Lightning Ridge

StartClick to Reverse the Dynamic Map and Driving NotesDubbo
FinishLightning Ridge
DifficultyDifficulty 0.5/5
Suitable For4WD AWD 2WD Caravan Camper Motorhome Bike 
Distance351.41 km
Minimum Days1
Average Speed0 km/hr
Travel Time0 secs
Page Updated: 5 Apr 2010

Description

Lightning Ridge is a mining town, bustling with tourists eager to get a glimpse of the world-famous black opal. Unlike ordinary opals, the carbon and iron oxide trace elements present in black opals, allow the rainbow colours to contrast so much better. Black opals can fetch between $2,000 per carat to an incredible $15,000 per carat, depending on factors such as: body tone (or blackness), play of colours, brilliance, and pattern. The town with its relatively small population of around 6,000 people, is often overwhelmed with over 80,000 visitors every year, with many trying their luck at opal fossicking. Opals aside, Lightning Ridge is also the most prolific and only significant source of dinosaur fossils in the state. The strong tourist interest in this once rough and tumble town has promoted excellent growth, in which nowadays - you will find some lovely places to stay, eat and visit.

The town of Lightning Ridge is located about 6km from the Castlereagh Highway, which is part of the Great Inland Tourist Link. This highway trek takes in a small section of the Newell Highway (route A39) from Dubbo, before meeting the Castlereagh Highway, also known as the A55. The Castlereagh Highway, which begins at Lithgow in NSW, provides a practical route to north Queensland. It passes through many old colonial towns such as: Gilgandra, Gulargambone, Coonamble, and Walgett - the gateway to the opal fields. You’ll be fascinated with the history and culture of these old towns, so take your time and stop in at the visitor centres, have a good look around - and maybe stay overnight.

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History

According to Aboriginal legend, a huge wheel of fire fell to the earth and sprayed the countryside with brilliant coloured stones. A number of Aboriginal tribes settled in the region including: the Kamilaroi and Ularai tribes near Lightning Ridge and Walgett, the Weilwan and Kawambarai tribes near Coonamble, and the Wiradjuri tribe, which occupied a large area of central New South Wales south of Dubbo.

The name ‘Lightning Ridge’ was legend in its own right - coined after a shepherd, his dog and six hundred sheep were killed during a ferocious electrical storm whilst sheltering in one of the low ridges in the area. The name had flourished - used by Government departments for nearly a century, until it was officially gazetted on the 5th September 1963. The first building to use the name Lightning Ridge was a small inn built in 1884 by T.J. Merry. Lightning Ridge has indeed had more than its fair share of triumphs and tribulations. Like most important discoveries in the annals of history - it is filled with legends, hardships, determination and perseverance, all of which have shaped this town for what it is today.

Common opal was discovered in Australia more than half a century before the findings at Lightning Ridge. Precious opal was first discovered in 1868, and further opal discoveries in outback Queensland and New South Wales led to Australia’s first commercial opal fields at White Cliffs in 1894. It wasn’t until Jack Murray discovered opal near Lightning Ridge late in the year of 1900 that helped pave the events toward the recognition of the world famous and highly valuable - black opal.

Professional prospector Charles Nettleton uncovered the opal-mining potential of the area in 1902. Nettleton, an experienced opal and gold miner from White Cliffs, began prospecting on a hill, later known as Nettleton's Hill, on Angledool Station. This was to later become the site of Lightning Ridge. Nettleton dropped his first shaft on the high country now known as McDonald's Six Mile on 15th October 1902. It proved unsuccessful, and it wasn’t until early in 1903 that Nettleton joined forces with Murray and his team at Shallow Nobby’s that they found a good yield of precious black opals.

Jubilation would soon turn to disappointment as they were only offered 10 shillings from a Sydney based dealer for 2.27kgs of their best rough-cut black opals. Undiscouraged, they decided to keep mining, and in late 1903, Nettleton and Murray walked the arduous 700km journey to White Cliff with a 3.6kg parcel of black opal. The market at White Cliff was still based on light opal, and this unheard-of nodular dark opal brought little interest. They reluctantly settled on the small pittance from Ted Murphy, a field agent for the notable Adelaide-based opal trader named Tullie Wollaston. Tullie Wollaston was extremely enthusiastic with this new type of gemstone, and his efforts helped stage the world market for black opals.

Preparation

MUST READ: You are strongly encouraged to read the following articles prepared by the knowledge experts at ExplorOz for your safety and preparation before undertaking any published ExplorOz Trek - Outback Safety, Outback Driving Tips, Outback Communications, and Vehicle Setup for the Outback.

No specific preparation required. The trek should be regarded as a ‘day trip’ excursion, primarily on sealed roads. Route is suitable for 2WD vehicles; however check local weather and road conditions before embarking. Although there are many fuel outlets along this route for filling up your vehicle, this trek is over 350kms long so please make sure you carry enough fuel between major towns. Accommodation is plentiful and most towns will provide either caravan parks or motels if you wish to stay overnight.

Permits

There are no permits needed for this trek note, since the route takes you on public highways - namely the Newell Highway and Castlereagh Highway.

Fuel Supplies & Usage

Fuel Symbol
DieselULPLPG
4cyl 49 litres4cyl 57 litres4cyl 70 litres
6cyl 54 litres6cyl 64 litres6cyl 62 litres
8cyl 54 litres8cyl 58 litres
Usage is averaged from recorded data (* specific to this trek) and calculated based on trek distance.

Best Time To Visit

This trek note can be undertaken all year round. Take into account that it can get rather hot and humid in the late summer months, and rather cold at the start of winter.

Closest Climatic Station

Coonamble Comparison
Distance from Trek Mid Point 17.9km SE
 JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Mean Max. °C34.933.931.426.721.818.017.119.323.427.531.033.7
Mean Min. °C19.218.916.411.77.85.03.74.67.411.515.117.7
Mean Rain mm60.955.144.535.939.337.036.132.232.441.543.347.0
    Best time to travel      Ok time to travel      Travel NOT recommended

Services & Supplies

Map

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What to See

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Where to Stay

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Directions

Dubbo to Brocklehurst
Driving: 7.28 km
Heading: 14°
Brocklehurst to Coolbaggie River, Newell Hwy
Driving: 24.57 km
Heading: 350°
Coolbaggie River, Newell Hwy to Castlereagh River, Castlereagh Hwy
Driving: 70.51 km
Heading: 354°
Castlereagh River, Castlereagh Hwy to Gulargambone
Driving: 11.73 km
Heading: 338°
Gulargambone to Coonamble
Driving: 45.5 km
Heading: 349°
Coonamble to Walgett
Driving: 114.12 km
Heading: 346°
Walgett to Castlereagh Hwy & Gwydir Hwy
Driving: 14.51 km
Heading: 22°
Castlereagh Hwy & Gwydir Hwy to Castlereagh Hwy & Bill Obrien Way
Driving: 57.53 km
Heading: 336°
Castlereagh Hwy & Bill Obrien Way to Lightning Ridge
Driving: 5.66 km
Heading: 49°
Distance is GPS recorded distance based on the travel mode shown (Driving, Straight, Cycling, Walking etc), Direction is straight line from start to end, Avg Speed & EST Time is calculated from GPS data.

Wildflowers

Related Travel Journals

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