We left Bernie’s and headed for the free camp just outside of Lightning Ridge – well, about 10 kms out, to be precise. This was a nice big rest area with a well-maintained Blue-Water style toilet. There were about fifteen rigs of all shapes and sizes there overnight. We called it The Big Emu for obvious reasons. (Rob had a close-up look and tells me that the towering emu sculpture is made of Volkswagen parts.)
At last, Rob got a chance to try out his new folding firebox. Clem, who made it, used the heaviest guage stainless steel mesh he had, but still wasn’t completely sure that it wouldn’t buckle once the fire got going. Well, so far so good – it worked like a charm!
The next day we scooted off to the Opal Caravan Park at Lightning Ridge to stay for a few days. We planned to catch up on a bit of washing, enjoy some down-time, catch up on the blog and other tasks, and of course, check out Lightning Ridge.
Bernie had told us that we couldn’t miss seeing the Chambers of the Black Hand Mine, so on our second day at The Ridge we paid $30 each to go on the self-guided tour. (The price included a DVD about the mine. For an extra $5 each we could have opted to deeper and tour an opal mine, but after exploring Bernie’s, we decided to give it a miss.) One of the staff showed us around and gave us a potted history. Essentially, a miner named xxx used to do a bit of digging then, when he got sick of that, he’d amuse himself by doing carvings in the soft rock. As you do.)
We wouldn’t have missed this. Some might think that $30 a head for a self-guided tour is a bit much, but this truly is unique. The carvings encompass everything from Ancient Greek and Egyptian scenes to modern-day, brightly-painted superheroes. (Hey, you can even spot Dora lurking in a corner!) And you’ll love the whimsical humour in the depictions of our polititicans. Oh, and by the way… there’s a good reason you have to wear a hard hat to descend the steep, narrow staircase: Rob bonked his head twice on the roof going down.
Here are a few pics:
We followed up the trip to the Chambers of the Black Hand with a quick visit to the markets. You can’t half tell that opal mining (or noodling) is the main business around here. Take a tip: if you want to set up a stall at the Lightning Ridge markets, pick something other than opals. You’ll stand out. 🙂 The opal stalls varied when it came to content and quality, but if you wanted an inexpensive memento of a trip to the opal fields, you’ll find it here. Not only can you choose from opals of various colours and values, you can also buy rocks with a seam of potch; glass vials containing glowing small stones or chips of opal; uncut opals; toy trucks filled with opal chips… well, you get the picture. Stick an opal on anything and put it on a stall.
We didn’t actually buy anything opal-y; we bought some carrot cake for afternoon tea, which proved to be absolutely mouth-watering.
Bernie had also told us that the local pizza joint made the best-tasting pizzas ever, so (knowing there was a campfire performance that night) we opted for a late lunch/very early dinner. Wow. Bernie wasn’t kidding. This gourmet pizza was some of the nicest we’d ever had. (Half chicken and half seafood, in case you’re wondering.) We added a plate of rocket and pear salad, and… what a meal. If you’re in Lightning Ridge – and the shop is still there – try Bruno’s Wood-Fired Pizza.
Everywhere you drive in Lightning Ridge, you see car doors. Some of them have signs that say things like “Red car door tour” with an arrow (there are various coloured Car Door Tours) but locals use car doors – suitably painted – to point the way to houses or driveways or… well, pretty much anything else you can imagine.
We’d heard from other travellers that you either love Lightning Ridge or you hate it. Some people stay one night and then move on; others stay for a week or more. Well, actually, we kinda fit smack in the middle. Didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it. Paired with the experience at Bernie’s camp at Glengarry, we wouldn’t have missed the experience.
On Sunday night, we were entertained by locals Willy and Joey; a 2-hour performance around the park campfire. What a hoot. Joey sang (and had a lovely voice); Willy played guitar and sang numbers. Their songs were accompanied by a running patter of comic asides. There were lots of guests sitting around on camp chairs or on the grass, and nobody seemed inclined to go home early. In fact, at the end Joey was chuffed to say that this was the first standing ovation they’d ever had!
I’ll do a separate post on the Opal Van Park – the amenities here are amongst the best we’ve seen. (That’s one or the reasons we stayed here: of course, caravanners talk – and pass on info about the best parks!)