Lost in the middle of the desert, the small town of Kalgoorlie is not one of Australia’s most famous travel destinations. However, this mining town has a unique atmosphere. It’s well worth stopping by on a road trip through South West Australia.
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Kalgoorlie: The Wild West of Australia
When you arrive in “Kal” – as Kalgoorie is called by the locals – it quickly becomes clear: things are different here compared to the rest of Australia. Huge trucks, off-road vehicles, miners in high vis gear and gold traders wherever you look. 25 percent of the local population here (about 10,000 out of 40,000 inhabitants) work in the mining industry. Many settled in 1893 after gold was discovered in the area.
To get your visit to this city, which will certainly transport back you to one of the Western films of your childhood, off to a good start, head to the Visitor Centre. It is located at the very end of Hannan Street, the main street. In this very beautiful building, you will find many local souvenirs such as Aboriginal art as well as gold in different forms. This is where you can book quite original guided tours! For example, you can visit an authentic brothel ($30/person). “Questa Casa” aka the “Pink House” is still in operation today but its origin dates back to the famous gold rush. Obviously, this “activity” is not to everyone’s taste, but it is unique.
Head to Relish for breakfast or lunch. This very cosy little restaurant (also located on the main street) offers delicious homemade recipes. You are bound to find something to your liking on the menu – which is printed inside a children’s storybook.
Afterwards, take the time to soak up the city’s unique atmosphere by walking up the endless Hannan Street. This street is lined with historic hotels, some dating back over 120 years, which is quite rare in Australia. The bewildering number of hotels comes from the fact that Kalgoorlie played host to the Great Australian Gold Rush in 1893. Attracted by the nuggets and veins of gold, thousands of Australians rushed to the region with women and children in the hope of making their fortune. Many died of thirst before pipes had time to bring water from the coast. Interesting fact: at the time, beer was actually cheaper than water!
A trip into the past
To discover the history of the Gold Rush and learn more about the living conditions of the time, don’t miss the Museum of the Goldfields. The museum is open daily (10am to 3 pm) and admission is free (donations welcome). Here you can admire the largest collection of gold bars and nuggets in the state. Old tools and everyday objects from the time are also on display, and photos bear witness to what life was like at that time. Allow 2 or 3 hours for your visit.
Immerse yourself in the heart of the ancestral life of the miners by strolling through authentic old houses, as well as a hotel and several 19th century shops which now been restored.
If you are interested in history, you can learn more about the relationship between settlers and aborigines through testimonies. Be aware that this is a sensitive subject in the town of Kalgoorlie. Indeed, the Aboriginal population is large there and has had to learn to live with other inhabitants. You will understand that relations between the two communities are still delicate today.
Top tip: Before leaving the museum, be sure to check out the view of Kalgoorlie from the top of the platform!
The Super Pit Gold Mine
This huge gold mine is 600m deep, 1.5km wide and 3.5km long. Until 1989, it was made up of 8 underground mines. They were then unified into a single open pit mine. According to legend, it’s actually visible from space!
You can spend some time watching these impressive trucks carrying tons of rocks. If you want to observe them more closely, you can visit Hannans North Tourist Mine (open every day except Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm). Admission will cost you $15. You can climb inside the trucks and have your picture taken. Several different experiences are available, including exploring an old miners’ camp and old trucks during a visit to an underground refuge chamber. The highlight: trying out the job of a gold miner and searching the ground with your sieve!
A unique walk
If you didn’t manage to strike gold, cheer yourself up with a gourmet lunch at Just A Little Cafe. Then, drop by Fossick & Co, a lovely gift shop that sells a selection of jewellery, beauty products and more. Everything is handmade locally.
See the city centre from a different perspective by walking along the Heartwalk, where you will find magnificent multicolored murals inspired by Aboriginal art. To make sure you don’t miss any of the works, head to the Visitor Centre for a map that lists them all.
Round off your stay in this atmospheric city with a stroll through Hammond Park. Rest and take the time to observe nature all around you. Here you will observe emus, peacocks and kangaroos by the dozen.
Thanks to the influence of the mining industry, Kalgoorlie has continued to thrive over the years, but other towns have not been so lucky. You’ll certainly pass some of these “ghost towns” on your way to Kalgoorlie – it’s up to you whether you want to visit there or not.
If you don’t want to drive, you can hop on a TransWa train. Tickets cost between $90 and $100 per person and travel time from Perth is around 7 hours.
Perth and Kalgoorlie are also connected via daily flights. Flights cost between $260 and $330 on average for a return trip. Flight time is 1 hour each way. You can also compare offers from different vehicle rental providers on the motorhome price comparison website Motorhome Republic