Lightning Ridge is one destination that I think every Australian should visit, and if you are not from Australia and want to see a unique side of Australia, which sets us apart from any other country in the world you need to visit Lightning Ridge.
Categorically it is described as a charismatic, eccentric, quirky, crazy, unique town, with friendly locals from over 50 nationalities living together in harmony. It’s a place that offers good old fashioned hospitality and just about any local you talk to can spin you a good yarn.
The population of the town is unknown, and many of the streets don’t even have names. Building codes and red tape have not made it this far west, with majority of the population living happily in makeshift shanties.
While the local tourism industry is trying to emphasise the spectacular rare black opal as the draw card to the town, I’m far more drawn to the abstract and eccentric side of what Lightning Ridge has to offer.
I have visited ‘The Ridge’ on a several occasions but only for a few days at a time. Each time I always find something new, and plan to return again to explore some more.
Lightning Ridge Attractions
The Car Door Tours
Scattered around the town are car doors painted in Red, Blue, Green & Yellow. These make up the self drive tours, that take you around some of the most popular icons at Lightning Ridge. Maps can be picked up from the Tourist Information Centre and provide instructions and all of the information you need for each of the 4 tours. At a push you could do all 4 tours in the one day, but if you have more time it is worth exploring some of the extra roads and tracks as there is plenty more to see that is not listed on the car door tours.
If you fly into lightning Ridge there are various tour companies that will take you on a guided tour of the car door trails. Booking these tours can usually be arranged through your accommodation.
The Artesian Bore Baths
This is a must! After a day of experiencing what the Ridge has to offer there is no better way to finish off then with a soak in the Bore Baths. While soaking in the mineral rich warm water you are bound to get the opportunity to have a yarn with some locals and hear some of the crazy stories of life in the Ridge. The locals frequent these baths to soak their aching muscles and ailments in the mineral rich water which is said to have healing properties.
The water comes from the Great Artesian Basin. Natural pressure sends the water to the surface through an artesian bore. The baths maintain a temperature between 40 & 50 degree’s celcius all year round.
Entry to the baths is free. The baths are located about 2-3kms from the town center. If you do not have transport you may have to befriend someone who can give you a ride out. The best time to visit the baths is in the evening.
Bruno’s Italian Restaurant
To be honest there isn’t a real lot to choose from when eating out, but after a meal at Bruno’s there really is no need for other options. The food is delicious authentic Italian cuisine cooked by real authentic Italians. The quality of the food is far superior to most places you will find out west, and every bit as good as eating at the best Italian resturant in Italy. Plan at least one meal at Bruno’s because you will want to try more then one meal on the menu while your in Lightning Ridge. You will need to book ahead or you might not get a table.
The Chamber of the Black Hand
I told the receptionist at our motel that I’d never done an underground mine tour, and if she was to pick one tour operator, which tour would she recommend. She said you have got to see the Chamber of the Black hand. Concerned that her recommendation may have been tainted by some sort of commission from the tour operator I asked the same question with other locals and they all gave me the same response, so we thought we better check it out.
The Chamber of the Black hand is a little more then just an underground mine tour. When the owner of the claim got tired of looking for opal with little success he started making carvings in the sandstone. The carvings started out quite simple, and after completing one carving he throught of something else he could carve. So he just kept on carving. He now has what seems to be a maze of never ending carvings and plans for many more carvings to come. The carvings alone are well worth the look.
The other part of the Chamber of the Black Hand experience is to be given a tour of the opal mining section of this claim. This really gives a lot more perspective on life for an opal miner, and what is involved with mining opal. After seeing it for myself I highly recommend you see it, you won’t be dissapointed!
A free shuttle bus is available for this attraction and will pick up from your motel.
Fossicking for Opals
If you get hooked on the opal mining hype during your time in Lightning Ridge you best make sure you stop off at the Mullock heap located beside the visitors information center. This is a free fossicking site open to the public. You never know your luck – you could just strike it lucky!
It was clean, comfortable and well priced.