It's a hard burn from Perth. A nearly straight line due east, six hours and change across the hot flat of Western Australia. In the distance, over the horizon: gold.
Or at least, the hope of gold, hiding deep beneath the Earth. Machines the size of buildings toil around the clock, hauling dirt laced with promise.
Next to the town of Kalgoorlie sits a gaping maw, wider and deeper than many canyons and worth millions of dollars...a day. It's called the Super Pit, the largest open-pit gold mine in Australia, and one of the largest in the world. Here's a tour in words and pictures.
Perth is one of the most remote cities in the world. Thousands of miles from the nearest like-sized city, it's actually closer to several other countries' capitals than its own.. The money from this part of the country, though, comes from the land. Or more specifically, under it.
Like San Francisco in the mid-1800s, Western Australia experienced its own gold rush, circa 1890. For a time, a section near the towns of Kalgoorlie and Bolder was called "The Golden Mile" and considered one of the richest square miles in the world, thanks to copious amounts of gold.
But decades of heavy mining depleted the main ore lodes. Few big chunks of gold remain. Instead, it's tiny flakes and pieces, the difficult parts around the main seam. Once deemed too difficult to cost-effectively mine, the rising cost of gold and the economies of scale make the area profitable again.
In 1989, sensing an opportunity to make up in quantity what was then lacking in quality, Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines started work on what would become the Super Pit.
Au in Aus
Mining is a big part of Australia's economy. They're the third-largest gold producer in the world (after the US and China) and the Super Pit is a big part of that. Since gold is used in everything from jewelry to electronics, its popularity is unlikely to wane anytime soon.
The Super Pit is also one of the only mines in the world that the general public can tour. Given the , I took the tour for you when I was out there.
You start in the town of Kalgoorlie, which feels nothing like it looks on the local Cops equivalent, "Kalgoorlie Cops." The ride out to the Super Pit from town only takes a few minutes.
Pass the through the gate, and suddenly the bus feels like a toy. Lumbering dump trucks 20 feet high mess with your brain's perception of their size, and yours. They make the long descent into the pit, only to return later, laden with dirt and sometimes dirt laced with gold.
The Pit itself is massive. Over 2 miles long, nearly a mile wide and currently almost 2,000 feet deep. By 2021, when the current phase is complete, they expect it will be nearly 2,500 feet deep. (Check out the state government's plan for future sustainability of the Kalgoorlie area, post-2021, and a more in-depth look at the environmental impact of open-pit mining.)
If you're willing to brave 110-plus degree heat, and a drive through sunbaked flatness, the Super Pit is a sight to behold.
In his alternate life as a travel writer, Geoff does tours of cool museums and locations around the world including , , and more. You can follow his exploits on Twitter and Instagram, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. Got a tour-worthy spot you think he should check out? Let him know!