Lightning Ridge NSW

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.

Sunrise next to the Artesian Baths, Lightning Ridge

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.

Beautiful Sunrise

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.

One of the delicious meals at the bowls club

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.

Lunatic Hill Lightning Rodge
Corey & Sean at Lunatic Hill

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.

Lunatic Hill open cut mine

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.

Steps down to Chambers of the Black Hand
Carved Sandstone

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

Superhero’s carved into the 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.

Everywhere you look more carving some

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.

This shot of the Last Supper gives an idea of the sheer scale of these carvings
Life size Star Wars figures

Southern Outback Queensland & Lightning Ridge

ST GEORGE

Balonne River, St George Qld

April 1864 saw the Balonne River crossing area, named at St George, by Sir Thomas Mitchell, the NSW Surveyor-General. The date was close to the date of England’s patron Saint George feast day, hence the towns name. Since those times, St George has grown to a population of around three thousand, with a successful farming community in place, established from drawing on the Balonne River, as opposed to artesian water.

Flood marker

Check the flood markers down by the river.  Its very interesting to see the different river flood heights over the years.  Interesting to note to that, only a year or two after the 2011 flooding, the river was so dry you could walk across.   This was an interesting fact learnt from the local baker, Trent, during a run in his model T Ford.

Our first port of call after check-in at Kamarooka Tourist Park, was to visit Queensland most Western Winery, Riversands.

Riversands Winery

Helpful staff will run you through a tasting if you wish, or, there is a menu should you like to spend some time chilling over a meal and wine. And of course you most likely will want to try the F****ing Good Port, we did and there were a few bottles purchased.

Tasting the port

An early morning run around the township with Trent in his Model T Ford, was a little chilly on the hands, but a great way to get a look around the town, with Trent providing a very informative narrative on the town, amenities and history. Trent certainly is a great ambassador for St George! Add to that, your $5 for the ride is fully donated to the Flying Doctors and I am sure you will be wanting to take the spin around town with Trent.

Highly recommend a trip round town with Trent and his Model T Ford
Sandytown Sunset river cruise

Brett is your host for the informative sunset river cruise. For $35 per head, BYO your own drinks and nibbles whilst relaxing on the 2 hour cruise. As the sun disappears for the day, you are cruising along the river, chosen beverage in hand, listening to Brett as he tells of the areas history.

A couple of the riverside homes visible from the boat cruise

From his position at the front, Brett can pick out the locals who are fishing from their private jetty’s or relaxing on their private properties. Locals returned the happy smiles, cheers and waves they receive from the boat guests, as you cruise past.

Everywhere reflections

The timing of our arrival into St George plus departure, meant we were limited in what we could do. However, there are Cotton farm tours, as well as the Unique Egg store, and a number of other attractions.

Nindigully Pub

A short 30 minutes from St George is the infamous Nindigully pub. Touted as Queensland’s oldest pub, licensed in 1864, plus also being one of the locations for the 1999 Hugh Jackman movie, Paperback Hero.

Nindigully boasts a population of 9, however, this complex is intriguing, with something to see everywhere. No accommodation, you need to bring your own, but the parties this place would have seen over the past 150 odd years, would have been incredible.

Hats of yesteryear line the walls, with notes dotted all over the very high ceiling
And another sign says free beer yesterday- just need to find the right day 😆

Certainly be sure to visit Nindigully. This place is seeped in history, with entertaining staff and generally a great atmosphere. We didn’t have a meal here, but there’s some very famous huge meals to be enjoyed, just make sure you are hungry. There’s even chandeliers!

Nindigully beer garden

Take some time to visit St George, it really is worth the drive to indulge a few days at this beautifully tidy outback town, full of friendly locals willing to share their stories.

First Leg – Brisbane to St George Southern Outback Queensland & Lightning Ridge 12 night trip

Brisbane to St George, via Dalby is an approximately 5.5 hour drive. A good first driving break is at Jondaryan, an easy two hours from Brisbane, with the service station here providing clean bathrooms, food and drinks. There is also the tourist attraction, Jondaryan Woolshed here, but this, unfortunately, is closed for the foreseeable future.

The hustle and bustle of suburban life, swiftly disappears in the rearview mirror, the further you drive along the Warrego Highway. Scenery changes to wide open spaces, with small tufts of snow-white cotton beginning to appear on the roadside, as you approach Dalby. Dalby being a mere 30 minutes from Jondaryan along the wide, easy to drive highway.

Plenty of places to stop in Dalby too, if you would like a break or a look around the quaint township. We chose to stay on night on our return trip, so more about Dalby yet to come.

Turn off to the left to follow the 290km Moonie Highway, with a short 1 hour 15 minutes to the Moonie Crossroads. You’re driving in areas frequented by road trains now, so be sure to give them room whenever the road narrows.

Tufts of white cotton, turn into a splattered sea of white, lining the highway. You could be forgiven for thinking of this as white sand or snow.

Remember too, you are entering the home of many wildlife, who may choose to shoot across the road at any time. The worst times for the Roo’s and foxes is the twilight and sunrise. Emus can appear at any time, and when you see one, there’s a pretty good chance there’s a mob close by. The amount of road kill at the side of the road, is a good indication as to the risks of driving out here. We made a point of limiting our highway driving times to between 8:30/9am to 3pm, during the month of June.

Cotton fields

Moonie is a must stop. With a thriving pub, café, shop, caravan park, accommodation and friendly service, Moonie, hosting a permanent population of less than 200, is a refreshing break on the highway run.

The toilet door makes for entertaining reading.
A realistic looking figure, overlooks the garden bar
Vast plains appear as you drive by

A further two hours to St George from here, the final part of the first leg. Now you really do enter the vast outback areas. Before too long, the scenery changes to become filled with red dirt, long straight roads and scrub. If you’re wondering why there are wide strips graded along the sides of the highway, this is to help give you more wandering of wildlife or cattle who choose to cross the road ahead.

Our chosen place to stay on this occasion, was Kamarooka Tourist Park, hosted by Wade and Brenda. Cabins here were clean and quite adequate for a couple of nights. Every night your hosts, hold a happy hour from 5-7pm around the open fire, with complimentary garlic pizza bread. A good initiative to bring visitors together.

Next story will be about St George itself. A thriving, clean, tidy town, St George was a pleasure to visit.

Views and reflections from the river cruise

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