Goldfields & Wheatbelt (WA)

Thursday, Oct 12, 2023 at 16:34

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

This blog picks up where we ended our last blog at Leonora after completing the Great Central Road. We camped overnight at Malcolm Dam - a free camp less than 10km east of Leonora and and then spent half a day at the Gwalia Museum in Leonora which incorporates both indoor and outdoor exhibits.

Here's our tracking map (Track Log) recorded during the trip via the ExplorOz Traveller app, and added to this blog using the standard blog tools available to all ExplorOz members.

As you can see in the stats - this section of our trip covered 5 driving days and a total of 1445km - fairly typical driving distances for us (just under 300km/day) but we are busy on the road all day - exploring, getting out and photographing, walking, soaking up nature, surveying roads and POI features for our mapping updates.

Tap to enlarge to view full size map. Tap into the right hand panel to display overnight locations, and daily trip segments with daily stats.

Before I go into detail about our drive beyond Leonora, I must make mention of the sensational Gwalia mine and museum that is found in Leonora and encourage anyone who has not been here to take a special trip there! It is a destination all in itself and there are options to stay at the site too if you prefer (but we'd recommend Malcolm Dam). More than just a museum, there is a ghost town to wander around, and a live mining operation is once again thriving here. Gwalia Mine is one of our nation's largest gold mines and also the deepest underground trucking mine!

Whilst the majority of the museum is dedicated to preserving the artifacts used by the people and mining operations used from 1897 to 1963 it also gives an insight into how much gold remains and why the mine has been reopened twice since its closure in the '60s and if you take the time to watch the video exhibits you'll learn how new technology is necessary to the viability of the mining operation.

The museum is perched atop a cliff that overlooks the open-cut section of the mine, and you can watch the trucks as they traverse their way into the tunnels. The videos show what is going on in the mine beneath your feet as you watch the videos! As I said - mind blowing!



The above photos are not our own sadly and come from the Places page on ExplorOz shared by other travellers as I've managed to lose all the photos I took this day. More details here -
Gwalia Museum.

So after having morning tea at the delightful Hoover House at Gwalia, we set off for our day of driving along the Darlot Loop in reverse. The highlight of the Darlot Loop is undoubtedly The Terraces - just out of Leonora along the Leonora- Nambi Road. It's an 18km diversion off the main track however it is well worth it.

The Terraces is a long ridge you can see on the topo maps and is setup with 2 picnic sites but there are also a few tracks to enable exploring different sections. It is very remote and there's no sign of anyone having been here for some time. The rock formations are caused by wind and water erosion and it's truly an epic place for photography. From the main picnic area, we continued to the north east and took the track up onto the top of the ridge. From here you can follow tracks to the north for another 6 km (beyond the extent of tracks shown on our EOTopo) to where we found some truly spectacular areas. Would recommend for anyone looking for a good spot in this area. Probably not for larger caravans but we had no issue towing our Ultimate up there. David felt the tracks continued on beyond where we left a marker in Places for a campsite and believed we would have found a track leading back down off the ridge to enable rejoining the main track to avoid having to backtrack all the way. However, I talked him out of it, and we backtracked.






The amount of time we spent here however, meant it was not possible for us to complete even half of the Darlot Loop trail that day with all the stops we make to document the POIs and be in the moment. I will say the interpretive sights are rather obscure and took me a few stops to realise what it was all about. David gave up reading them after the first two....The sign at each stop takes on the persona of a figure, a "ghost" from the past or a creature from the present telling a story from their perspective - encouraging you to see the site from their eyes. In a place where there is almost no visible sense of history it's about the only way to appreciate what was once here. There were a couple of good sights which are obvious to find, but most of them left us scratching our heads but for the sake of documenting all 15 of them, we had to do it...but the signs themselves were the point of interest.





And then, when there was finally something very interesting to see (Nambi Woolshed), it was a restricted site and this was as far as we could go.



But we did enjoy the grave sites and the quirkiness of it all.


It was well past a desirable time of day to stop to pull up camp when we finally came to the Granites, not fully knowing if it would be suitable. After leaving the epic Terraces, we didn't want to feel disappointed but this is a beautiful camp spot! We arrived after sunset and barely had any light left to setup but managed under a rising moon. This photo was taken after packing up the next morning.



The following morning we climbed the rock and then continued the rest of the drive which eventually re-joined the Goldfields Highway and we then headed north and into the township of Leinster... and what a shock that was!

At the time of our visit in August 2022, all the public facilities (except the supermarket) remained closed due to COVID restrictions and it felt like a real ghost town. No hotel, but clearly the town runs by servicing the needs of the mining staff on days off. The caravan park is sparse and the fuel is available on a self-serve 24 hr fuel card. We've seen these all over the state of WA and honestly you loose a sense of community in these towns without meeting the townsfolk. Hopefully, things get back to some sort of normal with people mixing again - even just at a fuel bowser. You don't know how much it means until something is missing...

We really had no idea what we'd find out this way and couldn't agree on a route to Perth from here because we didn't want to take the obvious routes and were hoping we could map out a cross-country path through the pastoral leases to get into the Mount Manning Range and Helena & Aurora Range (via another ExplorOz Trek).



We poked around the interesting relics of the old Agnew Townsite, the Lawlers Cemetery, and then stopped for some time at Poison Creek and walked up the creek bed to see if there was any water in the "main pool" (not realising we'd already driven past a track that would have taken us directly to the spot). The Shire has done a good job in this area with historic sites well signed along Old Agnew Road heading south.




At Stuart Meadows we had hoped to be able to get onto Ida Valley Road but without realising we found ourselves 18km further south (we later realised the track we were on had been rerouted) so we didn't bother backtracking. From here to avoid going back into Leonora, we found ourselves on the Golden Quest Discovery Trail (the Leonora - Mount Ida Road). We spent huge amounts of time poking around all the historic sites and took an interesting 4WD diversion to Mount Ida Cemetery which we found fascinating. The plaques gave the cause of death - so many miners, babies, wives and seemed a long way from the Mount Ida townsite we'd previously been at which made us curious why they put it here rather than closer to the town.

The track then took us due south so we decided to try to reach Lake Ballard before dark. We got there a lot later than desirable and found all the good spots full but fussed around a bit and got ourselves setup just on sunset and didn't have time to get any photos!!!

We've been here previously (but many years ago when the kids were little) but this time as we had the MTB bikes we took off on our wheels in the morning and spent many hours exploring the outer sculptures but we paid for it by totally choking up our tyres and chains with mud which made it very slippery!




South of here we noted that the side tracks on the EOTopo 2021 map needed a lot of revision due to mining activities around the Riverina mine (updated in EOTopo 2023). Quite a few of the historic Places marked on our maps were also impossible to reach due to the new mine roads which is a shame. We did make an effort to reach as many as possible eg. Old Mulline Battery but these are fast becoming lost.



We attempted to take the 4WD route noted as an ExplorOz Trek (Bullfinch to Goongarrie Station) which would have taken us via Yowie Rocks, Curara Soak and onwards to Helena and Aurora Ranges but the point of access we found was almost impossible to find and then when we did find it, we didn't have enough confidence that it would be passable. We'd already taken so many side tracks to find sites that had ended up impassable in this area, and its not a place you want to be when its wet and we knew there was weather coming and we were losing faith that we had sufficient information to proceed so we didn't pursue this unfortunately. Needs further research because from this junction it just didn't seem right. If you know, please give us an update.



Instead, we continued along the (boring) well used Evanston Road (still part of the GQDT) to Hospital rocks and then we still didn't take the alternative track north to Mt Elvire (although noted as part of the route in the ExplorOz Trek for Northern Yilgarn Conservation Reserves) as it looked to no longer be as accommodating as in previous years and would mean a fairly big backtrack to do to get back. This area needs more research to explore properly so we continued on south at the corner although we had also hoped to continue west at this junction on Trainer Rock Road and beyond but it was not showing any signs of use either. So southbound in a direction we never anticipated going towards Bullfinch we went...and whilst David was blasting along the easy dirt highway, I was madly checking out POIs on the map in the nearby area to find somewhere more to our liking and spotted Pidgeon Rocks Camp. The tracks started off well used then became 4WD rock steps but we pushed on and eventually came to a pretty decent spot where we camped for the night and explored during the day but there was constant noise from nearby mining activity and haul trucks at Windarling. We couldn't find a way through other than backtracking so we came back out onto the main track which took us over Lake Deborah and eventually into the very uninspiring town of Bullfinch which is in a sorry state of decline.




From this point, we could finally pick up a route allowing us to head almost due west back to the coast at home in Perth through the Wheatbelt which is well documented with tourist sites for those following the Wildflower Way, lots of great little bush camps at rocks to climb and views to enjoy, cemeteries to explore, and small towns with welcoming RV stops.

We chose to stop at Marshall Rock Reserve for our last night of the trip, just east of Bendubbin, which gave us an easy day's drive back to Perth. The area was just starting to show signs of the new wildflower season but we were a few weeks too early to consider staying out here. We'd suggested coming back in a few weeks but of course, we didn't - we had too much work to complete with the EOTopo 2023 updates which after all had been the whole purpose of this trip.



On the way home, we conveniently were able to go via the paddocks where our horses are kept and had a quick cuddle with Jack and Keno then home for the big washup and unpack which wasn't so appealing.



If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope you found something interesting in this blog. It has mostly been written to finalise the documentation of this expedition but as it has been written a whole year after the actual trip much of the detail (and some photos!) have been lost.

Looking forward to starting a new trip soon.
Cheers, Michelle & David.

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David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Travelling fulltime in 2024
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