Visit to White Cliffs Opal Field in 2022
In September 2022 we decided to visit friends in South Australia but our plans had to be changed for health reasons.
The weather wasn't so good so we decided to head north as quickly as possible. Where to go? After a short deliberation we decided on White Cliffs and Broken Hill. We hadn't been to any of the opal fields for some time and I had been having withdrawal symptoms, so it was an easy choice.
We stayed at Deniliquin on the first night at a nice caravan park and moved on the next day to Ivanhoe which was to be our next stop.We had passed through Ivanhoe before but had never stayed overnight. We had good reports of the camping ground at the Service Station in the town so decided to stop there.
It was a very basic camp ground but the owners were quite friendly so that was ok. After dinner at the RSL we strolled around town and talked to one of the locals who loved it there. There wasn't a lot to see so we moved on the next morning.
We arrived at Wilcannia at lunchtime. It is a really beautiful town with lovely sandstone buildings and situated right on the Darling River, which had a lot of water in it due to recent rain. We met one of the locals who was renovating an old hall and were shown around There is a lot of history in this town as it was a local centre for trade a long time ago when paddle steamers plied their trade up and down the river.
It was a lovely stop-over but White Cliffs was calling and it was only an hour or so on a sealed road to get there.
We arrived early in the afternoon and set up camp in the caravan park. This is close to town and the opal fields and hence in a good location. Th park is a bit basic but what else would you expect. The park is surfaced with opal dirt from the diggings so there is always a chance to discover a piece of opal when walking around. You have to be bit careful when wandering around with your eyes on the ground as it easy to bump into some else doing the same thing. There are stories of visitors finding nice opal in and around the park but whether they are true or not ,I don't know. Anyway I only found a few small chips near our our campsite.
First up was a walk into town to check it out. The town hadn't changed much since our last visit some 5 years ago. The pub had been enlarged to provide an outdoor eating area which seemed well used by locals and visitors. Food was good too.
There was the cafe and general store over the road but it had limited stores and seemed to only serve pizzas, which weren't bad by the way. You can also purchase fuel here too.
The town seemed quite subdued with little activity except on the verandah outside the pub, where the locals congregated for a beer or two or three.
Next for me was a walk to the nearby opal field, to look for opal missed by the early miners. Unfortunately there have been a lot of visitors with the same idea over the years ,or else the miners didn't miss much, but I didn't find anything.
That night it bucketed down. We woke up surrounded by pools of water and lots of wet, slippery opal dirt.While this might seem a disaster, as we had headed north to avoid the bad weather, there is always a bright side. Rain means the mullock heaps are washed and chances of finding opal are greatly improved. Or so they say.
All I got was wet feet and layers of clay on my boots and no opal. But it was fun looking. You never know.
We decided to do an opal mine tour to fill in time and I am glad we did. The Red Earth Mine runs tours of its mine on a daily basis and these leave from their very modern Coffee Shop come Display Centre, just out of town.
The opal display here is excellent with lovely opal specimens, including Pineapples, which are only found at White-Cliffs and are worth a fortune.
The owner runs the tour after giving a short talk on opals. It is definitely worth doing. The tour is through a working opal mine, using fairly modern hydraulic machinery, which increases the amount of dirt you can remove, significantly more than by the old methods of pick and shovel used by the early miners. It is a lot more costly too, so you need to find a lot more opal to meet running costs. The banter by the owner during the tour is quite humorous and that alone is worth doing the tour for.
I also did a night tour using UV light torches and thoroughly enjoyed it, although I only found some potch. I learnt a lot though, especially not to do this in the opal field at night. It is very difficult to judge the surface of the ground and it would be very easy to fall down a shaft. The tour is done in a roped off level area, with no shafts, so is quite safe.
We also went to the weekly dinner at the Golf Club. Yes, White Cliffs does have a golf course although a bit different than those we are used to. A lot of fun, but hard to get a good score.
The locals run a roast dinner night every Sunday and it is worth going to. You get to meet the locals and enjoy a lovely meal at very reasonable cost.
We met a number of local miners and had a good chat. Apparently things are not going well at White Cliffs, with long delays in getting mining approval by the Government Authorities. When we were there only 4 miners had approval and others were waiting over eighteen months for their applications to be approved. This is causing a lot of suffering for the town which relies on opal to exist.
I tried to buy some rough opal from the miners but there was little available.I managed to get a small parcel of rough from a miner who showed us around his dug-out and this was also very interesting.
I thoroughly enjoyed the visit even though it continued rainng and I found no opal. I would thoroughly recommend a visit as these small opal towns are finding it very difficult and are depending more and more on tourists, as the Government is making it harder and harder for miners to hunt for opal.
It is a shame as the towns are part of our history since the 1890's