595km (369 miles) E of Perth

The adjoining towns of Kalgoorlie and Boulder were at the heart of an incredible Gold Rush in the late 19th century, which has left a wonderful repository of gloriously extravagant architecture, which now sits cheek by jowl with the scale and innovation of 21st-century mining. After Paddy Hannan struck gold here in 1893 in WA's vast Outback, the entire state was transformed.

Today, the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder (pop. 30,000) has lost none of its zing, with the region important for nickel mining as well as gold. The city has retained most of its original gold-rush architectural extravagances, with buildings flaunting towers and turrets, wrought-iron lace verandas and balconies. It's like stumbling onto a Western movie set: the broad streets are wide enough to turn a camel train, and countless bars (some with skimpily dressed barmaids) enjoy a roaring trade as they did in the 1890s, serving young miners with often more money than sense.

Kalgoorlie is semi-desert (260 mm/10 in. annual rainfall), though you wouldn't know it, given the vast and unique woodland (including salmon gums up to 25m/82 ft. high) that surrounds the town. But the lack of water was a serious problem, both for the population and the mining processes, until one of the world's great engineering projects brought water from outside Perth.

Where dozens of head frames and chimneys were once starkly silhouetted against the skyline early in the 20th century, there is now an enormous, terraced hole: the Super Pit. an unbelievably massive open-cut gold mine, it: 3.5km (2 miles) long, 1.5km (almost 1 mile) wide, and 360m (1,181 ft.) deep. The Empire State Building would almost disappear inside it.

Not all the old mining centers around here are still vibrant, and ghost towns abound. Just 39km (24 miles) down the road is Coolgardie (pop. 1,100), another 1890s boomtown whose semi-abandoned air is a sad foil to Kalgoorlie's energy. Some of the lovely architecture remains, and you can wander the gracious streets and a few museums for a pleasant nostalgic buzz.

Don't miss the sensational installation called "Inside Australia", which was created by renowned British sculptor Antony Gormley in the Outback north of Kalgoorlie. A series of metal figures is scattered across a salt lake, forging an unforgettable image of endeavor, vulnerability, and loneliness.