Looking for somewhere to go that’s full of history, nostalgia, intrigue, outback scenery, with a few surprises along the way? The splendid Discovery Trail through a vast section of the Western Australian goldfields has the lot – and more.
It was back in 1892/93 that the goldfields hit the headlines when prospectors struck rich alluvial gold. The hardy prospectors of the day arrived in their thousands, mostly coming on foot and pushing their wheelbarrows containing no more than the bare essentials. They were all hoping to make their fortune and one of the biggest gold rushes ever seen was well underway.
Today, more than 100 years later, Kalgoorlie’s Golden Mile and surrounding eastern goldfields regions are, with modern technology and machinery, continuing to produce more gold every year than those old timers could ever have dreamed of.
While many of the early settlements and shanty towns out here no longer exist, or are virtual ghost towns, there is still plenty to see and do. And with the creation of the Golden Quest Discovery Trail, it is now possible for visitors to follow in the footsteps of the early prospectors along this newly-developed pioneer trail.
DISCOVER THE GOLDFIELDS
The trail sets off from Coolgardie in a 965km loop and finishes on the famous Golden Mile and Super Pit in Kalgoorlie. There is a comprehensive 160-page spiral-bound trail guide (with two audio CDs) available from the Goldfields Visitor Centre to ensure you don’t miss anything along the way.
With Coolgardie (39km south-west of Kalgoorlie) being the early administrative centre for the eastern goldfields and still retaining plenty of history and charm, this is an ideal place to start the trail.
Before heading out of town, make sure you check out some of Coolgardie’s lovely old buildings, its enormously wide main street, the old railway station, the wonderful indoor and outdoor museums, the old policeman’s residence and the site of a tree where prisoners were chained up for all to see.
The trail organisers suggest a minimum of three days to cover the route, with overnight stops in Leonora and Kookynie but, in reality, the duration of the drive is up to you. There are a number of other places where accommodation is available along the way or, as many others do, simply pick one of the campgrounds or a nice piece of bush and enjoy a night under the stars.
The whole trail is littered with old ghost towns, run down, forlorn and remote cemeteries (some in the process of restoration), old rusting machinery, abandoned mine shafts, buildings in various stages of disrepair and, sometimes, just piles of bricks and tin where large goldfields towns and settlements once stood. Now there is nothing but memories.
There are too many places of interest to detail here and, while we have endeavoured to cover the main highlights, you will likely find plenty more of your own.
ALONG THE TRAIL
Following a sealed road at first, then a good gravel road north of Coolgardie, the trail passes the old Bonnievale townsite and, further on, the ruin of the grand Premier Hotel at Kunanalling. It is virtually all that is left of the town and is certainly worth checking out.
Some 73km from Coolgardie, Rowles Lagoon after rain is a real birdwatcher’s paradise with a variety of ducks, plover, swans and others to be seen. There is a good bush campsite here (including toilets, tables and wood barbecues) right on the edge of the water.
Further up the road (past several other abandoned settlements) and following signs to Lake Ballard, one of the trail’s most unusual surprises awaits. Here on a large salt lake is a major international art project costing over $600,000 called ‘Inside Australia’ by British sculptor Antony Gormley. Fifty-one taut, stick-like representations of human figures, all cast in steel, have been spread out over several square kilometres of the usually-dry lake bed. Although it is hard to believe, the figures are individually based on reduced body scans taken of local residents of Menzies. This curious location was apparently chosen to represent the heat, the loneliness, the wide-open space and sheer remoteness of the Australian desert landscape. If you are camping here in the small adjacent campground (toilets, tables and fireplaces provided), the statues by torchlight make a memorable, and quite haunting, sight.
As the trail rolls on towards Leonora you pass through the old settlements of Copperfield and Mount Ida and then onto Granite Creek – a nice picnic spot and a place to look out for wild budgerigars in the river gums.
At Leonora, the largest town in this northern section of the trail, there is a variety of accommodation, services and supplies available. Just out of town the old settlement of Gwalia (now virtually a ghost town) retains (in various stages of restoration) some of its original buildings, including the old Patroni’s Guest Home, Mazza’s Store and the State Hotel, as well as a fascinating outdoor display of old miners’ shanty town huts all set up like they used to be.
Nearby, the huge open cut mine, still in operation in underground tunnels, can be seen from a lookout and the museum on the hill overlooking the mine is well worth a visit.
The township of Laverton marks the turnaround point of the trail. Fuel, services and accommodation are available here and the explorers’ Hall of Fame – an excellent display taking visitors back to the days of explorers and early settlers across the region – should not be missed.
As the trail swings westwards, some of the beaut features worth checking out are the old railway bridges near Malcolm and the nearby town of Mt Morgans, which has a particularly interesting history. Back in 1903, Mt Morgans was a thriving centre with some 500 buildings and 1250 residents. The story goes that a race (with plenty of trickery and deceit) was conducted from nearby Mt Margaret in November 1899 to allow townsfolk, some on horseback, others on bicycles, in buggies and on foot over a distance of 9 miles (just over 14km), to peg their blocks of land in the new township of Mt Morgans where a new gold deposit had been found.
Next, it’s on to Kookynie which once had a population of over 3500 people but now boasts only about a dozen defiant, hardy souls.
The Grand Hotel, which has been continuously trading since 1902, welcomes visitors and both staff and locals are happy to fill you in with plenty of local history and a yarn or two about the place. There are caravan and camping sites behind the hotel. Also worth seeing on the outskirts of Kookynie are the fascinating granite outcrops: Balancing Rock, Split Rock and Hanging Rock.
Further south and back on the highway, the town of Menzies retains some of its original character with its lovely town hall, the Menzies Hotel and a handful of other historic buildings.
The old Coongarrie Station Homestead is also a popular spot to camp. There is a lovely 3km bushwalk trail here giving visitors a good opportunity to see some of the local gimlet, blackbutt and salt gums and also to enjoy the prolific birdlife in the area. The camping facilities include toilets, hot showers, picnic tables and fire places/barbecues – camping fees apply. Cottage accommodation is also available.
Onwards now to the Ora Banda Historic Inn (originally built and owned by comedian and entertainer Alf Garnett in 1911) where the staff are always ready for a yarn. As they will tell you, around here there are certainly many tales to keep you entertained, including a bikie shooting just across the road, the subsequent bombing of the hotel and the torching of the nearby manager’s residence.
A little further on, another ‘must’ is to call in and have a drink or cuppa at the much-autographed Broad Arrow Hotel – everywhere you look the walls, the doors, the ceilings and even the dunnies are covered in scribblings.
On the edge of Kalgoorlie, the Mining Hall of Fame (which also incorporates the old Hannan’s North Underground Mine – where you can see a gold pour and pan for gold) is a wonderful experience and should be included on the agenda of all visitors to Kalgoorlie.
With the Golden Mile and Super Pit (the richest square mile of gold-bearing earth ever discovered) now well in sight you have reached the end of The Golden Quest Discovery Trail – an exciting adventure that links the goldfields’ historic and memorable past with the 21st century.
While in the historic town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, check out the centre’s many old pubs and ‘skimpies’, perhaps the infamous Hay Street brothels (a couple are open for informative tours), Paddy Hannan statue, a wave-ride pool, the Old Time Lolly Shop and plenty more.
- Camping in the bush under a canopy of stars
- Menzies’ bizarre art installation
- Kookynie’s granite outcrops: Hanging Rock, Split Rock and Balancing Rock
- The Broad Arrow Hotel
Originally published in Caravan World #509, December 2012.