The ‘Golden Outback’…

Important Travel Tips – Australia’s North West

Karijini National Park, Newman, Golden Outback, Geocaching, Kumarina Roadhouse, Meekatharra, Cue, Mount Magnet, Sandstone, Agnew, Leinster, Lenora, Menzies, Broad Arrow, Kalgoorlie Boulder

Leaving Dales Campground we said goodbye to Karijini National Park and headed 30-kilometres along Karijini Drive to the Great Northern Highway before turning south.

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Great Northern Highway

Our journey today would continue through the East Pilbara region to Newman, the gateway to the ‘Golden Outback’, the land of red dust and outback goldfields.

Australia’s Golden Outback’ pretty much takes up most of this state – in fact 54%, and it is an amazing experience that can sometimes be overlooked as ‘a must see’ destination.

Western Australia is home to some of the most famous 4WD outback tracks in the world including the iconic Canning Stock Route, the Gunbarrel Highway, the John Holland Track and the Great Central Road (also part of the Outback Way)… all featuring high on our wish-list – and all part of this ‘Golden Outback’ country!
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Not long before reaching Munjina Gorge (which straddles the highway) we encountered 2 large semi-trailers each carrying 2 haul trucks for the mines. These vehicles had to be 6-metres wide and took up the whole of the roadway forcing us to the side of the road while they passed… there wasn’t a lot of room to pull over, but we certainly needed to be right off the road.

Today was obviously going to be a day about very large trucks.

There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the road as we headed toward Newman, mostly road trains, 4-trailers in length… and when you encounter one of these monsters coming towards you, it’s pull over as far as you can… or if they are heading in the same direction – just sit behind them until the driver radios through to say it’s safe to pass!

There was absolutely no way we could see around them and we were thankful of our UHF radio so we could tune into the truck drivers’ channel 40… and aside from hearing the very interesting weather predictions for the coming ‘wet season’ and probably a few other conversations we didn’t want to hear we were able to at least communicate with the drivers and vice versa! 

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Slowly we sank into the peaceful colours of our surroundings as we travelled through billion-year-old landscape that could best be described as vast and sweeping and quite incredible with colourful pockets of wildflowers providing an impressive contrasts against the red earth!

 

We were well and truly in the outback back now; no phone coverage – just red dust, cattle, sheep, kangaroos, dingoes, emus, goats and vast distances on a road of rolling plains, colourful wildflowers, spinifex and stunted trees!

Our progress was good and we soon reached our next destination in a little over 2-hours.

As we approached the town of Newman we couldn’t help but notice the lonely metal statue of a couple standing high on a hilltop, surrounded by the red dust of the Pilbara!r567876_3482598

The sculpture was of veteran prospector Stan Hilditch and his wife Ella, a couple who accidentally discovered the largest iron ore deposit in the world in 1957… but despite the amazing find it was kept secret for 4-years.

Newman is now BHP Billiton’s main iron ore mine site and the location of the largest open cut mine in the world at 5-kilometres long, 1.5-kilometres wide and deep enough to fill quite a few Olympic sized swimming pools!

The town is often referred to as the ‘Heart of the Pilbara’ and was built primarily to house the workforce at the Mount Whaleback mine.

We were told that before Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) mined this area it looked like a whaleback from the air… hence its name, but all we saw was a massive hole where monster trucks looked like a precession of tiny ants as they loaded the ore onto the trains.

Big trucks, big cranes and a big hole are the heartbeat of this town, and we couldn’t help but notice this was a mining settlement by the huge ore trucks with huge tyres at least 4-metres in diameter on display at various locations around the township!

 

Newman itself was just another mining town, and like all the other mining towns we had passed through, it had all the facilities – a swimming pool, a library, an art gallery at the Newman Outback Visitor’s Centre and ovals and courts for football, cricket, tennis and netball. There was also a golf course and racecourse where a rodeo is held annually and again regular flights service this town providing convenient access to the region. IMG_3258

The Nyiyaparli people are the traditional custodians of the Newman region with around a dozen different language groups that extend across the Gibson Desert and Great Sandy Desert and although very few Nyiyaparli people live here their close cultural and family links with the Martu people from Manyjilyjarra and Kartujarra country have allowed these language groups to share the Nyiyaparli country in and around Newman.

This area has an interesting Aboriginal history with first contact between these people and non-Aboriginals occurring as recent as the late 1960’s and from this point on they progressively lost their land and nomadic lifestyle as white people crept inland.

Today the tradition and culture of the Martu people remains a strong guiding influence in their daily lives and it was quite evident there was a strong population base by the number of Aboriginals in and around town!

For us, there wasn’t much of interest here apart from the mine, Radio Hill Lookout where we had panoramic views of the town and surrounding landscape, and the Outback Visitor’s Centre where I was first introduced to ‘Geocaching‘.

The Outback Visitor’s Centre is a ‘one stop shop’ to refuel, recharge and collect water and the very friendly staff certainly provide a great service for all travellers!

I had never heard of ‘Geocaching‘ before but the lovely girl at the centre was so passionate about this past-time that she soon had me loaded with a brochure and map, for the Great Central Road (which is part of the Outback Way, the longest Geocaching track in the world), and all the details I needed to know. I had already downloaded the App!

For those who don’t know about ‘Geocaching‘, it is a treasure hunting game where you use GPS to hide and seek containers. It’s very addictive, you can use it ‘offline’… and it beats playing ‘I Spy’ and ‘Guess the number plate’ all the time!

A cache or geocache is a hidden container housing a logbook, pen or pencil to record details and trinkets for people to exchange!

We registered on the geocaching website – www.geocaching.com and bought a pack of Australian Cards from the Outback Visitor’s Centre. IMG_3259

A card of a different place in Australia would be my contribution when I found a cache (if I could fit one in the container that is), along with my blog address!

Some containers were only as big as a Kodak film container and others were metal army boxes hidden in the most unusual and sometimes hardest of places to find.

They are all over the world so download the ‘Geocaching’ App and your adventure begins…. go offline and HAVE SOME FUN!!

For those who love to get off the beaten track apparently,  we were told (just as we were leaving Newman) of some interesting 4WD trails in this area… but we didn’t have time to stop and investigate as we had our car booked in for a service at Kalgoorlie.

After filling up with water at the Outback Visitor’s Centre for a gold coin donation, stopping at the supermarket to stock up on food and topping up with fuel we hit the road again!IMG_3134

As well as being the end of our Pilbara adventure Newman is also the gateway to the The Golden Outback and the Great Central Road – 1300-kilometres of unsealed road from Laverton to Uluru and a road we were really looking forward to tackling!

Continuing south we followed the narrow black strip that seemed to stretch for as far as the eye could see.IMG_3273

Towns were a bit ‘thin on the ground’ in this part of the world with the next town, Meekatharra, 380-kilometres away.

We passed the imaginary ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ line 18-kilometres out of Newman and the Capricorn Roadhouse further down the road then we whizzed past a large gravel pit a bit back off the road that was apparently a free camp! IMG_3132

Wiki Camps and CamperMate are pretty much the ‘Must Have’ apps if you are travelling around Australia but it pays to look at them occasionally!

They have been our ‘go to apps’ on our Aussie journey for the last 8-months but on this long straight road with nothing but red earth surrounding us we had become just a little complacent!

You can find anything with these apps; from free camps to caravan parks, points of interest to day use areas, showers to drinking water and much more!

 

A few more of apps of interest are;

  • Hema Explorer – plan, navigate and add photos offline.
  • maps.me –  free, fast, detailed and offers offline maps with turn-by-turn navigation.
  • Glympse (android) – a fast, free and simple way to share your real-time location using GPS tracking, with any of your family and friends!
  • Sky View (android) – you don’t need to be an astronomer to find stars or constellations in the sky.

Next stop was Kumarina Roadhouse to refuel but as we still had another 255-kilometres to travel to Meekatharra we decided to pull in around the back and set up camp. This rundown roadhouse was very basic and in much need of a bit of TLC but it was great for a 1 night stop!

 

The next day was another long day on the road but luckily we could share the driving. We spent most of our time playing ‘I Spy’ or ‘guess the number plate’ as we were a bit short on geocaches!

We passed more cattle, herds of wild goats, emus, eagles… mostly feasting on road kill, more monster trucks, the odd caravan or two and a few cars!  This could be a long boring drive for some drivers but there are people out there who travel these roads all the time… mostly in trucks, a lot bigger than us and think nothing of it!

 

We passed a sign that said Doolgunna Homestead and further down the road the Aboriginal community of Katalundie.

Wildflowers and flowering shrubs were growing prolifically for as far as the eye could see on the red dusty sides of the road then 60-kilometres further on we arrived at Meekatharra or Meeka as the locals call it!

 

Meekatharra was high on our list of towns to visit, mainly because we liked the sound of the name more than anything! It is a Yamatji Aboriginal word meaning ‘little water’ or ‘place of little water’ which seems appropriate given the low rainfall in this area!

It came into existence in the 1880s when gold was discovered in the area but as the gold rush was short-lived it was only the arrival of the railway in 1910 that ensured its survival.

The town became the railhead at the end of the ‘Canning Stock Route‘, a series of 54 wells stretching from the East Kimberley to the Murchison and a track we are really looking forward to doing on another trip. The railway was closed in 1978, but the town continues to provide necessary links to remote outback areas through its Royal Flying Doctor Service and is a convenient centre for the numerous surrounding pastoral stations and the many established mines and mineral exploration companies in the vicinity… mainly gold!

East of Meekatharra was the small township of Wiluna which, we had been told by other travellers, was probably not a place to visit. From their experience they felt this town had a completely different feel to the rest of the old goldfields towns. It was untidy and messy and they felt uncomfortable and unsafe for the first time in their travels!

Wiluna is the start (or the finish) of two famous Aussie outback tracks – east heads to the ‘Gunbarrel Highway‘ and north to the ‘Canning Stock Route‘… so no doubt in the coming years we will be back to visit this town!

Throughout our travels we had listened to many of Len Beadells CD’s. Len Beadell was the famous Aussie outback land surveyor who actually named the ‘Gunbarrel ‘ after his construction crew the ‘Gunbarrel Road Construction Crew’!

Len liked to make roads as straight as possible but when you look at a map of the ‘Gunbarrel ‘ you will see that on this particular occasion he certainly didn’t achieve the planned straight road he would have liked… and he actually jokes on his CD that the crew should have been called the ‘Corkscrew Road Construction Crew’ instead of the ‘Gunbarrel Road Construction Crew’!

A permit is required and you must be in a convoy of at least 2 vehicles if you are planning on this iconic outback journey.

About 100-kilometres south of Meekatharra we passed Lake Nallan. This almost dry lake is a nature reserve where there was camping but no toilets, only rubbish bins.

 

We were now travelling the Goldfields Highway which links with the Great Northern Highway at Meekatharra in the north and Coolgardie-Esperance Highway in the south, 56 kilometres south of Coolgardie.

Next town on the map was Cue, otherwise known as the ‘Queen of the Murchison’, and an interesting and very pretty little town.

In 1891 Mick Fitzgerald and Ned Heffernan found large nuggets of gold not far from what was to become the main street of this little town but it was their prospecting mate, Tom Cue, who registered the claim on their behalf and when the town was officially proclaimed in 1894 it was named after him.

At one time the population of this town had exploded to about 10,000 people but Cue’s, population has dwindled today with only the legacy of those heady gold-rush days and some interesting historic buildings remaining in the town.

 

We parked just off the highway in a lovely park area for a break and a cuppa then we set off to explore. At first glance it looked a prosperous little town but on further investigation we discovered that this beautiful old town was sadly almost a ghost town with many shops empty and very neglected. The children from the local primary school had painted some buildings with brightly coloured murals depicting a colourful story of Cue’s history which showed there was at least a small population somewhere in this somewhat abandoned town but there wasn’t a sole to been seen on the main street!8092455-002-School-project-0

The council Tourist Park was located close to the parking area and a closed Visitor Centre was just across the road!

We were in gold prospecting country and this is one of the main reasons people travel out to this area – to find that nugget of gold on the ground… and Cue was obviously a very popular spot for gold prospecting and fossicking even today! The Tourist Park was full of prospectors who, we were told, frequented the town in large numbers.

Heading back onto the highway we passed Lake Austin, a salt lake located between the towns of Cue and Mount Magnet that when full, covers an area of around 46,000 hectares.

 

Mount Magnet  was our next port of call and as we drove into town it looked hot and dusty in the afternoon sun. We soon found a caravan park foregoing the search for a bush camp for the night. It seemed like we had been driving for hours on end, mostly because we had… and Mount Magnet Caravan Park looked good!

 

This park was council run with a very friendly staff. The camp kitchen was very clean; as were the amenities and if you’re traveling through this part of Western Australia it is a great spot to stop!

 

Mount Magnet is Western Australia’s longest continuously active gold mining centre operating since 1891 and home to the famous Hill 50 Gold Mine – Australia’s deepest and for a time, richest, underground gold mine.

It is the only town in this vast region of Western Australia , where you can arrive and depart on sealed roads to all 4-points of the compass – Cue (80-kilometres north), Meekatharra (170-kilometres north), Sandstone (158-kilometres east), Paynes Find (145-kilometres south) and Yalgoo (124-kilometres west).

Doing the touristy thing and in search of another cache we followed the 37-kilometre Tourist Trail where only 9-kilometres from the town centre, we came to ‘The Granites‘.

We explored a cave, a natural amphitheatre and magnificent granite rock formations which, at over 15-metres tall have great cultural significance to the local Aboriginals with paintings on the rocks dating back 9,000 years. Many descendants of the Badimaya people still live in and around Mount Magnet today.

We located the cache in an ammo container in a rocky outcrop near the parking bay!

Before heading back to Mount Magnet  we checked out the remains of the abandoned Lennonville settlement and drove through old and new goldmine sites to take in the spectacular views from the old Mount Magnet (now known as Warramboo Hill).

Surveyor Robert Austin named this prominent hill rising above the township in 1854 after he noticed that its magnetic qualities interfered with his compass . It has since had its Indigenous name reinstated, ‘Warramboo Hill’, meaning campfire camping place.

Next morning we turned east on the Goldfields Highway and headed for Sandstone.

Sandstone is a tiny outback town in the Murchison Region  of Western Australia , located roughly half-way between Mount Magnet and Leinster.

 

The town is in the middle of nowhere with not a very big population, only about 100 or so people, but it’s a friendly and interesting place to stop over… and if you arrive at the right time (usually a weekend) you are sure to meet Lady Di. She is a real character and if she doesn’t find you first, you’ll find her next to the Sandstone Heritage Museum and Visitor Centre selling her famous pies and secret herb concoctions! Sandstone has 2 tourist attractions… London Bridge and Lady Di!

As we drove into Sandstone passing the main corner we thought we saw someone waving at us from up a side street!

We parked Harry Hilux a bit down the road so we could wander back to the Visitor Centre and sure enough, rounding the centre on foot this lady was on us before we realised, introducing herself as Lady Di and throwing her arms around our shoulders.

She was a pretty daunting character refusing to take no for an answer as she dragged us back down the footpath to her tent where she spent the best part of 10 minutes telling us how good her pies were, all natural products with a secret spice. Her dukkah was equally as good, made from bush ingredients collected locally by Lady Di and an Indigenous woman… and of course, unable to refuse, we walked away with a couple of bags of her secret spice in hand!

Sandstone was a very dry, red and dusty town with huge wide-open streets with a row of date palms growing down the middle of the main street. It had some lovely old heritage buildings including the old pub, Post Office and Telegraph Office building across from the Visitor Centre … the Post Office complete with poles out the front decorated in true Aussie style with all kinds of shoes!

 

It almost had a ghost town feel to it with not many people, a lot of open space, not many shops or services and we were told no children… but then a child rode past us on his bike!

The main attractions here are located along a sign posted, dusty tourist drive that loops back to the town.IMG_3212

Following the Sandstone Heritage Trail east out of town we turned south onto a gravel road that took us a short distance to ‘The Old Brewery‘, a cave where apparently a brewery once operated. Next was London Bridge, a very scenic picnic and camping spot boasting a rock arch of basalt where, in the early days, camel trains and wagons were driven over the arch. Now it is off limits for safety reasons. From here we had an endless view of kilometres of nothing… just lots of mulga and the vast empty land that surrounded Sandstone … this little town in the middle of nowhere!

 

Further along the road was the Sandstone State Battery with its original ore-crushing building and workers cottages still standing.  

The last site was a Contradiction Well, an example of many of the wells sunk by the government in the early 1900s to cater for the needs of miners and their animals… and then we were back in Sandstone!

 

Beyond the wide dusty streets of Sandstone we continued to follow more red dirt carpeted with beautiful wildflowers and low desert mulga as the almost empty road (apart from a few road trains) stretched before us.

 

Further along the Agnew-Sandstone Road we came to the Peter Denny Lookout rest area and another Geocaching opportunity! This time our cache was found resting under neatly piled rocks on a rocky cliff on the other side of the safety rail… probably not a good cache for children to go looking for!

 

This was a great camp spot well worth a stop if only for the views looking out over the top of the Breakaway formation – and some treasure hunting. It was one of the nicer roadside stops to camp at with fire rings, lots of shade and plenty of room.

With the cache recorded and a ‘Sydney Harbour Bridge‘ card placed in the box we headed on with the historical site of Agnew our next stop!

This was, and still is gold-rush country, with the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder as its hub, but with the less-sustainable gold towns like Agnew now lying sun struck, isolated and deserted.

This small historic gold rush town once had a population of 500 but all that remains of this gold rush ghost town today is the Agnew Hotel, an outback pub that was built in 1945 among what was once a row of shops. We were told to stop in for a meal or a drink and a nice cold beer would really have gone down well after a long hot day in the car but it was not to be. The hotel was closed so we pressed on again, this time towards Leinster!

Sadly the Agnew Hotel was demolished not long after our visit!

 

The drive to Leinster was interesting with the scenery changing from scrubby and very dry country to patches of beautiful gum trees then back to sparse country again.leo-55

As we neared the turn off the beautiful white trunks of the gums became more widespread and soon they dominated the landscape.

Just after the turn off we stopped at an interesting rock formation to hunt for another cache but this one was a bit more elusive so after climbing over and around rocks we finally gave up and headed into town!images

This town was a little oasis of green trees that looked so out of place in the middle of the vast dry outback, thousands of miles from civilisation… so different to the other towns we had passed through on this highway, all of which were older and at one with the harsh ancient landscape that surrounded them.

Leinster was purpose-built to house and provide services for the workers (and their families) who worked at the nearby mine sites and apart from mining, the land surrounding this little town has long been used for grazing sheep on large stations and gold prospecting. This was a serious mining town and there wasn’t much of interest for us tourists!

 

As we travelled a bit further down the road we stopped to pay our respects at ‘Bob Ellistons Lonely Grave’. In the ‘Gold Rush’ years those who died in search of gold were often buried where they fell… in makeshift graves!IMG_3258.JPG

There are many sobering tails of hardship and despair on the Goldfields, and the challenge of simply staying alive in these harsh conditions especially with little food and water would have been quite difficult!

Like in all the gold fields across Australia, many prospectors set off with as little as a wheelbarrow, shovel, a container of water, some food rations and the clothes on their back and many died of the most predictable ailments like heart failure, pneumonia and dysentery or from violence or accidents.

Life on the goldfields was never easy and finds were often small and sparse!

As we travelled south the mulga thinned somewhat and the now open country offered no opportunities for our next overnight camp.  By mid afternoon, having not found a suitable free camp spot we continued along the bitumen Goldfields Highway towards Leonora.

 

We spotted quite a few big holes in the ground as we travelled… some beside the railway lines or in the distance, but security fences precluded getting a good view into these pits and while we knew this area had a history of mining it was hard to count just how many mines there were spread across this landscape!

As the kilometres rolled on Leonora came into sight and we were surprised to find how quiet this little town was for a Saturday afternoon.

 

Leonora was just another mining town with a picturesque main street and many historic buildings and like most of the little towns in the area we were guessing it’s population had depleted considerably because of the now fly-in-fly-out mining workforces.images.jpeg

The streets were almost empty, the tennis court was empty, there was no cricket and no football. A few Aboriginals hung around the corner store and we were told by a local that the Federal Government had offloaded 200 asylum-seekers from Christmas Island’s overcrowded detention centre (mainly families) into the backstreets of this old mining camp in 2010, which saw new life surge into the town… but we saw none of them!

Surrounding the town were lots of old gold mines, cemeteries and even a few more lonely graves depicting the gold rush history… one in particular was ‘The grave of Edward ‘Doodah’ Sullivan’ located down a little spur track about 3-kilometres from the Leonora Information Centre!Unknown

No doubt the death of this young man was like many others in search of gold. Withstanding this harsh environment, the climate, the landscape, and tolerating the living conditions of a prospector, would have been horrendous.

Food and water were extremely sparse and of course knowing whether they could trust those they might call ‘mates’ – it would be like ‘living on a knifes edge’ so to speak!

I should imagine the hardship endured by these prospectors would quickly turn to hopelessness, particularly without any finds of gold… and to see this grave in this lonely desolate spot really brought home how tough life was back then and how much the early miners and fossickers had to endure.

As we pulled into Lenora Caravan Park we were surprised to find it very full. This little park was a friendly oasis right in the centre of town and a very popular base for prospectors who came back year after year looking for gold.IMG_3268

We pulled into our site then spent the rest of the afternoon in the camp kitchen chatting to the locals and listening to the characters of the outback as they shared their stories around a campfire at the end of a day.

These prospectors live and breathe gold and search for it every day.

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The home of a resident prospector at the caravan park…

They have the very best metal detectors and they look for something that is elusive, valuable, and mysterious and might not even be there… but they live in hope that it is and if it is, it will change their lives forever… and to quote the saying of one old prospector – ‘gold ain’t called gold for nothin’, it’s worth its weight in gold’!

Leaving Lenora the next morning we passed many mine sites as we headed south… and lots of road trains, some carrying ore and others machinery and mining equipment.

We had planned on heading north-east to Laverton from Lenora then crossing the ‘Great Central Road‘, which is part of the ‘Outback Way‘, but with a over 1300-kilometres of unsealed road to travel we decided Harry Hilux needed a service so it was a quick dash down to Kalgoorlie!

2.5-kilometres south of Leonora we stumbled across the little abandoned ghost town of Gwalia… a mine-site, old miners cottages and an old pub well worth the side trip to see.

 

The cottages sit right beside the big deep open-cut mine that is apparently still worked today and many still had lots of artefacts scattered around as if the occupants just walked out and left everything behind… and they virtually did, the population of approximately1200 fell to just 40 in less than 3 weeks!

There was also the magnificent Gwalia State Hotel with only the facade to be seen. Apparently the inside had been stripped and it was now storage for the mine.  There were a few other buildings left by residents when the Sons of Gwalia Gold Mine closed in December 1963 and up on the hill the museum, that included Hoover House, was once the old mine office.

The Sons of Gwalia Mine was originally established by Welsh miners in the late 19th century and Herbert Hoover, later President of the United States, served as the mine manager in its early days back in 1898.

Outside the museum was free RV camping for a limit of 3 nights but you have to be fully self-contained to stay here. We were also told of another campsite at Malcolm Dam but apparently it gets so busy most campers herd together like sheep on the dam wall road and besides it was too early in the day for us so we kept moving!

We came to Lake Raeside where we pulled in off the road to hunt for another treasure. This time the cache was just under the roofline of an undercover information board but being only a film container it was impossible to fit an Aussie card inside!

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Lake Raeside is a very dry lake covered with a thin film of salt with not a speck of water to be seen anywhere. Apparently during periods of extreme rainfall in the catchment area this lake is transformed into a flowing waterway and takes on the dynamic characteristics of a real river.

Lake Raeside is part of the larger lake system that begins north of Leonora near Sir Samuel at Lake Miranda and extends southeast to Lake Goddard a distance of over 800-kilometres.

60-kilometres northeast of Menzies we pulled off the Goldfields Highway to check out Niagara Dam and this lovely camp spot certainly was an oasis in the outback.

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The dam was constructed by the Railways Department in 1897/98 with the intention that the dam would provide an abundance of fresh water for the locomotives that would service the nearby historic town of Kookynie. By the time the dam was completed there was very little water due to a lack of rainfall and to make matters worse a plentiful supply of good underground water had been located at nearby Kookynie.

There were plenty of campers when we arrived at the dam all with ‘waterfront’ sites but there was plenty of space below the dam that would have been ideal for camping had we not wanted to push on to Kalgoorlie.

Nearby was the living ‘ghost town’ of Kookynie, which is not to be missed if you are visiting the northern goldfields region… the smallest municipality in Western Australia’s Goldfields!

 

This tiny town was once a major mining centre with a population of more than 3,500, 11 hotels, a regular train services from Kalgoorlie and the first public swimming pool in the region. After serious flooding caused the Cosmopolitan Mine to close, the town’s population began to dwindle, falling to approximately 70 a decade ago, 13 in 2010 and now only around 10 with mainly prospectors keeping this little town alive… and the pub!grand-old-pub.jpg

Leaving Niagara Dam we made our way back to the highway. We were now only 2-hours from Kalgoorlie and although there were plenty of mining vehicles to keep our attention on the road and nearby landmarks that kept us entertained with very interesting place names; Dead Horse Rocks, and Carpet Snake Soak… all which certainly gave our imaginations a jolly workout, the road south was quite uneventful!

Following the Goldfields Highway we arrived at Menzies.

Menzies was once a bustling gold mining town named in honour of a Baltimore born American adventurer, Leslie Robert Menzies and today it has a renewed fame as the gateway to the internationally-acclaimed Sir Antony Gormley ‘Inside Australia’ sculptures on Lake Ballard.

 

We wandered along the main street following the interpretive signage and metal structures celebrating the history and stories of those who have lived in Menzies since 1894.

 

There were not a lot of historical buildings but one of the most famous is the Menzies Town Hall with its much talked about clock.

 

After another Geocaching opportunity where we scratched around on the side of the highway until we found the cache tucked in the roadside sign on the town boundary we hit the road again… this is the perfect road trip distraction that had us – or rather me excited to find the next ‘treasure’! Usually it was Guy I sent into the bush looking!IMG_3293

While in Menzies, you must travel to Lake Ballard to see the world-renowned Antony Gormley sculptures.

55-kilometres from the outback town along an unsealed road we reached the dry Lake Ballard and the largest outdoor art gallery in Australia… 51 lonely black steel sculptures scattered across 7-kilometres of mostly dry flat salt lake… and it was well worth the trip.

We passed through the Goongarrie National Park where there’s a great camping area on the site of the former Goongarrie Station.

Further on we came to another little pub in the middle of no-where – Broad Arrow.

 

The ‘Ghost Town’ of Broad Arrow is located 38-kilometres north of Kalgoorlie.

Known originally as Kurawah its name was changed to Broad Arrow in 1893 because a prospector, having found gold in the area, marked the route to the spot with a series of ‘broad arrows’.

It was gazetted as a town in 1896 and like so many gold towns it experienced a spectacular boom and an equally spectacular bust.

At its peak during the gold rush, it had 15,000 residents, 8 hotels, a soft drink factory, 2 breweries, a hospital and a stock exchange but by the mid 1920s the rush was over and the town was almost abandoned.

Significant finds of gold came out of Broad Arrow and it is rumoured that you can still find gold here today… but we couldn’t even find a Geocache!

The town’s solitary hotel, the Broad Arrow Tavern, built in 1896, is the only reminder of its past glory. It featured in the little remembered ‘The Nickel Queen‘, a movie made in 1971 starring Googie Withers… and was a great place to drop in for a cold beer!

 

We finally arrived at Kalgoorlie. We had been here before so it was just a quick trip to have our car serviced before heading back to Laverton then across the ‘Great Central Road‘… a quick trip that actually turned into 3 days before we could get it in to the Toyota Dealer!

Read more… Perth and Beyond  – vineyards, breathtaking coast and the ‘Golden Outback’

 

Kalgoorlie was once known as ‘Hannan’s Find‘ in honour of Paddy Hannan, the first prospector to find gold in the area in 1893.

It all came about when Paddy and a few of his mates were delayed because one of their horses’ lost a shoe and whilst the horse was being attended to, a bit of fossicking led to the discovery of the world’s richest goldfield! It soon grew to become the Golden Mile, which is the world’s richest square mile of gold bearing ore.

The population soon grew to 30,000 in 1903 hence a shortage of water became a real problem in this dry, barren outback country!

Engineer C.Y. O’Connor battled searing heat, rampant disease and bungling bureaucracy to lay a water pipeline from Perth to the gold rush mecca of Kalgoorlie. It took 5-years, an incalculable amount of money in todays terms, and ended in the suicide of O’Connor himself.

This was one of the greatest engineering feats of our time and incredibly this pipeline still exists today, and still provides water to the now Kalgoorlie Boulder as well as into the northern and eastern wheat belt regions. It travels 600-kilometres from the Mundaring Weir to Kalgoorlie.

Kalgoorlie Boulder once boasted 8 breweries and 93 hotels and some of these are still standing today… but the main attraction for them back then were the scantily dressed barmaids. Dare I say some of these hotels were actually brothels… it gets pretty hot in Kalgoorlie and the ‘Red Light’ district still has a few remaining! Today you can tour the only ‘original’ working brothel left in Hay Street, Questa Casa! Questa Casa the oldest working brothel in Western Australia has had a working life of at least 115-years.

 

Kalgoorlie is quite a town with some lovely old buildings, particularly some of the pubs, which were basically on every corner… and we could almost  picture the city as it once was, with horses and carts trundling up the road and the streets abuzz with rumours of the latest gold discoveries.

We had a lovely few days; we stayed at the same park we had stayed at previously – The Discovery Tourist Park! IMG_3323

We rode our bikes around town and visited many of the sights we had visited previously including ‘The Super Pit’ the biggest open pit gold mine in Australia and the Museum of the Goldfields.

Kalgoorlie was a buzz with life and such a stark contrast from the road we had travelled over the past few days where other towns further north had all but been abandoned, along with the search for gold – albeit for the part time prospectors that return to the area each year.

On our second morning in the city, the many months of sunshine we had enjoyed turned to overcast skies and drizzly rain that was to continue for the rest of the day – and as it turned out, the rest of the week!

 

Pouring rain greeted us everyday from then on and there was some doubt that we would be heading to Laverton or the ‘Great Central Road‘ for that matter!

We spent a lot of time in the camp kitchen where my computer worked overtime to keep up to date with my blog and to obtain permits (2 in total) for the Great Central Road, for both Western Australian and Northern Territory. These were self-issue so as soon as we had filled out an online form our permit was immediately emailed to us!

We  met some lovely people from Echuca in Victoria – welcome to our blog Denise and Barry and Bev and Peter.IMG_3272

Western Australia is beautiful and just as you think it can’t get any better, it does!

The thought of driving 27,000-kilometres over 8-months across Australia, sleeping in a rooftop tent, sometimes spending hours each day in the car, lack of toilets and showers facilities, millions of flies and constantly being covered in red dirt isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but that’s the price you pay to see this amazing country- and we couldn’t think of a better way to do it as we headed for the ‘Great Central Road‘!

For all those people out there following our blog… don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

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