29/10/14 On Wednesday, we left Narrabri for Lightning Ridge. We’d heard many reports from people that it would be well worth a visit, so our interest was piqued. The plan was to break the trip by overnighting at Burren Junction, but after some short stops at Wee Waa and Walgett, we decided to push on through to the Ridge.
To get a break from the heat, we decided to go on power so we could run the aircon. There are a few caravan parks in Lightning Ridge and we settled on the Opal Caravan Park as it had the best reviews on Wikicamps. We weren’t disappointed. It’s a fairly new caravan park and the facilities were terrific. Some other people there who had done a lot of travelling reckoned it has the best park facilities in the country, and they were certainly the best that we’d seen so far.
The weather at the Ridge was very hot. A thermometer on the wall outside the Post Office read 39C at midday in the shade. Add a few more degrees in the sunlight and the temperature would be well into the 40s. When not cooling off in the swimming pool at the caravan park, we did a tour of the Chambers of the Black Hand Opal Mine and saw what a mine would have been like in the early days of opal mining. Some of the tunnels were very tight and claustrophobic (just big enough to swing a pick), and the working conditions in the early days with a pick and shovel must have been very tough. A number of tunnels (drives) of the opal mine have been transformed with sculptures carved into the walls by local opal miner Ron Canlin. Ron’s carvings were absolutely spectacular and what was amazing was that he had no formal art training, just a natural talent.
Above ground, we picked through the specking (mullock) heaps that were scattered around everywhere next to the mine and found a few small pieces of opal. None were of any value though, so we’re still poor nomads. I can see how the prospecting bug can get to you as you keep expecting the next rock to be the one!
Driving around Lightning Ridge and its surroundings was fascinating, seeing how the miners and other local residents live in this distinctive and slightly peculiar town. A general lack of respect for rules and a quirky approach to just about everything is evident wherever you look.
A dip in the hot artesian bore baths early on our last morning was very refreshing and, according to the locals, apparently also very beneficial for our health. I must say, we did admit to feeling very good on the drive soon after to Dubbo, which took us about 5 hours or so.