Wilcannia’s historic bridge over the Darling.

Emus on the road in Far-Western NSW.

DESTINATION: White Cliffs & Wilcannia


TRAVEL: 18 JULY 2016

Ten really good things to do in White Cliffs and Wilcannia

1) Take a Red Earth Opal mine tour

Opal mining is White Cliff’s main reason for existence and a close-up look at the industry is the essential experience if you’re visiting.

Red Earth Opal’s Graeme Dowton runs a great adventure, taking groups of people below the ground to show first-hand what the business if about and why the hunt for that elusive opal pineapple has been so enticing.

The above-ground café and showroom are also excellent and perhaps the best place in town to make that special purchase.

Red Earth Opal, 100 Dugout, White Cliffs, phone 08 8091 6900.

2) Stay at the White Cliffs Underground Motel

Overnighting in a disused opal mine — indeed in the world’s largest underground motel — is certainly a different experience, from the constant 22-23ºC temperatures — day or night, summer or winter — to the lack of external light, which means you don’t really know what’s going on above ground, and the white-washed earthen walls.

It’s great fun meandering along the tunnels of the motel to find your room, and the historical display is top-notch.

Facilities such as restaurant, bar, etc, are what you’d expect or better than in most country motels, though I did find the lack of en-suites a trifle challenging. New owner Scott Smith is well aware of that and is looking at ways of overcoming that problem.

Just don’t think that chipping away at the walls will make you wealthy. The motel is set in what is also known as Poor Man’s Hill, so named because of its lack of opals.

White Cliffs Underground Motel, 129 Smiths Hill, White Cliffs, phone 08 8091 6677, visit http://undergroundmotel.com.au.

3) Visit Bill O’Reilly Oval in White Cliffs

Legendary spin bowler Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly is probably White Cliff’s most famous son. The 188cm aggressive cricketer played 27 Tests between 1932 and 1946 in a career that saw him often picked in the same side as Sir Donald Bradman, with whom he shared grudging admiration. His birthplace remembers him through Bill O’Reilly Oval.

For general tourism information about White Cliffs, visit http://www.whitecliffsnsw.com.

4) Stay at Warrawong on the Darling Caravan Park, Wilcannia

Warrawong on the Darling, located on the banks of the Darling River, three kilometres to the east of Wilcannia, is part of Scott Smith’s NSW Outback empire. It offers a genuinely comfortable taste of the Outback through a range of accommodation choices — modern cabins, caravan berths and camping sites, all serviced by a modern, state-of-the-art amenities block.

Warrawong on the Darling, Barrier Highway, Wilcannia, phone 1300 688 225, visit http://warrawongonthedarling.com.au.

5) Stop and have a look at Wilcannia’s historic, now disused, bridge

The town’s original bridge over the Darling was built in 1896 in the unusual centre-left style that allowed it to be raised for the passage of paddle-steamers in the days when Wilcannia was a major river port. It is classified by the National Trust.

The name ‘Wilcannia’ apparently means “a gap in the bank where the flood waters escape” in the Barkindji language of the local Aborigines.

For general tourism information about Wilcannia, contact the Wilcannia Tourism Association, phone 08 8091 5294, visit http://wilcanniatourism.com.au.

6) Weep about the Darling and the demise of one of Australia greatest rivers

These days, largely as the result of over-irrigation upstream, the once-mighty Darling is a mere shadow its former self. We should be appalled at how this giant has been misused through economic greed and political opportunism.

7) Browse Wilcannia’s historic buildings

A stroll around Wilcannia’s town centre quickly reveals the town’s past as ‘the Queen City of the West’, especially during the boom times of the 1880s, when it was Australia’s third-largest port and a major hub for the 90-odd paddle-steamers plying their trade along the Darling River.

Substantial stone buildings include, but are certainly not limited to, the Central Darling Shire Council Head Office, Wilcannia Police Station and Courthouse, Wilcannia Post Office and Wilcannia Hospital.

8) Have lunch at Wilcannia’s Court House Café and Gallery

The delicious and stylish food at this corner café comes as a real surprise when visiting a town not really associated with good eating. The homemade quiche and lasagne and toasted baguettes all constitute a treat. With prices set mostly at $12-14 it’s a must-visit.

Wilcannia Court House Café and Gallery, Cnr Reid and Cleaton Sts, Wilcannia, phone 08 8091 5910, visit http://www.courthousecafe.net.au.

9) Visit White Cliffs and Wilcannia on a NSW Far-West Outback tour

North-western NSW offers some of Australia’s most easily accessible tastes of the Outback — normally starting at Broken Hill and driving through spectacular semi-desert to iconic locations such as Cameron’s Corner (where NSW, Queensland and South Australia meet), NSW’s most remote town, Tibooburra, the old Darling River port of Wilcannia and the opal fields of White Cliffs.

I travelled with Tri State Safaris in a couple of four-wheel drives and found the experience fascinating, educational and comfortable. For a three-night small-group, itinerary, I thought the cost of the ‘Corner Country Tour’ very reasonable — $1525 per person twin-share, including accommodation, transport, all meals and entry fees.

Certainly Scott Smith, Tri State’s new owner, has plenty of faith in the NSW Outback product and is happy to put his money where his beliefs are. He’s also just bought the White Cliffs Underground Motel, adding to a portfolio that also includes the Warrawong Caravan Park on the outskirts of Wilcannia, the Copper City Motel at Cobar, the Ivanhoe Hotel Motel and the old Mt Gipps Hotel, just east Broken Hill and very much a work in progress.

Phone 08 8088 2389 or visit http://tristate.com.au.

10) Watch for wildlife as you’re travelling

The proliferation of kangaroos and emus makes for spectacular viewing as you drive the Outback roads around White Cliffs and Wilcannia ... and also provides plentiful reason to take great care, especially around dawn and dusk but at just about any time of day, particularly when it’s not overly hot.

But there’s plenty else to see, too — eagles, lizards, feral goats, horses, bustards and a proliferation of many other birds such as the Major Mitchell’s cockatoo.

Major Mitchell’s cockatoos ... aka pink cockatoos ... on the road in Far-Western NSW.

Poor Darling ... a once-mighty river would these days hardly service Australia’s third-largest port.

Graeme Dowton at Red Earth Opals ... running a great underground adventure.

Above and below: Scott Smith and the White Cliffs Underground Motel ... overnighting in a disused opal mine is certainly a different experience.

White Cliffs ... a genuine Aussie Outback icon.

Wilcannia Courthouse ... still in use and also a reminder of when the town was ‘the Queen City of the West’.

Above and below: Graeme Dowton at Red Earth Opals ... running a great underground adventure.

The Court House Café in Wilcannia ... fine eating in an unlikely location.

Above and below: A taste of the real Outback ... on the road in Far-Western NSW.

Wilcannia Hospital ... still in use and also a reminder of when the town was ‘the Queen City of the West’.

Warrawong on the Darling ... modern cabins, caravan berths and camping sites, all serviced by a modern, state-of-the-art amenities block.