Exploring the Goldfields of Western Australia was an amazing outback adventure, taking us far away from the famous pristine white beaches and award-winning wineries of the coastline and immersing us in red dirt, history and ghost towns.
Our Goldfields adventure started at the end of the Golden Pipeline, in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, known locally as Kal. Kal is mining past and present where you can delve into the history and adventure of the first gold discoveries or enjoy the shops, bars and restaurants of this modern, outback city. Mining may have changed enormously but Kal has certainly retained a lot of it’s charm, spirit and character, making it a great place to base yourself for a few days. We loved wandering around the town, especially Hannan Street, where a lot of the original town buildings are still in use. While the gold-rush may conjure up colourful images of adventures and fortunes, a visit to the KCGM Super Pit Lookout will give you a stark reality check on what modern day gold mining is and what, we as humans, are willing to do to the earth in pursuit of wealth.
From Kal, we headed north to Menzies, a town which boomed when gold was discovered in 1894 but that is now home to just 70 people. We parked up and had a wander down the main street, the old buildings are beautiful and the signs give lots of information about the history of the town. The Visitor Centre, located in the Lady Shenton Hotel building, provided a friendly welcome and lots of local and tourist information to help us get the most from our visit.
Our van is 2WD so we tend to stick to sealed roads but we were persuaded by Laura in Menzies Visitors Centre that the 50km journey along unsealed road to Lake Ballard was worth it and that the road was really well maintained and absolutely fine for 2WD vans. So we set off, slowly, with everything in our van rattling and shaking, with 4WDs flying past us, leaving us in clouds of red dust. It felt like the longest 50kms ever and we considered turning back on several occasions as our idea of a well maintained road was clearly different to that of the locals! However, we persevered and, almost 2 hours later, with a van full of red dust, we arrived at Lake Ballard, home to Anthony Gormley’s iconic Inside Australia exhibition. We got a perfect camping spot, overlooking the lake, opened our beers and were treated to an amazing sunset. In the morning, we set off on a hike over the salt lake to see and photograph the sculptures. There are 51 but, even after walking around for nearly 3 hours, we still only managed to see 30. The landscape is stunning and it is a beautiful place to visit. The free campsite is great with plenty of space for 2WD vans like ours and some fab little hideaway spots if you are in a 4WD.
From Lake Ballard, we headed back to Menzies and spent a whole day cleaning red dust out of the van. After a quick drive around Kookynie and lunch at Niagra Dam the following day, we made our way to Gwalia, the mining town which was virtually abandoned overnight in December 1963 when the Sons of Gwalia Ltd mine closed. We found this place fascinating. You feel almost like you can transport yourself back to the mining boom and get a real glimpse into the history by wandering around the abandoned homes and businesses of the ghost town and taking a tour around the brilliantly laid out museum and Hoover House. You get all of this and free 72hour parking for self-contained RVs in the museum car park, which sits on a hill, looking down over the ghost town on one side and the 24hr operation of the St Barbara Ltd open cut mine on the other. Leaving Gwalia, we passed through Leonora but kept driving as we wanted to put some miles between us and the storm that was closing in on the area. The cross winds were blowing us all over the place and even the road trains were slowing down. As dusk approached, we pulled off the highway and into the town of Leinster, a modern day mining town, established in 1976 by Agnew Mining to support it’s workers at the gold and nickel mines. Today, the nickel operation is part of the BHP Billiton Group and, wandering around the town, you get the feeling that BHP Billiton owns and runs the whole show. It is a bizarre place, an oasis of greenery in the red dirt and a great insight into the lives of the Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) workers of today. There is a very touching memorial garden, commemorating and remembering the victims of mining accidents in the area. I couldn’t help wondering though, as we wandered around this town, if it will be the Gwalia of the future as the mining industry declines and faces an uncertain future.
From here, we headed West, passing through Sandstone, a very popular spot for holidaying prospectors, and on to Mount Magnet where we received a warm welcome from the caravan park manager, his family and their Meet & Greet cat, Scratch. They also have 2 dogs, 3 other cats and an emu. As a town, Mount Magnet didn’t inspire us, sad to say it felt like a town very much on the decline but it was a convenient overnight stop at the end of our journey through the Goldfields.
Top Tips for Travelling in The Goldfields.
- Visit the local cemeteries. A wander around the cemeteries is a history lesson in itself…after the first gold discoveries, people flocked to the area in their thousands, hoping to find gold, some made their fortunes but the headstones show you that it was tough going out here in those days, lives were often too short and endings tragic.
- Take advantage of the free RV camping options available in Kal, Lake Ballard, Niagra Dam and Gwalia.
- If you are heading North, stock up in Kal as this is the last big shopping centre you will see for a while.
- Be very cautious of 1080 bait if you are travelling with your pets. The bait, hidden in pieces of meat, is spread in bushland to kill foxes and feral cats. It will kill your pet if they eat it. Look out for signs advising that bait is used in the area and check with the Visitor Centre and caravan park. We got Bobby a bait muzzle from the pet shop in Kal. He wasn’t very impressed with it to begin with but he got used to it and we always use it if we are in an area where we have any concerns about bait.