Lightning Ridge is one of those fabulously quirky towns that you just have to experience for yourself. Located in outback NSW, it is famous for the opals that are mined there. Mining relics and mullock heaps make up much of the landscape.
CAR DOOR TOURS
There is lots to see and do in Lightning Ridge and the best way to get around is to pick up a Car Door Tours map from the Visitor Info Centre. Then just follow the coloured car doors to find all the best attractions. The first of our car door tours was the Yellow Car Door Tour.
BIG OPAL MINE
The first stop on this tour is the Big Opal Mine, where you get to go into a working opal mine. We started off on our own but were soon joined by a tour guide and a small group. The area has been well mined and the owner still works on it when he has time. A couple of seams of opal can be seen in sections of the mine. To access the mine, a spiral staircase leads down into the mine and you could certainly feel the change in temperature as you descended.
The rest of the car door tour winds its way through the 3 and 4 Mile Opal Fields. At the 3-Mile is the remains of a large open cut mine. Further along the track you start to get the feel for the ‘real’ Lightning Ridge. Mine shafts, both those that are in use and abandoned litter the landscape. Along with mullock heaps and abandoned equipment, there are tin shacks, caravans and humpies where miners live. The conditions are certainly rough and appear to have not changed greatly in the last 100 years since opal was first mined in the area.
Later on that afternoon we did the Green Car Door Tour. This tour takes you out to the highest point in Lightning Ridge and looks out over Corcoran’s Opal Fields. This is an awesome spot to watch the sunset.
The next morning we decided to head out of town to explore the opal fields beyond the village of Cumborah. Known as The Grawin, Sheepyard and Glengarry, there are mines throughout the entire area. Each of the three locations have a pub or in the case of The Grawin, a golf club and a golf course. The Sheepyard was our favourite. Maybe because when we got there, the resident baker had just pulled fresh bread and pizza scrolls from the oven. Something I definitely wasn’t expecting to find in the middle of no where!
Back in Lightning Ridge the kids headed for the local pool and water park whilst we went to check out the Hot Artesian Baths. And let me tell you they are HOT – between 40 and 46 degrees. I dangled my legs in for about 30 seconds and they started to tingle. There is no way I could have gotten in – it was just too hot.
Continuing on from there, we did the Red Car Door Tour which takes in Amigo’s Castle. A private home built by an Italian immigrant – Amigo. Made of local ironstone, he started it in 1981 but never completed it due to trouble with the local council. Today, you are welcome to have a look around for a gold coin donation. It is a fantastic structure and a shame that it was never finished. Amigo still lives behind the building and works his Opal mine which can be accessed from underneath the castle.
STANLEY THE EMU
No visit to Lightning Ridge would be complete without visiting local artist, John Murray’s gallery located in the main street. Make sure you also check out ‘Stanley’ the giant 18 metre high emu situated on the highway out of Lightning Ridge. It is a concept dreamed up by Murray. Using the bodies of three Volkswagons and other pieces of scrap metal, it takes our passion for ‘big things’ to a whole new level!
THE GODDESS OF 1967
One other spot that you will want to check out in Lightning Ridge is the fabulous iron church that was built as a movie set for the cult movie, The Goddess of 1967. This movie was filmed in Lightning Ridge in 2000 and the church remains a well-photographed icon of Lightning Ridge.
WHERE TO STAY
We chose to stay at the Outback Resort and Caravan Park. We were given a decent sized site towards the back of the park, just a short walk to the amenities. The park is all gravel, as is most of Lightning Ridge with only a couple of green areas. There is a small grassed camping area, suitable for tents only and a basic camp kitchen.
The rest of the park consists of powered sites suitable for caravans or camper trailers. There are also plenty of cabins available as well. The park also has the only pub in Lightning Ridge at the front of it which has a separate bistro.