LIGHTNING RIDGE - HOME OF
I'm fortunate enough to have a friend who has a pilot's license, so when we decided we needed a break away from the cold and wet winter in Canberra we flew up to Lightning Ridge. Lightning Ridge is an opal mining town, situated in what is normally a semi arid area of Australia. It is 678 kilometres (436 miles) as the crow flies from Canberra and it was necessary to stop in Coonamble to refuel - self service of course!
The average annual rainfall in that area is around 8 inches, however we just happened to choose one of the wettest months on record to visit. More than 8 inches of rain had fallen during the three weeks before we arrived and on the flight up we flew over thousands of square miles of flooded countryside.
Lightning Ridge is the only place on this planet where you can find the extraordinarily beautiful black opal. It is also home to a wonderfully diverse and extremely friendly population made up of native born Australians and people from all around the world. Most of them appeared to have originally intended to visit "The Ridge" for a few weeks and, years later they are still there. Practically everyone has a "claim" and works it, either full time or in their spare time.
The official population of Lightning Ridge is between 2,200 and 3,400 however there are over 1,000 private mail boxes at the local Post Office, with multiple users for most of them, so the real population at any one time is anyone's guess.
We had booked into the Lightning Ridge Motor Village, which was extremely comfortable. There was a taste of what the Ridge was all about when we arrived at Reception to check in. Parked opposite the Reception office were two sparkling white stretch limmos, alongside them on the top of a pole was a Toyota Hi Ace with wings attached to it. The limmos belong to the owner of the motel, who had a car hire business in a town "down south" and when he moved north he brought them with him. The "Flying Ace" is the "sister" of the vehicle which belongs to local artist John Murray, who has a studio and gallery in the main street.
There are several excellent restaurants, and we were very lucky to find that one of the best was the dining room at the Motel. Not only did we enjoy excellent fresh seafood (flown in from Brisbane), but they make the best Margaritas I have ever tasted! Many thanks to Sylvia for passing on the recipe to us!
Definitely not to be missed is a trip to the Bore Baths. This was our first port of call when we arrived. After dinner we took what I believe is the only taxi in the town, out to the baths and spent a couple of hours soaking in the steaming water under the stars. If you have any aches or pains, or just like soaking in a bath 5 feet deep with the water temperature at a steady 104 degrees F. (40 degrees C), then this is the place for you. It's free and is open 24 hours a day. Whatever time of the day or night, there is always someone there. I wondered about this and was told that when people were working down in their mines they lost track of time and might not come to the surface until the early hours of the morning. This is an ideal place to go after hard physical work.
The next day we visited the Big Opal. Underneath the shop, which sells everything from post cards to opals, there is a working opal mine which we toured. Our hosts Leslie and Sandra, were typical of the residents of "The Ridge", friendly, helpful and very hospitable. In this photograph Leslie was endeavouring to show us a recently mined, very expensive opal. Her cat, which had no respect for precious and expensive gemstones, decided that the velvet on which there were a number of other opals displayed was the ideal place to relax and grab the limelight.