Not many travellers question it, but Kimba residents claim to live halfway across Australia on the drive between Sydney and Perth. Let’s agree it’s as close to the middle as any significant town apart from Ceduna, but it sounds like Kimba got the jump on the seaside port and good luck to them.
Local businesses stake their claim to geographic centrality with significant signs and a giant galah outside the Halfway Across Australia Gem Shop and Café, where tourists pose and post their transcontinental progress online. The internet is strong here, and that's a welcome difference after or before the long run across the Nullarbor. That galah is over eight metres tall, and a recent makeover has freshened it up, so it's an excellent addition to your photographic collection of BIG things. The nearby "halfway" sign is also a popular selfie spot.
However, a quick fuel stop and a picture don't grease the wheels of commerce that much in a country town, so getting folk to stop for a few days is what tourist centres are all about. Kimba has threaded a tricky course between presenting a genuine country town experience and avoiding turning the place into a commercial and tacky tourist trap. Turn off the Eyre Highway onto Railway Terrace, and you will find plenty to impress. There's a ripper free camp that ranks among the best. And don't take my word for it- because it has been voted the Best Grey Nomad Council Free-Stay Campsite in Australia three years in a row. There's also a caravan park if freestyling isn't your thing.
The first European to find the promising plains where Kimba now relaxes in its laconic outback style was explorer Edward John Eyre. The Englishman passed through on one of his attempts to open a path to Western Australia and is remembered in the Lake Eyre, the Eyre Highway and Eyre Peninsula place names. He and his companion Wylie are immortalised in striking metal sculptures far from town.
The Pub that Swapped Towns
Around 900 residents call Kimba home. It’s a long way from Sydney- 1372km in fact – and even further from Perth at 2142km – but don’t be like me and mention the distance disparity to the publican at the Gateway Hotel. The locals are pretty precious about their special place on the map. The pub has a fascinating history. Its imposing single-story limestone edifice looks a treat in the well-presented main street, and it seems pretty settled under the big blue outback sky.
Kimba Gateway Hotel
The Gateway was built in 1912 and traded as the Yeelanna Hotel until 1924, when it was demolished, loaded on a train and delivered the 100 miles to Kimba. There it underwent various extensions and refurbishments and now houses a mix of luxury four-star period rooms as well as slightly less salubrious quarters. The bars are welcoming and roomy, and the meals are typically country style-enormous and tasty.
Kimba Gateway Hotel lobby
When the hotel came to town, Kimba was already nine years old, having been declared in 1915. You would have to presume there were thirsty customers keen to see the doors reopen. Pastoralists began settling the area in the 1870s, displacing the local Barngarla people who occupied the Mallee Woodlands between present-day Port Lincoln and the Gawler ranges.
Initially, the new farmers brought small flocks of sheep, with the first wheat crop sewn in 1908. Over time, settlers cleared the vast expanses of timber, and the local area is now known for immense grain crops shipped by road to Lucky Bay on the east coast of the Eyre Peninsula. That’s Lucky Bay, South Australia, not to be confused with the Western Australian beach paradise.
The narrow-gauge railway arrived in 1815 as a branch line through Cummins to Port Lincoln. While the tracks benefitted the growth of agriculture for more than a century, the network was independent of the Australian rail system, and so with the progress of road transport and years of drought, the line closed in 2019.
Nelly in the wheat
The railway station still stands, and the nearby fully operational Viterra grain silos are painted with a beautiful mural of young ‘Nelly’ standing in sun-drenched wheat fields. The Cam Scale mural took 26 days to complete and was commissioned in 2017 mainly from local donations. It stretches 60m x 20m across six silos and is among the world's biggest paintings. Impressive by day, it is best seen and photographed at night when lit through solar-powered batteries to great effect.
The silos were the first to appear on the Eyre Peninsula, and silo art followers will find more of Scale's work in Deniliquin, Tatura, Owen, Malala, Devenish and Kingscote in a growing list on the Australian silo art trail.
Top shelf free camping
Nothing gets a grey nomad motivated more than a decent free camp, and Kimba has shaken out the welcome mat with superb facilities at the town recreation reserve. We stayed for a couple of nights, and there's heaps of room over two large, gravelled areas and easy parking for big vans or motorhomes. Visitors are welcome for up to five nights, after which you can negotiate a spot depending on demand.
Facilities include modern and well-maintained amenities blocks and an easily accessed dump point. A dollar will get you a long hot shower, and the kitchen has four free barbecues, long benches, oversized sinks, and lots of seating around sturdy aluminium tables. It’s around a 15-minute walk to town, and on the way, you pass long agricultural-themed murals on the sheds of the showground. Then, take the kids to the nearby shaded playground with modern multi-use equipment.
Free camp kitchen
Shop till you Drop
Two supermarkets, a hardware shop, clothing outlets, cafes and a proper little op shop will help fill the pantry, and there's a genuine old-school country butcher with local meat. But the biggest surprise was Workshop 26 on the main street.
When the long-standing John Deere dealership closed, five local women devised a plan to turn the sprawling industrial space into a creative hub. They set up repurposed containers within the old garage and offered a mix of crafty artisan attractions as part of a co-op. A coffee van greets you on the footpath and, once inside, there are areas for pottery, wooden toys, local condiments, candle making, collectables, photography and furniture restoration. It’s a funky, welcoming space with an inner-city vibe that is rare in country Australia. We found some things we had to have, and it's a great way to support the locals.
Gateway to Everywhere
If you're halfway across Australia, you are in the middle of everything. So, most travellers are on the way to WA or heading to the east coast somewhere. Either way, they have the Nullarbor ahead or behind them, and Kimba is a welcome stopping-off point. But there are significant attractions in the area that are worth a detour. The Gawler Ranges and Lake Gairdner are a 100km dirt road away to the northeast. Both are national parks, so there are entry fees and several campsites. Gawler Ranges National Park boasts rocky scenery, several historical homesteads and a mix of two and four-wheel drive tracks. Old Paney Homestead was established in 1888 and offers a view into life in a remote area all those years ago. The park offers many walks and the attraction of Yandinga and Kolay Mirica Falls after seasonal rains.
Lake Gairdner is the third largest of our salt lakes, but it’s probably the most accessible and includes the Waltumba Tank Camp right on the shore. You can walk out on the lake for amazing sunsets or reflections if there is water around. The salt is crystal white and is up to a meter thick in parts. Nearby Mt Ive Station is a working property with accommodation and caravan facilities. There are multiple drives around the station and to Lake Gairdner. At this end of the lake, the annual Speed Week happens and is the only time vehicles are allowed on the salt.
More local highlights include colourful mosaics in the town centre and a lively museum open Wednesday to Friday mornings. With drives and walks taking you to scenic lookouts over the landscape at places like Bascombe Rocks, Caralue Bluff and Carappee Hill, there are reasons aplenty to spin your stay out to the free, five-day limit.
A study by Bond University considered Kimba as our "kindest town, " which shows in the welcoming spirit. There's lots to lure you off the highway in a community that has gone out of its way to make Kimba front and centre.