Now absorbed by Kalgoorlie, the gold mining settlement of Boulder was a separate town until 1989. The prominent town hall and historic architecture on Burt Street speak to Boulder’s historic independence and the money created by gold.
Boulder was born in a gold rush in the 1890s, and gold mining continues today at the immense Super Pit, right across the Goldfields Highway.
There’s a lookout where you can cast your eyes over this void 600 metres deep, while in the surrounding Goldfields you can visit a show mine, a mining museum, ghost towns, remote outback pubs and places now reclaimed by the eucalypt woodland that once covered the region.
1. Hannans North Tourist Mine
This attraction, five minutes up the Goldfields Highway ,is a literal gold mine of information about the past and present of mining in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
The application for the lease at Hannans North was made in 1893, just five months after gold was first discovered in the area.
The mine was worked via an ever deepening shaft between 1934 and 1991, when the site was turned into a tourist mine.
Now you can tour historic buildings and size up some serious pieces of Caterpillar hardware like a 994K Large Wheel Loader and a 793C Haul Truck.
Littler prospectors can try panning for gold and there’s a peaceful Chinese Garden of Remembrance on the site for a moment of reflection.
2. Super Pit
Boulder is right next door to an implausibly large open pit gold mine, 600 metres deep, 3.5 kilometres long and 1.5 kilometres wide.
The Fimiston Open Pit, or Super Pit, is relatively new and only started to take shape after 1989 with the creation of Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM). Before that time there was a diversity of independent operations working mines dating back to 1893. KCGM schedules free tours at 09:00, 10:00 and 11:00 on Boulder Market Day (third Sunday of the Month). Tickets are available on a first come, first served basis, and grant you access to the mine on a bus.
You’ll travel through the security gates to see the Fimiston Mill and Workshop Yard.
The best bit is an internal lookout within the pit for an awe-inspiring perspective of this colossal operation.
3. KCGM Super Pit Lookout
Outram Street in Boulder is where you’ll find the public lookout outside the Super Pit.
This vantage point has shifted down the years as the mine has grown, and from a fenced in area equipped with informative panels you’ll get a clear line of sight over this gargantuan hole in the ground.
Eventually your eyes will adjust and you’ll realise that the tiny specks inching along the mine’s terraces are the same enormous vehicles on show at the Hannans North Tourist Mine.
Before you come, check online for details of blasting times, taking place three or four times a week, when you can see and feel excavation in progress.
4. Museum of the Goldfields
This museum on Hannan Street is in the shadow of the giant Ivanhoe headframe, which can be scaled in a glass-clad lift for panoramas of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the Great Western Woodlands.
The Museum of the Goldfields also holds a big portion of Western Australia’s gold collection, with a gleaming assortment of gold bars, nuggets, jewellery and ingots displayed in an underground vault.
Also essential is the collection of buildings and interiors harking back to the gold rush, like the jarrah-lined office and boardroom of entrepreneur Claude de Bernales, the Woodline Office, the Hainault Shed, WA Bank and a preserved miner’s cottage.
Throughout there’s a vast array of documents, photographs, tools and ephemera going back 130 years.
5. Burt Street
This east-to-west street runs through the centre of Boulder, from the Goldfields Highway to Kalgoorlie-Boulder Airport.
Burt Street’s eastern blocks are steeped in history, and in recent years the pretty, heritage-listed facades, verandahs and parapets have been given a collective makeover.
As well as Boulder Town Hall (more next), look for the Albion Hotel, built in the Federation Filigree style in 1898. As well as being the oldest part of town, this is also the most lively, with rows of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops on both sides.
Beyond the east end is the heritage-listed Boulder Railway Station building from 1903, while nearby, the Art Deco former Boulder Power Station (1939) now houses the Eastern Goldfields Historical Society.
6. Boulder Town Hall
Boulder’s greatest surviving monument from the gold rush days is the handsome town hall, dating to 1908 and once the mainstay of community life.
At 10:30 on Tuesday and the third Sunday of the month (Boulder’s market day) you can go in to see the hall’s gorgeous theatre, graced by pressed tin ceilings and filigree wrought iron balustrades in the gallery.
A real mix of performers have played this space, from Dame Nellie Melba to AC/DC.
The theatre’s most celebrated original detail is a curtain by Philip Goatcher (1851-1931), a renowned Victorian-era scene painter.
Depicting the Bay of Naples, this is believed to be the last theatre curtain in situ by Goatcher.
The town hall also holds a museum exhibition documenting the feats of Boulder residents at war, from the Boer Wars to the present day.
7. Golden Footsteps Discovery Trail
The visitor information centre for Kalgoorlie-Boulder (more below) is at Kalgoorlie Town Hall, and if you’re keen to get to know Boulder a little better be sure to pick up the Golden Footsteps leaflet.
This is the guide for an interactive trail snaking through the town and drawn up in the early 2000s.
There are 72 granite plaques on the way, commemorating important events, places and people.
8. Royal Flying Doctor Service Visitor Centre
Kalgoorlie-Boulder Airport at the end of Burt Street is a working base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, one of the largest aeromedical organisations in the world.
Each day the service flies more than 73,500 kilometres and conducts more than 800 patient contacts, in some of the most far-flung places in the world.
You can learn about the service’s operations in Western Australia at their visitor centre, loaded with interactive multimedia displays and screening footage at the Roger Waller Theatre.
There are guided tours Monday to Friday at 10:15 and 14:00 (May to October), and you can support the organisation by buying a souvenir at the gift shop.
9. Broad Arrow
The first gold discovery in the Kalgoorlie-Boulder area was actually made about 40 kilometres north of the city at what is now a bona fide ghost town.
At the turn of the 20th century 15,000 people lived in Broad Arrow, and the town even had its own stock exchange.
The flow of gold had dried up by the 1920s and everyone moved on, save for a single establishment, the Broad Arrow Tavern.
This was built in 1896 and is an authentic outback pub, pouring ice cold beer and serving up its speciality Broady Burgers.
Almost every inch of wall space is filled with handwritten notes by people who have passed through.
10. Mount Charlotte Reservoir and Lookout
A minute or two up the Goldfields Highway will bring you to the rise where, in 1893, a trio of prospectors including Paddy Hannan found gold by chance after one of their horses cast a shoe.
A decade later, Mount Charlotte became the site of Kagloorlie’s main water supply, replenished by water piped 560 kilometres from Mundaring outside Perth.
The reservoir is lined with reinforced concrete and embedded into the hill, and today serves as a reserve tank.
Information panels explain the history of this location and there’s a clear view over Kalgoorlie-Boulder and fragments of the mining landscape around the city.
11. Kalgoorlie Town Hall
The fortune created by gold mining at the turn of the 20th century is also reflected by Kalgoorlie’s Town Hall, completed in 1908 and effusing Edwardian splendour.
You can take an in-depth on Monday and Wednesday at 10:30, appreciating the exuberant interiors fitted with chandeliers, stamped metal ceilings, a theatre and a regal central staircase.
As you go you’ll see a ton of art, photographs and memorabilia relating to the city and with a story to tell.
Kalgoorlie Town Hall also holds the visitor information centre for Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the Eastern Goldfields.
12. Questa Casa
It’s a given that a gold mining town will have a seamier side, and the last surviving remnant of Kalgoorlie’s red light district is now a genuine historical artefact.
At 133 Hay Street, Questa Casa is a working brothel that can trace its story back to the 1890s.
By day you can pay a visit for a 75-minute tour that will bring to life Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s Wild West days, and the tough routines of sex workers and miners.
You’ll see the building’s working areas, as well as the “starting stalls” out front where staff would solicit clients.
13. Karlkurla Bushland Park
Before the gold rush, what is now Kalgoorlie-Boulder was wrapped in hundreds of kilometres of eucalypt forest.
This was felled within a few short decades to fuel wood-fired mining equipment.
Patches of nature are returning, like this 200-hectare park in the northern Hannans suburb.
Made up of natural re-growth bushland as well as thousands of trees, shrubs and small plants planted by the community, the Karlkurla Bushland Park was established in 2000. You can venture into the bush along a four-kilometre trail, stopping to scan the terrain at the Katunga lookout.
The park is inhabited by western grey kangaroos that make an appearance around dawn or dusk, along with reptiles like bobtails, dragon lizards and mulga snakes.
A plant guide for this space can be found at the Kalgoorlie-Boulder visitor information centre.
14. Golden Quest Discovery Trail
If you have a 4WD vehicle, Boulder can be the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime into the outback in search of 130 years of gold mining history.
Starting in the south with spurs at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie-Boulder, the Golden Quest Discovery Trail winds through 965 kilometres of Western Australia taking in 25 sites tied to the gold rush.
There are some astonishing things to see, like dusty ghost towns, the massive expanse of water at Niagara Dam, startling natural landscapes, remote pubs and museums full of mining history.
Lake Ballard is unforgettable, installed with 51 human figures sculpted by acclaimed artist Antony Gormley.
15. St Barbara’s Festival
Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s mining culture takes centre stage for this week-long festival, normally at the start of December.
There can’t be many festivals in the world where you’ll see a gigantic CAT 793 haul truck rolling down a city street.
This and other immense pieces of mining equipment make their way along Kalgoorlie’s Hannan Street for the Sunday parade, an event attended by thousands of people and giveaways, a host of stalls and family fun.
The previous Thursday is set aside for the Miners’ Memorial on St Barbara’s Square, a service honouring the men and women who have lost their lives working in the mining industry.