From quirky outback pubs dripping with charisma, to wide open landscapes that’ll steal away your breath, the Golden Quest Discovery trail shows off the best of Australia’s outback. This four-day road trip takes you on an adventurous loop from Coolgardie to Laverton and back, past exquisite towns, along the glittering Golden Mile and through Australia’s greatest outback city, Kalgoorlie.
Kalgoorlie-Boulder (known to locals as ‘Kal’) might have a rich historical past, but this flamboyant town is no dusty relic. Located on the so-called Golden Mile – a glittering landscape responsible for the richest gold mine on the planet – the area’s wealth is evident in its outlandishly ornate buildings, which line the streets like playfully colourful bon bons. Throw in a great food culture, a burgeoning mural scene, incredible sunsets and some of the grandest, most fantastical pubs you’ll ever visit, and you’re starting to get the idea: Kalgoorlie is cosmopolitan, urbane and a lot of fun. While here, take a tour of Australia’s oldest brothel, Questa Casa (it’s been in business for 114 years), play 2UP at one of two legal weekly games in Australia, and of course, check out the Super Pit – the largest mine of its kind in the world. Fun fact: Kalgoorlie was originally proposed as the capital city of its own country, named Auralia.
You’re not seeing things: the walls of this famous pub really are covered in writing. Found roughly 30 minutes north of Kalgoorlie, Broad Arrow Tavern is a modern icon thanks to the scrawls on its walls, but the pub has a great history behind it. Established in 1896 to service a modest population of 300 people, the town was quickly flooded with fortune hunters when gold was discovered nearby. By 1901, some 15,000 new residents were living here, and “The Broadie”, as it’s now known, became a happening hotspot for thirsty arrivals. The writing on its walls started in the 1980s, and has grown into a scrawl that covers virtually the entire place: walls, ceilings and even the floor (look out for love notes, plenty of “I was here” and a few cheeky comments on the toilet stalls). Order one of their insanely good burgers and sit at the bar for a yarn with Judi the barmaid, or out back in the courtyard where play equipment keeps the little ones entertained. Don’t forget to add your own message before you leave.
Another hour up the road from the Broad Arrow you’ll find Menzies: the perfect spot to base yourself for afternoon explorations at Lake Ballard. This cutie-pie one-street town is home the Achievable Outback Café, cheekily named by the owner to demonstrate the accessibility of this countryside, and unmissable from the street with its flurry of colourful flags and pretty flower pots. Inside you’ll find a mishmash of cutesy country clichés: corrugated iron, wooden floors, freshly baked pastries and pastel bunting. Order a brilliant coffee – this is the best cup going for miles – and spend some time examining the newspaper clippings on the wall; most of them detail the area’s history in gold, fortune and hardship. Be sure to stop at the old Menzies roadhouse opposite; the roadhouse itself is permanently closed, but the old school browsers are still operational (via credit card), and accompanied by a wall of number plates that stretches a solid 30 meters. Expect plates from Arizona, Minnesota, France, Montana, Great Britain, Quebec, Texas, New York, Alabama, Germany, South Carolina, Alabama...
The vast salt flats of Lake Ballard make for a striking sight – and that’s without the unexpected sight of finding small, human-like figures here. The masterstroke of Sir Anthony Gormley, Lake Ballard’s sculpture trail is formed by a series of 51 lifelike sculptures, cast from the figures of locals and set at lonely intervals in the vast, flat wilderness. It’ll take you a good two or three hours to explore this silent wonder, so plan accordingly (it’s roughly a 45 minute drive, via an unsealed road, from Menzies). Ascend the lake’s ‘island’ via a quick five-minute hike for surreal views of the figures as they appear to float, frozen in time, above the landscape. Afterwards, return to Menzies to stay at a classic Aussie pub, Menzies Hotel, where the beers are housed in an ice-filled esky and served by barmaid Lily, until “whatever time she feels like closing”. (Counter meals are served until 7:45pm.)
The town of Kookynie(population 12) is home to what just may be the world’s coolest pub. Run by Kevin and Margaret Pusey, who are local icons in their own right, Grand Hotel Kookynie is a gorgeous old dame of a place with old-school petrol bowsers, high-ceilinged homestead accommodation and a charisma-filled saloon bar by its front. Despite being in proud, continuous operation since 1902, the hotel has received extra attention in recent years thanks to a new major attraction: Willie the horse. Rescued from sure death after being found malnourished and alone, wandering the outback, Willie now tosses his mighty mane and occasionally deigns to accept pats, when he stops by the bar each afternoon waiting for dinner. While he eats, spend some time chatting to Margaret over the bartop; at almost 80, she may well be Australia’s oldest barmaid – and with all that experience, she’s very good at her job. Expect lively conversation and a continuously full glass of beer.
Ready to explore a real ghost town… and a US presidential suite? Gwalia, a ghost town located just near Leonora, has an incredible backstory – and on the Golden Quest Discovery trail you get to explore it! Abandoned overnight in 1963 when residents discovered that the local mine was closing and rushed back to Kalgoorlie, in a race to secure themselves a job, the town remains as it was, a frozen tableau of life back then. Pots, toys, clothing and furniture still languish inside the ramshackle buildings; anyone is welcome here to see a taste of life as it was. (Just be sure to mind your head – the doorways were lower back then!) Afterwards, ascend the hill to discover a grand old homestead lapped by lush green lawns: the home of the 31st President of the United States of America. Hoover House, as it’s become known, was designed in 1897 by Herbert Hoover himself, who lived here while managing the mining site, before ascending to US presidency. Stay overnight and sleep in the president’s own bedroom, or simply drop by for scones and tea on the graceful verandah. This is your last stop before beginning the loop back south, so before you do make time for a sausage roll at the Food Van Cafe in nearby Leonora. This sweet little eatery, run by owner Fiona Gahan, makes the best sausage rolls this side of the Nullarbor – handmade and golden – and Fi herself is a treat, too.
Ora Banda is located approximately 70km from Kalgoorlie. In 1906, a township site was established near newly discovered ore bodies North West of Kalgoorlie. The town took its name from a nearby mine which was worked by the Weston brothers. Ora Banda, translated in Spanish, means band of gold. By 1910, there were approximately 2,000 miners and their families living in the area. The town had 2 stores, 2 butchers, 2 bakers, a town hall, dining halls, a post office, a police station, churches and billiards saloon. Constructed of brick and stone, the Ora Banda Historic Inn was originally built in 1911 by Alfred Garnett when Ora Banda's prosperity seemed assured and thanks to numerous gold strikes within the area. The hotel traded for 40 years riding the wave as the Ora Banda mining boom fluctuated. But, by the late 1950's the hotel closed. It was restored again in 1981, but is presently closed after fire severely damaged the historic pub in May 2019. Located next to the Ora Banda Historical Inn grounds is the old Government Battery, which used to process ore for the local prospectors and will soon be turned into a museum.
From here, you can either head onward to Coolgardie, where you’ll find what is undeniably the region’s most striking architecture of all. Be sure visit the Goldfields Exhibition Museum on Bayley Street and the heritage listed Warden Finnerty's residence to get a real glimpse of the gold rush past before making your way to Kalgoorlie. Whichever you choose, tip your hat to the Eureka stockade flag flying out front as you go. It’s a bit tattered… but it still gets the point across.