Looking for things to do in Lightning Ridge in NSW? As one of Australia’s quirkiest towns, as well as being home to the world’s largest collection of black opals, there is so much going on here if you’re looking for different places to holiday in NSW.
Our new writer, Liz Saunders from North Queensland is currently living in Sydney and loves exploring places around NSW. She has been visiting Lightning Ridge for the last five years and is sharing her guide to visiting this gem of a place. You can follow her on Instagram at @wanderlust_liz_.
Let’s get into it and hear about the amazing things to do in Lightning Ridge in NSW!
Table of Contents
How To Get To Lightning Ridge
Lightning Ridge isn’t the easiest place to get to, which is why it makes it so special. With a long drive ahead, there are some fantastic places to stop off on the way there. There are a few ways to get to Lightning Ridge, but you best not be in a hurry. The journey itself is half the fun!
Driving To Lightning Ridge
If coming from Queensland, it’s a 7h30m drive from the border, passing the iconic Hebel Hotel. You’d be mad if you didn’t stop in for a cold drink and look around.
If you’re coming from Sydney, it takes over 8hrs to drive there, but you can choose your own adventure. Doing the trip in one day means driving in the dark with wildlife on the road, which isn’t recommended. There is a lot of wildlife, please drive at a responsible speed and keep your eyes on the road.
It is best to take your time and break up the trip over 2 days (or more!). You can either head up Tamworth way and include Moree as a side trip. Or drive 3 hours to the famous wine region of Mudgee. There are loads of things to do in Mudgee which is easily worth a day or two stop over.
Coonabarabran is also a great option as you can add on a visit to the Warrumbungles which is home to one of the best walks in NSW. Whichever way you come, you will probably be lucky enough to see at least one Wedge Tailed Eagle and a few Emus along the way.
Public Transport To Lightning Ridge
This trip is split up into a train trip to Dubbo then a coach out to Lightning Ridge. If you don’t want to tackle the 11.5 hour trip in one day, you can do a stop over in Dubbo. Just keep that in mind when booking your tickets as it will automatically set you up with an all day trip if you put in ‘Sydney to Lightning Ridge’.
I love this trip and when not heading to Lightning Ridge with friends, and this is my transport of choice. There is always a guaranteed character on there with you to keep you entertained.
Flying To Lightning Ridge
Alternatively, you could always fly to Moree or Dubbo, and catch a small plane to Lightning Ridge, but it won’t be cheap.
Why Is Lightning Ridge Popular?
Lightning Ridge is home to the world’s largest black opal mining which is the reason it’s become a well known town in Australia. But there’s so much more which brings tourists to this remote part of NSW. Think hot springs, a unique underground sculpture gallery, a beer can house and so much more!
I come to Lightning Ridge every year because of the healing powers of the bore baths. But, there is a lot more to Lightning Ridge which makes it a trip like no other. Expect eccentric and go with the flow, as this town leans on the weird and wonderful side of life.
There is a combination of free self-drive tours and paid tourist attractions to visit. Camps are built from what people can get their hands on, funny signs on properties abound.
The locals are a mismatched wonder of humans and they’re always friendly. To meet some locals, head down to the local Bowling club or the local pub. Both have courtesy buses to get you back to your accommodation. The town really is small enough to walk around, so walk into town then courtesy bus home. Be warned though, the burrs are big in The Ridge. Don’t walk barefoot.
Best things To Do In Lightning Ridge
I’m going to share with you the best things to do in Lightning Ridge in NSW so you can get an understanding of why you should visit here. Whatever you do at Lightning Ridge, embrace the quirk and relax. If you don’t explore, it will seem like there is nothing to do. So get exploring.
1. Lightning Ridge Bore Baths
Every year when Autumn is hinting of cooling the land down, my body starts to crave the hot healing water of the Lightning Ridge Artesian Bore Baths. It’s an addiction that I never want to give up.
There is nothing better than a midnight dip in steamy water which averages at 45 degrees, looking up at the Milky Way. These baths have healing powers you won’t find in any store, and they are FREE and open 24 hrs (but closed for 1 hr cleaning each day, just before lunch time).
Actually, there may be one thing better than a late-night dip and that is an early morning dip, pre-sunrise. Note – some people find the water too hot and resort to hanging their feet in, some even struggle with that. If you have any aches and pains, these baths are your friend. 10 mins max in the water, then out to cool down, then repeat. Don’t overdo it or you might pass out!
Obviously, the Lightning Ridge Bore Baths are the number one attraction as far as I am concerned. Make sure you aim for multiple visits at different times of the day so you get the whole experience. The time of day really makes an impact and you’ll notice how each experience is completely different. Please remember to have a quick shower in the amenities block before getting into the baths. This removes any body oils etc off of you.
2. Chambers Of The Black Hands
One of the best things to do in Lightning Ridge is definitely the Chambers Of The Black Hands. It’s an underground gallery with more than 350 sculptures hand carved out of the walls of an old opal mine using a jackhammer, kitchen utensils and a pickaxe.
It’s an absolutely incredible sight to be seen with what I can only describe is of random pieces such as; depictions of The Last Supper, Egyptian tombs, celebrities, buddhas and so much more. It’s also a working piece of art which started nearly 20 years ago and continues on to this day.
A visit to Lightning Ridge wouldn’t be complete without going on a Black Opal tour! They have been operating since 1972 and claimed the title as the best Lightning Ridge tour! The two hour tour will take you around all of the main Lightning Ridge tourist attractions, including the bore baths.
The Car Door Tours are actually free self guided tours in Lightning Ridge, so you can visit all of the tourist attractions in town. You’ll have green car door tour, yellow, red and green to choose from.
The Green Door tour is a must if you like sunsets and strange landscapes. It’s like watching the sunset from the moon. I highly encourage you to pack cheese and crackers and a beverage. Sit back and enjoy.
You can then visit the blue, red and yellow car door tours – pick up the map at the visitors centre and do them all. It’s a free way to see some of the more peculiar sites of the town such as Amigo’s Castle (mentioned in further into this post) and the Lightning Ridge Church, which is actually a prop constructed for the film set of The Goddess 1967.
Make sure you stay on the right roads or you will end up on somebody’s private camp! They are all gravel roads but in clear weather a 2-wheel drive is fine…. ask at the visitor’s centre if you’re unsure. FYI – The green door road can get a bit rough.
Who would have thought you could find a castle in the middle of the outback? The incomplete Italian style castle was built by Vittoria Stefanato, affectionately known as Amigo. It’s a fun place to visit as you enter it through an art gallery to learn all about the history of why it exists. Admission costs just $5 but it’s worth it for the pure quirkiness of it all.
Address: 52 Black Prince Dr, Lightning Ridge NSW 2834
6. John Murray Art Gallery
The John Murray Art Gallery is a fantastic gallery showcasing the work of one of the best Australian outback artists, John Murray. You’ll be able to see the true essence of what makes Lightning Ridge’s residents truely shine here, through fun paintings depicting scenes of outback life.
And so we have another castle in Lightning Ridge, the Astronomers Castle. Built between 1983 and 1998 by a Polish miner called Alex Szperlak, it was built to celebrate Polish astronomer Copernicus using 20 and 60 litre oil drums to make the structure. It’s known as the Universe Observatory.
8. Bevan’s Cactus Garden
Feel like you’re properly in the desert when visiting the beautiful Bevan’s Cactus Nursery. With over an impressive 2,500 plants, it’s the third largest catcus nursery in the world! When the garden started in 1966, some of the plants are over 150 years old and mostly derive from different parts of the Americas.
9. The Bottle House
Built from an impressive 5,800 bottles, The Bottle House is so random, it would be hard to come to Lightning Ridge and not visit this place. What was once a home to local miners, has now become a museum displaying a gem and rock collection as well as the bottles which makes this house so unique.
10. Beer Can House
We’ve got two castles to visit and now two homes built out of drinks bottles and cans! The beer can house is definitely more on the quirky side of places to visit but equally as impressive too!
The family who owned this building started with big rocks, but they were too heavy for the children to lift. So they decided to use beer cans instead to create this unique building. You can go on donation based tours around this place to learn more about the history and help preserve it.
11. Black Opal Bull & Bronco
A trip to the outback wouldn’t be complete without going to the rodeo! The Black Opal Bull & Bronco is one of the best things to do at night in Lightning Ridge. Literally win your weight in alcohol on the mechanical bull ride competition after the main event.
It’s only held once a year on Easter Weekend, so plan your trip accordingly.
12. Lightning Ridge Olympic Pool & Water Theme Park
If you’re feeling a bit hot in Lightning Ridge, cool down at the Water Theme Park and Olympic Pool. Although it only operates during the summer months, it’s a great place to spend the afternoon if the Bore Baths become a little too hot for you.
13. Bingo At The Bowls Club
I try and make bingo at the bowls club at least one day I am there, as it’s a fun novelty! They also have social bowls on designated days, along with other events. The bowls club is big, busy and has plenty of variety. The pub is more locals and laid back. Do both, they each give a different experience.
Bonus! The Lightning Ridge Opal Festival
If you’re planning a trip to Lightning Ridge, it might be worth to co-inside it with the Lightning Ridge Opal Festival which is held in July. You’ll be able to find the world’s best display of black opals and you never know, you might come across an absolutely amazing find.
Best Lightning Ridge Restaurants and Cafes
Lightning Ridge isn’t a massive foodie destination but I have to say, I’ve never had a bad meal in the five years I’ve been visiting. There are some great cafes, the pub, the bowling club and two Italian restaurants called Piccolo and Bruno’s to fill your hungry bellies.
If you’re looking for somewhere a little quirky, check out the three pubs in the scrub! There are three pubs in the middle of the Grawin Opal Fields – The Sheepyard Inn, Grawin Club in the Scrub and the Glengarry Hilton are all worth a visit for a cold drink or a meal. 4wd is recommended but 2wd cars have done it, just check with the locals first to find out how the road conditions are.
Most visitors are staying in self-catered accomodation and there is a large IGA in town, with a bakery across the road. There is also a farmers market truck that visits the front of bowling club on certain days. And if you’re visiting on a Sunday, check out the bbq breakfast at the famous Sunday Markets which is big and delicious.
Lightning Ridge Accommodation
My accomodation of choice is the Opal Caravan Park. Why? It’s walking distance to the baths, of course! Mark and his team keep a well-kept park and are always happy to help.
They also have a courtesy bus and if you are travelling by public transport, they can get you to and from the bus stop. It’s safe to do the 200m walk down to the baths at any time of day or night. All you need is a towel and don’t forget to take water. These baths are hot!
In winter, you will walk down rugged up then find yourself walking back to the park in your swimmers and the towel and lugging everything else, your body will be red and warm like a soothing glow from a fire.
If you’d prefer to stay in an Airbnb, these are our two top picks!
Stay In A Castle
Talking about castles in Lightning Ridge, check out this amazing Airbnb you can stay in all to yourself. Feel like Royalty as you’ll have the entire castle to yourself, big enough for 7 guests. It’s no wonder this has Super Host status and is a popular place to stay in Lightning Ridge.
Stay in a beautiful bell tent in the middle of the outback and enjoy the peacefulness and tranquility. With beautiful Turkish rugs and linen bed sheets, this is an Insta worthy dream which would be hard not to love. It’s no wonder Charlie’s Camp is a Super Host on Airbnb, receiving rave reviews from visitors who have stayed here.