From what we’ve read, and the people we talked to, Lightning Ridge gets into people’s bones. The story of coming to the Ridge for a 2-week holiday and staying for 25 years was everywhere in that place. And why wouldn’t you? There are shiny, pretty things everywhere you look! Opals lay on the surface of the ground if you’re patient enough to squint into the bright white ground. Dinosaurs too, lay opalised and hidden in amongst the precious gems taken for jewellery.
We loved everything about our time in Lightning Ridge too.
We stayed at the Opal Caravan Park just opposite the hot springs (hot artesian basin bore water baths) on the way out of town. Now we were only three weeks into the trip, and hadn’t really sampled too many caravan parks, but THIS ONE was a doozy! Pizza oven in the second camp kitchen right near the pool, opal fossicking area, big, clean amenities, spacious van sites and did I mention? Opposite the hot springs….
As we were setting up a fellow vanner came over after watching us bang the awning pegs in like it was concrete and gave us (Jez) some tips about using Bunnings landscaping screws in any hard ground. I felt like already we were accepted as part of this big, bad caravanning crew!!! Except that until this weekend, we’ve been the youngest people by about 40 years. Remember the movie Coccoon?! Yep.
Apart from the AMAAAZING water park, Olympic pool and diving facility plus rock climbing wall in one centre (Mia, Charlie and I spent 4 hours there), the town oozes personality. And everyone is impersonating ants. Seriously. All around the town there are people tunnelling down into the earth to find opal. One person can own only two 50m X 50m plots; they tunnel straight down and carry dirt up to the surface to pile up and search through for colour.
There are dirt piles EVERYWHERE!!! I’d love to have a bird’s eye view of the place. All those little nest entrances with dirt piles, cemeteries, rubbish heaps and pulley systems to help out. You wouldn’t know who’d struck good colour and who hadn’t. Nobody looks sharp or struts money. In fact, I’d say that just like the gold rush era, everyone is trying to look as poor as possible to avoid the possibility of theft!
There’s colour in them hills. And don’t they know it. Jez was our official colour finder. But we all got a bit obsessed at times, noodling through that white dirt.
So we went underground to have a look. Into the Chamber of the Black Hands. Mia wrote a bit about it in her post. But it’s worth another mention. On the surface of the ground it’s no more than a small corrugated iron shack with some handy sign writing to indicate something more exciting below. As you descend to about 15m underground, the air cools, the scents become musty and you start feeling as though something exciting IS going to happen!
The tour of the mine was fascinating, but it was the hundreds of sandstone carvings by Ron, one of the owners of the mine, that is rather remarkable. Apparently one day he stood at a mine doorway and started carving/doodling a picture, and he’s been carving ever since. The sandstone that lays between the layers of opal are now just as much the tourist candy as the opal itself. And we loved it.
The Australian Opal Centre is worth a visit too. Donate, as they are planning a massive, modern new building to showcase the centre. It’s due to open in a couple of years.
A bit sad to see the back end of Lightning Ridge, but zagging back east, we set off for Nindigully Pub on the Moonie River. Its license was issued in 1864, allegedly making it the longest running, uninterrupted liquor licence in Australia. It is also a free camp and home to the roadtrain burger. The pub has character, and characters, in true outback style, and the best collection of Akubra’s on the wall! A beautiful few days of relaxing by the river, handstanding, riding bikes, playing at the pub and an early birthday dinner.