If you are looking for a free camp site during a tour of Western Australia’s goldfields, Niagara Dam, located 60 kilometres north east of Menzies via the Kookynie Road, is a great place to stop for a picnic, to camp overnight or for a few days and to observe the abundant birdlife that are attracted to the Dam.
We discovered this lovely oasis on our return trip from the Great Central Road and the Northern Territory and arrived mid afternoon which gave us enough time to explore.
The 30,000,000 gallon Dam was built in 1897 with cement hauled from Coolgardie on 400 camels by the Afghan cameleer Abdul Waid. The Dam was to provide water for the now abandoned goldmining town of Niagara, the surrounding district, and for the steam locomotives using the railway linking Kalgoorlie, Menzies and the northern goldfields.
By 1916 the mines ran out around Niagara and the population moved away, taken over by the town of Kookynie seven kilometres north east which had been boosted by longer lasting mines. Nothing remains of Niagara now, other than the faint imprint of the two main streets, but you can visit the living ghost town of Kookynie and have lunch at the Grand Hotel built in 1902.
Underground water was found at Kookynie soon after Niagara Dam was completed, and the Dam proved unreliable due to intermittent rainfall. Named after a nearby waterfall which proved to only flow after heavy rain, Niagara was a little different to its gigantic namesake.
Once part of a grand plan for the area, Niagara Dam today provides a day use area for visitors with picnic tables and BBQs, an upper camping area, and a lower camping area. I recommend the lower camping area as it is sheltered amongst trees below the Dam wall, whilst the upper area is more open and exposed.
There are two walk trails – the Round the Dam Trail (1150 metres) and the Breakaway Trail (1600 metres). The walks are relatively easy and are well marked with steel marker posts approximately every 70 metres leading you through a fascinating area to explore and learn about the landscape through the interpretive panels.
The Breakaway Trail starts near the Dam wall and takes you westward along the main breakaway for about 700 metres before descending to follow the water course. You may find evidence of dam construction relics along the way.
There is a spectacular view from the lookout point before a short descent down the side of the breakaway. The trail then follows the usually dry creek-line back to the Dam. The rugged rusty red and softer yellow and white cliff faces of the breakaway are quite spectacular in the early morning or late afternoon light. The breakaway itself is caused by erosion of softer soil types leaving the hard laterite layers of ironstone and granite which form the steep breakaway ridges. There is a gentle climb back up to the Dam wall.
To see this full campsite report - see Go Camping magazine - February 2011