Top 10 places in Australia for finding gold, opals and other treasures


Is there anything more valuable than a diamond? Actually, yes – a pink diamond. Located 185 kilometres from Kununurra in WA, the Argyle Diamond mine is the world's main source of stones that blush pale pink through to ultra-rare purple. Visitors on flightseeing tours from Kununurra to the Bungle Bungles can put down for a quick tour of the operation. After a swift security debriefing, you'll see the open cut mine, the processing plant (twinkle twinkle) and the diamond showroom. Souvenir hunters beware: pinks cost up to 20 times more than your average girl's best friend, and a small 2.83 carat violet gem recently went on sale at $5m.


This curious little outback town is 300 kilometres east of its bigger, better-known opal-bearing neighbour, Coober Pedy. The Andamooka opal deposit was discovered in the 1930s, and is still worked by lease holders who use bulldozers to strip away layers of dirt in their quest for "colour". As well as surrendering unusually hued opals, the field gave up a 6-metre opalised plesiosaur skeleton in 1968, now on display in the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. Andamooka is a classic outback town, rich with quirks: be sure to check out Duke's Bottle House (made entirely from beer bottles), the semi-dugout homes and the tin shanty "Ettomogah pub" at nearby White Dam. Opal-lovers can "noodle" among the spoil heaps for some chance stones or acquire them from suitably grimy lease-holders.


Sovereign Hill

If you've ever wondered how the Australian soundscape has changed, take a trip to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. This living recreation of a Victorian goldrush town circa 1860 still bustles with period characters, with occasional stage coaches and musket fire adding to the noisy theatrics. The 10-hectare site is also home to the Sovereign Hill battery – a steam-powered rock-crushing contraption that originally made a racket from dawn til dusk. For 70 years, these machines could be heard in gold towns right across the nation, pounding rock to a steady, almost mesmerising rhythm. If gold-fever strikes, buy souvenir nuggets from the Gold Museum or pan for gold dust in specially salted ponds.


The township of Kalgoorlie, left, stands next to the Fimiston Open Pit mine, known as the Super Pit, in this aerial photograph taken above Kalgoorlie, Australia, on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015. The Super Pit is operated by Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines Ltd., jointly owned by Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Mining Corp., and is Australia's largest open-pit mine. Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Photo: Bloomberg

Australia is the world's second-largest producer of gold, and no small amount comes from a vast hole gouged out of Kalgoorlie. To properly appreciate the KCGM Super Pit (above), you need to do it in two parts. First stand at the lookout and be slightly shocked at the size, making sure to note the teeny black holes around the rim (actually old mine shafts dug in the late 1800s) and the teeny-tiny 100-tonne trucks spiralling up from the bottom of the pit. Next, head over to what's left of the tin-shack township of Williamstown which clings to the edge of the pit. In the late '80s, Alan Bond began buying all the small mining leases (beneath) and the century-old townships (above); Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines was formed to clear the lot so the Super Pit could be dug. Only one township held out.


The miners of 1875 may have lacked inspiration when they named their crazy little gem-town east of Longreach in Queensland, but sapphires the size of birds' eggs are still coming out of the ancient alluvial. There are a number of ways to try your hand at gem fossicking. The easiest way is to "wash" a bucket of pre-dug dirt in any number of places around town; the hard-bitten way is to join a tagalong tour, disappear into a valley and dig your own alluvial. It's filthy, back-breaking stuff, but the satisfaction upon finding your first sapphire (held up to the sun in the "gemfields salute") is priceless.


E5ED69 Mad Max car str17-trav10 Photo Alamy, OK to archive and reuse until Decemner 2018

Photo: Alamy 

Another outback money pit, Silverton lies in NSW on the border with South Australia. It was originally an outpost called Umberumberka until well-diggers hit silver in 1875 and a more pronounceable town of 3000 sprang up. Today it is home to 60-odd people, but has plenty to recommend it: after you've done the historic trail, check out the movie paraphernalia in the Mad Max Museum, the colourful art galleries and the fab Silverton Hotel. The latter has fine lodgings at the rear, and is where a local syndicate gathered to form their new company in 1885 – they were digging 16 miles south on a curious landform that looked like a "broken hill".



Broome pearl beds are under threat from oil and gas exploration: industry

Although commercial pearl farming in the Kimberley began in the 1950s, the pearl industry around Broome is part of a romantic legacy that dates back to the 1880s, a time of grand old luggers and brass diving helmets. Today, Willie Creek Pearl Farm offers a string of pearling experiences: there's history (and two luggers) on display at the Pearl Luggers in Broome; there's a tour of the pearl farm, 38 kilometres north of town; and for a wider perspective, there are helicopter tours of the tidal estuaries that keep oysters fed and happily secreting nacre. If you're in the market for pearls, Broome is home to some lovely showrooms ensconced in a main street that has bags of tropical character.


An artist's impression of the Kronosaurus.

An artist's impression of the Kronosaurus. 

Fifteen kilometres from the Queensland town of Richmond are two public fossicking sites – ex-quarries that were once ancient seas filled with animals that swam 150 million years ago. Today, their precious (and often very beautiful) remains can be found with nothing more than a screwdriver – flip over a piece of biscuit-coloured shale and there's no telling what you might find. In 2014, the Wilson family found one of the most complete ichthyosaur skulls found in Australia, earning the envy of paleontologists the world over. Quality remains of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and the gigantic 11-tonne Kronosaur can be extremely valuable, though many local finds have been donated to the excellent museum at Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond where they're on display for the nation. One of these is Wilson the Icthyosaur.


Copper is a relatively low-value metal but in 1845 its discovery saved the fledging colony of South Australia from bankruptcy. SA was formed, not as a convict dumping ground, but as a speculator's enterprise. However, land could only be on-sold so often, indeed, without a significant labouring class, the colony soon found itself without any real basis of an economy. When two shepherds stumbled on chunks of green ore 160 kilometres north of Adelaide, miners were brought from Britain to dig the biggest deposit of copper the world had ever seen and South Australia's fortunes were turned around. Today, Burra retains most of its mining and architectural legacy, including the Monster Mine, townships named for different cultural groups (Redruth, Aberdeen, Hampton and Llwchwr among them) and Creek Street – a creek bed where poor itinerant miners made their homes in dugouts.


SMH TRAVELLER MAY 18. On the hunt for truffles. Manjimup, WA. CREDIT ANTHONY DENNIS

Photo: Anthony Dennis

Black perigord truffles do not come cheap, costing around $1 to $3 a gram. Since Tasmanians first successfully raised truffles in 1997, the promise of buried treasure has enticed over 160 Australian growers to start inoculating their orchards of oak and hazelnut with the valuable fungus. The Margaret River region of WA has been especially fruitful, with early pioneer The Wine and Truffle Company in Manjimup now claiming to be the world's largest black perigord producer, harvesting five tonnes in 2016. You can join the treasure hunt from May to August, following the lovely truffle dogs on their hunt among the fragrant orchards before enjoying a wine and truffle-tasting experience.

Max Anderson travelled as a guest of Queensland Tourism and WA Tourism and at his own expense.