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A Guide to Visiting Gwalia, Western Australia’s Best-Preserved Ghost Town

Gwalia is an old mining town and offers a fascinating look into Australia’s past
Gwalia is an old mining town and offers a fascinating look into Australia’s past | © Cephas Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo
The abandoned gold mining town of Gwalia is one of Western Australia’s most remote and fascinating ghost towns. Once only reachable by a long dusty camel-ride from Coolgardie, these days the ramshackle houses, shops and streets of this once-thriving town are open to all who dare to brave the dusty nine-hour drive through the outback from Perth.

Gwalia in Western Australia is 147mi (237km) north of Kalgoorlie on sealed roads and 2.5mi (4km) south of Leonora. The drive from Kalgoorlie to Gwalia should take around two and a half hours, but you can make a day or two of it with stops at Broad Arrow, Menzies, and Kookynie, where the Grand Hotel is also frequented by a rather stubborn horse named Willie.

From Perth you can fly, drive, or hop on the train over to Kalgoorlie, where you’ll need to rent a car to head up to Gwalia. The train journey from the Indian Ocean to the Wheatbelt and through the outback from Perth to Kalgoorlie takes around five hours, from there it continues along the Indian Pacific line to Adelaide and Sydney.

Gwalia’s historic mine is one of the biggest open-pit gold mines in the world | © Adwo / Alamy Stock Photo

Alternatively, you can drive out to Kalgoorlie from Perth and then up to Gwalia. The drive to Kalgoorlie takes around six hours, but it’s worth spending a little longer exploring the old pump stations and towns along the Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail and spending a night in one of the historic hotels in Kalgoorlie or Boulder.

The Golden Quest Discovery Trail

Gwalia is one of the most impressive stops on the Golden Quest Discovery Trail, a 600mi (965km)-long self-driving loop that traverses through the remote Goldfields region in Western Australia. Starting in the biggest outback city in Australia, Kalgoorlie Boulder, the trail includes one of the biggest open-pit gold mines in the world, several living ghost towns, a handful of quirky outback roadhouses, the oldest brothel in Australia, Questa Casa, and Lake Ballard, a huge salt lake with a fascinating art exhibition.

The art at Lake Ballard includes Antony Gormley’s ‘Inside Australia’ sculpture installation | © Genevieve Vallee / Alamy Stock Photo

What to see and do

Once you arrive in Gwalia, head straight to the Gwalia Museum, which is located in the former mine offices on a hill overlooking the town. Located right next to the Sons of Gwalia gold mine, the museum was opened in 1972 by local volunteers and residents who wanted to preserve the history of the town.

Before making your way back down the hill to check out the old township and wander through the old shops and houses, check out the viewpoint overlooking the deepest truck mine in the world and stop to see the shell of the old concrete swimming pool. Built in 1943, the pool was once filled with water from the mine and was the perfect way to cool off during scorching hot summer days in the outback.

The Gwalia Museum is located in the former mine offices | © Ian Beattie / Alamy Stock Photo

From there, make your way down the hill to the streets below where there are about 20 buildings that you can visit, including miner’s cottages, guest homes, a community center with an eery piano and medical room, and the general store. You can also check out the grand exterior of the State Hotel, which has been closed to the public since 1964.

Allow at least half a day to explore the old shops and houses, which have been restored to how they would have looked when the mine closed its doors for the final time in 1963 and the population all but disappeared overnight.

Where to stay

If you fancy spending a night in a real-life ghost town, then you might want to check out the recently renovated Hoover House B&B. Built by the future American president himself, Herbert Hoover opened it while managing the Sons of Gwalia gold mine in the late 1890s. Although he never had the opportunity to live in the house himself, it’s said that he would stay there on his repeat visits to the mine. If sleeping in 1930s opulence in a room once occupied by a young Herbert Hoover sounds like it’s up your alley, then this is the spot.

Hoover House B&B was opened by future American president Herbert Hoover | © Adwo / Alamy Stock Photo

Alternatively, if you’re manning an RV then you can park in the free RV campsite in the museum car park at the top of the hill and explore the abandoned streets by moonlight. If you do choose to stay here you must register with the museum before 4pm. Your vehicle must also be fully self-contained, and camping in your car or a tent is not allowed.

The nearby town of Leonora has several hotels and caravan parks, or there is free lakeside camping at Niagara Dam which is a short detour off the road between Menzies and Leonora on the way to Kookynie. There is also free camping available at Lake Ballard, around an hour or so east of Menzies on corrugated roads.