A taste of Australia’s isolated hinterland can be found at Broken Hill. It lies 1,144 km west of Sydney but only half as far east of Adelaide. Getting here takes its time, it requires at least a full day behind the wheel unless you happen to be nearby. Broken Hill is located just off the dead-straight borders that separate South Australia and New South Wales. Although the city belongs to the latter of the two, Broken Hill follows a different time zone due to an ancient feud.
Aboriginal people are believed to have lived in the area for over 40,000 years and called it Willyama. Europeans came much later. In 1844, the explorer Charles Sturt named the mountain range Barrier Range around what is now known as Broken Hill. The city itself was founded in 1883 thanks to the discovery of silver ore by Charles Rasp. Silver, zinc and lead in large quantities have since been extracted in the area. Parts of the city’s architecture testify of good economic times. Once in a time, one third of the world’s silver was extracted here. Today, Broken Hill has about 18,000 inhabitants. Although the mines are still in use, tourism is an equally important mainstay of the town’s economy.
The neighbouring town Silverton flourished earlier than Broken Hill but died out faster. As the name implies, quantities of silver were extracted here. At most, 3,000 people lived in Silverton. But in 1889 the mines closed, and the labour force moved 24 km eastward to Broken Hill. Today, the number of inhabitants is modest with around only 50 residents. Silverton is a charming must-see and is the embodiment of harsh life in the Australian desert. A small town with low settlements of corrugated sheet and a dusty pub that stubbornly persists.
The pancake-flat ground reaches as far as the eyes can see. The view is so wide it almost seems like one can see the curvature of Earth. Only sporadic vegetation in the form of bleached bluish-grey shrubs and scattered acacia trees breaks the monotony. Rainfalls are rare but most welcome. After long periods of heat, the soil cracks up in ridges like dried out skin in a deep red tone. It is a tough climate with long hot days that sometimes reach temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius. If you are lucky, after the rain you can experience the iconic south-Australian plant Sturt Desert Pea embedding the area with its lipstick-red colour. The plant adorns south-Australian emblems, stamps and souvenirs. The rare atmosphere around Broken Hill and Silverton has attracted many nature-photographers and artists. Many want to experience the enchanting landscape and especially the soft light. After all, the town has more art galleries than pubs.
Sights and experiences
The streets are laid out in a grid, most of them named after different minerals. The wide main street is called Dargent Street. What at a first glance looks like a big mountain watching over the town is in fact something entirely different. It is a slagheap of residues from the mining work, confirming that Broken Hill will stay a mining town for a long time. You can walk Federation Way all the way up to Line of Lode Lookout for the best view in the area. Miner’s Memorial is a nearby memorial built to commemorate the hundreds of people who have died working in mining. If you are visiting in the evening, don’t forget to look at the sky. The area around Broken Hill and Silverton is barely disturbed by any artificial light, making it perfect for starwatchers.
Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery (brokenhill.nsw.gov.au/explore/broken-hill-regional-art-gallery) opened already in 1904 and offers to this day varying art-exhibitions all year round. The gallery has around twenty exhibitions each year and showcases motifs from the Australian outback to more abstract works. The works of artists with Aboriginal roots are always displayed as well as a variety of paintings from major national exhibitions. Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery has its own little shop where you can buy copies of the paintings and other design motifs from previous exhibitions. Any earnings from the Aboriginal art goes to the artist or the artist’s community. Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery is open daily, weekdays between 10:00 and 17:00 and between 11:00 and 16:00 on weekends.
Broken Hill Living Desert State Park Reserve (travelin.com.au/articles/Living-Desert-Reserve-Broken-Hill-01100) is located nine kilometres outside Broken Hill and offers fantastic views at sunset and sunrise. Twelve sculptures in sandstone are scattered over 2,400 hectares. The artworks were created in 1993 by artists from all over the world. The creations are easiest to reach on foot. From the parking lot at Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, you will find several hiking trails that lead visitors through stunning scenery. Driving the car inside costs ten dollars, otherwise the fee is five dollars per person.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service (flyingdoctor.org.au/nswact/our-services) is located at Airport Road. A visit here costs ten dollars for adults and the money goes to the business. Here, you can discover the story about the airborne doctors, pilots and nurses who are helping people in distress in distant and rural places around the country.
If you ever have seen pictures from Kinchega National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/kinchega-national-park), it is hard to leave without a visit. The national park encloses three lakes that during heavy rainfall and with the help of Darling River fills up. The water attracts many birds and over 200 species have been seen in the park, including Ibis and Pelican. The entrance fee is eight dollars per car, be sure to have the exact amount of money since it can be difficult to get a change. The park is located 140 km southeast of Broken Hill. Avoid driving here if it just rained heavily, it can cause the road to become impassable.
A journey of 24 km northwest of Broken Hill will take you to the neighbouring town Silverton. There are more accommodation options in Broken Hill, making a day-visit to Silverton a more suited option. Popular tourist-stops are the local pub Silverton Hotel (silvertonhotel.com.au) which has figured in various beer ads over the years and is a real icon. You can see movie props from films recorded in the area, including Priscilla – Queen of the Desert and Mission Impossible 2.
Another activity is to experience the Mad Max Museum. The museum is dedicated to the movie Mad Max II and all the forms the character has taken. The Roadwarrior was filmed around Silverton. Adrian created the museum when he moved to Silverton in 2006 to devote his time to Mad Max, his greatest passion in life. He loves to share his fascination with visitors arriving at his museum.
Sixteen kilometres north along a bumpy road lies Day Dream Mine (daydreammine.com.au). The mine was used between 1882 and 1889. To understand how hard life was at the end of the 1800s, you can go for a tour led by knowledgeable guides with roots in the area, some of whom have worked in mines themselves. Day Dream Mine is narrow and can be experienced as claustrophobic. The tour lasts for just over an hour and costs 32 dollars for an adult. You can pre-order coffee with scones to enjoy at the end of the trip.
Food and drink
Neither Broken Hill nor Silverton are known for their kitchens. At the town centres you will mostly find classic pub-food where quantity goes before quality. In Silverton, you can visit the hotel for something to eat. Broken Hill offers a few more options. The Silly Goat at 360 Argent Street is a breath of fresh air with modern dishes and a wonderful breakfast. For dinner, you can head to S-Que at 120 Argent Street where they serve nice main courses, or go to the old favourite the Palace Hotel (thepalacehotelbrokenhill.com.au/restaurant). Both have main courses for between 25 and 30 dollars.
Good to know
To get tips and advice on what you can find and do around Broken Hill and Silverton, head to Broken Hill Visitor Information Centre (brokenhillaustralia.com.au/broken-hill-visitor-information-centre) at Bromide Street. They are open daily between 08:30 and 16:00. You can also visit this website (silverton.org.au) about Silverton that is very informative. Otherwise, the locals are decent and will gladly help a confused tourist with both directions and tips. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Travelling to Broken Hill takes time, but there are some different options. In the city, there is a train station used by the Indian Pacific (greatsouthernrail.com.au/trains/the-indian-pacific) running between Perth and Sydney. The train stops between one and two times a week depending on the season. Fares have, however, soared since 2015, which was criticized hard by Broken Hills residents. The bus company Buses R Us (lee925.wixsite.com/busesrus) serve the Adelaide route to Broken Hill and vice versa in just over seven hours, three times a week. Contact them to get accurate pricing information.
It is also possible to take the train all the way to Sydney with Transport NSW (transportnsw.info/regional). The journey with Broken Hill Outback Explorer Train takes just over 13 hours. If you book early you can get a ticket for 90 dollars one way, but hurry, because bargain tickets get purchased quickly. The train normally runs only once a week, at the time of writing on Tuesdays from Broken Hill, and on Mondays from Sydney.
The fastest way to get here is by plane, but then you also miss a lot on the road, and it is worth considering the cost of the negative environmental footprint travelling by plain results in. Regional Express flies between Adelaide and Broken Hill in one hour and tickets cost from 187 dollars one way upwards. They also fly directly from Sydney for at least 200 dollars, but usually much more than that. It is also possible to fly from Melbourne, but a stopover is required in Mildura (wotif.com/Flights). Once on site in Broken Hill, you can rent a car directly at the airport (wotif.com/Car-Hire).
Using the car to Broken Hill is a nice way to experience the vast surroundings. But keep in mind, it takes a long time to drive and the towns are deserted. It takes nearly six hours to drive to Adelaide, nine hours to Melbourne and 13 hours to Sydney. The roads are in good condition but check the status before you leave by using Live Traffic NSW (livetraffic.com/desktop.html) and specifically study the weather forecast. Heavy rainfall can cause problems and make it impossible to get through.
Broken Hill offers good quality accommodation, whether you are looking for a hotel or a motel. It is much easier to find a place to sleep in Broken Hill than in Silverton. Therefore, it is worth planning a day-visit to the neighbouring town but booking an overnight stay in Broken Hill (hotelscombined.com/Place/Broken_Hill.htm). After all, it is only 24 kilometres between the two.
Royal Exchange Hotel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Royal_Exchange_Hotel.htm) is located at 320 Argent Street. It is one of the nicer places in the city and offers everything from fine dining to tapas on Friday evenings. They also have a relaxation room where silence reigns, which can be nice if you want to read, work or study. The rooms cost from 130 dollars per night, and sometimes they have great deals worth checking out.
The city’s most elegant hotel is The Palace Hotel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/The_Palace_Hotel_Broken_Hill.htm), a Victorian-style grandiose building. Even if you don’t plan to stay here, you should make a visit just to see their incredible murals. The decor is a bit kitschy and on the odd side. Travel-journalists from all over the world have written about The Palace Hotel due to their original style. The cheapest rooms go for affordable 70 dollars and they also have options for those who don’t mind sharing rooms. Then it can cost as little as 30 dollars a night.
The motels in Broken Hill are very underrated. Good service and clean rooms, plus a hearty breakfast in the morning is standard. A popular motel is Red Earth Motel (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Red_Earth_Motel.htm) offering large rooms with up to six beds, which also have a private kitchen and a secluded balcony. Red Earth Motel has a heated swimming pool, barbecue facilities for warm evenings and private parking for those seeking this.
Broken Hill Tourist Lodge (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Broken_Hill_Tourist_Lodge.htm) have most things you can expect from a hostel; free Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, games room, storage, swimming pool and more. A similar option is Broken Hill Tourist Park (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Broken_Hill_Tourist_Park.htm), which with its children’s pool and playground can accommodate families with children.
A Saturday in Broken Hill and Silverton
08.00 – Filling start
It is time to wake up to keep up with the day’s itinerary. Walk to one of Broken Hills’ best breakfast spots, The Silly Goat at 360 Argent Street. In addition to a frothy coffee, choose something tasty like a toast with beetroot and hummus. If you are a vegan, just let the kitchen know and they will fix it with bravura.
11.00 – Discover the silver mine
Get in the car and take Silverton Road but turn off when you see signs pointing towards Day Dream Mine (daydreammine.com.au). Here awaits a pre-booked guided tour showing you the mine that was used until 1889. From knowledgeable staff, you will get a unique insight into the hard life that workers endured during that time. The tour is completed with scones and coffee.
13.00 – In the neighbouring town
After discovering Day Dream Mine, continue the drive to Silverton. Visit Mad Max Museum if you are interested in the cult-rated films about the character Mad Max Rockatansky. The second film in the series was filmed here and the museum is full of memorabilia. The owner Adrian is a lovely fellow and happy to take the time to talk to visitors. If you are hungry or thirsty, go to Silverton Hotel (silvertonhotel.com.au). Rich pub food and refreshing drinks are plentiful.
15.00 – On the top of the city
With a full tummy, head back to Broken Hill. Drive to the top of the city, to Line of Lode Lookout. Here you get a view of the area and see the vastness of the country, spreading as far as the eye reaches. You can also look at Miners’ Memorial which honours over 800 people who died while working in mining.
16.00 – Sandstone sculptures
Drive nine kilometres north towards one of the most amazing places in the area, Living Desert State Park (travelin.com.au/articles/Living-Desert-Reserve-Broken-Hill-01100). The afternoon is a good time to come here, as the sun’s heat starts to ease up, and the light is at its most beautiful. Admire the twelve sandstone sculptures and follow one of the trails within the reserve.
20.00 – Mingle with the locals
The final activity of the day takes place in the city centre of Broken Hills. Maybe it will be a dinner on S-Que followed by a glass of beer at the pub Southern Cross, or perhaps The Palace Hotel or The Junction Hotel? The choices are many, find some locals to chitchat with and see where the evening will take you.