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Lightning Ridge, Outback NSW

Attractions - Accommodation - Tours

John Murray Artist Gallery, Lightning Ridge Outback AustraliaLightning Ridge, one of Australia's most iconic Outback towns, and a must for anyone wanting to connect with the outback spirit.

While not actually on the Darling River, it is one destination that should be included in the iconic Darling River Run touring route; one of the best in Outback NSW!

We all love the unique things about Australia and while many would argue there are many unique places around the world, we take particular pride in our special outback places, journeys and experiences. Lightning Ridge's uniqueness is really something... unique.

Few Outback NSW towns are as inimitable as Lightning Ridge and fewer things are more distinctively Australian than the Black Opal for which the town is famous. The pair go hand in hand, after all, Lightning Ridge is known as the home of the Black Opal.

Lightning Ridge will welcome you with that classic country hospitality that marketers can only dream of, but it is neither forced nor put-on and is certainly not be 'more of the same'.

Many fellow travellers will relate stories about the Ridge and much has been written about this wonderful place, but that will give you as much understanding of the place as trying to smell a colour or hear a sunset.

But take the time to make your way to the Ridge, and all will make unique sense.

One thing Lighting Ridge does have in abundance is eccentricity, not the type that one needs to be wary of but the kind that truly envelopes any visitor and is delivered via characters that could be included in any folkloric Australian novel or film; truly warming and welcoming.

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Local Postmaster, Laurie Hudson, once wrote, 'Though you've roamed the whole world over, seen most all there is to see, there are scenes you've never dreamed of, in the stone of mystery', and like the ‘stone of mystery’,

Lightning Ridge also displays its uniqueness in many different ways depending on how you wish to experience it.

Lightning Ridge Accommodation

Lightning Ridge is home to the Black Opal and is the reason many people visit the Ridge, but Lightning Ridge is so much more than opal.

So with so much to explore around Lightning Ridge, you will need somewhere to stay, and there is no shortage of accommodation choices around town from camping all the way up to a bit of outback luxury.

Lightning Ridge has a large variety of accommodation to cater for every style and budget...from the business traveller to families, whatever the accommodation you need.....the Ridge has it!

Quality Motels, charming B&B, cosy family cottages, convenient caravan parks with camping & cabin facilities, centrally located holiday units, quiet holiday cabins & units, peaceful outback bunkhouses & cottages & backpacker style accommodation.

Lightning Ridge Attractions

Lightning Ridge is home to the Black Opal and is the reason many people visit the Ridge, but Lightning Ridge is so much more than opal.

Take a journey through time or try your hand at fossicking for your own opal. Whatever your taste, there is something for everyone.

There are attractions aplenty from outback theatre, underground sculptures, bore baths, unique structures, artists, galleries, jewellers and unique/eccentric characters. In fact, there is so much to do at the Ridge, many recommend at least three days to get the full Lightning Ridge treatment.

How Far is it to Lightning Ridge?

Drive to Lightning Ridge:

Lightning Ridge is located just off the Castlereagh highway north of Walgett about 200 km northeast of Bourke (as the crow flies) and is easily accessible for those travelling the north-south route through outback NSW or heading east-west along the Darling River Run.

  • From Brisbane: 736km
  • From Sydney: 750km
  • From Melbourne: 1,210km
  • From Adelaide: 1,440km
 

Drive from Sydney

Driving Sydney to Lightning Ridge provides many options but probably the three best would be either via the Southern Highlands and eastern Riverina then north through the Central Ranges, across the Blue Mountains then north through the Central Ranges, or via the Hunter Valley and New England.

Each has its own unique appeal and take in some of the best experiences of NSW before getting to the iconic Outback NSW.

Hunter Valley - Kamilaroi Highway

Incorporating the fabulous wine region of the Hunter Valley, this route to Lightning Ridge should be high on the list is the best way to get to Outback NSW from Sydney.

Heading north to the NSW Central Coast and Newcastle, or via the Hills District and Wisemans Ferry, the route continues through the famous wine-growing region of the Hunter Valley before joining the Kamilaroi Highway through the beautiful New England area and on up to Narrabri, and Walgett.

From Walgett, it is a short drive north the 'Ridge'.

Blue Mountains

Direct routes are not always the most scenic but in the case of driving Sydney to Lightning Ridge, via the Blue Mountains and the Central Slopes is a great route to Outback NSW.

Going via the world-famous Blues Mountains is highly recommended for those who have not experienced the grandeur of places like the Three Sisters and Wentworth Falls; it is worth an overnight stop to experience this spectacular region of NSW.

The journey then continues through the NSW western slopes and via Parkes and 'The Dish' before heading north to Dubbo (Plains Zoo) and onto Walgett and Lightning Ridge.

Southern Highlands

While the route via the Blue Mountains provides a stopover at the world-famous attraction, for some, the trip up the mountains can at times be slow. While going via the Southern Highlands is not an obvious choice, it is one that takes in this magnificent region with its boutique towns, cafes and antique markets.

This route incorporates the Hume Highway out of Sydney to Yass then is a wonderful trip north through the Central Slopes (including Parkes, Forbes and Dubbo) then onto Outback NSW.

Drive from Melbourne

Getting to Lightning Ridge from Melbourne provides the visitor with some variable routes through some of Australia's most iconic places; particularly Bendigo in the Victorian Gold Fields, Echuca on the Mighty Murray River and the beautiful Hay Plains before joining the Kidman Way touring route to Bourke and our other great river, the Darling.

For those wishing a more direct route, the Newell Highway provides the quickest way to experience the 'Ridge' and still takes in some wonderful towns along the way.

Heading North:

Heading to Lightning Ridge from Melbourne provides many great routes but two of the best are via the Goldfields and onto the Port of Echuca or via bush-ranger country and onto Tocumwal on the Murray River.

Once in NSW, there are some great touring options north.

The Kidman Way

The Kidman Way is a great touring route through Shepparton before crossing the Murray River at Tocumwal which is a great place for a stopover to experience the grandeur of one of our greatest rivers.

Continuing north, the Kidman Way provides a wonderful drive through Darlington Point at the Murrumbidgee River, Griffith, Hillston, Cobar, and onto Bourke. The last section, Cobar to Bourke, passes Gundabooka National Park, one that should be put on the list of things to do and see.

Newell Highway:

Probably the best-known north/south routes in Australia, the Newell Highway is a great tour through towns like West Wyalong, Forbes, Parkes, and Dubbo. Not to miss along is the way is the Dubbo Plains Zoo as well as the 'Dish' at Parkes.

Drive from Brisbane

The Magnificent Darling Downs provide two great routes when driving Brisbane to Lightning Ridge.

The first is via Toowoomba (The Garden City on top of the Great Dividing Range) or via Warwick and Goondiwindi.

Both provide the Outback NSW visitor with iconic towns and unique experiences.

Via Toowoomba

Driving to Lightning Ridge via Toowoomba takes the visitor to the horticultural mecca of the Lockyer Valley before the climb up the Great Dividing Range to Toowoomba; a garden proud town nested at the top of our famous mountain range.

The tour then heads west through the Darling Downs and onto the iconic outback Queensland town of Dalby then along the Adventure Way to St Gorge before joining the Castlereagh Highway for the run to Lightning Ridge via Hebel on the Queensland/NSW border.

Via Warwick

Going via the southern Darling Downs takes the visitor via Warwick, located at the headwaters of the Condamine River, a town known for its grand architecture of churches, schools and its commercial district.

Heading south-west from Warwick along the Cunningham Highway (named after the famous early 1800's botanist Allan Cunningham) the route passes through the prime pastoral lands north of the NSW/Queensland border to the town of Goondiwindi.

Once across the border, and joining the Newell highway, the route passes through the cotton region of northern NSW and on to Moree, famous for its refreshing and therapeutic artesian bore baths. A great stop to replenish the energy and relieve travel-weary bodies (and minds).

From Moree, Lightning Ridge is an easy 3-hour drive.

Drive from Adelaide

While a long distance from Lightning Ridge (a relative term in Australia), Adelaide is both a popular destination for Australian travellers and offers the RV tourer a great journey through both the Riverland of South Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin of NSW.

There are several options from Adelaide to Outback NSW, via the Barrier Highway to Broken Hill or follow the Murray River up to its Confluence with the Darling River at Wentworth or to Mildura, the gastronomic capital of the outback.

The Barrier Highway / Darling River Run

The quickest/most direct route into Outback NSW is via Broken Hill which is an easy drive along the Barrier Highway. But to add a bit of spice to this leg of the trip, there are a few great stopovers, and they involve the wineries of the Barossa and Clare Valleys – two of Australia's premier wine regions.

From Broken Hill, it is simply a matter of joining up with the Darling River Run; either via the spectacular Menindee Lakes and up the Darling to Wilcannia, or direct to Wilcannia via the Barrier Highway. Once on the Darling River Run, it is a wonderful drive upstream to Tilpa, Louth, Bourke and Brewarrina. From Brewarrina, the 'Run' follows the Barwon to Walgett then heads north to Lightning Ridge via the Castlereagh Highway.

The Murray River / Darling River Run

The choice of many driving from Adelaide to Lightning Ridge is via the Murray and Darling rivers. This route travels along the mighty Murray River via Morgan, the point at which the Murray changes direction and flows in an east-west direction, and re-joins it at Waikerie and Renmark before crossing it again near Curlwaa.

From Mildura or Wentworth this tour joins the Darling River Run; one of Australia's great driving Adventures, through outback NSW.

From Wentworth (or Mildura) there are three choices; straight up the Silver City Highway, up the Darling River via Pooncarie and Menindee Lakes, or via the awe-inspiring Lake Mungo in Mungo National Park. (The Darling River Run and Lake Mungo require driving on unsealed roads). The last two options also take in the wonderful Menindee Lakes and Kinchega National Park.

The Murray River / Hay Plains

The two routes along the Darling River Run involve some sections of unsealed road which may not be the choice of some and there is a third route for driving from Adelaide to Lightning Ridge and is no less exciting for the visitor.

This route still follows the Murray through the Riverland and Murraylands of SA/NSW, but instead of following the Darling, the route continues east to the Hay Plains and Griffith before heading north to Forbes, Parkes (The Dish), Dubbo (Plains Zoo) and then North to Walgett and onto Lightning Ridge.

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Lightning Ridge Festivals

Lightning Ridge Easter Festival

Showcasing the unique character of the Ridge, the Lightning Ridge Easter Festival allows locals to let their hair down and enjoy the community spirit. And they love nothing more than including visitors from near and far to engage in the community event. They will welcome you like a local!

If you are after a unique, dynamic and memorable experience make sure not to miss it.

The festival is a fantastic weekend for the whole family and packed full of events including Rodeo (Friday evening), "Big Dig" for opals, "Little Dig" for techie prizes, novelty events, Miners challenges, float parade, horse races, market stalls, live music, our famous fireworks spectacular and more!

Lightning Ridge Opal Festival

The Lightning Ridge Opal Festival is a four-day event held at the end of July each year and includes the Opal & Gem Festival, Opal Queen Ball, , IOJDAA Trade Show and Jewellery Competition (biennial - 2019).

Attracting over 5,000 visitors to the town it is the largest on the Opal event circuit. Jewellers, buyers, wholesalers, miners, rock hounds, lapidary enthusiasts and tourists are invited to experience the best Lightning Ridge has to offer with this culmination of information, spectacular jewellery, collectables, great deals and fantastic networking opportunities.

The Lightning Ridge Opal Festival is held in late July every year. More Information

Lightning Ridge & Opal History

Opal History

Balck Opal History, Lightning Ridge, Outback NSWA precious gemstone that is found in a few places around the world, 95% of commercial opal is uniquely Australian, primarily from South Australia. Of that, only 2% is made up of the elusive Black Opal and nearly all of that is mined at Lightning Ridge.

But the ‘Ridge’ was not the first NSW opal town as White Cliffs started commercial mining of our national gemstone in 1884. Despite Black Opal being found in Lightning Ridge in the early 1870s, that form of opal was little more than a curiosity when presented to gem buyers in Sydney, so the focus of opal mining centred on White Cliffs to the west and further afield in South Australia.

Early last century, word had spread that a new form of Opal was discovered and many thought their fortunes lay there and headed east from White Cliffs. One such person who made that journey was Charlie Nettleton, who in the drought of 1902, walked the 700km to the Ridge to see the Black Opal first hand and a year later walked back to White Cliffs to develop a market for this new type of Opal.

Charles Nettleton has been recognised as the major force behind developing the industry, and from that 1,400km round trip, on foot and during a drought, lay the foundation for the commercial ‘development’ of the Ridge. Today, with that pioneering spirit firmly entrenched, Lightning Ridge is one of the best outback destinations for the traveller.

The Ridge Experience

Visit Lightning Ridge Outback NSW, AustraliaVisitors can become so enamoured with the town, the people and the lifestyle, that a short visit can turn into a week or a month. For some though, the allure of the town is so strong they never leave.

As for accommodation, you can't go past the unique Lorne Station.

Lightning Ridge is located just off the Castlereagh highway north of Walgett about 200km northeast of Bourke (as the crow flies) and is easily accessible for those travelling the north-south route through outback NSW or heading east-west along the Darling River Run.

Lightning Ridge will welcome you with that classic country hospitality that marketers can only dream, but it is neither forced nor put-on and is certainly not be 'more of the same'.

One thing Lighting Ridge does have in abundance is eccentricity, not the type that one needs to be wary of but the kind that truly envelopes any visitor and is delivered via characters that could be included in any folkloric Australian novel or film; truly warming and welcoming.

Local Postmaster, Laurie Hudson, once wrote, 'Though you've roamed the whole world over, seen most all there is to see, there are scenes you've never dreamed of, in the stone of mystery’, and like the ‘stone of mystery’, Lightning Ridge also displays its uniqueness in many different ways depending on how you wish to experience it.

What is Black Opal?

So what is Black Opal? Opal is non-crystalline silica, similar to quartz but is not a mineral. Its internal structure enables unique diffraction of light to produce white, grey, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, magenta, rose, pink, slate, olive, brown, and black.

Opal is formed from a solution of silica (very fine sand-like particles) and water. In some sandstone outback regions, water passes through the sandstone to form a silica-rich solution that flows to voids formed from decomposed fossils and as the water evaporates, a silica deposit is left. This is repeated over vast periods and from it, an Opal is formed.

Black Opal differs from other Opal as it is formed on a black quartz-like layer that enables greater refraction/reflection of the light to the top of the opal, especially the reds and pinks; and these colours are rarer, more beautiful and of course more valuable.

Interestingly, the actual process of how an Opal forms is still primarily a mystery and there are many theories. Consequently, determining where it can be found is also enigmatic as it is very hit and miss. Some have described mining for Black Opal as playing the lottery but with most of the time spent digging underground.

Exploring the Ridge

Need a Pool?

Drive through any country town and you will usually see a swimming pool, but the Ridge pool is slightly different and was built in a very Ridge way. Back in the 1980’s group of local schoolgirls were getting tired of having to travel to Walgett (over an hour away) to attend swimming training. So they combined their savings and started to raise money for the project. Needless to say, the pool was built, as was an indoor gym, basketball centre and most recently an Olympic standard diving centre. That is the can-do attitude and community generosity that makes the Ridge such a special place.

Touring Lightning Ridge

Like many places, Lightning Ridge has self-guided tours, but in a unique Ridge style, these are not sign-posted with touring-type signs but marked with car doors; a different coloured car-door for each one. Someone years ago had the bright idea that with so many abandoned cars in the area, why not recycle parts of them and use the doors to mark the various areas of the town.

Each self-drive tour allows the visitor to experience places like the Astronomer’s Monument, Amigo’s Castle, 3 Mile Opal Field, Lunatic Hill, Nudey’s Paradise. (It’s all in the name), Chamber of the Black Hand, (a massive underground sculpture gallery), the “Goddess of 1967” church, Walk-in-Mine (self-guided opal mine tours) and Bevan’s Black Opal & Cactus Nursery, to name a few.

For those that are a bit ‘saddle-sore’ from the travel, the artisan bore baths is a favourite and one of the main reasons some people visit the Ridge. Fed from the Great Artesian Basin, water flows naturally to the surface at 41.5 Celsius and then mixed with cooler water of the bath to create the perfect temperature for a soothing experience which many claim therapeutic benefits from bathing in the water.

Getting your own Opal

fossicking lightning ridge outback nsw 08Time in Lightning Ridge will inevitably turn to buy Opal, and like most types of shopping, particularly that involving jewellery, it is often the ladies who lead the way with the male of the species firmly in tow. There are many options for buying opal and opal jewellery.

If the partner is wanting but the wallet is unwilling, you can always fossick for your own Opal at the visitor centre where a regularly replenished supply of material is provided and many who try their luck have been pleasantly surprised. In fact, last year a couple found a piece of Black Opal valued at over $20,000. So it can certainly be worth it. ** A note of caution though, this is the only place in town that you can do this and fossick in someone else’s claim, or ‘ratting’ as it is known, is something to be avoided as it is considered stealing.

Ridge Art and Artists

The Ridge has a wonderful artistic history with many well-known iconic artists. One of the main streets not to be missed is the John Murray Art Gallery. John is an internationally acclaimed artist who produces beautiful iconic Australian landscape paintings full of life, colour and the essence of the outback. His paintings are full of wildlife ‘personalities’ and even some very familiar political characterisations including Julia Gillard as an Emu, and Tony Abbott resplendent in his ‘budgie-smugglers’. John’s gallery walls are adorned with some big open landscapes and standing in front of them can be a surreal, not to be missed, experience.

Exploring the Lightning Ridge Area

The Grawin

No visit to Lightning Ridge would be complete without visiting the Grawin, about 1 hours’ drive via Cumborah. The Grawin is the original opal field of the area. If you think the Ridge is unique, this area is even more so as you drive through a massive array of diggings. Touring can be thirsty and hungry work and there are some great options along this tour to replenish the energy levels. The Glengarry Hilton (no connection), Sheepyard Inn, and the Club in the Scrub are worthy contenders of, ‘have you been there’, with the latter even offering the opportunity for a round of golf, but a warning, there are no greens, only ‘browns’.

Glengarry Hilton

Glengarry Opal Fields. (60+kms from Lightning Ridge)

Experience the delights of the Glengarry "Hilton", nestled in the heart of the infamous Glengarry Opal field. Nothing like the Sydney Hilton but with lots more atmosphere, the Glengarry Hilton is a unique pub & its inhabitants will keep you intrigued for hours.

Opening Hours: 11 am until late.

Features: Backpacker style air-conditioned accommodation $16.00 p.p includes breakfast. Meals & snacks are available every day & can cater for large groups.

The Grawin Club In The Scrub

Grawin Opal Fields (60+kms from Lightning Ridge)

Have a yarn with the miners and local characters. Enjoy the games room including table tennis, pool or darts. Check out the golf course and relax at the 19th hole while sipping a refreshing ale.

Opening Hours: 9.30 am till late every day (including the cafe).

The kitchen is open for lunch from 11.30 am to 2 pm daily. Dinner available Wednesday to Saturday

Free camping - dog-friendly at the rest area, Bingo - Tuesday 11 am. Meat Raffle and Jolly Jester Draw - Friday nights.

Special events throughout the year including live entertainment.

Sheepyard Inn

1 Anzac Parade, Grawin Opal Fields (60+kms from Lightning Ridge)

A truly unique bush Pub. Ice cold beer, groceries & gas and local tourist information. The Sheepyard Inn offers a completely unique outback experience. Come along and share a cold beer, cooked meal, great yarn, with local miners and other colourful characters. Enjoy a free game of pool, and some amazing photo opportunities.

See you there! Open hrs: 11:00am - Late 7 Days. Products & Services Free camp area available Shower and toilets Groceries and gas available Local on-site baker with fresh bread daily.

Cafe 64

64 Wee Waa St, Walgett NSW

A community based Not-for-profit business offering employment and training opportunities to people with a disability while offering good coffee and delicious meals to patrons in a fresh and welcoming environment.

Hebel Hotel

30 William St Hebel

It is widely claimed that Dan Kelly and Steve Hart from the legendary Ned Kelly gang resided In the Hebel area under assumed names and that they frequented the Hebel Hotel. Hebel was once known as Kelly's Point and changed the name to Hebel in the early 1890s. Possibly named after a local German family.

Map & Visitor Information

Lightning Ridge Visitor Information:

For the visitor, Lightning Ridge has everything you need and many things you may not; but you won't know what you need/want until you experience Lightning Ridge Services and Shops.

  • Supermarket
  • Post Office
  • Bargain Warehouse
  • Lapidary
  • Newsagency
  • Pharmacy
  • Cafes & Restaurants
  • Opal & Jewelry Retailers
  • Petrol Station
  • Bowling Club
  • Getting to Lightning Ridge (Car):
    • From Brisbane: 736km
    • From Sydney: 750km
    • From Melbourne: 1,210km
    • From Adelaide: 1,440km
  • Lightning Ridge Information Centre:


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