Lightning Ridge

Lightning Ridge is a opal mining town and has always held a fascination for me. It is quite remote, being about 70 kilometres south of the Queensland border in New South Wales but way, way out west. We had heard of this place for years and was certainly a place we wanted to visit. So this trip we finally got there after travelling on some of the worst bitumen roads in NSW. We had to slow down to an average of 60km as the roads were so bumpy. I reckon we would have shaken off any rust and lose stuff on the motorhome if we went any faster. I am not sure my back would have coped either.

A giant Emu greets arrivals
As you approach the town from Walgett, the first thing you see is a giant metal sculpture in the shape of an emu made out of old VWs. This sculpture by a local artist was supposed to be erected in Birdsville, but that's another story. This is also the location of the free camp is which is about 10-15km still from the town.


At the turn off to town, there is an old concrete mixer painted blue. You'll soon find out that Lightning Ridge is home to many old mixers, used to wash the mud mud from the material taken from the mines in search of opal as well as the left overs of many machine parts.


We decided to camp right in town at the Lightening Ridge Tourist Park. The cost of fuel running back and forth from the free camp makes the $10 site fees (no power)and the convenience of a toilet, showers and laundry well worth the ten bucks. There is also a happy hour in the BBQ area every night where the park owners supply slices of fresh oven baked pizza which they cook outside. Most nights there's a guy with a guitar for some sing a longs too after a bit.


There is a certain mystery and  novelty tot he people and the area. It might not be to my taste but it is still extremely interesting to visit.


I certainly did not mean it to sound so negative. There is a certain charm here. Sure it is a dry area and the temperature would be terrible in summer. The people are what makes a place into a home town and the local residents here are very casual and very welcoming. And I certainly love the quirky humour here. It is everywhere from the door posted and used as signage, colour blocking the different areas. The art in and around town is evident of the wacky dry humour too.

Royal Air Mail - Daily Delivery

Our first full day was spent doing a self drive tours around town. You get to follow the coloured doors and drive past miners claims and the shanties that they live in. It seems like there is no building code, no houses really. Miners appear to live in anything they can beg, borrow, steal or put together themselves. It could be an old caravan or bus or even tram. It could be a corrugated humpy or even just a tent and all dwellings are very, very basic. Oftentimes, I think that a place has been abandoned and dumped only to discover it is someone's home. It seems like every square metre has been mined with piles of opal discarded dirt everywhere. It makes a mockery out of conservation codes. If a mining company did this to the land there would be a huge outcry. If there's big money to be made here, then it is well hidden most of the time.



The first up for us was the Red Door tour which also encompasses Amigo's castle. I don't understand this guy at all. I mean why spend a life doing something that basically has no purpose other than to fill in time. Still it is worth a visit and a walk around. Pay the $5 to listen to the guide who is also a talented artist and she'll tell you about Amigo and his quest.


Then after a quick shop at the local IGA and lunch, we went on the Green Door self drive trail which is basically where the mining really started. It is both fascinating and ugly at the same time.

On the Green Door self drive tour
After a day driving around there is no better way than to soak in the hot (40 degree) artesian pool just outside the town centre. A terrific way to wash away all your bodily aches and pains.


 We chose not to fossick here in Lightening Ridge as we did that back when we were in Andamooka and Coober Pedy some years back.



On Sunday we went to the local community church which had around 40 people in attendance. I am sort of sorry that we didn't have church in the Tin Church below.

Tin Church at Lightning Ridge
Afterwards we popped past the markets which sadly didn't have much to offer other than opals and trash masquerading as treasure. We did get a lovely BBQ in support of the RFDS. After the markets we did the yellow car door self drive tour. I noticed this time that there are many open shafts with little attempt to close off the openings for safety.

Alien landscape: Opal dirt and tailings are everywhere

This tour includes the Chamber of the Black Hand, which is the biggest most impressive underground Black Opal mine and probably the most popular opal mine tour in the town. It is certainly the most expensive at $35 per head. Still it is worth a visit.


Lightening Ridge is famous for its Black Opal as well as its white. However we learnt that opals can come in every colour of the rainbow from deep blues to iridescent green through to golden orange, red and fuchsia. Opal can be pale and delicate or dark and brilliant. The colour can change as the observer turns the stone.

Rob & I were fascinated with the carvings and I wish I could show you each and everyone of them. Here's just a taste:


Before we left I really wanted to stop past the John Murray Art Gallery. I just love his quirky way of looking at the world around him and has the freedom to express his view via his art. I even bought 2 of his prints to hang up in the motorhome.

John Murray's reflection of outback country roads
One of a caravan bouncing on the bumpy road and the other of the outback dunny. I wish I could have bought more. A video at the John Murray Art Gallery sums up the Lightning Ridge raison d’ĂȘtre which went a long way to giving me some sort of answer to my 3 questions above.

A house made from aluminum cans
 
People come here to Lightening Ridge and experience a certain type of freedom. Many stay, many return. Looking around, one can see the great variety of people, cultures and their homes and you begin to see & sense the freedom of expression and lifestyle here that is so attractive to many. One guy told us that he came for a visit and he's still here 26 years later. It certainly appeals to some.

All in all, Lightning Ridge was well worth a visit. It is a unique and intriguing experience not to be missed.

Free camping at Wingadee

This is not such a great spot that I would normally write about it as a camp site. It does have a toilet, some rubbish bins and some picnic tables with a roof. My main reason for posting is that I just had to show you some lovely photos of the sunset and one of the moon and some of its craters.


 I don't used filters or such as I wouldn't know how. I just use a point and click Canon camera - sometimes I am lucky and others - well... lets say my computer rubbish bin needs emptying frequently. ;)



It had been raining for a couple of days right across the country prior to our arrival, which was absolutely great as the land needed it so bad. As we all know that clouds really enhance any sunset and sunrise.


In this one the trees look like they are on fire!
This is the first time I had ever tried to take a photo of the moon. (I think our recent visit to the Parkes Observatory had inspired me to at least try!) I don't think I have seen the craters on the moon without a telescope before!!! It might not win prizes but I am tickled pink with it!



Free camping at Bogan Weir

The reason we went off road and thus got bogged was that we missed the driveway into the Bogan Weir. It is just 7km from Peak Hill not the 15 we had been told. (Just 150m past the causeway).



This lovely spot is so quiet (other than the birds) that I think it must be a well kept secret. We had only 4 other campers there the entire time we were there and one of those was our good friends, Steve and Lorraine.




Peak Hill


Peak Hill is just a small town many people just past on through. There is a small supermarket, and a few little cafes. We enjoyed looking at the craft shop and the 'antique' shop which also houses many other bits and pieces including this fabulous hand beaded sheer dress at the bargain price of $400. It would be a dress that would looked fabulous on someone like Cher.

Mostly though we were at the weir just to have some time out to veg and spend some time crafting and chatting.




On the way out of Peak Hill we just had to stop by the open cut Gold Mine in Peak Hill.

Parkes Observatory

One shouldn't ever go past Parkes without visiting the Parkes Observatory. It is free to visitors and so very interesting.



I loved the photographic gallery inside. There are some amazing photos of night skies and phenomena in the gallery.  This universe is just amazing.

I was fascinated to learn about the information on the moon, and particularly about the role that Parkes played in the world event of the first manned moon landing.



I also enjoyed the movie 'The Dish' when it came out years ago and I was fascinated with comparing the facts and the few liberties that the script writers added to get a story across.


Allow at least 90 minutes to visit here. It is so worth it. The telescope was continually turning the whole time we were there.



We couldn't leave without having a go at the whispering discs either! Rob went to one disc and I stood at the other one and we spoke sweet nothings to each other. It was corny but great fun. Aww Sweet, I know! LOL Sadly we didn't think to get a photo of one to show you.


Orange, Blayney and Carcoar

Whilst free camping at the excellent Carcoar Dam site, we had lots of opportunities to visit surrounding areas by car.

Sunrise at Carcoar Dam

Orange


We did a trip down memory lane when we spent a day in Orange as both Rob and I used to live here at different stages of our childhood. We found we knew some of the same people. For example Rob's sister was best friends with Mariska whom became my best friend for the few years I spent at Canobolas High School. Some things have changed especially in the shopping heart of Summer Street, yet the iconic lookout at Mt Canobolas is still a rough old gravel road nearly all the way to the top. The road to the summit is about 5kms. The road is sealed at the bottom and also at the top, but there is an rough unsealed gravel section for most of the way. You'd think that the local council would have done this up by now.

Lousy gravel road to Mt Canobolas

From Mt. Canobolas we made our way to Lake Canobolas, a local boating recreation area. The grounds around the lake contain lovely picnic areas, BBQ settings and childrens playgrounds. The area also contains a number of large vineyards, many of which having open cellars and few with cafes or restaurants attached. My husband was 'shocked' to find that I used to go skinny dipping in the lake in my tear away teenage years. LOL

Lake Canobolas

Carcoar


Another day we went sightseeing around the historic town of Carcoar. I quaint town that time has left behind. Sadly not much was open during the weekday we visited but we are assured it has more ot offer visitors on the weekends. Anyway we drove around and loved seeing the old architecture such as the courthouse, the railway station and of course the beautiful old churches.

Carcoar Catholic Church

Carcoar Anglican Church

Blayney


This was our main shopping area for our stay, so we popped in a few times, whether it be to do some actual grocery shopping, buy some excellent fish and chips, visit the op shops or do the laundry etc. We also took our time getting a good look at the historic churches here. My favourite one being this tiny church in the main street but back a little and that I think many people would miss.

Blayney Presbyterian Church

Spring Hill


One place we didn't stop by was Spring Hill. We were returning back from Orange via a different route and it was late in the day. It looks like it is definitely worth a visit all on its own.

Spring Hill Uniting Church

Glorious Autumn


Being autumn at the time of our visit, the trees were putting out their most colourful display in all the towns and country side.

Autumn colours in Blayney

Japanese Gardens at Cowra

It has been 20 or so years since we last visited the beautiful lush gardens and cascading streams of Cowra Japanese Gardens.


Cowra Japanese Garden was designed by Ken Nakajima as a strolling garden. It is near the POW camp where Japanese Prisoners of War and other internees were kept during the Second World War. From this awkward beginning, Cowra now has strong cultural and friendship links with Japan, and this beautiful garden is an on going expression of this.


However before we venture outside, there's is a wonderful  display area where one can see war lord helmets, swords, magnificent pottery, kimonos etc.

Samurai



Model of the Torii Gate

There are 5 hectares of garden, but the most intensive planting is around the purpose built pond and then many cascading waterfalls on the rocky hillside. As Rob is not capable of managing lots of hilly walking we hired a buggy to get us around.




Most plants are trimmed and shaped, only a few plants are left to grow into their natural shapes. This creates a lot of visual interests on many levels. It is definitely a high maintenance garden and one that the vast majority of us could only enjoy by walking through it rather than having such a garden in our own place. Still I loved the way the plants which are ones we see commonly in our own gardens have been carefully sculptured almost to the point of not being able to recognize them.

One view from the top
Stone sculpture that commemorate the days of the week

Every where you look is a scenic picture waiting to be captured.




It was well worth the return visit.