In the outback of New South Wales lies a historic mining town, world-renowned for its rare black opal, unique history and characterful locals. The more established residents will tell you of a time when this 2834 postcode was rough, turbulent and populated by those on the run. Whilst the outback feel of Lightning Ridge remains, tourism has become a growing industry making this more than simply another country town. With an abundance of character, there are countless fun things to do in Lightning Ridge.
These days it is home to many artists and designers, filled with beautiful galleries and unique jewellery stores. Commonly referred to as “the Ridge”, its allure drives many tourists who initially plan to experience the town’s quirky nature for a day or so and end up staying for a lifetime.
If you are looking for a quintessential Australian outback experience then the Ridge is an excellent addition to your travel itinerary. With an abundance of character, there are countless fun things to do in Lightning Ridge. So if hot artesian baths, decent coffee, delicious food and of course, a cold beer are your thing read on to discover all the best things to do in Lightning Ridge.
How to get to Lightning Ridge
Where is Lightning Ridge
Situated in northern New South Wales, Lightning Ridge lies 64km from the Queensland border and 725km (via Dubbo) from Sydney CBD.
The closest town to Lightning Ridge is Walgett which is an 80km ride away, however, is very limited with things to do, the nearest big town would be Dubbo which lies 273km south of Lightning Ridge.
Driving to Lightning Ridge
If you are driving from Brisbane, QLD it is an 8-hour drive (720km) to Lightning Ridge. Be sure to stop at the Hebel Hotel for a cold one, which is almost a right of passage as you cross the Queensland – New South Wales border.
If you are driving from Sydney to Lightning Ridge, it is approximately an 8-and-a-half-hour drive. It is recommended to break up the trip into a couple of days which means you won’t be driving in the dark with wildlife on the road.
Plus, there are lots of great stops on the way which are not to be missed! If you decide to head up Tamworth Way you can stop at Moree, which is a trip in itself. Alternatively, stop at the famous wine region of Mudgee for a few days before heading north to Lightning Ridge.
If you are planning to drive from Sydney to Brisbane and want to have an alternative itinerary to the usual coastal stops, Lightning Ridge can be a welcome detour.
Public Transport to Lightning Ridge
Lightning Ridge is easily accessible by a train journey to Dubbo and then a coach ride to Lightning Ridge. The total journey time for this trip is just under 12 hours, therefore consider stopping over in Dubbo and breaking the journey into two.
Flying to Lightning Ridge
It is possible to take a flight to Lightning Ridge via Dubbo however it will be expensive and you will miss out on some great towns. Currently, Air Linkis the only airline that flies direct to Lightning Ridge.
When is the best time to visit Lightning Ridge?
The weather in Lightning Ridge varies year-round. Whilst the winters are cold, the summers are long and sweltering. Temperatures generally range from 1 degree Celsius in winter up to 42 degrees Celsius in summer.
If you are looking for the best time to travel around Lightning Ridge for outdoor activities, favouring clear skies, absence of rain and perceived temperatures of 18-27 degrees Celsius, the best months would be February to early April and November to early January.
Best Things to do in Lightning Ridge
1. Lightning Ridge Artesian Bore Baths
Opened in 1962 and located on the outskirts of Lightning Ridge, these heavenly open-air baths are surrounded by remote bushland and are splendidly removed from civilisation. The water, which is maintained at approximately 42 degrees Celsius is said to hold therapeutic properties.
A popular meeting place for Lightning Ridge locals to bathe, relax and socialise, these baths are a great option after a day of exploring the opal mining town. These free thermal pools are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (closed for cleaning Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 10 am-12noon). After dark swims are particularly recommended as you can float in the 42-degree water whilst gazing at the stars.
Due to the popularity of the attraction for both locals and tourists, it can occasionally get busy however, the long opening hours give more choice to go outwith peak times and enjoy a bath by yourself. Bliss!
2. Australian Opal Centre
It would be outrageous to visit Lightning Ridge and not visit the Australian Opal Centre. The building contains the world’s greatest public collection of Australian
Opal as well as opal from all around the world. The collection also contains photographs, documents, artworks and even cutting machinery and other remnants from life on Australia’s Opal fields. Open 9 am-5 pm from Monday to Saturday, the knowledgeable staff will be sure to enhance your knowledge of Australian Opal.
In addition, they are in the process of building a new world-class, energy-efficient Australian Opal Centre in Lightning Ridge. The new centre will be developed in stages and stage 1 is due to start in early 2022. A reason to go back for sure!
3. Amigo’s Castle
An extravagant but equally absurd and incomplete attempt for an Italian miner to build himself a castle in the middle of the Australian outback back in 1982. Vittorio Stefanato, known locally as Amigo, built the castle upon a mining lease which later lead to a legal battle. Amigo threatened to tear down the castle however it was later heritage listed to preserve it as a tourist attraction.
The castle bears no roof and is relatively small however, tours are available and are included in the entrance fee. Admission is $5 per person which is completely worth it to see the sheer quirkiness of it all. The castle is open most days 9 am-3 pm and is also pet friendly! It is also included as one of the stops on the red car door tour.
4. John Murray Art Gallery
If you’ve fallen completely in love with the allure of Lightning Ridge and want to take a piece back home, head to the colourful John Murray Art gallery. The gallery showcases the exquisite works of Australian artist, John Murray and his portrayal of the beauty and character of Lightning Ridge. His work is distinctive and his talent shines through his fun painting depicting scenes of outback life. You will see some of his quirky paintings around the streets of Lightning Ridge.
Get close up with his work then finish off with an obligatory stop at the gift shop where you can purchase original paintings, prints and souvenirs to take home. Open daily from 9 am-5 pm weekdays and till 2 pm at the weekend.
5. Bottle House Museum
Originally a miner’s camp, the bottle house is a captivating illustration of innovative architecture. The house is made out of bottles from a town near the Queensland border called Hebel. It was constructed by welding an impressive 5,800bottle together with cement and then laterally clay.
Now a museum, this place is so unique it would be senseless to visit Lightning Ridge and not to pay it a visit. On display is a collection of artefacts but the fact that the house is constructed from bottles is a unique sight worth seeing in itself!
6. Car doors tour
The car doors tours are free, self-guided tours that guide you around the town ensuring you visit all the best tourist attractions in Lightning Ridge. There are four tours to pick from and each tour is marked by coloured car doors (yellow, blue, red and green) from derelict vehicles. The car doors are situated on the roadside and painted with numbers which correspond to sights detailed on a supplementary map that can be purchased for $1AUD from the Lightning Ridge Information Centre.
Each self-drive car door tour will lead you to equally quirky sites; follow the red car door tour to visit sites such as amigo’s castle, the blue tour will take you to The Opal Mine Adventure, pursue the yellow car door tour to visit Chambers of the Black hands meanwhile the green car door tour will take you to Nettleton’s first Shaft Lookout.
If sunsets and quirky landscapes are your things, definitely go on the green car door tour. The sunsets are phenomenal and even better with a basket of wine and cheese!
The roads on the car door tours are all gravel roads so you need to pay attention not to end up in someone’s backyard! Saying that, if the weather is clear a 2WD is perfectly fine for this trip. Beware, the green car door tour can get rocky at particular points.
Of course, if you are unsure you can always ask the Lightning Ridge Information Centre for their expert advice.
7. Outback Opal Tour
No visit to Lightning Ridge would be complete without an Opal tour. The outback Opal tour means you can hop on a lovely air-conditioned bus, sit back and relax whilst a tour guide shows you around the opal town. The town tour is highly recommended and is rated as an easy-moderate for physical exertion.
As well as seeing the surrounding Opal fields, this 3.5 -hour tour will take you on a guided underground mine tour, an opal cutting demonstration as well as a visit to Amigo’s Castle!
Morning tea and lunch are included in the ticket price of $60AUD per person. (children age 5-15 $20AUD).
8. Bevans Cactus Nursery
Adding to the sheer uniqueness of Lightning Ridge, Bevans Cactus Nursery is the third largest cactus nursery in the world. It is home to over 2,500 cacti of a variety of species. Founded in 1966, some of the garden cacti are over 150 years old.
Bevans Cactus Nursery is open 365 days a year from 9 am-5 pm. Entry is $10 for an adult and free for children. It is also part of the blue car door tour.
A worthwhile visit that will truly make you feel like you are in the desert – just watch where you put your hands!
9. Stanley the Emu
Australia is notorious for being the land of the giants and Lightning Ridge is no different, boasting an iconic 18-metre steel sculpture of an emu.
Stanley was crafted by local artist John Murray using old VW beetle bonnets and doors. He was originally destined for Birdsville however the cost of transportation to Queensland and intend use for beer advertisement meant Stanley stayed firmly in Lightning Ridge.
To grasp the sense of the magnitude of Stanley, it is worthwhile stopping to get up close and provides a great photo opportunity in Lightning Ridge.
10. Coopers Cottage
Built-in 1916, be sure to make a stop at one of the oldest houses in Lightning Ridge, Coopers Cottage. Built with whatever materials were to hand, the inside is just as ramshackle as the outside.
Whilst there is no entry to the inside of the house, you can peer through the windows to see what remains! The house is now supported internally as it would most likely collapse in harsh weather.
A great opportunity to see how miners previously lived and to take some photographs. Coopers Cottage is easily accessible via the main road and is completely free!
11. Chamber of the Black Hands
Undoubtedly, one of the best things to do in Lightning Ridge is the Chamber of the Black Hands. This underground gallery has over 800 sculptures carved into the sandstone walls of an old opal mine.
The talent of the artist Ron, who created these sculptures will mesmerise you. His sculptures depict a variety of subjects; superheroes, celebrities, buddhas, dinosaurs as well as a wall of Australia’s Prime Ministers, but that’s just to name a few!
If you are truly after a unique experience in Lightning Ridge then this is it. It can also be accessed via the yellow car door tours.
12. Lightning Ridge Olympic Pool and Water Theme Park
Built with community-raised funds, this 5-star Olympic pool is a great way to cool down if the Artesian Bore Baths are a little too hot for you. They do have an indoor pool which is heated all year round.
If you are vising lightning Ridge with kids, there are plenty of slides, swings, water cannons and paddling areas to keep even the littlest of explorers entertained at the water theme park.
It’s only open during the summer months and times vary, so it is best to check the opening times before you go.
13. Beer can house
By now you may be starting to realise that a lot of the things to do in Lightning Ridge are quirky and quite frankly bizarre. First a house made out of beer bottles and now…beer cans? It is literally what it says on the tinnie.
The beer can house is defiantly more unconventional, however, worthy of a visit. The family who built it in 1977 started with rocks however found they were too heavy for the children so changed to steel tins instead.
The house is open for guided or self-tours with a donation towards the restoration of the house appreciated.
14. Black Opal Bull and Bronco
It wouldn’t be a proper Aussie trip to the outback without going to the rodeo! The black Opal Bull and Bronco is one of the best things to do at night in Lightning Ridge. It is a major fundraiser event for the community.
After the main event, there is a chance to join in with the fun and win your weight in alcohol in the mechanical bull ride competition.
The event only runs once a year, normally on Good Friday of Easter weekend so best to plan ahead.
15. Lightning Ridge Opal Festival
If you are planning a trip to Lightning Ridge, you might want to arrange to go in July when the annual Lightning Ridge Festival takes place. It offers a packed itinerary of events including free activities, social events, market and trade stalls and the Opal Queen Ball.
Where to eat in Lightning Ridge: Best Restaurants and Cafes in Lightning Ridge
Breakfast @ The Gourmet Geko
Offering a beautiful selection of breakfast options, the Gourmet Geko in Lightning Ridge caters to everyone. Described as true country hospitality, the service is friendly and efficient and the staff are very knowledgeable, giving tips on menu favourites. The coffee is particularly good and is a favourite morning stop amongst locals.
They also do a terrific lunch menu, so if you are impressed with breakfast you can go back for a second helping!
Lunch @ Morillas Cafe
If you are looking for things to do in Lightning Ridge, stop for a quick bite to eat at Morillas. This bustling cafe is really popular amongst tourists and locals. There are indoor and outdoor seating areas which are dog friendly. There is plenty of variety on the menu; the burgers are arguably the best in Lightning Ridge!
Morillas Cafe closes early afternoon (around 2 pm), so best to make this an option for brunch/ early lunch.
Dinner @ Bruno’s Italian Restaurant & Take-Away
Boasting an array of Italian cuisine and an even better wine list, Bruno’s is a welcome addition to any trip to Lightning Ridge.
The popularity of Bruno’s restaurant is an indication of the quality of the food. With this in mind, the service can be slower but if you don’t mind the wait, you won’t be disappointed.
Due to its popularity, it is highly recommended to book a table ahead of time.
Pubs in Lightning Ridge
If you are after an authentic outback pub experience whilst exploring Lightning Ridge, it is highly recommended to visit the “Three Pubs in the Scrub”. It is one of the best things to do in Lightning Ridge, however not technically in Lightning Ridge itself. Rather a 65km drive further afield to a separate Opal mining community called Garwin.
These pubs are remote, ramshackle and probably house a snake or two! The characterful locals can often be found in these pubs, so there are interesting conversations with a side of tall tales to be had.
The Sheepyyard Inn is a true Aussie pub experience in the bush. Ice cold beer, great meals and an interesting collection of camp cookware outside.
The Glengarry Hilton is a great place to grab some lunch and a cold beer, the hamburgers are particularly good here. Be warned it can get quite busy during tourist season.
Club in the Scrub is a markedly unique experience in itself. It features a crazy golf course…with no grass! Even if you don’t fancy a drink, it is worthwhile just going to check this place out and have a yarn with the locals.
The pubs are accessed via an unsealed road which can be quite a rough drive in areas, a 4WD is recommended.
Where to Stay in Lightning Ridge
Lightning Ridge Outback Resort & Caravan Park
Located in the centre of Lightning Ridge and within a five-minute walk to cafes, shops and the artesian bore baths the Lightning Ridge Outback Resort and Caravan Park is a popular choice amongst travellers.