WA's Golden Outback

WA’s Golden Outback occupies a whopping 54% of this huge state. It spans from Mount Augustus and Newman in the north and runs across to the Gibson Desert, then stretches south as far as Esperance and Eucla. It is a region of stark contrasts in landscape, outback adventure, gold pioneering history and more. Here are some of the highlights of the Golden Outback:

(Photo of Exchange Hotel, located in Kalgoorlie courtesy of Tourism Western Australia)

The twin city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, which lies 600 km east of Perth,  is a busy, modern mining city where the old spirit of the ‘Wild West’ still runs through its bustling streets. With a population of 30,000, it is the largest city in the Australian Outback. The city spans 95,000 sq km. "Kal", what the locals fondly call their home, was established in the 1880’s when the dream of striking it rich, brought thousands of hungry gold prospectors and miners there. The hard lives led by the early gold hunters, coupled with the harsh environment, led to the flourishing of Kal’s numerous bars, brothels and gambling establishments which imbued Kal with its own distinctive character and colour. This raw, rough "last frontier" flavour persists till today. Its well-preserved, impressive historical buildings and wide streets (they had to be wide enough for the camel trains to turn around) are indicative of the wealth that the early Gold Rush days brought to its inhabitants. An exploration of Hannan Street will reveal a melding of several architectural styles ranging from Victorian to Art-Nouveau and even Moorish. Kalgoorlie-Boulder remains an important gold centre and corporate hub that services the more remote areas of this region’s mining industries. We suggest you begin your tour of this fascinating and colourful town at the Kalgoorlie-Boulder WA Museum situated in Hannan Street.

(Photo of Kalgoorlie Super Pit and Kalgoorlie skyline courtesy of Tourism Western Australia)

A visit to Kalgoorlie-Boulder would not be complete without a look into the Super Pit.  The jaw-dropping spectacle of massive trucks winding their way round and round the curves of this unbelievably huge and deep pit is really quite amazing. The trucks resemble tiny little toys as they make their journeys from the top to the bottom of this deep, deep hole.  The Super Pit is one of the world’s largest open-cut mines. It forms part of the famous "Golden Mile" – purportedly the richest square mile of gold bearing ground on Earth. The Super Pit measures an impressive 3.5 km in length, 1.5km in width and 370 metres in depth. It produces 900, 000 ounces of gold each year.  The night views of this Super Pit are equally impressive as massive lights illuminate the entire area. And if you want to view the blasting of the mine, check with the local tourism office to find out when the daily blasts take place. 

(Photo of Antony Gormley sculptures on Lake Ballard courtesy of Tourism Western Australia)

For something completely different and almost otherworldly, we highly recommend the Antony Gormley Sculptures at Lake Ballard, near Menzies which is about 132 km north of Kalgoorlie.  This is another totally unique experience that you’ll not find anywhere else in the world. Nothing quite prepares you for the unexpected sight of Gormley’s fifty one life-size black steel figures shimmering over 7 sq km of Lake Ballard’s desolate, dried up flat bed. The glittering white salt plain is the perfect backdrop to these haunting works of art.  As you walk from one sculpture to another, do not be surprised if a sense of isolation coupled with wonderment comes upon you. UK artist Gormley modelled his pieces from the body scans of the Menzies people and this accounts for the uniqueness of each piece. This is the world’s largest outdoor art gallery and it is certainly worth the detour just to soak in the atmosphere. We suggest viewing these sculptures at dawn or at dusk when the shadows of these figures are at their longest and the Aussie light is at its most evocative. 

(Photo of Wave Rock courtesy of Tourism Western Australia)

One of WA’s most photographed rocks can be found at Hyden, a small farming town that lies 342 km south east of Perth. This large granite rock resembles a huge ocean wave that is about to break and therefore it is hardly surprising to find many tourists posing as surfers when they have their pictures taken there. Wave Rock is 100 m in length and rises 15 m in height. It is over 2,500 million years old. Its alternating vertical bands of colours ranging from grey to rust brown and yellow ochre is the result of local mineral springs and rain water running down its surface. There are also other interesting rock features such as The Hippo’s Yawn, The Humps and Mulka’s Cave in the area. The indigenous population hold this region in high regard as it is historically significant to them and there is some rather impressive indigenous artwork located here too.

(Photo of beach near Esperance courtesy of Tourism Western Australia)

Esperance is a pretty coastal town that lies 721 km south east of Perth. It is located on Esperance Bay and overlooks more than 100 islands of the Recherche Archipelago. It has a population of 14,500. It has been blessed with more than its fair share of some of the best white sand beaches in the world. One of these is the famous Lucky Bay which has often been voted the best beach in Australia. It is about 50 km from Esperance. And if you’re lucky, you might find yourself relaxing on the beach with some resident grey kangaroos, bandicoots and possums. With its azure blue waters, stunning coastal features, pure white beaches, clear blue skies and isolated location, Esperance makes the perfect beach getaway. This is one place where you could certainly find that perfect beach and have it all to yourself.   It is no wonder that Esperance has been voted the best Holiday Town in WA. Water based activities such as fishing, sailing, surfing, diving and whale watching are popular here.  There is also the 40 km Great Ocean Drive that will take you to many beautiful sights including a lake that is naturally pink!

(Photo of the Mundaring to Kalgoorlie water pipeline courtesy of Tourism Western Australia)

If you decide to drive from Perth to Kalgoorlie and have at least 3 days in addition to your planned holiday to spare, then why not go on the National Trust’s Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail? This trail will take you through 25 interesting sites including old pump stations, museums, the Rabbit Proof Fence, mining towns and C.Y. O’Connor’s fresh water pipeline that was built more than 100 years ago. In 1898, the brilliant engineer C.Y. O’Connor put forth a revolutionary idea that was way ahead of its time. He proposed building a 556 km pipeline that would carry water from a reservoir in the Mundaring area, near Perth, to Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie’s gold mining industry had gained momentum in the 1890’s and various methods aimed at tapping into the area’s existing water supply had been attempted but none had any lasting success. People realised that without a reliable water supply, Kalgoorlie’s mining industry would die an early death. Despite extremely strong opposition from Parliament, the construction of the pipeline went ahead. Under O’Connor’s supervision, a remarkable system of steam-fuelled pumping stations was constructed alongside the 556 km pipeline and these helped to channel the water uphill towards Kalgoorlie (it is 400 m higher than Perth) and its goldfields. And by 1903, Kalgoorlie was able to enjoy a consistent water supply. Sadly, O’Connor was never able to see the realisation of his vision. He rode into the sea off South Fremantle, on his horse, and fatally shot himself in 1902. He could no longer endure the delays in construction, endless criticism and false public accusations that his enemies continually levelled at him. This pipeline is still the longest in the world and remains a most impressive piece of engineering. A detailed 120 page Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail guidebook is available from the National Trust and local tourism centres. 

(Photo of Mount Augustus courtesy of Tourism Western Australia)

Many people think that the largest rock in Australia is Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) but this is not correct. Mount Augustus is not only about twice the size of Uluru, it is also the world’s biggest rock (monocline). It is located about 450 km east of Carnarvon, in the Gascoyne region. It is a significant landmark for the Wajjari, the local indigenous people, who call it Burringurrah.  It rises to an impressive 750 m and is visible for more than 160 km regardless whether one is standing on the surrounding plain or sitting in an aircraft. It was formed about 1750 million years ago which makes it about three times older than Uluru. Important aboriginal artwork in the form of engravings can be seen on the rock surfaces.  Fascinating rock formations and caves can also be found on Mount Augustus. And depending on the time of day, Mount Augustus appears to change its colours which range from various shades of red, blue, yellow, brown and green. 

(Photo of Eyre Highway courtesy of Tourism Western Australia)

The award winning Nullabor Links, which opened in 2009, is the world’s longest 18 hole par 72 golf course. It is 1,365 km long and spans from Kalgoorlie in WA to Ceduna in South Australia. It runs along the Eyre Highway and provides a welcome and necessary distraction from driving across the vast Nullabor Plain. Players can buy a $50 golf card at either Kalgoorlie or Ceduna. Holes are played at various participating roadhouses and towns. Golfers who have completed their score cards can receive a certificate that states that they have played at the "World’s Longest Golf Course". The Nullabor Links experience is a unique Australian outback golf experience that is worth doing at least once in every golfer’s lifetime.

(Photo of Couple in Bright Podolepsis wildflowers on Wooleen Station courtesy of Tourism Western Australia)

One of the most memorable highlights of the Golden Outback is a drive or a walk through the outback to see this region’s famous wildflowers. Every year, vibrant wildflowers burst into colour and cover pockets, and sometimes vast tracts, of this region with their delicate blooms. More than 12, 000 species of wildflowers can be found in Western Australia and many are not found elsewhere in the world. Some of the flowers that can be found here include the Everlastings, Wreath Leschenaultia, Orchids, Wattles, Hakea, Grevillea, Melaleucas, Native Foxglove, Banksia, Verticordia and Mulla-Mulla. The timing, quality and quantity of the blooms depend heavily on the amount of rain and sunshine that they prior to the wildflower season. Generally, the flowers will start appearing in the warmer north in July, and finish flowering by December in the cooler southern part of the Golden Outback.  It is best to call the local tourism offices first as they will be in the best position to advise you on where the latest wildflowers have been spotted and the species that are in bloom at the moment.

WA’s Golden Outback is certainly the perfect place to enjoy a variety of holiday experiences. So what are you waiting for? Come see it for yourself!