We are at last heading for lightening Ridge. We have been trying to get there for about 4 years and something always crops up and stops us.We had 4 days at the property of Peter Black, the son of friends of ours Lindsay and Judith Black, at Inverell. He runs a bush camp where for a small fee people can stay and pan for sapphires. The camp is very basic but has a toilet and hot shower and the resident permanent (a lovely old gent named Bob) will give prospectors tips on panning for the elusive gem or just knowledge on the surrounding tourist attractions. Although facilities are basic people came in in droves and left with " We'll be back to find the big one ". Thank you Judith, Lindsay, their son Peter and wife Nicole for your hospitality.
We only travelled a few hours along the Gwyder Highway to Bingara. Just out of town is a lovely free camp that is grassed to the edge of the river which is just a trickle but with plenty of fish (catfish I think) jumping and heaps of bird life. On our last evening as we sat around the fire eating dinner and enjoying a glass of wine we spotted a Spoonbill Crane sitting in the overhanging dead tree.
Another interesting site was all the small birds which would swoop down onto the surface of the water and pluck insects sitting on the surface of the river. We counted about 21 vans here when we pulled in.
We ventured up onto a little lookout which was very steep and a nightmare to turn around on but a magnificent view of the town of Bingara and the huge valley in which it sits.
Just at the entrance to our camp spot is a marker. One of many along the road marking the trail of Alan Cunningham as he explored the area making his way across the country. On another of his explorations he found a crossing over the Mountains west of Brisbane which was later called Cunningham’s Gap.
Not far out of Narrabri we came across another rock formation called Sawn Rocks. These reminded me of the rock formations on the west coast of Ireland at the Cliffs of Moher and also the west coast of Tasmania.
On our way through to Lightening Ridge we stopped for the night at Burren Junction. This was our first experience of Bore Baths. The water was quite hot and of course full of minerals. The bore baths are over 2 million years old and the water is being forced to the surface by geothermal heat from over a kilometre below the earth’s surface.
At the turnoff to Lightening Ridge is the iron sculpture of "Stanley". Standing a magnificent 18 metres high.
First day we went to the one place that we had heard was a must and also a winner of the NSW Hidden Jewel Award - The Chamber Of The Black Hand. It is the Second most unmissable attraction in "outback Australia". We travelled down 85 hand carved steps onto the mine floor where we were lucky enough to strike the owner as our guide. He described how miners dug the gem out of the ground in the early days, and how it is done today. He even chipped a small piece of Opal and gave it to one of the children on the tour. After this he left us to our own devices to wander through the shafts where he said there wasn't a lot of the much sort after black opal and so he carved people and animals both real and fictitious into the walls and roof of his mine.
This isn't peak season out here but by the look of the number of people on our tour and the one before and after ours his fortune wasn't in the mining of the beautiful gem but in the entrance fee of the tourist seeking knowledge of the mining of it. His pocket was also lined with the profit from the sale of Opal Jewellery in all forms and the actual stone which the buyer can have set at a later date. These range from the little bottle of chips for about $20 to rings and pendants and earrings from $90 for triplets which I learnt was a stone made up of a very thin sliver of opal glued between a black base and a resin top to upwards of $10,000 for a solid black opal stone set in many different ways. I did get my long awaited Lightening Ridge Black Opal Ring but it wasn't in the top price bracket or anywhere near it - but I love it.
We did a few self-drive tours of the area marked out by the colour of the car door showing which tour you do.
|A craft shop in the middle of this Opal field complete with a "husband chair" and someone for him to talk to while waiting for his wife inside.|
While there we also did a trip out to 3 pubs in the middle of the scrub at another Black Opal Field.
|In the middle of all the heat dust and flies was the welcome relief of a glass of Guinness.|
We called into one of the little “Villages” to get a cold drink and we got the feeling that there wasn’t a large police presence out there. Very few vehicles were registered and at least one driver wouldn’t have had a license as she looked about 13.
Road signs were large and easy to read also
|It was like driving on a lunar landscape with mounds of rubbish dirt bought to the surface to find the elusive black opal|
We also had a dip in the hot baths which are nearly across the road from our caravan park.