PLACES TO GO
Affectionately referred to as ‘Kal’ by locals, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, with a population of around 30,000, is the undisputed hub of the region. Tourists often notice the wide streets; the whole place is broadly laid out, and has loads of character. Kal is a unique fusion of old and new, marrying historical architecture and a celebrated, colourful past with the financial benefits of the modern mining industry. Gold was originally found in the 1890s, and now the KCGM Super Pit (it lives up to the title, at 3.6km long, 1.5km wide and 500m deep) produces over 800,000 ounces every year. The sheer scope has to be seen to believed; kids are generally enthralled by the enormous trucks (let’s be honest – not just the kids!). Try some gold prospecting of your own, or visit the hotel built over a goldmine – talk about being in touch with the past. Kalgoorlie has its quirks; boasting the (self-proclaimed) World’s Tallest Bin and (possibly) a ghost cat. Racing season’s a big deal (June till end of September), and a chance to get glammed up. Karlkurla Bushland Park is 200 hectares of natural regrowth bushland for those who feel like a bushwalk. The Beaten Track Brewery’s craft beers have a great rep (don’t be fooled by the building’s simple exterior – the locally made product’s top notch. Stout with peanut butter, anyone?). Accommodation-wise, Kal’s got you covered, whether you’re a backpacker or looking for luxury digs. Just remember to book ahead – the city’s popular events regularly draw crowds. Almost half a dozen caravan parks are scattered around, plus there’s the option of staying at a nearby homestead, for the outback vibe.
Lake Ballard is the home of the Inside Australia sculptures by Antony Gormley.
The works constitute a surreal experience: 51 haunting alloy figures (mostly based on scans of locals, they’re true-to-life height-wise, but reduced in body volume) spread out across ten square kilometres of salt lake. Sunrise and sunset are popular times to appreciate their stunning beauty. Lake Ballard is about a two-hour drive from Kalgoorlie-Boulder, on a mix of sealed and unsealed surfaces. About forty minutes of that journey is the 51km drive from Menzies to Lake Ballard. Take care on that stretch of road that you don’t hit wildlife and livestock, and you might need a fly net to ward off the insects. A visit to the pub in Menzies, before or after, is practically a tradition. Don’t forget hat, sunscreen and sunglasses, and if it’s rained recently, you might want to keep spare shoes in the car. Autumn and spring are the most popular visiting times: if you go in summer, bring a lot of water. The lake is only ever really in full flood roughly every twenty years or so (meaning the next time will be the sculptures’ first semi-submerged experience!). Driving on the lake itself is prohibited, so put aside a few hours to make your way on foot. Take enough food, fuel and water to cover yourself, and don’t head out alone. There’s allocated parking, toilets, a designated camping area and barbecues, but you’ll need your own wood (keep in mind that fire restrictions may apply). Also check road conditions before heading out, especially if it’s been raining, because the road may be closed. You can contact Menzies visitor centre on (08) 9024 2702.
Camping next to Lake Ballard (photography Tourism WA).
THINGS TO DO
The epic Kalgoorlie Race Round has become an institution in the Goldfields,
and every year in September, thousands head trackside for one of the biggest and best parties. The two main races of the round are the Hannans Handicap and the Kalgoorlie Cup, the former running a Fashions on the Field competition.
Odd as it may seem, golfers are known to make a weekend of playing the Kalgoorlie Golf Course. Although Kalgoorlie is in the middle of nowhere, the grounds are topnotch and there are plenty of pubs in town (what’s not to love?). There’s also the Nullarbor Links course that begins or finishes in Kalgoorlie, depending on which end you start at. It’s is the longest course in the world (1365km), score cards are $70, and you get a completion certificate if you get your card stamped at each hole by a roadhouse or visitor centre. With seriously rugged terrain, don’t bother taking it too seriously. TIP Watch out for the crows, they’ll pinch your balls.
If you’re heading to Kalgoorlie, art lovers will appreciate the Philip Goatcher curtain in the Boulder Town Hall. Painted over a century ago, the detail’s exquisite (it’s apparently the last remaining stage curtain in the world painted by the talented artist). History buffs can trace the pioneer origins of the local gold industry at the Western Australian Museum of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, and don’t miss the underground gold vault (the kids will love the gold bars and nuggets). Aside from the gold, another result of the boom was the flourishing brothels, and a few are still operating today; you can even book a tour in the one remaining bordello from the original gold-rush days. Coolgardie is also another great place to visit, with its Goldfields Exhibition Museum, or, for a more sombre experience, visit the cemetery, where the inscriptions tell many a tragic tale. There’s also the eerie ghost town of Gwalia and the Great Beyond Explorers Hall of Fame in Laverton.
Nullarbor Links, at the Kalgoorlie Golf Course end (photography Tourism WA).
Check out the big trucks at the Super Pit
See the Lake Ballard sculptures
Visit one of the old mining ghost towns
Walk vibrant Hannan Street
Sip a peanut buttery stout
Go prospecting for gold
Photograph the wildflowers (August to December)
All these and more at www.scoop.com.au/thingstodo
SCENIC DRIVE ROUTES
Canning Stock Route
Approximately 2000km long, running from Halls Creek to Wiluna, The Canning Stock Route is a standout 4WD adventure that crosses the Gibson and Great Sandy deserts. Planning’s a priority – this is a pretty intense trek and not for the inexperienced. To avoid searing heat or muddy terrain, the route is best taken between May and September. The Canning Stock Route passes through native title lands, and you’ll require the appropriate permits. Four Wheel Drive Australia (www.anfwdc.asn.au) will tell you what you need to know about the permits, and where to access them. (The website also includes a free downloadable booklet that will come in handy.) Other helpful sites include (www.canningstockroute.net.au) and The Department of Aboriginal Affairs (www.daa.wa.gov.au). If you’re doing the whole journey, it’s best to forgo a trailer, because they’re not permitted in certain early land areas.
The Holland Track
Stunning during wildflower season, this popular 4WD track is just over 670km from Broome Hill to Coolgardie. Originally a cart road that fell out of use, it was recut in 1993 as part of the track’s centenary by 4WD fans who saw the potential. There are a couple of places you can get fuel along the way. Watch out for ruts, more notable in wet weather (think high-clearance 4WD vehicles) and the route is probably best avoided in the intense heat of summer. You’ll need permits, so contact www.daa.wa.gov.au. A stop at Wave Rock is a popular addition to the itinerary.
Golden Quest Discovery Trail
The Golden Quest Discovery Trail, launched in 2003, is 965km in total, beginning at Coolgardie and ending at Laverton. It offers 25 sites that allow you to immerse yourself in the Goldfields region (including details of the gold-rush era, perfect for history buffs). With supermarkets, fuel and places to stay along the way, it’s less arduous than some of the other trails. The Antony Gormley sculptures at Lake Ballard are one of the must-sees on the list. You can travel the whole thing, spread out across a week or so, or choose particular areas that suit your holiday plans for drives of a day or two. Contact the Kalgoorlie-Boulder visitor centre on (08) 9021 1966, or visit www.goldenquesttrail.com.
The Canning Stock Route (photography Dan Paris).
Leonora Loop Trails
The Leonora Loop Trails comprise two drives starting in Leonora – the Darlot Loop and the Agnew Loop. Each trail includes fifteen stopping places (roughly 10-15km apart) each marked by a metal silhouette waiting to tell you a story (via interpretive panels) about the history of that particular spot. It’s generally recommended you spend a day on each loop, and the routes are especially lovely in spring. If you don’t want to do the full circle back to Leonora, you can incorporate a few stops into your journey through the region. For details, contact Leonora Visitors Centre on (08) 9037 7016.
Scenic drive tips
Always check up on the condition of the roads ahead, but keep in mind they can change quickly – and drastically – as a result of the weather; it’s recommended you drive according to the condition of the track. Make sure you’re prepped for emergency repairs, and that food, water and fuel are covered. Also check up the condition of campsites along the way before setting out. Extra fuel is a good idea, considering the extreme remoteness of area; if you get caught out, you might not be passing a servo!
You can get to Kalgoorlie on an hour-long flight from the state’s capital, or
alternatively spend a day driving from Perth. 4WD or caravan enthusiasts can
take The Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail from Mundaring to Kal.