Southern Outback Queensland & Lightning Ridge
Referred to by locals as The Ridge, this was definitely a highly entertaining part of our trip. You’re in Opal country now, the landscape has changed dramatically from rolling cotton and pastural fields to a much stonier view.
What to do at The Ridge? Where to start! This place is packed to the brim with things to see and do. For a relatively young established area, with opal mining starting in the early 1900’s the history here is incredible. Even though it is suspected opal was first found here in the early 1800’s, it took a long time for the area to become popular for opal mining.
Stop by the visitor centre, that should be your first port of call and it’s easy to find, just on the outskirts of the township, right hand side as you arrive. The lovely, helpful staff there will run you through the car door tours, as well as everything you need to know for the duration of your stay.
Definitely worth a visit to The Ridge, and luckily, very close to the Qld border, so was safe then for us to pop over for a visit , before lockdowns. At least if anything changed, we could head back to Qld in no time.
Artesian water from the great artesian basin, supplies the area. Locals highly recommend heading to the free hot artisian baths on the outskirts of the township, to relax in the 40-50 degree C pools. Natural pressure sends this approximately two million year old water to the surface. If you don’t make the hot pools then simply savour the shower at your accommodation. Its exactly the same water. Whilst here though, do not drink the tap water.
Our accommodation, Bluey’s Motel, was located directly across the road from the local Bowls club. Currently undergoing some extensive renovations to increase the already, large areas, the bowls club was a handy spot for a relaxing beverage and good meals.
Bluey’s owners happened to be there when we were, with Robert narrating some highly entertaining stories on the local area. Have a chat with the Manager Corrina there too, she has a very interesting opal collection, as well as a lot of a lot of knowledge regarding the opals and the best buys.
There’s a lot to see here and the locals are forthcoming with the stories, many a tale to be told! A couple of our favourite characters were Sean & Corey at Lunatic Hill. Drop by and have a chat to the boys, they were highly entertaining. These brothers love their animals, and were more than happy to pose for a photo.
After looking around opals and the prices, their pricing was really good. If you’re in the market for some opal, stop and chat to the boys. Lunatic Hill is not far past the incredible Chambers of the Black Hand.
Chambers of the Black Hand is breathtaking. If you were only going to visit one place with an entry fee, this is it. But, be warned, you need to be able to negotiate around 83 steps, steep, ones.
The story behind this mine and the carvings is mind blowing. Ron Canlin, accidentally turned to carving when he made nothing from the opal mine
Once you are down those steps, you will be met with a guide who gives you a quick briefing, then sends you on your way to explore this incredible chamber of hand carved walls. What you will see will amaze you, and if you can handle those steps, I would highly recommend checking this out. The $40 cover charge per person is high, but as a once in a lifetime attraction, don’t miss it.
40 feet underground, a totally fabulous display awaits you. Ron Canlin started Chambers of the Black Hand in 1996 and he hasn’t stopped since. Originally, he spent 6 months digging a tunnel with the idea of showing off the opal mine. However, the first carving was the simple word ‘Welcome’. From there the carvings grew into the breathtakingly accurate images you get to see today.
For a mine which firstly earnt Ron a mere $27 000 over 25 years of hard work, to have evolved to the popular tourist attraction it now is, in itself is astonishing. You will be in awe of what this sandstone has been turned into so take some time to drink it all in, check out every nook and cranny, before you make your way up those steep steps to return to the surface.
The Visitor Information Centre can provide you the information on the innovative Car Door tours. A great way to visit the highlights of this area, where you simply find the first colour door propped at the side of the road, of your chosen tour, then follow the arrows. More about the Car Door Tours in Part Two.