Why Go to White Cliffs?

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…

On a dead straight road to White CliffsTo 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.

Car dashboard showing a very hot temperature at 0937White 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!

Outside a dugout in 1925 - State Library NSW
Outside a dugout in 1925. Source: State Library NSW

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.

White Cliffs Hotel - State Library NSW
White Cliffs Hotel Source: State Library NSW

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.

A group of old men outside the White Cliffs Hotel. whitecliffscopal.com
Source: whitecliffscopal.com

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.

Living conditions in White CliffsEndless 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.

Living conditions in White CliffsI 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.

You can:

  • 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.

    A brilliantly coloured opal. Source: pinterest
    Source: pinterest
  • 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.

Evening at White Cliffs NSW
Evening light at White Cliffs,

Otherwise think twice.

What is the hottest place you have visited?


The Basics

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!

Good evening White Cliffs.
Good evening White Cliffs.

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.

White Cliffs views. Source: wyza.com.au
White Cliffs views. Source: wyza.com.au

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.

Sunset at White Cliffs NSW
Sunset at White Cliffs

#outbackNSW #travelinspo #outbackAustralia #WhiteCliffs #opal #ruralregionalremote #ourbackyard #stayinthebush #preciousgem

10 thoughts on “Why Go to White Cliffs?

  1. My Dream Garden April 29, 2020 — 6:45 pm

    Great info Mel- I’ve been to White Cliffs a couple of times- what an amazing place! I stayed in the underground motel both times- unforgettable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We would have loved to stay in the Underground Motel too as we had heard great things about it…oh well, next time we travel…DEFINITELY in Winter!! 🙂


    1. It certainly is! Just pick your times to visit and definitely NOT in Summer! 🙂


  2. The hottest place I’ve visited is Death Valley National Park in Nevada/California. It was 124 degrees F (51 C). I really want to read Bill Bryson’s book on your country, but I’m saving it to read right before some future planned trip to Australia. Love Bill Bryson.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Man, that is hot! Thank goodness we don’t get that hot where I live although we did hit 47C this Summer. Records were broken all around Australia this last Summer. What climate change??

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like an adventure. Just checking – is this from a previous trip? I hope you aren’t travelling now with the virus spreading everywhere

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, definitely tucked up at home and traveling vicariously! This trip was way back in late November 2019. I need to go back in and put some dates on my scheduled posts so that people don’t think I am traveling irresponsibly. Have a good day and stay safe, Mel


  4. Now that is an interesting place to visit. …when we can fly🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You had better be ready to drive a bit too…the nearest airport to White Cliffs is about 250km away! 😉 Take care, Mel


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