Reading the website for Lightning Ridge this morning, I literally laughed out loud at the opening words:
Have they all been touched by the sun? There’s something deliciously, refreshingly, awe-inspiringly crazy about the people of Lightning Ridge.
I would have to agree.
Driving into Lightning Ridge along a rather uninspiring bitumen road doesn’t prepare you for what you encounter within the (rather small) town that is Lightning Ridge.
Upon arriving in town itself, we drove around the streets (with a population of just under 2500 there is more than a few streets but the town itself is quite small) and then stopped at one of the motels to enquire about a room. Entering the compact reception area of our chosen place, a bell rang in the residence out the back. We spent the time waiting by perusing some of the brochures about the area and admiring several small examples of opal jewellery located on the narrow tables and in locked cabinets against the wall behind us. After a couple of minutes we were greeted by a woman of average height holding a glass of chilled white wine. About 30 seconds into our conversation we came to the realisation that this was not her first glass of wine for the afternoon. However, she was chatty, friendly, full of local knowledge and we warmed to her immediately. Her weather-beaten face radiated honesty.
Handing us the key and pointing out the room we could have, she said her goodbyes and went back into her residence (and we assume the remainder of her bottle of wine).
Our allocated room contained two beds with a small sink and bench along the wall at the back. The bench and sink was wedged between two smaller rooms – one containing the narrow toilet and the other the bathroom. Both were in need of some TLC.
Three things stood out to us about our accommodation for the next two nights:
- There was a safe on the wall behind us
- There was also an emergency button beside the safe
- The light bulb in the toilet cubicle was blown
However the room (although extremely well worn) was clean and the beds were made with clean linen. We figured we could use a torch to go to the loo through the night (thank goodness the GG always carries one) although as it turned out we didn’t need it due to the fact that the front wall of the room was in fact a large window fitted with one way glass. Although the glass was coated in some type of reflective material, the curtains on the inside were not adequate to block out the headlights from the cars of the other patrons at the motel. Or the flashing police lights that followed one of the cars belonging to another patron back to their room!
Despite all this, we truly enjoyed our two night stay in Lightning Ridge. This quirky town is the home of the famous Black Opal and many flock to the area to stake their claim and mine in the hopes of striking it rich. The town is rich in character and we were looking forward to exploring it the next day.
There are two tour companies in town however for those who wish to see the place on their own terms, you may choose to do a “Car Door” Tour. A free map is available at the town’s Information Centre and all you have to do then is follow the coloured car doors around the town and it’s surrounds. We chose to do tour tours with Black Opal Tours the first day and then one of the car door tours the next.
The first tour took us around the area visiting some of the local attractions including a ‘castle’ and an ‘astronomer’s monument’ built by some of the local characters. We also visited the home and mine site of one of the first miners in Lightning Ridge and were amazed that someone lived in such rough conditions.
However one of the highlights of our tour was a visit to a working mine. The first level of the mine had no opals so the mine owner turned his hand to sculpture and we spent quite some time touring the ‘rooms’ that had been carved throughout this level ‘oohing’ and ‘ahing’ at the talent carved into the rock walls and ceilings. There were sculptures everywhere of every conceivable person and character including Elvis Presley, The Simpsons, Finding Nemo, the Last Supper and several of Australia’s Prime Ministers.
After touring the sculptures we were shown some of the jewellery made with opals mined from the level below us before descending more stairs into the mine itself.
I must confess that I couldn’t ascend all the stairs back up into the real world after our tour was over and so requested the use of the elevator to the top. This in itself was an experience as the elevator is open and is big enough for only two people standing side by side. You are surrounded by rock the whole way up. It is definitely not an experience to be ‘enjoyed’ by anyone who suffers claustrophobia, which thankfully I don’t.
In the break between tours, we lunched in a cafe in the main street and visited John Murray’s studio. John’s art is prevalent throughout the town and is as quirky as the town itself. I must admit that my favourite painting of his is one of our current Prime Minister wearing ‘budgie smugglers’.
For those who enjoy Aussie humour and enjoy Australiana, I urge you to peruse his site. Before leaving Lightning Ridge, I purchased a magnet with one of his designs that now lives on my fridge.
During our time in Lightning Ridge, we ate at the local services club (awesome meals), learned how to fossick for opals ourselves, actually found a couple of opal chips, purchased an interesting mauve opal (for me) and enjoyed the atmosphere so much that plan on going back again at some time in the future.
Lightning Ridge is not a town that you would want to visit in the middle of an Australian summer however. I would suggest the cooler months of the year as the best times to visit. We visited in early October (spring) and found the days very warm for that time of year. We agreed that we wouldn’t visit any later in the year than we had.
Our family took hundreds of photos over the two days we spent in Lightning Ridge but here are some of my favourites. 🙂
If you ever have the opportunity to visit this town, I would highly recommend it.
Have a blessed day. 🙂