SYDNEY 22 September 2001 – Early in the morning, on Saturday, 21 October 2001, three families set out on a journey – a journey which was to cover more than 7,600 kilometres of this vast land. In three weeks, we tackled some famous outback tracks, visited some unique places and traveled through some beautiful but unforgiving landscapes.
to White Cliffs
The McGuinness, Cooney and Ross families met up at 3.30 am to begin the 1,072 km trip to our first overnight stop at White Cliffs. It was a very long day covering almost the full breadth of New South Wales. We stopped at Dubbo (412 km) for breakfast and later at Cobar (713 km) in the mid-west for lunch. By this time, it was very hot and dry – a taste of what was to come as we headed further into Central Australia. The afternoon drive across the western plains was very hot, very flat and very dry. Our last stop was at Wilcannia (976km) before we turned north to travel the last 96 km of dirt road out to the opal mining settlement of White Cliffs, arriving around 5.30 pm.
White Cliffs is a town which lives almost entirely in “dugouts” – underground houses literally dugout of the hillside – apart from a few public buildings such as the school, general store and pubs. We spent the night in relative luxury at PJs Underground Bed and Breakfast located at Dugout 72, Turley’s Hill, White Cliffs. The cool and elegant interior was an oasis compared to the dry and desolate environment above ground. Being underground, the residence maintains an almost-constant temperature in the low 20’s (celsius) even when outside temperatures can exceed 50 degrees in summer.
The guest rooms are very spacious, well furnished and comfortably accommodated each family. The cold drink and barbecue dinner was very welcome chance to relax after the long drive.
After dinner, Peter (the owner and host) was kind enough to show the group through a disused opal mine which he stumbled into when he was excavating additional rooms for the guesthouse (guest-dugout?). The mine is now a unique feature of room 5 and was a fascinating treat for the nine children in our group (not to mention the adults). The mine consists of a couple of large caves dug out of the rock and a vertical shaft which descends about 30 feet below the level of the guest rooms.
At breakfast the next morning, it was nice to hear the only other guests at PJs (a couple) comment on the kids’ good behaviour! After breakfast, we took the opportunity to explore the minefields around White Cliffs. The entire area is covered with open mines, many of which are still operated by hand. Another interesting sight is the nearby solar power plant which harnesses the power of the ever-present sun to provide power for the town.