Any visit to Lightning Ridge should start with an orientation trip with Black Opal Tours (© 02/6829 0368; fax 02/6829 1206). The company offers a 5hour tour of the opal fields for A$70 (US$46) per person. Three-hour morning tours cost A$35 (US$23), and slightly shorter afternoon tours A$30 (US$20).
Among the many points of interest is the 15m (49-ft.) tall homemade Amigo's Castle, which dominates the worked-out opal fields surrounding the modern township of Lightning Ridge. Complete with turrets, battlements, dungeons, and a wishing well, the castle has been rising out of these arid lands for the past 17 years, with every rock scavenged from the surrounding area and lugged in a wheelbarrow or in a rucksack on Amigo's back. The wonderful Amigo hasn't taken out insurance on the property, so there are no official tours, though if he feels like a bit of company he'll show you around.
The Artesian Bore Baths, 2km (1XA mile) from the post office on Pandora Street, are free, open 24 hours a day, and said to have therapeutic value. The water temperature hovers between 104°F and 122°F (40°C-50°C). A visit at night when the stars are out is amazing.
The Bevan's Black Opal & Cactus Nursery (© 02/6829 0429) contains more than 2,000 species of cactus and succulent plants, including rare specimens. Betty Bevan cuts opals from the family's mine, and many are on display. Admission is A$4 (US$2.60) to the cactus nursery, but free to see her opals.
There are plenty of opal shops, galleries, walk-in opal mines, and other distinctly unique things to see in Lightning Ridge. You might want to take a look at Gemopal Pottery (© 02/6829 0375), on the road to the Bore Baths. The resident potter makes some nice pots out of clay mine tailings and lives in one of his five old Sydney railway carriages.
214 CHAPTER 4 . NEW SOUTH WALES WHERE TO STAY & DINE
An interesting addition to the Lightning Ridge hotel scene is the Lightning Ridge Hotel/Motel (& 02/6829 0304; www.lightning-ridge-hotel-motel.com), set on 4 hectares (10 acres) of Australian bush, complete with birdbath to attract the native parrots. There are 40 log cabins here as well as a caravan park (for your own caravan or motor home) and camping sites. Cabins cost A$46 (US$30) without bathroom, and A$52 (US$34) with a bathroom, and motel rooms A$60 (US$39) for a double, A$80 (US$52) for a triple, and A$122 (US$79) for a quad. If you want to stay at the Glengarry opal fields, then your only option is at the Glengarry Hilton, a rustic Outback pub (not associated with the major hotel chain). Here you stay in mobile units sleeping 24. A night costs A$12 (US$7.80).
The Wallangulla Motel My choice of the four motels in town, the Wallangulla offers two standards of rooms, the cheaper ones being in an older section of the property. Newer rooms are better furnished and generally nicer; they're worth the extra money. Two large family rooms each have two bedrooms and a living room; one has a spa bath. Guests can use the barbecue facilities, and there is an arrangement with the bowling club across the road for meals there to be charged back to your room. The Bowling Club has a restaurant with pretty good food and a very cheap bistro.
Morilla St. (at Agate St.), Lightning Ridge, NSW 2834. & 02/6829 0542. Fax 02/6829 0070. www.wj.com. au/wallangulla. 43 units. A$55-A$85 (US$36-US$55) double; A$75-A$95 (US$49-US$62) triple; A$95-A$110 (US$62-US$72) family room with spa. AE, DC, MC, V. Amenities: Coin-op laundry; nonsmoking rooms. In room: A/C, TV, coffeemaker.
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