The discovery of opal changed this far western corner of New South Wales forever.
Read on to discover the best things to see and do in White Cliffs, or find and book accommodation in White Cliffs today.
In 1889 White Cliffs became Australia’s first commercial opal field and, within 10 years, this remote corner of NSW was totally transformed by more than 50,000 mine shafts and mullock heaps, resembling a lunar landscape that stretched out as far as the eye could see. Official numbers vary greatly but, anecdotally, 1899 was the peak year of activity, with some 2500 miners digging in the field. At this time, White Cliffs had a population of around 5000 people, who mostly lived in tents and make-shift bush huts.
Since those long-gone early heydays a combination of the town’s remoteness, incessant summer heat and lack of opportunities has seen the population deplete; but for the 200-odd locals that currently call White Cliffs home, they’re happy with their unusual lifestyle. The town is a curious mix of old and new, there’s little sign of commercialism, certainly no hustle or bustle, and few people will say it is a beautiful place. But, for all of that, it simply oozes charm and rough bush character.
While the rich opal deposits have long dried up, you can’t visit White Cliffs and not have your own fossick through the minefields! There’s often a moderate level of mining activity going on daily in the area, so it’s definitely worth the look. Take care though, when walking around the opal field as there are many abandoned mine shafts in the area.
If all else fails there are numerous showrooms, galleries and gift shops where you can get a closer look at some of the local opal hauls – and perhaps even make a purchase for yourself!
Or why not take a walk through the satellite settlements? There’s plenty of weird and wonderful things to come across, including a series of toilets scattered among the mullock heaps and an old caravan covered in ironic signs and sayings. Any of the locals will jump at the chance to share a story about their experiences living in White Cliffs, or offer advice on what to see and do. Otherwise the General Store is a good point of call to pick up extra tourist information.
Located on the edge of town is Australia’s first experimental solar power station, which commenced operation way back in 1981. The facility closed down a number of years ago when it was replaced by power coming from the state-wide grid, but the large, circular discs remain as a historic display and continue to be a somewhat strange sight on the landscape. Wandering through the abandoned solar discs makes for an interesting experience, and also provides a pretty unique photo opportunity.
Get a real taste of life underground and book a night at White Cliffs Underground Motel. Built by hand using jack hammers, the motel (roughly the size of a football field) blocks all outside noise and light, and maintains a constant 23 degrees Celsius – perfect for coping with the extreme weather conditions White Cliffs often experiences. There are 30 underground rooms to choose from, along with a licensed restaurant, bar, lounge and games room – all underground of course!
White Cliffs is located in the far west corner of NSW, approximately 300km north-east of Broken Hill.
The arduous journey from Sydney takes over 11 hours and is roughly 1000km long. The most direct route is along the Barrier Highway, then via the sealed Opal Miners Way.
The heat during the summer months is often unbearable (hence much of White Cliffs being underground), so the best time to visit this outback town is from May to September.
There’s a lot going on during these months to keep visitors busy however, so make sure to book your trip accordingly! White Cliffs plays host to an underground arts festival held in September, a music festival in May, and the annual White Cliffs rodeo and gymkhana in April.
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