Go west to White Cliffs and Wilcannia

LOST TREASURE: You can hunt for that famous pineapple opal on Graeme Dowton's Red Earth Opal tours. Picture: John Rozentals
LOST TREASURE: You can hunt for that famous pineapple opal on Graeme Dowton's Red Earth Opal tours. Picture: John Rozentals

HERE’S five great 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 is 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 temperature - 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 the problem. I 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, undergroundmotel.com.au.

3) Visit Bill O’Reilly Oval in White Cliffs

Legendary leg-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 and claimed 144 wickets at an average of 22.59. His career ran parallel with the legendary Sir Donald Bradman, with whom he shared a sometimes tempestuous, yet successful, relationship. Tiger’s birthplace remembers him through Bill O’Reilly Oval.

For general tourism information about White Cliffs, visit 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, 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” means “a gap in the bank where the flood waters escape” in the Barkindji language of the local Aboriginal people.

Wilcannia Tourism Association, phone 08 8091 5294, wilcanniatourism.com.au.