australian Age of Dinosaurs.
THERE’S a secret world of goodies buried beneath the earth’s rocks and waves.
Looking for loot – from pirate booty to secret stashes – is an adventure all its own.
Lonely Planet has compiled a list of the world’s top 10 places to hunt for treasure in their Best in Travel 2013 book.
1. Opal Mining, Coober Pedy, Australia
Outback adventure and the chance to strike it rich: can you dig it?
The good folk of Coober Pedy can… and have done, ever since opal was first discovered there in 1915.
Named from the local aboriginal term ‘kupa-piti’ (meaning ‘whitefella in a hole’), this far-flung town is known as the opal capital of the world; it’s also famous for its underground homes, excavated to escape the desert sizzle.
While hardcore miners need a government permit, anyone is allowed to fossick – in local parlance, ‘noodle’ – through the town’s many mine dumps.
Don’t let the whimsical verb fool you: many a noodler has hit paydirt.
Before going it alone, try a sanctioned noodle at Tom’s Working Opal Mine or Old Timers’ Mine.
2. Norman Island, British Virgin Islands
Peg-legs, black spots, West Country accents: if there was a map showing the home of every pirate cliché known to fancy-dressers, Norman Island would be marked with an X.
Not shivering your timbers? Perhaps its fictional name, Treasure Island, will make you go ‘aaargh’.
The inspiration behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of mutiny and booty, Norman Island today is a haven for snorkellers and nature lovers.
But rumours of undiscovered doubloons hidden in the Caves – a series of aptly murky watery caverns – attract rum-hoisters convinced the island remains home to ‘plenty of prizes and plenty of duff !’.
Norman Island is a short boat trip from Tortola, the biggest and most populated of the BVIs. Tortola is reached via ferries or flights out of various Caribbean hubs.
3. Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Home to a huge, mysterious hole nicknamed the Money Pit, this otherwise unremarkable island is the destination for those answering the call of booty.
First discovered in 1795, the cryptic Pit is the site of the world’s longest-running treasure hunt… although just which treasure is being hunted remains the cause of frenzied debate.
Rumoured riches hidden within the hole (which supposedly runs at least 60m deep) include Captain Kidd’s stash, the lost jewels of Marie Antoinette, documents proving the ‘real’ identity of Shakespeare (Francis Bacon, FYI) and the holy grail of treasure seekers, the, erm, Holy Grail.
Beware the booby traps!
Oak Island is privately owned and permission is required before setting off to solve the mystery of the Pit. Start here for legends and links.
4. Las Vegas, US
Cache-ING! Looking for loot in Las Vegas? Forget fruit machines and bank breaking: these days, thousands of Sin City visitors are forgoing gambling for geocaching.
A real-life treasure hunt that relies on GPS and cryptic clues, geocaching is more likely to yield a Kinder Egg than that of the nest variety, but that hasn’t stopped five million enthusiasts worldwide.
Vegas has become a must-do for the high-tech hobbyists, with more than 2400 stashes hidden in and around the city, including scores on the Strip, in the surrounding desert and in spooky spots for ‘haunted’ night caching.
A real-life treasure hunt in Las Vegas for hidden stashes is a must-do for high-tech hobbiests. Picture: WriterGal39/Flickr.
5. Gold Detecting, Papua New Guinea
There’s gold in them thar hills… and on them thar islands… and under that thar sea.
Papua New Guinea is absolutely awash with the shiny stuff , and while much of it falls into the hands of multinational mining companies, there’s no reason the budding prospector can’t have a pick or a pan as well.
Gold fever peaked in the 20th century, with nuggets the ‘size of goose eggs’ attracting feverish prospectors, including a certain Mr Errol Flynn.
These days, PNG’s rough-and-tumble landscape (social and geographic) make joining an organised tour a better idea than striking out on your own.
They’re not cheap, but with a potential ‘Eureka!’ moment lurking beneath every step, who cares?
PNG Gold Tours offers fully escorted, two-week gold-hunting trips to Misma Island, an area renowned for rich alluvial deposits.
6. Roman Coins, English Countryside
Either togas suffered from a lack of pockets or departing Romans hadn’t time to stop at a currency exchange, because England is aglitter with ancient currency.
And it’s yours for the picking. Amateur archaeologists and quaint folk with metal detectors have been responsible for massive finds across the island; in 2010, a chef uncovered a pot filled with 52,000 coins dated between AD 253 and 293, the largest such hoard yet discovered.
Study up, be sure to get landowners’ permission and you too could hold history in your hands!
Contact the National Council for Metal Detecting for information on detector hire, regional clubs and valuing your treasure.
7. Digging For Dinos, Australia
Thrilled by theropods? Is ‘muttaburrasaurus’ more than just an amusing tongue-twister to you? Then it’s a fair bet that joining a dinosaur dig is your idea of the ultimate treasure hunt.
And where better to pander to your inner palaeontologist than outback Winton, home to Australia’s largest hoard of dino bones?
The not-for-profit organisation Australian Age of Dinosaurs holds tri-annual Dinosaur Discovery Weeks, giving ‘enthusasauruses’ the chance to excavate, plaster and prep fossils buried for the past 95 million years.
No experience is necessary, but only 13 spots per dig are available. Book quickly: they’ll be gone before you can say ‘Diamantinasaurus matildae’.
Digs run between July and September. Find out more and reserve your spot here.
8. Arctic Amethysts, Kola Peninsula, Russia
Far above the Arctic Circle, all that glitters is not ice: western Russia’s extreme north sparkles with the purple slivers of the prized amethyst.
The rugged Kola Peninsula – a mineralogist’s dream with its hundreds of rare rock and metal species – is home to the windswept, amethyst-rich Tersky Coast.
Unlike gold, the amethyst is surprisingly easy to find if you know where to look (Tersky’s Korabl Cape – ‘Ship Cape’ – is a great place to start): simply look for the purple clumps.
In addition to its beauty, amethyst has a legendary quality which may come in handy in these frozen, vodka-loving lands: it’s believed to protect its bearer from drunkenness.
While spotting amethysts is simple enough, getting around Kola Peninsula is not.
Consider joining a mineralogical tour with the South Kola group.
9. Fossil Gawking, Gobi Desert, Mongolia
To the hurried eye, the vast Gobi Desert looks like 1.3 million sq km of dusty nothing.
But stop, stoop and focus: the Gobi is one of the world’s richest fossil depositories, with many ancient (as in 100-million-years-ancient) remains lying only centimetres from the surface.
It was here the first dinosaur eggs were discovered; other major excavated finds include rare, mid-evolutionary birds and some of the world’s best-preserved mammal fossils.
Hunting hotspots include the Flaming Hills of Bayanzag and Altan Uul (‘Golden Mountain’).
You’re not supposed to take your finds home with you – they’re rightfully considered national treasures – but here, especially, the thrill is in the chase.
Independent (not package) tours can be hard to stumble across, but not impossible. Many guesthouses in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar can help get your expedition underway.
10. Wreck Diving, Florida, US
It may be known as the Sunshine State, but many of Florida’s richest attractions haven’t seen the light of day in centuries.
Thought to be home to more sunken treasure than any other state in the US, Florida’s blue waters may be hiding more than US$200 million worth of loot.
Now home to Disneyworld and pampered retirees, the state was once a notorious pirate haven (even Blackbeard dropped anchor here), and its hurricanes sent countless Spanish galleons to Davy Jones’ locker.
Check local legalities before you wriggle into your wettie, and never dive alone in Florida’s oft-treacherous waters: those wrecks are down there for a reason.
This website is a treasure trove of super-detailed listings of potentially enriching (and legal) wreck-dive spots across Florida.
This is an extract from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2013 © Lonely Planet 2012, RRP: $24.99, available in stores now.