The Australian outback is so expansive you could spend days on end exploring its historic towns and hidden gems. One wild and wonderful place is White Cliffs, a sunburnt town full of character, opals and Aboriginal sites. It’s also where you can live underground, mostly because the sun can be ruthless in these parts but also because it just sounds like heaps of fun. With a population of no more than a few hundred, White Cliffs is Australia’s oldest commercial opal field and it’s one of the very few places in the world where white opal can be found so naturally the rugged region draws people from around the globe in search of precious opals. Here’s everything you need to know about this hidden gem of the Australian outback.
White Cliffs, NSW
White Cliffs has two interesting characteristics: opals and the fact that most residents live underground. With temperatures reaching record heights in the summer (almost hitting 50 degrees in the late 1970s), residents have had to get creative as a means of survival over anything else. The town comes with subterranean houses, motels and shops and if you’re willing to travel all the way, you could experience living in a completely submerged motel yourself.
The White Cliffs Underground Motel features 40 underground rooms and it sounds like something out of David Lynch’s imagination. The unique accommodation has no radio or mobile phone coverage so you’re completely cut off from the outside world. There’s also no fridge, television or bathroom noise although there are some facilities available outside the complex. While this may sound like a fever dream to some, it’s a pretty effective way to retain the peace and tranquility of underground living and has been lauded as an equally effective way of combating climate change.
The dug-out-style cave rooms are fully furnished complete with a licensed restaurant, cafe and bar and the motel remains at a cosy and comfortable temperature of 22 or 23 degrees all year, safe from the harsh temperatures of the outside world. (Please note that the Underground Motel is currently closed and is set to open in March 2024. Keep your eyes peeled on the official website for updates).
Things to do
It’s not just the motel that offers a taste of underground living to visitors. Some underground houses are also open for tours and you can step inside and be awed by this strange and interesting way of life. In May each year, the town hosts the locally loved White Cliffs Music Festival, which includes a street party, musical acts, workshops and lots of dancing.
Further afield, White Cliffs is also home to Mutawintji National Park and Paroo-Darling National Park both boasting stunning natural beauty and important Aboriginal sites. Visit NSW recommends using a 4WD for unsealed roads and national parks. Most importantly, you wouldn’t want to go all the way to White Cliffs and not try to score some opal. Luckily there are plenty of guided tours that will take you underground into the heart of the action. Keep an eye out for the radiant ‘pineapple’ opals that feature unique spiky shapes. Head here to book a tour.
How to get there
White Cliffs is a 12-hour drive from Sydney, 11 hour-30 minute drive from Melbourne and 15 hours from Brisbane. You can also take a flight to Broken Hill, a lovely historical town known for being a Hollywood magnet, and reach White Cliffs in 3 hours.