Monday, February 17, 2014

His and Her Travel Review: Finding Opals at Lightning Ridge

An example of black opal - Source
Amanda's first trip to Australia was in 2006. One of her wish list items was to visit the outback, but sadly we didn't have the time to go out that far. My parents and I thought we would do the next best thing and show her one of the opal mining towns nearby. We did this for a few reasons: 
1- It was not quite the outback but it was pretty close. 
2- It would give her an idea of how isolated most of Australia was ---and---
3- it would let her see one of the few places in the world where they mine this precious stone. About 95% of the world's opals come from Australia and just about all of the black opal comes from Australia as well. 

Opal mine at Lightning Ridge
The closest opal mining town to us was Lightning Ridge. It is a small town with a population of just a few thousand people and was about 6 hours from my hometown. The trip to Lightning Ridge is pretty monotonous as there is not a lot of towns or scenery on the way. After several hours you see the turn off for the town, crest the ridge, and down into town you go.

       At first glance there is not much to this town. It has one main street and a dozen or so side streets. There was no McDonalds or Hiltons here, just a couple of motels, a few cafes, and a supermarket. Most of the action occurs out of the main area of town. 

        It is possible to drive and see the mines and shops by yourself but we decided to take a small tour bus to make things easier and so we wouldn't get lost. We saw a few different places where active mining was going on and were able to go down into a old mine to see just
Down inside an old mine
how conditions are for the miners. (When we were kids we were able to go mining down in one of the mines for a few bucks but we didn't see that this time around.) The next stop was where miners discarded rocks that had mined and you could see if you could find an opal. Some people have success, but sadly we didn't find our fortune that day.

 The tour bus then took us to see a house that was built with thousand of glass beer bottles. I'm sure the guy who built this along with his mates had a good time emptying all of the bottles needed to build his house. The final stop took us to one of the largest opal shops in town. The selection here was just mind blowing and was far cheaper than buying elsewhere as there was no middle man to deal with.

After seeing the mine and browsing the stores for opals, artwork, and jewelery, we had
Part of the beer bottle house.
seen just about everything Lightning Ridge had to offer. It was an interesting experience but can easily be done in a day. You will likely need a motel for the night as it is miles away from anywhere, but I wouldn't plan than spending much more than a full day here as you will likely run out of things to do.

I absolutely loved Lightning Ridge. I know everyone kept telling me that it wasn't officially the outback, but it was pretty desolate and the dirt was red. That screams outback to this "Yankee" (the name given to all Americans by the Aussies...I am no Yankee though!). Lightning Ridge was a small town, but I love small towns. The people were all very nice, from the tour guide, to the mine guides, to the shop owners. The opals we purchased were beautiful and I wear them with a smile. If you have a chance to go to Lightning Ridge, I urge you to do it. You won't regret the visit!

Have you been to a mining town? Share that experience with us. We would like to visit a mining town here in the U.S. since we have been to one in Oz. 

Happy Traveling,

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