We knew we were in for a day of fun when Peter our guide for our tour of Lightning Ridge with Outback Opal Tours had the whole bus in stitches before we’d even left the car park!
In the first fifteen minutes of the tour we learned all about the history, stories, characters and community of Lightning Ridge – as well as hearing about the town’s rich mining culture and its star attraction – the famed and elusive black opal. Lightning Ridge is the only place on the planet where this enchanting precious stone can be found – and over the years it’s lured many a fortune seeker to the area hoping to strike it rich.
According to our expert guide for the day in his inimitable sense of humour – until they’ve found their first opal they’re not miners, just dirt relocators!
And there is LOT of dirt involved in finding Opal – which is the main reason that we decided to be chauffeured around the town and surrounds in a comfy tour bus rather than navigating onto the dusty dirt roads in our own precious vehicle!
Our first few stops were around the town centre area – where Pete showed us the best fossicking area and gave us some tips on how to find our own opals.
After this we headed to the town’s only walk in mine – where we experienced life as an Opal miner and learned all about the process of discovering and digging for the precious black Opal.
We also had a chance to visit the ‘Ridge Jail and see some exquisite examples of Opal jewellery.
Back on the bus and we heard more stories about the local mining community and what it was like to live and work here. We were then fully immersed in a miner’s life again when we were taken up into the hills where working shafts still reside – as well as historical sites such as Fred Bodel’s camp and Lunatic Hill.
Lunatic Lookout is a fabulous vantage point from Lunatic Hill over a massive open cut mine. On the way up the hill Pete told us the full and fascinating story of the area and the people involved.
After a quick stop at an outback movie set where the building from the award winning film ‘The Goddess of 1967’ still stands in incredible photogenic glory, we headed back through the town to discover a hidden European castle!
‘Amigo’s Castle’ was built by an Italian who had moved to Lightning Ridge but then tired of mining. He single handedly built the castle and it is a beautiful and incredible feat to behold!
‘Amigo’s sense of humour can be felt all around the castle too, and the stories we heard about his passion and fight to build and keep his castle painted a picture of a great local character.
‘He came, he saw, he concreted’ quipped Pete on the way out!
There’s also a beautiful gallery in the castle displaying local artwork to enjoy.
Another trip back through the town and Pete showed us some more unmissable attractions – including the John Murray gallery, the Bottle Museum, the Olympic Pool and the Artesian Bore Baths (which we visited the next day).
Our final stop of the day was back in town – where we emerged from the dusty mine fields into the sparkling and polished behind the scenes of the Opal Bin – where we saw how the opals are transformed into amazing pieces of jewellery.
We also admired their incredibly beautiful hand crafted and designed Opal jewellery in the shop front – where I was tempted to quit traveling and spend all our savings! (I definitely caught the Opal bug!)
Then just like that our trip was done! The morning had flown by – the kids enjoyed it just as much as we did as there were lots of stops and exploring to keep them interested.
There was no way we would have learned anywhere near as much on a self drive tour of the area , the insights that Pete gave us and the stories he told about the people and places really brought Lightning Ridge to life for us – with characters and history as colourful as the opals flashing from the shop windows through the town.
Outback Opal Tours are a small, family owned business and they run tours twice daily, 7 days a week.
We chose to stay at the family and pet friendly Lightning Ridge Outback Resort and Caravan Park who helped us with our booking – and Outback Opal Tours picked us up at the front door.
Watch our video for more highlights – call them on 02 6829 4110 to book your Lightning Ridge adventure!