Travel

6 WA Ghost Towns Worth the Spooky-Stopover

Go your own ghost-busting mission by visiting these WA's ghost towns for a spooky outback experience.

Although WA’s golden era died many years ago, signs of its heyday remain with a slew of twentieth-century gold rush towns still standing—or barely—throughout the state.

It’s an eerie sight, all right, seeing the dilapidated buildings, old town sites and timeworn furniture dot the once-prosperous towns, now living museums into WA’s past. 

Go your own ghost-busting mission by visiting these WA’s ghost towns for a spooky outback experience.

Leonora

Leonora is the regional hub of the Northern Goldfields, located 233 kilometres north of WA’s golden town, Kalgoorlie. 

Although Leonora technically isn’t deserted, you can see the relics of its former glory days by following the town’s Heritage Trail featuring 30 historic buildings dating back to 1896. 

Gwalia

Located 2.5 kilometres south of Leonora is Gwalia, one of WA’s Instagrammable ghost towns.

The once-thriving town now stands soulless, an eerie time warp into WA’s gold rush era. Gwalia’s doomsday resulted from the nearby Sons of Gwalia mine suddenly cessing operations in 1963. Abandoned miner cottages, a towering windmill, rusting cars, last century furniture and household items scattered across the old township as if hastily deserted. (And it was.)

Today, some of the former boomtown’s 31 buildings have been preserved to safeguard its heritage. This includes the Gwalia Museum and Hoover House, named after Gwalia’s first mine manager, Herbert Hoover, who later became the 31st President of the United States. Despite President Hoover never living in the house, the namesake hilltop abode has become a luxury bed and breakfast accommodation overlooking the open-pit gold mine and the ghost town. How’s that for quirky hotel views?

Kookynie

From heyday to ney-day, an outback pub horse has helped usher a new era to Kookynie, 114 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie. Once a booming goldfields town boasting 2500 people in 1903, it’s slowly achieving ghost town status – well, almost!

The living ghost town is home to 13 people and one thirsty horse named Willie, who likes to lurk outside the 1902-built Kookynie Grand Hotel. According to the owner, the runaway horse regularly positions himself between the pub entrance and petrol pump as if guarding the venue (and a living meme). Willie has become an iconic figure in the region, even having a Facebook page dedicated to his latest outback pub antics.  

It makes for a very kooky Kookynie sight and if keen to check out the town that once was, visit the ruins of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a cemetery, and the restored Cumberland Street shops.

Big Bell

Calling it a day after 19 years is the mid-west mining town Big Bell.

Located 32 kilometres northwest of former mining hub Cue, Big Bell’s life as a remote gold rush town lasted less than two decades from 1936 to 1955. Today, the town bears the brunt of the outback’s harsh elements. 

The two-storey Big Bell Hotel that allegedly had the longest bar in the country is the biggest remainder of the town that once was. Its striking art deco skeleton is an imposing landmark at the town’s entrance.

Ruins are also present at another place of worship – a church – that tower concrete slabs of former housing and wind-strewn metal scraps across the almost barren town.

MORE:7 Eerie NSW Ghost Towns To Visit For A Thrill

Cossack

Mix a trip to the coast with ghosts visiting former pearling town Cossack, 52 kilometres west of Karratha.

The Pilbara town was founded in 1863 and is considered the birthplace of Australia’s pearling industry. Although the opening of Point Samson jetty spelt the end of the once-thriving regional town, dissolving in 1910 and finally abandoned in 1950, its opulent past still remains for all to admire. 

Thanks to its heritage protection status, the town has been beautifully restored, with multiple bluestone buildings remaining intact, including the impressive Cossack Courthouse and Police Station.

But not all is ‘dead’ in Cossack. The town is due to be brought back to life with the ghost town previously listed on the market for tourism development opportunities. 

In the meantime, ghost town enthusiasts can follow the Cossack Heritage Trail to better understand Cossack’s former existence and its impact on local indigenous communities. It’s also worth checking out the Tien Tsin lookout for panoramic of the Indian Ocean.

Ora Banda

Another goldfields settlement on the verge of ghost town status is Ora Banda, 67 kilometres northwest of Kalgoorlie.

Once with a population exceeding 2000 in 1910, its population has since dwindled.

The only souls to be found in this town are at the pub, the tin-roofed Ora Banda Historical Inn—the epitome of an outback pub. Although the pub was badly damaged by a fire in 2019, progress is being made to reopen to historic pub’s doors and restore it back to its former glory – serving ice-cold pints included.

Visitors can still glimpse the mining town, with decaying timber buildings and isolated homesteads still left standing from over 50 years ago since nearby mining operations ceased.

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Travel

Take a Submarine to the Bottom of the Great Lakes

You too can sink down to the watery grave-er, depths.

Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images
Gail Shotlander/Moment/Getty Images

When the waves of Lake Huron closed over my head as I sank down to the bottom of the Great Lake, I admit I was a little panicky. I definitely thought about drowning. After all, I’d nearly drowned three times in my life.

Though the first two times I was too young to now recall, the third time was in Wisconsin and the sensation has stuck with me. I remember how, as a middle schooler, I got pulled deeper and deeper into a wave pool until every wave sucked me underneath just long enough to choke on a gurgly mouthful of water. Despite kicking and fighting to swim back to safety, I could feel the water overtaking me, bubbling up over my head as I sank down. The pool was choking me, I was suffocating, and the fear of death was right in my face. As you can probably guess, I was eventually saved. Someone noticed and pulled me out of the pool, and that relief was enormous.

But here I was again, as an adult, watching sediment from the bottom of the lake swirl up around me. But this time I wasn’t drowning. This time I was perfectly safe. This time I was in a submarine.

My small group and I were passengers on one of Viking Cruises’ newest itineraries, the Great Lakes Explorer. The expedition allows guests on the Viking Octantis ship to see one of the great lakes from the other side of the surface. Though guests can participate in science-research activities like microplastics research, bird-watching, and weather balloon launches, it’s also just really cool to dive in a submarine. Whether you’re overcoming your own childhood experiences or you’re just an adventurer at heart, here’s what to know about going on a submarine expedition in the Great Lakes.

Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises
Photo courtesy of Viking Cruises

Boarding a submarine

These are-of course-yellow submarines. Can you guess their names? If you picked John, Paul, George, and Ringo… you’re absolutely right.

The Beatles can go down to about 1,000 feet and stay underwater for eight hours. Each side of the submarine has three very comfortable seats for passengers, surrounded by glass domes that allow optimal viewing at the dive site. It’s a small space (you can’t stand up straight), but you can hardly tell once you’re in the water. The seat platforms swivel so you can look out over the lake floor instead of staring at the pilot and other passengers.

The submarines are equipped with lights, cameras, and some handy claws to pick up anything valuable the pilot sees on the lakebed. They’re typically used as research vessels to take information back to the Octantis’ science program, which works in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA eventually plans to tack instruments to the bottoms of the submarines to get more detailed information about the water, the lakes, and the lakebed.

If you’re like me (that is, both claustrophobic and afraid of drowning), you’ll be happy to know that the subs are awash with safety features. Onboard, you’ll find directions on what to do if the pilot goes unconscious, supplemental oxygen hoods, a big green button to push if the sub needs to surface immediately, and a program that tells the submarine to surface if it doesn’t detect any activity from the pilot. Up above you, the sub is followed by a safety boat with a team that ensures the surrounding waters stay clear and everyone is safe beneath the surface. (So even when the safety boat radioed our pilot, Peppe from Sweden, and said, “You’re a little close to the rocks, but that’s as good a dive site as any,” I decided to trust the marine scientist.)

Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock

Sinking down to the depths

Here’s how the dive works. You take Viking-owned Zodiacs (military-grade rigid inflatable boats) to a predetermined dive site that the scientists onboard the ship picked out that morning. For now, the sites will always be in Canadian waters-because Viking is Norwegian, the Jones Act disallows them from deploying subs in the United States. To transfer from the Zodiac to the submarine, you have to hold onto a metal bar, climb out of the Zodiac, and sit down on the edge of the submarine hatch. You swing your legs into the hatch, then climb down a three-rung ladder into the middle of the sub to find your assigned seat.

Once everyone is in the sub, the pilot climbs in, closes the hatch, and then radios to the safety boat to make sure you’re clear to sink. With the all-clear, air is released from outside tanks on the submarine, and thrusters push the entire thing underwater.

For our dive, we went down about fifty feet to the floor of the lake. It had been raining all morning, which stirred up the sediment around us, making everything a mossy green colour that spotlights sparkled through to highlight the lakebed. I saw a few tiny fish and a ton of invasive zebra mussel shells. Depending on the weather and your dive site, you’re likely to see more. But even just exploring the floor of the Great Lakes, something almost no one in history has done before, is an amazing thing.

Sign me up!

If you want to take a submarine dive into the Great Lakes yourself, you have to be a passenger on the Viking Octantis or sister ship, Viking Polaris. As of this writing, no other companies offer passenger submarine trips down into the lakes-especially not in a military-grade exploration submarine that is worth $6 million each. The Great Lakes expedition itineraries start at about $6,500 and can be booked on the Viking website.

Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Hike, kayak, or get yourself a cinnamon roll afterwards

What you can see nearby depends on your dive site. On Octantis, the subs went down in Lake Huron and Lake Superior-my dive was in Lake Huron, surrounded by the stunning Georgian Bay UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Canada. Here, you can kayak in the bay, hike through the surrounding landscape, and enjoy a Zodiac nature cruise.

Or if you can, try to take your submarine dive at Silver Islet in Ontario’s slice of Lake Superior. The small community is historic and completely off the grid, and the general store has some of the best cinnamon rolls you can find around the Great Lakes.

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Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter.

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