I feel like we all have that one place we’ve visited so many times that it feels like our second home. Well, Broken Hill is that place for me. Not your typical ‘travel’ or ‘holiday’ destination, and it’s certainly a pain to get to (expensive and a LONG way from anything) BUT it’s so worth the visit every time I go, and it’s not just about seeing family. Whenever I meet a tourist and they say they want to see ‘real Australia’ I tell them to go here. Every time I meet a prac nurse, teacher, doctor, etc, I tell them to head out here for an experience. It’s your fair dinkum, ridgy didge good ol’ Aussie outback adventure. It’s no Alice Springs or Kakadu, but, it has its own charm, a shite load of red dirt and some incredibly beautiful gum trees. A place of hardened miners, young professionals and aspiring artists, this place should definitely be on your Aussie to-do list with the kids in tow.
People often exclaim ‘oh!’ (& not in the best way) when I say I’m heading out far west- that’s if they’ve even heard of Broken Hill. Usually their eyes give it away and I get to reply (with a touch of pride might I add) that it’s the birth place of Industrial Australia ( yes I know, *yawn) and the birthplace of BHP (slightly less boring and *fun fact*). Broken Hill Proprietary was one of many major mines, and mines in general- on a smaller scale, are still operating today. I guess it’s a fair question to wonder what on earth you do in a desert town where the nearest ‘big town’ is approx a 3 hr drive away, and in another state! It might be a fair question but I love answering with LOTS OF THINGS! Maybe it’s because I didn’t have to grow up there but visited yearly that I feel as though there are tonnes of touristy things to do in Broken Hill and as a kid I certainly loved visiting. It may have been so hot the tar on the road melted, and in the days before the mobile phone and internet, we had to make our own fun. Today when I visit, however, it’s actually about relaxing and not doing much at all. Yes, it seems a long way to travel to not do much, but for me it’s worth it, and my son having the chance to spend time with his grandparents and family is worth every painful driving hour or trip out on the small, pricey and noisy Rex plane.
Like I said, we didn’t do a lot on this trip but if you were thinking of heading to Broken Hill, here are my top 10 suggestions of what to do with kids or toddlers in this pretty cool outback town.
10 best things to do in and surrounding Broken Hill
1. My all time favourite place to visit in BH is Bells Milk Bar ‘out the South’. It retains the old school charm of the rock’n’roll era and make the best milkshakes and deserts with a thousand flavours. They also make an INCREDIBLE lactose free milkshake so if you’re one of those people (like me), you don’t have to miss out. There’s a little snapshot museum out the back as well (ok, that’s probably giving it too much credit- it’s really just a room) where you can glimpse the good ol’ days and experience a time warp as well.
2. The Art Galleries. Broken Hill is also a bit of a haven for artists with its barren but spectacular landscape. There are plenty of galleries to go around but my favourites are the Silver City Mint, Pro Hart Gallery (both in town) and the John Dynon Gallery out at Silverton- who is usually out there painting away. All are very much worth checking out and the Silver City Mint even has a bit of a display area where you can see how mining for minerals would have occurred, what it looks like to live underground and you can also potentially see jewellery made on site. Pro Hart is also quite a famous Australian artist and his gallery is pretty sweet as well.
3. The Line of Lode Memorial and Broken Earth Cafe, aka the top of the ‘skimp dump’. I was recently telling a friend to go here and they were wary of my description. I literally had to say there’s one ‘mountain’ in Broken Hill with a cafe precariously perched on top. You cannot miss it, it’s a massive mountain of mine waste. My dad used to live right next to it and my parents always joke about being lead children (though it’s not actually a joke…) The cafe up the top offers the best and really only views of the town, though I have to say they appear to still be working on their menu… that cafe has had a bad run of luck with owners but any visitors are hopeful it survives because it’s truly a must-do/see when you’re there. Across a little metal boardwalk is the Line of Lode Memorial, quite a striking monument and a tribute to the many miners who have lost their lives on local mines.
4. Whilst it didn’t get a visit on this trip, the next suggestion is a place I have been several times before and is a great, informative adventure for children (and adults alike). The Royal Flying Doctor Service out next to the Broken Hill airport comprises a museum with interactive displays and I have actually been able to check out the planes before and get a great explanation on how they work and what they’re equipped with. There’s a short film about the service’s history and I think it’s a great spot to spend an hour considering the difficulties of outback living and how important this organisation is for helping provide medical assistance to those in great need.
5. The Living Desert, aka the Sculptures. This really is a must do and a place I feel the locals are pretty proud of. This ‘sculpture park’ was completed in 1993 with a range of different international artists completing 12 pieces. It makes for some great photo opportunities and excellent views of Broken Hill in the distance (it’s out of town but not far) and the surrounding landscape. It’s a very popular place to visit at sunset where the changing colours are quite spectacular. Whilst at this location you can also explore the Flora and Fauna Sanctuary (ok, it’s really just a glorified name for a bit of a nature walk) but is well worth taking the kids on as well and isn’t too long if you need to carry bubs. You won’t be using a pram here. You can try spotting the infamous Sturt Pea and lizards, etc, as well as having a picnic lunch.
6. There are a few parks in Broken Hill that are worth visiting. Firstly, the big green park in the centre of Broken Hill is called Sturt Park and includes lots of grassy and shady areas, a rotunda, the only memorial to the band of Titanic in Australia (*fun fact*), a skate park and probably the best playground in Broken Hill. It also has BBQ facilities and an undercover eating space. Another favourite is the Zinc Lakes (man-made and shallow- no fish) accessed from south Broken Hill on the ‘Mildura Road’. There’s not a huge amount of usable shade, but there are lots of ducks, a fountain, playground and BBQ facilities. It makes for a nice stroll around the lake and is quite a scenic spot considering the grass acts as a great contrast to the dirt that seems to envelop the town.
7. About twenty minutes out of Broken Hill you’ll find the quaint little ghost town of Silverton. You can’t miss this one. It is so quintessentially ‘outback’ that it’d be remiss of you to skip it (heck, it’s almost worth the trip just for the photogenic sign!) The Silverton Hotel is a definite stop for a drink or pastie for lunch (you can also stay on there in their onsite accommodation) and the pub itself is filled with photos and memorabilia of movies and ads that have been filmed out there. You also have to make sure one person in your group does the ‘Silverton Test’ (I’d suggest dad for this one- hehe). I think it costs about a gold coin donation and it’s a very secretive and important test. They even give you a completion certificate! If you’re up for a bit of fun, don’t forget to ask the bar staff that you’d like to do the test. I’m not sure it’s advertised otherwise.
Within a short walk of the pub you can do a little gallery route (again not exactly pram friendly but a very short walk) and check out the old buildings including the Silverton Gaol Museum. Once upon a time you could even take camel rides (not sure if they still do this… I didn’t see any this time round but then again, I wasn’t looking too hard.) I’d suggest heading out to Silverton in the late afternoon and staying out there so that you can continue on to number 8 below.
8. After your visit to Silverton, continue along the same road (don’t worry, there’s only one) heading along until you reach the summit of a ‘hill’ and as you come over the rise, you are faced with the Mundi Mundi Plains. You cannot miss it, trust me. On your right hand side is a big car park area too where you will probably see other cars and this is the place to set up ‘happy hour’ for sunset. You can take camping chairs, a picnic rug, or even just sit in the boot of your car with the door up (can also protect you if it’s a bit windy). This is one of the other things I have to do every time I visit Broken Hill. There’s always something special about watching the sun go down and as the light spreads across the vast expanse before you, it’s a great time to reflect on our incredible planet and how diverse Australia is. I would recommend not hanging around too long after the sun has gone down though, as you’ll be contending with the roos alongside the road all the way home.
9. The Broken Hill Regional Aquatic Centre, aka ‘the pool’. When I was a kid there was one 50m pool and a super cool slide. My mum would drop my brother and I off there for hours during Summer and it never felt small and never got boring. We loved it- especially when we used to jam up the water at the top of the slide and let it go with a rush with about 4 of us trying to get down together. Man, things have changed. This aquatic centre is pretty impressive now. Lots of space and options for all kinds of swimmers. Really only a place you would visit for some exercise or if you happen to be visiting during a stinking hot outback Summer.
10. The Palace Hotel. Priscilla Queen of the Desert fans, eat your heart out! The centre of the growing Broken Heel festival and an iconic pub covered, and I mean literally covered, in paintings all over the walls, is what you’ll find at this trendy spot. There’s food, live music, a bar, function area and accommodation (please keep in mind you’re paying for the art… not the decor.) This is just such a cool place and has so much history, there’s something here for everyone to enjoy checking out!
There is also a heritage walk (which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never actually done), a memorial called White Rocks, dedicated to the only WWI attack on Australian soil (some turks opened fire on a train heading out to Silverton. Apparently my great aunt saw someone’s head shot off and roll down the train isle… that story, of absolute no truth, has circled my family for YEARS). There’s not much to see but it’s an interesting story! There is also the Tourist Information Centre which probably should be your first stop regardless, who also have lots of information on day tours like Mutawintji National Park, day trips to Menindee and Copi Hollow and also Kinchega National Park– all worth a visit!
I would love to hear of your own Broken Hill adventures if you have them. Please keep your expectations in check. This is a rural outback town- it isn’t Sydney. The service in restaurants/cafes leaves something to be desired and some of the accommodation and sites are a little run down, but it has it’s own charm and beauty. The locals also might say ‘yeah I seen her the other day’, ‘I done that yesterday’ and ask if you’re from ‘away’, but they’re certainly friendly . Please also don’t forget to spend an evening or two out looking at the stars. You can even visit Outback Astronomy for a ‘show’ (which I’ve actually never done… shame on me.) The stars are quite incredible in the middle of nowhere! And there’s something kind of nice about spending time in the middle of nowhere 🙂