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On the Golden Trail
With wide open landscapes and towns rich in gold mining history, the Golden Quest Discovery Trail offers unforgettable experiences.
Words and Images by: Julia Jene

The Australian outback is truly unique

It is well over 120 years since the first of thousands of gold seekers descended upon Coolgardie, some 500km east of Perth. By the early 20th century, this remote region was a thriving network of discoveries, and with each came a new wave of adventurers. Soon, the region was booming. For the Indigenous people who had inhabited the region for millennia, these newcomers represented a threat to their survival, and would have a profound effect on their lifestyle.

The Golden Quest Discovery Trail traverses 965km through the towns of Coolgardie, Menzies, Leonora, Laverton, and Kalgoorlie- Boulder, capturing the essence of the historic Goldfields region of Western Australia. Designed as a self-drive adventure, it can be undertaken in a 2WD vehicle, but travelling in a 4WD is recommended as this will enhance the safety and comfort of your trip. You can download the trail guidebook at goldenquesttrail.com/home/the-guidebook, for an interactive trail guide that complements the signposts, road signs, and stopping points along the way.

The trail can be done in three, four or five days, or longer if you want to go at your own pace. We recommend taking as much time as you can manage, as there is just so much to see and do once you’re on the road. We have put together a full, five-day itinerary, commencing in Coolgardie, WA.

This adventure traverses 965km

THE FULL FIVE DAY ITINERARY

Day One — Coolgardie to Menzies (180km)

Day one begins in Coolgardie, the ‘Mother of the Goldfields’. Known as the birthplace and unofficial capital of the Eastern Goldfields in its heyday, it’s worth spending a few hours here to explore the town’s rich gold rush history and get a feel for what’s to come! There are plenty of historic buildings to check out and the main street is wide and welcoming. Two great museums to visit are the Goldfields Exhibition Museum and the open-air Ben Prior’s Park.

The next leg is an easy halfhour’s drive to Kunanalling. The first half of the road is sealed while the second half isn’t, so make sure you’re ready for the change. Kunanalling is the second stopping point, and you can spend half an hour or so here walking around the town and looking at the fenced-in ruins of the Premier Hotel.

Next is a 40-minute drive to Ora Banda (‘band of gold’ in Spanish), home to the now-fire damaged historic pub, the Ora Banda Historic Inn. The hotel traded for 40 years, riding the gold rush wave as the mining boom fluctuated. It closed in the late 1950s and was restored in 1981, only to close again in 2019 after a fire.

The first half of the journey is on sealed roads

Next to the Ora Banda Historical Inn is the old Government Battery, which used to process ore for the local prospectors and will soon be turned into a museum. 

A short drive (20 minutes) down an unsealed road is stopping point four — Siberia. Take this road slow and easy as there are plenty of holes and sharp corners. Mount Carnage is visible to the west, and you’ll be able to spot wildflowers along the way (particularly in spring). Visit the Siberia Cemetery and sign the visitors book near the bougainvillea tree in the old town site.

Stopping point five is Goongarrie, a 35-minute drive from Siberia. Check out the cottage of a former railway platelayer and the nearby Government Dam.

The last leg of today’s journey is a half hour drive to Menzies. This will be your last stop for the day, so feel free to spend a few hours exploring the town and its various walking trails. Grab a coffee in one of the cafes before taking in the local art at the Pioneer Store Gallery (open on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 9am to12pm). Accommodation options for the night are available at the Menzies Caravan Park, but always call the Menzies Visitor Centre for accommodation availability.

The views are breathtaking.

 Day Two — Menzies to Kookynie (142km)

Day two is shorter than day one in terms of driving, so have a sleep-in and aim to be on the road by mid-morning.

Stopping point seven is the Menzies Cemetery, where you can spend an hour reading the headstones and a list of known burials in the central rotunda.

Next is a 50-minute drive to Niagara Dam. During this stretch you will notice the landscape changing to open saltbush plains. Niagara Dam is a reservoir created by a 225m concrete dam wall. This is a site of Indigenous cultural significance and offers impressive views of breakaway country. It’s also a lovely spot for a picnic lunch!

Stopping point nine is the town of Kookynie, just 10 minutes down the road. This will be your last stop for the day so take your time exploring what was once a bustling town, complete with a racecourse, shops, and factories. Head to the famous Grand Hotel where Willie the horse will greet you at the front door! Willie was once a racehorse but now spends his time at the quintessential outback pub eating apples and posing for photos.

You can stay at the Grand Hotel for the night in a room (we recommend booking in advance), or book a campsite for your RV.

Set aside as much time to explore as you wish

Day Three — Kookynie to Laverton (230km)

Day three is full of adventure so hit the road early! From Kookynie, you have an hour’s drive on unsealed road to the Old Rail Bridges (stopping point 10). Here you can spend 20 minutes or so exploring the remains of three old rail bridges, built to allow the railway to cross a series of sandy creeks.

Your next leg is another hour’s drive (or just under) on unsealed road to Mt Morgans. This road can sometimes be washed out due to flooding so proceed carefully. Once in Mount Morgans, it’s easiest to park at the old Municipal Chambers to read the information panels. There are plenty of old buildings to explore here as well as a cemetery just 2km down the road.

After an hour or so at Mount Morgans, hop back in the car and drive for half an hour to stopping point 12, Hawks Nest. Here you’ll find the grave of John Aspinall, a New Zealand prospector struck by lightning in this part of the Goldfields in 1896. You will also see the nearby mineshafts and active mining leases, although it is strongly advised that you do not venture too close for safety reasons.

Stopping point 13 is Laverton, an easy 20-minute drive from Hawks Nest, where you’ll have the whole afternoon to explore this small town with hidden surprises. An excellent place to start is the Great Beyond Visitor Centre and Explorers Hall of Fame — a place that pays tribute to not only the explorers of this region but also the pioneers and women of the same era. Make sure you also visit the Laverton Outback Gallery to see some Indigenous artwork. There are plenty of parks around town to stretch your legs or just relax under a tree. Have dinner at the local pub, The Desert Inn Hotel, and stay at the Laverton Chalet Motel or Laverton Caravan Park.

The ghost town of Gwalia

Day Four — Laverton to Leonora (124km)

Treat yourself to anther sleep-in and aim to set off by mid-morning to complete the short 20-minute drive to Windarra. Around here you’ll see the landscape changing from acacia woodlands to desert plains with spinifex and marble gums.

This stopping point is at the summit of Mount Windurra, a steep climb but worth it for the views across the former Windurra Nickel Project and the Northern Goldfields region. Up here there are more information panels and picnic tables, so it’s a great spot to have a bite to eat and photograph the panoramic landscape.

Back in the car for a half hour’s drive to stopping point 15, Murrin Murrin. This stopping point is the visitor lookout for the Murrin Murrin Mine Project, a major nickel and cobalt mining operation. Allow for 20–30 minutes here.

The next stop is Gwalia, a living ghost town just a 50-minute drive from Murrin Murrin. Allow for a few hours here to explore the ghost town’s history. This community originated from the success of the Sons of Gwalia Mine in the late 1890s and thrived until 1963 when it virtually disappeared overnight due to the discovery that the mine was closing. The miners and their families rushed to Kalgoorlie to secure a job and the town of Gwalia was left abandoned.

After you have marvelled at the original miners’ cottages (complete with belongings  left inside), visit the historic Hoover House, once home to the American President, Herbert Hoover.

When you’ve finished exploring, drive five minutes up the road to Leonora, stopping point 17 and your home for the night. Named after Mount Leonora, the town has various shopping facilities to stock up on supplies, including a supermarket, pharmacy, op shop, newsagent/liquor/ hardware and general store, and two roadhouses/service stations. The historic main street has many surviving buildings from the gold rush days, so there is plenty to explore.

When you are ready for some rest, check in to Leonora Caravan Park, Leonora Lodge or Leonora Motor Inn and Apartments.

Antony Gormley’s otherworldly sculptures adorn Lake Ballard

Day Five — Leonora to Kalgoorlie-Boulder (235km)

Hit the road early for the last big driving day of your journey, with your first stop at Granite Creek, one hour’s drive from Leonora. Have a look at the ancient rocky watercourse then hop back in the car and drive another hour to Copperfield, stopping point 19.

During the gold rush, Copperfield was a major mining site with a small community. Check out the old Timoni Mine, then it’s back in the car for a 50-minute drive to stopping point 20. This stopping point is divided into two sections — Snake Hill and Lake Ballard. Snake Hill has scenic views over Lake Ballard, itself the spectacular site of the official Inside Australia outdoor art installation, showcasing 51 steel sculptures over a wide salt plain.

Ularring is an hour down unsealed road. The official site is next to the old soak at the foot of Ularring Rock, and stopping point 22 is only 15 minutes away. The short drive will give you a great view of the Davyhurst Mine. The township that once stood here is long gone.

Your next stop is Rowles Lagoon, an hour’s drive from Davyhurst. Rowles Lagoon is the largest freshwater lake in the region and a birdwatcher’s paradise. From here, drive another hour to stopping point 24, Broad Arrow. This is a great spot for a late lunch — try the famous ‘Broadie Burger’ at the Broad Arrow Tavern.

Hop back on the road to reach your final destination, Kalgoorlie- Boulder, a 30-minute drive along a sealed highway and stopping point 25. Park at the Super Pit Lookout and admire the Kalgoorlie Super Pit which is still in operation today.

The town of Kalgoorlie is full of gold rush history and has a distinctive Aussie outback vibe. There are plenty of historic buildings and museums to visit, as well as pubs and restaurants. Some great places to stay the night include Rydges Kalgoorlie and The View on Hannans, and camping options include Big4 Acclaim Prospector Holiday Park and Discovery Parks-Kalgoorlie Goldfields.

For helpful information and detailed itineraries, head over to explore.australiasgoldenoutback.com/golden-quest. 

Go for a bird’s eye view via a Circle H Helicopters flight

EXPERIENCE THE GOLDFIELDS FROM THE AIR

Take in a bird’s-eye view of the Goldfields with Circle H Helicopters, which offers scenic flights and tour packages including Kalgoorlie-Boulder Scenic Flights, Lux Heli Picnics, and Historic Heli Pub Crawls.

Based in Kalgoorlie, Circle H Helicopters is a family-owned and operated business, established in 2016. It provides a safe, efficient, and first-class aerial support service to a variety of industry and community groups, as well as private and personalised services.

The fleet comprises of Robinson R22 and R44 Aircraft, which are the proven workhorses of the industry. These machines are not only some of the safest and toughest, but can get down into some of the hardest-to-reach destinations. The team of pilots come from diverse industry backgrounds, with a combined wealth of knowledge and experience to ensure a service that is customisable to any needs.

Once the travel is done, enjoy the tranquillity

WHAT’S ON OFFER

Enjoy a scenic flight over Kalgoorlie-Boulder, with a focus on the iconic Super Pit. A 15-minute flight for two people will set you back $215 per person. The extended version goes for 25 minutes and will take you over the Super Pit followed by some amazing salt lakes just outside the town (some of which are not accessible by road). An extended flight for two people is $355 per person.

The Heli-Picnic includes return helicopter flights for two to a secret lakeside location and a packed picnic, including a bottle of champagne. The total package cost is $920.

A Heli-Picnic isn’t something many can say they’ve done

The BAT Burger and Pint is a tasty journey with 40 minutes of flying time incorporating the Super Pit and salt lakes before landing at the iconic Broad Arrow Tavern for a burger and a pint. You’ll have opportunities to learn about the history of the pub and meet some of the locals.

On the Historic Heli Pub Crawl, be chauffeured via air to the region’s outback pubs, sampling all the good bits on offer. Included are beers and refreshments at each stop, transfers, and an optional dinner booking at one of the local Kalgoorlie Hotels. The details of this package are still being finalised.



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Category: Features
Written: Fri 01 Apr 2022
Printed: April, 2022
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