We’ve spread our wings and headed west from Brisbane on this epic road trip in western NSW to a town that is not quite like any other in Australia – Lightning Ridge aka “The Ridge”.
A town of compelling contrasts with a combination of rural sophistication with sealed roads and rows of shops around town and dusty dirt roads that can lead you to some of the most eccentric and bizarre attractions surrounded by a moonscape of fossicking heaps and rusting mining equipment.
This trip was done at a leisurely pace which enabled me to take in all the scenery along the highways and by-ways that I travelled. With an early start, to beat Brisbane’s peak hour traffic rush, the fist stop was at Aratula. This is an excellent place to take a pit stop with fuel available as well a selection of cafés and bakeries for a road trip coffee and some tasty treats. Toilets are also available.
Our journey continued through Warwick, Goondiwindi and my first overnight stay was the Boggabilla Motel, Boggabilla (click here). Great older style Motel just south of Goondiwindi with excellent evening meals available and undercover parking.
Up early for early morning start, the country air was clean and crisp with a slight frost covering the fields, the next destination Moree. I checked out Annie’s Bakery for some fresh bread and a road trip coffee, stretched the legs in beautiful Jellicoe Park (opposite the bakery), and then onto Lightning Ridge.
You get that feeling that “the Ridge” is going to be just a little bit different after turning off the main highway, the welcoming sign says it all.
My choice of accommodation in Lightning Ridge was the Opal Caravan Park. All checked in, my cabin was ready, and we’re ready to explore.
The first stop was the Visitor Information Centre (click here) situated in town in Morilla Street. Stop off here and get all the information you need from the friendly staff to ensure you see all the highlights that are within easy reach of central Lightning Ridge.
Armed with all your mud maps, drive yourself on a Self-Guided Car Door Tour, you know you are on the right track as each tour start point is marked by a different colour car door. There are four to choose from:- Blue Car Door Explorer Tour, Red Car Door Explorer Tour, Yellow Car Door Explorer Tour & Green Car Door Explorer Tour. The drive time ranges from 10 – 45 minutes and each tour will take you off the bitumen and exploring some of the most unique landmarks and attractions that you are likely to see.
If you want to leave the car and let someone else do the driving, with a quick phone call you can organise an escorted tour with the tour bus picking you up and dropping you back home at the end of the day. I would recommend at least one of these tours as they are run by locals with local knowledge and a passion for their unique outback opal mining town.
There is so much to see and do in this amazing town, so I have included some of the attractions to put on your “got to see this” list. We’ve packed our supplies for the day heading the car on a self-drive tour starting just down the road from the Opal Caravan Park.
Artesian Bore Spa Baths – Don’t forget your towel and bathers (nudie swimming is not encouraged).
The baths are situated in Pandora Street just down the road from the Opal Caravan Park and if you’re staying in the Park this is a very easy walk with the Baths accessible 24 hours a day.
The Baths provide a permanent supply of warm mineralized water bubbling up to the surface from 900mm underground. What an experience to sit in the spa in the early morning chill with steam rising from the water and watching the early morning outback sunrise.
Our day of discovery has just begun, and we are now heading just out of town off the bitumen to an exhibition located 5km along on 3 Mile Road of over 500 carvings and paintings.
You’d be expecting a large modern art gallery wouldn’t you (wrong) after all this is Lightning Ridge. After the dust from the road has settled and the car is parked you are greeted with a sign welcoming you to the Chambers of the Black Hand.
Twelve metres underground accessed by a lift or stairs is one of the most unmissable attractions in Outback Australia. Walk among 20 years of one mans passion and hard work and view an Egyptian Tomb, Dinosaurs, Angels, Jungle Cats, Super Heroes and so much more. You will stand in amazement and marvel at all that surrounds you.
Phew, time to catch our breath and gather the senses. We’ll head back into town and have lunch and a coldie at the Lightning Ridge Bowls Club then take a leisurely drive around town and within a short distance there is still so much to see.
The John Murray Art Gallery – Free Entry – The gallery is full of original paintings with a wide range of reproductions, posters and souvenirs, all by one of Australia’s leading outback artists – John Murray.
Coopers Cottage – Free Entry – Coopers cottage is an authentic early miner hut. Built in the early 1900’s it gives you an insight into the living conditions of the early miners.
Nearby is the Historical Society & Heritage Cottage. Go back in time as you discover local books and artefacts while delving into the historical displays in the 1932 Miners Cottage and 1915 Cottage Hospital.
Park the car and take a walk around the main street of Lightning Ridge. Have a wander through some of the Opal shops both large and small and talk to the locals that run these shops. They are more than happy to discuss the different types of gems that are on display. You’ll learn about “dublets”, “triplets” and the most sought-after opal of them all the “Black Opal”.
Another glorious morning, 5 degrees at 8am and we’re off on a guided tour for the day.
The first stop an underground mine tour. Check out how the miners toiled away in search of that elusive treasure the “Black Opal”. For those that struck it rich the rewards were a plenty but there are also many sad stories of the ones that didn’t.
Lunatic Hill open cut mine. One of the very few open cut mines in the area. Don’t you love some of the names. Its not named Lunatic Hill mine because it sent the miners mad, the mine got it’s its name !!!!!!!! ?????. I won’t spoil the story, visit Lightning Ridge and you’ll find all the answers.
Amigos Castle. This is a must do, you have just got to see this place on the outskirts of Lightning Ridge. My visit was part of an organised bus tour and we were able to spend a lot of time in this stunning man-made castle.
It’s such a brilliant story to hear how one man-made this marvel, how it was built even down to the trap door with a very interesting past. Anita is the artist in residence with her works on display in one the rooms.
There is so much more to see and do in Lightning Ridge and my Blog is just the tip of the ice berg in this very amazing place.
14 Top Things to do in Lightning Ridge
- Chambers of the Black Hand
- Amigo’s Castle
- Underground Mine Tours
- The Bottle House
- Fred Bodel’s Camp
- John Murray Art Gallery
- Historical Society and Heritage Cottage
- Lightning Ridge Bowls Club
- Lunatic Hill Open Cut Mine
- Car Door Tours
- Wander through town
- Bus Tours
- Artesian Spa Baths
If you are visiting, it can get very busy especially in the cooler months and it’s advisable to book ahead especially with accommodation as there are several festivals at various times and “The Ridge” attracts 1,000’s & 1,000’s of tourists every year.
Tip: I found this website Lightning Ridge Attractions (click here) very useful in planning my road trip.
It was time to leave this quirky place and with car fuelled I headed home with an overnight stay in Glenn Innes, via Stanthorpe and onto Brisbane. The roads and highways travelled – June 2018 – were in very good condition with a lot of road works and up grades being carried out. (except for the dirt roads around Lightning Ridge)
Mobile phone (I use Optus) was very good in and around the towns for most of the trip and free WiFi was available in the Caravan Parks and Motels that I stayed in. Overall this was a Road Trip to remember with the sights and sounds that you will encounter on your journey’s in Australia, you are unlikely to experience any where else.