Kalgoorlie …an intriguing town with a long and infamous history and still kicking strong.
We stayed in the town over two stays either side of our trip up to Lake Ballard (250kms north of Kalgoorlie) and back. It was a visit the boys and I were greatly looking forward to and keenly anticipating the many mining interests on offer – none more exciting than the KCGM Super Pit Tour.
It was also time to have some maintenance and repairs done on the D4 – more about these shortly.
None of us had visited Kalgoorlie before this trip and is a town most people growing up in Australia tend to know something about whether you’ve visited the place or not. The town has a particular aura about it which is perhaps an legacy from the gold rush years back in the late 1800’s that most of us probably learnt in history back at school. As it was then, and still is today, Kalgoorlie is known as the golden mile and is firmly said to have the richest dirt on earth.
And, from the moment you drive into Boulder (neighbouring sister town of Kalgoorlie and now conjoined) you immediately know you are in a large dedicated mining town – there’s no ambiguity about this. The entire town appears to rally behind the super pit’s prosperity and longevity as the cities main employer with a large number of mining services businesses to support it and the other regional mines throughout the Goldfields and northern WA areas.
In our first Kalgoorlie visit, we stayed in a caravan park on the outskirts of Boulder. It appeared to be reasonable online when reviewing it when back in Esperance, but we were mistaken. It was old, run down, and the amenities were something like the amenities you would find at a large football stadium near full time, but not as nice. Further still, we had the Super Pit across the main road on one side, the busy Kalgoorlie Airport on another and directly behind a fence 25M from our van, was the eyesore of the new $200M maximum security prison which lights up like a giant Xmas tree at night. (We didn’t see any of those ‘attractions‘ in the camp brochure). Regardless, it served a purpose in prep for our time at Lake Ballard.
In our second Kalgoorlie visit a few days later, we stayed a couple of days at a different park, this time closer to Kalgoorlie which was much better, although, was showing the effects of a long dry winter and hot summer. It had a lovely pool for the hot afternoons when it was 40+°deg and it received a good workout from the boys, and Celia and I may have dipped a toe in at some point. The park was also well positioned to dropping off the D4 (windscreen and Bulbar replacement) with an interesting and leisurely 30minute walk back home.
Whilst the D4 was getting some TLC… we did a few interesting things to occupy the down time in addition to the boys ongoing and important school work.
The Fimiston Open Mine, colloquially known as the Super Pit, is Australia’s largest open cut gold mine. The Super Pit is located pretty much right in town just off the Goldfields Highway – see satellite image below. The pit is approximately 4 kilometres long, 1.5 kilometres wide and currently, 600 metres deep. At these dimensions, it is more than large enough to be seen from space.
What we found amusing to learn was when the pit was first created from a series of existing underground gold mines back in 1989, a plan to create a large open cut mine was financially backed was by none-other than Alan Bond. The same gold mine, although not Australian owned, is still going well today and we all know what happened to Bondy.
The Super Pit these days is owned by Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM), a 50/50 joint-venture between Barrick Gold Corporation (Canadian) and Newmont Mining Corporation (American). The mine produces 850,000 ounces (28 tonnes) of gold per year, and employs around 650 employees from within Kalgoorlie, and unusual by todays modern-mining standards, functions with a no Fly-In-Fly-Out policy. Other words, to work in the super pit, you must be a resident of Kalgoorlie. Current mine life is to 2029 with high probability for this to extend. The gold ore that is taken from the mine is smelted to approx. 80% pure just outside of Kalgoorlie and then is sold to the Australian Gold Refinery at Perth Mint whereby it is then further refined up to the level of 99.9% pure.
Back to the boys excitement… we had pre-planned some months back when in Kalgoorlie to do the Super Pit tour. This is a “proper mine tour” of 2.5 hours and the tour operator takes you right into the open pit during the days 12-hour shift to 3 designated viewing platforms amongst the many 250 tonne dump trucks and a general tour of the crushing and processing plants.
The day we did the tour, temps reached 41°DegC – it was very hot and the boys struggled a little in the oppresive heat as out in the mine itself was no shade and very little breeze. The stars of the show are of course the colossal mining equipment themselves – particularly the 250tonne Caterpillar dump trucks that we saw many of a some up very close. The boys were particularly impressed (perhaps surprised is a better adjective) as we saw a few lady drivers of these rather large trucks. 🙂
We’ve done a few mining tours before and we’ve enjoyed them all. This was the first mine tour whereby the operator takes you around an open pit on the same mining roads as the mining equipment drivers use and even at times speaks on the mine radio frequencies directly to the equipment drivers to advise them of his bus movements – and you even get to hear the conversation(s). It’s pretty cool! The mine operates 24x7x365 across two 12 hour shifts. The mine rotating roster is: 7 days on, 7 days off …then, nightshift, 7 nights on, 7 nights off and so on. Everyone does the same rotating roster. Not sure how they go straight into a 12-hour nightshift like that – must be hard on the body. Tough job and good money.
(Lochie has vowed to return to the Gold mine and work here someday when he is in his twenties to earn a deposit for a house and we have no reason to disbelieve him at this stage given his determined attitude in other things he does in life).
Several times each week, blasting in the pit occurs – usually between 1-5pm and if the right wind direction prevails. It’s a feature of the town and is referred as “town-progress” and digital display signs are located throughout the town advising time of next blast. We heard (and felt) a couple of blasts during our stay and if you are lucky enough to time it, can see a blast from the public viewing deck.
Overall, the Kalgoorlie pit tour is fascinating and even if you have little/no interest in mining or heavy engineering, it is still very interesting and quite involved to see first-hand what we humans can achieve. The whole experience was a joy and Celia and the boys loved it – me too. 9 out of 10. (I deducted a point because the tour should have been longer) 🙂
Later the same afternoon to avoid the heat we all spent a few hours at the local Kalgoorlie library where the boys caught up on their schoolwork – in fact, we ended up doing this two days running when the temperature was well over 40 Deg. One of the evenings we had dinner at the back of the infamous Exchange hotel in Hannan street at a modern Irish bar/restaurant called Paddy’s – a place where the ‘hip’ miners go. 🙂
There is quite a lot of interesting touristy things to do in Kalgoorlie if you like this sort of thing with a theme towards gold mining, as you would expect. In a lot of the towns we have passed through &/or stayed in that have museums, we have gone to most of them, Kalgoorlie included. There are two museums we found in Kalgoorlie and it was the Hannans Mining Museum just to the north of the town which we spent a couple of hours at as part of the Kalgoorlie tramway tourist trail.
Back in 1893 when Irishman Paddy Hannan with two other prospectors first discovered gold in Kalgoorlie, in the first day when Paddy found gold, they picked up over 100 ounces of surface gold before registering their lease and claim. Within three days of the find, more than 700 prospectors moved in to the area, thus was the start of the gold rush of this area and still going strong today.
The Hannan’s museum shows a lot of in-depth background to what it must have been like back in the early days to prospect and mine in the Goldfields. You obviously needed to be tough, strong willed and determined to succeed in this harsh environment. There was no natural drinkable water in the area and all supplies were needed to be carted in by mules or horses. The museum takes you through a century of Kalgoorlie gold mining and how technology advancements over a 100+ years has changed mining to the efficient mechanised business it is today. Seeing an insight of this evolution all in one place is very interesting. The boys in particular enjoyed playing on the big mining equipment – such as this smaller 130 tonne caterpillar dump truck that the boys are comfortably sitting in its wheel arch.
For a few months now, we had planned for when we reach Kalgoorlie this will be the ideal stop for when we see the latest Star Wars film – “The force Awakens” …the seventh instalment in the trilogy.
As Star Wars fans from the original, we’d all been looking forward to the new release for such a looong time and for the most part, enjoyed the film, even though we felt it did not quite measure up to all the pre-release hype we had read. The film is not quite in “The Empires Strikes Back” league …still, good entertainment, better than the last one and a nice escape from the routine of daily travels.
The boys however loved it (which is the main thing) and we all left the cinema thinking there is at least one sequel that is likely to follow – so its not all bad. Hears our collective movie rating(s) for what they are worth: Celia- 4/5, Aidan – 4.5/5, Lochie – 4.5/5 and Geoff – 3.5/5. I wonder what the next movie will be that we will see on our trip?
As with any equipment in doing a trip like we’re doing, there will be things that will inevitably go wrong, fail or need replacing. The D4 is not exempt from this and we planned our stay in Kalgoorlie around some required maintenance and repairs that we rather hoped we could hold off on until after the trip had ended.
Windscreen: Our windscreen had progressively deteriorated with two large stone chips (both from Roadtrains in the Pilbara) with ever-increasing circular cracks now covering 60% of the screen. The sun reflection in the cracks was getting too much in the end and corrugations and cracks don’t go well together. So we bit the bullet and had the screen replaced however the new fitting had some issues despite our request for a genuine part replacement and skilled fitter. The screen has two cosmetic side-trims that run the length of the A-pillars on both sides which were almost torn off after the first road train we passed after having it replaced. Gaffer tape came to the rescue and we eventually had this problem rectified when we arrived in Port Lincoln with the problem being the Kalgoorlie O’Brien guys didn’t replace the 5 lock pins on each trim and tried glueing them in instead.
ECB Alloy Bulbar: Those of you who having been following the blog from the outset may remember our unfortunate coming together with an errant Emu in the Flinders Ranges back in Sept 15. The damage to the D4 was minor at the time as the Bulbar did its job nicely, however over the many months since, the Bulbar has slowly dropped on its left compression bracket and had started to rest/rub on the D4’s flares and guards and started to pop it off – so we had to get the bar replaced at Opposite Lock in Kalgoorlie before it removed the front guard entirely. Thanks to owners John and Julie for fitting us in and doing a grand job on the replacement. (John also fitted heat resistant conduit on the cables from our winch and spot lights to ensure any vibration was not going to rub through these cables – thanks John for the attention to detail and high-standards, well done.)
D4 transmission Issue: Overall, the D4 has performed wonderfully on the trip to date and is easy to understand why when you do a trip like this how attached you can become to the vehicle for the very important daily job(s) it carry’s out. We do however have a couple of niggling issues starting to slowly creep in – namely the transmission which is showing some concerning signs. Going back to Margaret River Region just before Xmas, we started to notice a slight knock/kick emerge in the downward gear change – especially under tow and specifically through lower gears of 4-2. (…its a BMW 8-speed box) When we where in a Albany a few weeks back, we had the transmission fluid replaced by LR however has made no difference despite LR assurances beforehand. Speaking further to LR, they now seem to believe the transmission is more electronic issue than mechanical and a change/update in software should fix the issue – I’m not that confident, but we’ll see when we get to Adelaide in a couple of weeks time. Meanwhile, having lovely discussions with LR to refund us for the transmission fluid replacement cost on a sump that was a “sealed for life” unit that we had to have replaced at a mere 29,500kms. Matter ongoing.
D4’s Air Suspension: The airbag suspension has given us its first minor fault after 20,000kms into the trip. The rear suspension airbags now rise slightly higher (~3″) than the front airbags on all 3 adjustable pre-set levels. Its only minor issue and I am hopeful a manual reset (or software update) can remedy the problem as it is definitely noticeable – especially under tow. Even stranger is when we raise the D4 into high suspension mode (when we hitch and sometimes off-road driving) the rear air-bags on the odd-occasion rise to the emergency extension height that should only kick in in the event of the D4 is in a deep bog and/or bellied e.g. such as we finely managed at Coral Bay on the Ningaloo Reef.
Usual Maintenance & Checks: Various things inevitably work there way loose. This is mainly due to the frequent gravel road travel and the corrugations of them. 3,630kms on the dirt so far and we have not lost anything as yet – and hope not too. We do have to conduct regular checking and tightening of certain things and the occasional use of loctight – mainly with the “after market” items put on the D4 such as the roof rack, spare wheel tie-downs, fridge/freezer cage, shovel holder, spare battery covers/terminals and so on. All good and usually take no more than 30 minutes once a week or so (or when we hear a rattle emerge) to check everything and keep is secure.
Tires: The other day we had our first (own) tire issue of the trip. I’ve had to fix other peoples tires on our trip such as puncture repairs, but not our own till now. We had a strange deflation problem on the rear left tire where it would deflate approx. 10-12 pounds and go no further. We had put Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac 255x55x19 tires on the D4 at the start of the trip (yes, the D4 uses 19″ wheels as standard) which were ridiculously expensive so we took out a very worthwhile tire insurance deal for $14 a corner with Beaurepaires. I had checked the tyre thoroughly several times for a puncture including the valve and couldn’t find anything. As it turned out, the inner tire bead had started to bulge and lift from the tire casing in 3 isolated spots around the rim and was not noticeable whilst driving. Under the insurance, Beaurepaires are having a new replacement shipped in for us and we can pick it up when we pass through Whyalla in a couple of weeks. An unusual and somewhat concerning issue and the tire will be sent back to Goodyear to try and work out why this failure occurred. We’re just thankful the tyre didn’t let go on us – especially under tow. The tires overall have been great apart from this single issue and still happy to use them – hopefully it is no more then an isolated failure in the production of them because the other 4 we have are all fine and holding up very well.
Geoff & Celia