A very good question and one I asked myself continually during our 17-hour visit.
White Cliffs, in Outback NSW, is located approximately 1 020km West of Sydney and 268km North East of Broken Hill. When we jumped in the car in Broken Hill to head towards our destination it was already 34°C and leapt to 38°C in three minutes and it was only 938am!
We were in for a long day…
To get to White Cliffs you need to head North from Wilcannia for 95km. While the road is in good tarred condition – the quality of roads is important when driving in the Outback – by 1100am it was 40°C and a heat mirage was shimmering in the distance.
Despite the heat, we were amazed to see how green it was on the side of the road and off in the paddocks we could see the dams were full. Apparently a freak storm had zipped through the area a week before, dumped a serious amount of rain in a split second and gave the region a small respite from the drought. It was actually greener there than at home.
White Cliffs promotes itself as the “First and Friendliest”. It conveniently ignores the “Hottest”! The First relates to the discovery of opal in Australia.
In the 1880’s some stockmen (or kangaroo shooters – it depends on which version of the story you believe) travelling through the area noticed a collection of beautiful rocks. On closer inspection it turned out that these rocks enclosed brilliant opal and, the rush was on!
By 1901, during the first official Census, the population was recorded at 1 500 people. As many locals were not keen for their whereabouts to be known, a more accurate figure was estimated at 3 000. Not much has changed even today, both White Cliffs and Lightening Ridge opal towns attract treasure hunters and those who, for one reason or another, wish to disappear off the radar for a while.
Arriving in White Cliffs, we headed straight to the Hotel/Motel, our digs for the night (no pun intended). The idea was to hole up (again, no pun intended) in the room for the afternoon and then venture out when the heat had waned a little. Our ‘room’ was one of those pre-fab dongas, these ones ex-Sydney Olympics (Year 2000) stock and the air conditioner was completely out of its depth. When the temperature in the room hit 37°C I abandoned ship and headed into the pub itself.
Nursing the largest ice water I could find, the beer came later, I perched in the corner of the pub and watched the passing parade of rusted-on and crusty locals. One tattooed lady clad in blue singlet and tatty, work shorts declared that she was “taking my beer outside as it’s too bloody cold in here”. Now that is taking acclimatisation to extremes.
When author Bill Bryson was scarping around Australia and casting his humorous eye over us all he commented that the people of White Cliffs “…exist in a listless world of heat and dust. If you were looking for people with the tolerance and fortitude to colonize Mars this would be the place to come”. I agree.
The White Cliffs Hotel/Motel is a genuine Outback pub with no real signs of renovation or refurbishment. Ticky, tacky additions over the years have removed any character that may have existed originally, but the air conditioning was first class and that was my priority that day.
After the usual deep-fried fare for dinner, we thought we had better make an effort and see a little of White Cliffs before the sun set completely. Godforsaken is the best description of the countryside in and around White Cliffs. It made me feel slightly better about using this ultra-critical word when I read that it was a term Bill Bryson also used when describing the village.
Endless mullock heaps and dry, dusty roads going nowhere.
Broken down cars and trucks and dusty, drunken signs leaning precariously in every direction.
Half-built houses and shacks squat among a few sad, scraggly trees and piles of abandoned machinery.
It was consistently un-lovely, but perhaps the beauty lies underground in this part of Australia.
I know I am definitely not making this sound like an attractive tourist destination, however on a good day, a much cooler day, there is plenty to see and do in White Cliffs.
- Go fossicking for opals. Just make sure you steer clear of any registered claims or you will definitely discover the unfriendly side of the locals.
- Visit the Stubby House, a house made entirely out of stubby beer bottles. The heat here certainly generates a serious thirst.
- Visit any number of opal showrooms to watch the cutting and polishing process and, of course, buy your own piece of Australian rainbow.
- Go on a Dug Out Tour and tour the underground works.
- Visit the White Cliffs Solar Power Station, the World’s first commercial solar power plant,
- Or simply stroll around the town to absorb some truly unique Outback sights and sounds.
At 8pm it was still 41°C so there would be no strolling for us this visit. We retreated back inside our donga where the air conditioning had struggled down to a pleasant 27°C. A positively icy number in this neighbourhood.
If you have a passion for opals or are roughly in the area/passing through, then White Cliffs is definitely worth a visit, in Winter.
Otherwise think twice.
What is the hottest place you have visited?
What: Accommodation options are fairly limited and fairly basic, with a camping and caravan ground, an Underground Motel which was closed, and the White Cliffs Hotel/Motel. The ‘motel’ is pretty simple to say the least, but clean enough and rooms start around $100per night. Ph: (08) 8091 6606
Where: White Cliffs is located in Far West New South Wales – just up the road from Wilcannia and just down the road from Broken Hill. Can’t miss it!
When: We visited in late November 2019. Believe me, White Cliffs is best visited in Winter or the cooler seasons of Autumn and Spring.
Why: To find your own piece of opal gorgeousness, to meet some warm and friendly people, or to confirm the rightness of your decision to live where you currently do.
How: You will need a car to get to White Cliffs or a bicycle or on foot. There is no such thing as public transport out here.
Who: White Cliffs welcomes everyone and it is a true melting pot. When traveling in these remote parts of Australia, make sure you always carry plenty of drinking water and more than you think you need, and be prepared to have no mobile phone service.
Related Posts: Looking for another Outback destination just brimming with history and tall stories? Then why not include Menindee on your road trip itinerary? It is just down the road a bit. Check it out here.
Related Blogs: For a different perspective and much better photos of White Cliffs, check out the Frugal Frolicker’s visit in 2018.
Read About It: And, how can I resist recommending Bill Bryson’s witty review of Australia, and the thriving metropolis of White Cliffs, in his best seller, Down Under – Travels From a Sunburned Country? Available from Book Depository.
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