Where the Population is Unknown & the amount of Opal left in the ground is even more of a mystery.
After coming down with Opal Fever in Coober Pedy everyone was pretty keen to feed their habit, so Lightning Ridge was high on our bucket list. After visiting the Blue Mountains for a couple of nights and the deadline of being booked into the Gold Coast looming we decided to high tail it north to Lightning Ridge.
We loved the drive into the New South Wales Outback, straight open roads with little to no traffic....accept the cows who were let out to graze on the roadside goodness.
Upon arriving in town we paid a visit to the Info Centre & discovered the Opal Caravan Park has a fossicking area & a pool, the kids eyes filled with excitement as it was 40degrees in the shade! We were given some hot tips about town & shown the guides own personal collection of Opal, Shaylas Opal Fever was increasing by the minute. As we stepped outside her eyes widened as she spotted the first of many areas to fossick/noodle. (Shaylas Fossick Count: 1)
As we checked into Opal Caravan Park my eyes filled with excitement too, stay for 3 or more nights & you get upgraded to an ensuite site. Our very own bathroom. Not of the pop up kind. Just like a real ensuite. All to ourselves! This was our first time with an ensuite so everyone was pretty excited. It’s the little things!
We couldn’t hold the kids back from a dip in the pool, it was their first time since Bali so they were super keen to jump in. After a cool down we squeezed in a quick noodle at the Caravan Park fossicking area, with a promise to return in the evening with the UV light Shayla had picked up to help her find a spot of colour (Colour is the term used for Opal)! (Shaylas Fossick Count: 2)
True to our word we took the kids out in the evening, it was a beautiful night with a little rain around, so as you shined your head torch you could see pops of colour all over the noodling stacks. (Shaylas Fossick Count: 3)
Around town you’re able to follow four self guided Car Door tours, they’re a great way to show visitors what you can see when you leave the bitumen, along bumpy corrugated roads around the suburban mining camps with some points of interest. When we ventured onto the Blue Car Door Tour we found ourselves at The Walk In Mine. The area here is really inviting with birds fluttering around, the gentle tunes of Aussie Country Classics, lovely ladies to help you out in the showroom & an area where you can have a fossick too...feeding that Opal Fever! (Shaylas Fossick Count: 4)
Along the Yellow Car Door Tour we checked out Chambers of the Black Hand. Where you venture underground to see where a miner has carved hundreds of different people, characters & animals into the walls of his mine. The kids had a ball trying to spot the tiny Wheres Wally characters painted amongst the carvings, perfect for getting the little people to stop and admire the carvings. The adults were simply in awe of the attention to detail this self taught craftsmen has achieved, all carved with a knife & fork!
As we continued the Yellow Car Door Tour we were greeted with the “come on in” signs on our way up Lunatic Hill so we were excited to check out where the signs would take us & had our fingers crossed it wasn’t full of Lunatics! You can’t fossick anywhere you like in Lightning Ridge, if you were to wander onto someone’s “claim” uninvited you’d be given quite the ruffle up, so its important you only enter areas where they invite you in. Alas, we were met by David, the part owner of the 3 Mile Opal Mine, who first started as an Opal Miner at the age of 7 back in the 70s! Shayla is always keen to chat opal so they hit it off & David said we’re most welcome to fossick in his piles, we found a couple of bits & pieces but were also keen to check out his wheelbarrow of goodies. We walked away with a bunch of gorgeous little bits of opal & all for only $20, the best value for money! (Shaylas Fossick Count: 5)
Shayla loves a chin wag & even more so when it involves her fossicking collection...or where she may be able to extend her collection. Whilst sorting through her Opals in the Camp Kitchen at our caravan park she got chatting with the managers & they told us about the 3 pubs in the scrub & an even bigger public noodling area, Grawin, this was music to Daves ears!
On our way out of town we noticed a man sitting under an umbrella with OPALS on a sign....just like we’d see the flower men back home in Perth on the side of the road, but only better! Brian first arrived in the Ridge 49 years ago & has so many stories to tell, if we had more time we would’ve sat there for the day & listened to them all. Brian & his late wife even owned a casting agency at one stage & found themselves in a number of different films, including Mad Max & Crocodile Dundee, we’re going to have to watch them again just so we can spot him. After chatting for a while we realised Brian is the father of David, the guy we met at Lunatic Hill! He’s the other half of the 3 Mile Opal Mine. We only had a small amount of cash on us, so we grabbed a couple of little opals....but I knew we’d return before we left town the next day, Dave had to make up for all the times he’d drive past the flower man on his way from from work and not bring me home flowers! (Shaylas Fossick Count: 6)
The Opal Fields of Grawin are next level camps. In total isolation, but a miners dream. After foraging in the Noodling area for a little while it was time to hit the pubs! We only made it to the Glengarry Hilton before the rain started, unlucky for Dave as once it gets wet out there the clay will stick to your tires and make it too dangerous to drive, so we were homeward bound faster than the sugar could kick in from the Chuppa Chups the barman kindly gifted our kids. (Shaylas Fossick Count: 7)
With our last night in town looming we called into the Info Centres fossicking grounds for one last noodle. After the rain makes for perfect conditions & with Tajy napping in the car the noodling could be done in peace. Shayla found her best piece yet! (Shaylas Fossick Count: 8)
As we were set to leave Lightning Ridge the rain was coming in heavier than we’d had over the last three days, so we weren’t too sure if Brian would be out selling his Opals, with only a canvas umbrella for protection. To Shaylas excitement both David & Brian were there! We chose some pretties to hopefully turn into some gorgeous pieces when we get home.
As for the Opal Fever I don’t think Lightning Ridge has cured Dave or Shayla. Today, three days after leaving Lightning Ridge, Dave asked if I’d ever live there...Shayla piped in faster than I could even start to answer him!