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.


  1. Definitely bought back memories of our trip to Lightning Ridge. Take care, travel safe and enjoy Queensland.

    1. Thanks for your response. I am sure your memories were happy ones from LR.

  2. Great photos. Looks like you are having a good time away. Stay well. xx

    1. We re enjoying our time away. Mostly we are very relaxed and enjoying the lifestyle


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