Sunday, December 30, 2012


The Super Pit wasn’t the only attraction in Kalgoorlie, though it (and gold in general) is pretty much the reason all of the other attractions exist.  As the major population centre for the Goldfields region, we thought we’d spend a few extra days here and do some exploring.  We took a tour of the historic Kalgoorlie Town Hall, which not only served as the seat of government for the region, but also as an entertainment complex and museum.

After gold, the survival of Kalgoorlie is attributable to water.  There is little water in the area, and drought is common.  Water is instead pumped 530 kilometers all the way from the Perth Metropolitan Area.  The ambitious plan to pump water that far was thought of in the 1890’s and the pipeline opened in 1903. At the time, it was the longest water pipeline in the world.  Even more impressive was the fact that the pipe had to raise the water 400 meters due to the rise in elevation between Perth and Kalgoorlie.  An engineering feat – especially for that time.

The Mount Charlotte Reservoir provided a detailed history of the pipeline as well as views of Kalgoorlie.

Hammond Park is Kalgoorlie’s answer to a park and a zoo all wrapped into one.  With one emu, a kangaroo or two, and several cages with birds in them, Hammond Park is a major tourist stop in Kalgoorlie, mainly because it’s just sort of bizarre.

The park also has what appears to be a Persian-inspired gazebo and, the big ticket item, a replica of a Bavarian castle.  Ooooooo.

Under an old oil rig sits the surprisingly fantastic Western Australian Museum at Kalgoorlie-Boulder.  With exhibits on gold, the history of the region, and Aboriginal culture, to name a few, the museum kept us occupied longer than we originally anticipated.

Old pubs abound, and we dined in one that has been preserved and converted to a restaurant.  The historic Palace Hotel now features pub grub and decent sandwiches at lunch time.

Other pubs in town feature skimpies – scantily clad barmaids serving you behind the counter.  The historic bar that had the mine shaft in it that I mentioned in the previous post had a lady in skimpies behind the bar.  Oscar and I walked in and it was pretty much a collection of gritty old men at the bar.  We were a bit out of place… or a lot out of place actually… so we had a small beer each, snapped a quick photo, and got the fuck out of there.  If you’re going to put a lady in a bikini behind the counter, make sure she’s at least prettier than the collection of nasty, perverted old men watching her…

On a related note, that brings me to the other big tourist attraction that Kalgoorlie is famous for:  brothels!  Being a mining town, there has always been a pretty skewed male-to-female ratio, so the brothels serve a pretty legitimate purpose.  Back when I lived in Seattle, tours of the historic district of the city talked about how there used to be a really disproportionate number of “seamstresses” – code for prostitution.  That’s not an issue here as prostitution is legal in Australia.  No code word required.  Kalgoorlie also serves as a destination for “fly in, fly out” workers – those who work on mines in extremely remote areas.  After a few weeks in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a bunch of dirty men in a mine, many of the workers want nothing more than… well, I don’t think I need to continue that sentence.  Brothels are big business in Kalgoorie.  Australia’s oldest and longest operating brothel, the Questa Casa, offers tours for tourists (during the day, before it opens for “business”), but we were unfortunately there in the off season, so we had to settle for a picture out front instead.

Oh well.  It was sad to miss the tour, mainly because it would have been nice to tell everyone I went to a brothel.  I just wanted to see the reaction on their faces…

The Goldfields

From the Wheatbelt and Esperance, we drove north into a region known as the Goldfields.  It’s known as the Goldfields… well, because there’s a shit ton of gold there.  And there’s no better placed that this is exhibited than at the Super Pit.

The Super Pit is the world’s largest open cut gold mine.  It literally is a giant pit in the ground, large enough to be visible from space.  Giant trucks – some bigger than your house – look like matchbox cars or even smaller when viewing them from above.  Check out the stairs on the truck:

And can you spot the trucks in this view?

No?  Allow me to zoom in:

The entire region is reliant on the gold industry.  Most of the towns in the region were founded during the gold rush, and many of these little towns boomed during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  But, what goes up must come down.  As the gold ran out – or, at least, as the easily accessible gold ran out – thriving towns with thousands of residents seemingly vanished overnight.  Broad Arrow is one of those towns.  Once a thriving city with 15,000 residents, Broad Arrow is now reduced to one tavern:

The tavern is all that remains, and it is primarily a tourist stop.  Most of the buildings in Broad Arrow have been torn down or have rotted away, but there’s a map and some markers you can follow to see where things once were.  In its hey-day, Broad Arrow had eight hotels, two banks, two breweries, a major hospital, and its very own stock exchange.  And now all it has is a low class pub.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Norseman is another mining town.  Lucky for it, it sits at the end of the Eyre Highway – the road connecting to Adelaide, which is nearly 2,000 kilometers away.  It’s this strategic position which has kept the town alive, though with a population of around 850, it may be barely hanging on.  The town might as well have been a ghost town when we stopped for some snacks.  With the exception of the little grocery store and one sketchy looking cafĂ©, everything seemed to be closed down, including the major department store (ha!)

And this lovely store which I’m sure was once-upon-a-time really cool… for Norseman…

New technologies are reinvigorating mining in some areas where gold extraction was previously economically infeasible, and it is thought that the opening of new mines may revive some of the depressed or even abandoned towns once again.  Until then, Kalgoorlie will remain the major city in the Goldfields.

With over 30,000 residents, it’s also the major city for… well, most of Western Australia beyond Perth.  In Kalgoorlie, we visited the Western Australian Museum at Kalgoorlie-Boulder, where they had a fantastic gold exhibit.

We learned that early settlers often confused real gold with pyrite, also known as fool’s gold.  The settlers discarded the rocks with the alleged fool’s gold in them and they were used to pave roads and walkways in the city.  A metallurgist later confirmed that the mineral that the settlers thought was fool’s gold actually was real gold.  So, for a short time, Kalgoorlie actually did have streets paved with gold.  Take that, El Dorado!  The roads were later torn up and the gold was removed from the rocks, but that doesn’t mean that Kalgoorlie doesn’t sneak gold into some other places, like their electrical sockets.

Kalgoorlie and its neighbour city, Boulder, sit right next to the massive Super Pit.  Before it was a large open pit mine though, it used to be a conglomeration of much smaller traditional underground mines.  One of these mines actually had a tunnel right into the closest pub in nearby Boulder, and we of course had to pop into see it.

It’s closed off now due to safety regulations, but it’s pretty cool to think that back in the day, you could just climb right out of the mine you were working in, sit down at the bar, and order up a cold beer.  It makes going downstairs to the pub after work for a quick drink seem less cool all of a sudden…

The Super Pit is set to close down in 2021 – when they anticipate the cost to extract the gold will become more than the worth of the gold itself.  As it employs several thousand people, it is the lifeline of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, and its closure will have devastating effects on the local population and economy.  The government is trying to figure out what to do with the mine – maybe turn it into a lake or some other sort of tourist attraction to draw in outside revenue – but they need to think fast because the deadline is now less than 9 years away.  Otherwise, Kalgoorlie may very well be the next big ghost town.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Recherche Archipelago & Cape Le Grand

A bit of history:  Dutch explorers were the first to sail the waters around Esperance in 1627, but no Europeans actually made landfall until French explorer Bruni d’Entrecasteaux did in 1792.  He sailed two ships with him:  the Esperance and the Recherche.  As you can guess, the Esperance lent its name to the town, and the Recherche lent its name to the archipelago just offshore.

The Recherche Archipelago is comprised of over 100 islands and another 1,000+ “obstacles” – which we were told basically means rocks jutting out of the water which are too small to be classified as islands but could still fuck up your boat.  We hopped on board a wildlife cruise to explore the archipelago on our first day in Esperance.

The captain brought our big catamaran up close to some of these obstacles to see fur seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks:

We also saw a plethora of birds, including Cape Barren Geese and sea eagles.  Our tour guide put on a great show when she lured a sea eagle over to us with a fish:

Later on, we docked at the only island accessible by humans, Woody Island:

And we had some time to explore the beaches and trails on our own before returning to the mainland.

Our outdoor adventures continued the next day with a trip to Cape Le Grand National Park.  Cape Le Grand was named after one of the men aboard the Esperance who spotted a place to lay their anchors during a storm.  We started off by checking maps and warnings:

Five-sixths of that sign is high fire danger or worse.  We are indeed in outback Australia.  After we got our bearings worked out, we decided our first feat of the day would be to climb to the top of Frenchman Peak.

It was a difficult climb to the top, but the views were stunning!

We didn’t realize just how steep it was until we were going down… very carefully and very slowly.  To demonstrate, here is a picture taken with the camera parallel to the ground:

After that, we approached Lucky Bay, proclaimed as Australia’s whitest sand beach (though always duking it with beaches in New South Wales and Queensland).  The sand was so white that the camera had a hard time capturing it:

Lucky Bay is famous as it is featured in many Tourism Australia advertisements.  Here, kangaroos roam along the beach and it makes the perfect scene for a TV commercial promoting Australia.  I was pleased to know that it wasn’t staged for TV – there were kangaroos on the beach when we arrived!

There was also a ton of dried up seaweed at one end of the beach, but I’ll write that off to seasonality.  Despite the frigid temperatures, I had to take a dip in the crystal clear waters.

Cape Le Grand also had a several kilometer long coastal trail of which we did a small portion.  We bumped into a few friends along the way…

Time to head back to town?  I think so.

Monday, December 3, 2012


After an 8 hour drive across the Wheatbelt, we arrived at Esperance!  Despite what Apple Maps says, Esperance is a town on the southern coast of Australia and it is indeed accessible by roads.  With a population just over 14,000 strong, Esperance is the largest town for roughly 480 kilometers to the west, 390 kilometers to the north, and a whopping 1,860 kilometers to the east.  Yep.  Not much in between here and Adelaide…

First impressions aren’t always great.  For starters, everything was closed.

A town of 14,000 that tries to be a tourist destination should seriously have more than 3 dinner options.  Also, grocery stores should be open after 5pm and on Sundays.  But I’ll let it slide.

Also, their Water Front Gardens leave a bit to be desired…

As this is a tourist destination, there was bound to be tackiness happening.  The museum in the centre of town highlights Esperance’s 15 minutes of international fame when pieces of Skylab showered the area in 1979.  In actuality, Skylab crashed near Balladonia – over 400 kilometers away.  Despite that, Esperance fined NASA $400 for littering.  NASA said fuck off.  Funds were raised by a radio show in 2009 and the meager fine was paid on behalf of NASA some 20 years later.

To take tacky to new levels, however, was this:

Look closely.  Do you see it?  It’s Stonehenge.  Esperance Stonehenge to be exact.  And it appears to be in someone’s yard.  Now, we saw the sign and Oscar and I made a bee line for it only to find that the entrance fee was $10/person.  We decided to take a pass.

But, after all of the closed signs and tackiness, Esperance was actually quite lovely.  The foreshore is dotted with imported Norfolk Island Pines and makes for a great evening walk:

The Tanker Jetty stretches 840+ meters out into the bay:

The jetty is home to Esperance’s most famous resident, Sammy the Seal:

And we were fortunate enough to catch him lazing around on the beach next to the jetty!

To get the best part of Esperance, you need to venture slightly outside of town to the natural beauty of the region.  Massive sand dunes surround Esperance up and down the coast, and even inland:

But it was the 38 kilometer Great Ocean Drive that wowed us the most.  A wind farm was featured on the drive and dotted the coast slightly inland:

And the views from the coast were absolutely stunning:

The best part:  Twilight Beach!

And yes, I got the new iPhone and discovered the panorama option and made good use of it on the trip.  You can click to enlarge.

Proclaimed as one of Australia’s best beaches by many different sources, Twilight Beach is big, beautiful, and virtually empty.  Woohoo!

The water was freezing.  But it was too good not to get into.  At least half way…

Overall, Esperance was gorgeous.  Quiet, but gorgeous.  Living here would drive me to a boredom-induced insanity like none other, but visiting for a few days or longer is absolutely fantastic.  Yes, there isn’t all that much to keep you entertained at night, but after a full day on the beach, it’s best to get to bed early so you can wake up early and do it all again.  There’s more to follow about Esperance’s nearby national parks and the archipelago in the bay.  Until the next blog, I leave you with a picture of where you will be lounging should you ever choose to check out Esperance.

Just don’t use Apple Maps to try and get you there…