The hidden gem that is Lightning Ridge 

It was a month-long road trip, leaving from Melbourne and heading northwest to Broken Hill, east to Dubbo and then south to home.  

We’d spent a few weeks planning and preparing the caravan and were getting a little excited about the journey.

Then, a week before take-off, the Minister for Finance (my wife) suggested we ‘detour’ to Lightning Ridge so she could look at (wife speak for ‘buy’) an opal ring.

After explaining that a detour is what you take around road work, we updated the plan, factored in the extra 600km, and were on our way.

Our road trips are a mix of caravan parks and free camping and we’re fairly light travellers, preferring to pick up supplies along the way to support the many (and fascinating) country towns.

Let’s dance

One such town, between Nyngan and Lightning Ridge, is Carinda. This tiny town has a free camp at the local sports ground and a pub (the 2016 census lists a population of 158). As we would soon learn, the pub is also where David Bowie filmed the music video for his 1983 hit song Let’s Dance, a claim to fame the locals enthusiastically embrace.  

It was then on to Lightning Ridge, with its arid desert-like terrain, distinctive red earth, scattered with sparse vegetation and amazing sunsets. 

Of course, Lightning Ridge is the opal capital of the world, and its mining heritage is deeply ingrained in the town’s culture. Visitors can explore the underground mines and witness the painstaking process of extracting these precious gems.

Be prepared to be amazed by the underground sculptures and artworks that the miners have created over the years. The Chambers of the Black Hand is one such testament to their creativity, showcasing intricate carvings and sandstone formations.

Alongside its opal heritage, Lightning Ridge is renowned for its quirky attractions. A quick stop at the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) will have you well-prepared to ‘see the sights’ of Lightning Ridge.

A must-do is one or more of the self-drive ‘car door’ tours. There are four tours in total and maps are available from the VIC for a couple of dollars. Each tour follows coloured and numbered car doors erected on the side of the road or nailed to an accommodating tree. These quirky tours are good fun and will set you up with lots of local knowledge.

Rock on

The John Murray Art Gallery is also time well spent, as are the numerous mine tours, opal shops and the fascinating Lightning Ridge Bore Baths. The water in these baths rises from the Great Artesian Basin, is reportedly around 2 million years old and is consistently between 40 and 50 degrees Celsius. 

Lightning Ridge might be hidden in the vastness of the Australian outback, but it’s a destination that rewards the adventurous traveller with its stunning landscapes, opal mining heritage, and friendly locals.

So, pack your bags and embark on a journey to unearth the hidden treasures of Lightning Ridge. It’s an adventure that won’t disappoint.

And yes… my wife has a new ring!

Have you ever been to Lightning Ridge? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?Also read: Australia’s surprising best city and its ideal attractions for the over-50s


  1. I went to Lightning Ridge as a Girl Guide in the 1960’s in a bus from Sydney. It was great fun, particularly the bore baths. We camped on the ground and did sightseeing too. The Ridge today is a far cry from what it was back in the 60’s.
    My uncle and his wife mined there during the winter months and came back to Sydney in summer – for many, many years. And yes, we got to choose the Opal we wanted from his stash. They are both deceased now.

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