Ridgee Didge, Lightning Ridge

Trip Start Apr 05, 2011
Trip End Nov 15, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Thursday, January 12, 2012

After a couple of weeks without the big white beast following our every move, the luxury of a two storey house and a spacious bed, it was time to squeeze back into the van, hitch up and farewell the family. Having spent a couple of months ambling along the coast soaking up the gorgeous beaches we were keen for a change of pace, and a change of pace is exactly what we got as we headed west and out to Lightning Ridge.

We split our drive to the Ridge over two days which enabled us to take the scenic route from Tweed Heads.  We went down through Murwillumbah, traversing the most stunning countryside, over hills and down dales, past mountains that 'touched the sky' and out to Kyogle.  Enjoying a break from the intense driving of the narrow winding roads it wasn’t long before we were once again climbing through another winding range which delivered us into the charming town of Tenterfield.  Such a lovely neat town we would have loved to have had the time to stay, as with Glen Innes just down the road, both deserving of more than a drive through, our saving grace being that we had visited both before.

Expecting the drive to become a little monotonous as we headed out of Inverell, we were pleasantly surprised at how the scenery kept us captivated, everything looking so green and healthy.  We took a little side trip out to the lovely town of Bingara and as we drove along the top of the ridge looking down across the valley below the fields looked like a mosaic of green toned tiles, it was simply breathtaking.

We pulled into the tiny village of Pallamallawa to spend the night, with the caravan park in the paddock beside the pub it was ideal!  ‘Pally’ is a neat little town just east of Moree, along with the pub there was a general store and post office providing all the essentials.   

The following morning we awoke to the very country sound of ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ as a rooster escorted his harem through the park and past our van.  Being such a glorious morning we set off on a walk around town, which as you may have guessed didn’t take long!

The drive from Pallamallawa through Moree, Collerenabri and on to Lightning Ridge was interesting, passing through crop farms, livestock, woodlands and wetlands all looking healthy and pretty with so much green foliage around.  Still recovering from the December floods we frequently encountered road damage caused by the floodwaters and some of the back roads were still closed to all traffic.

In no time we had arrived in the little gem (apt!) of a town that is Lightning Ridge.  Whilst its heyday may have been and gone there is a strong spirit and a lot of outback larrikin still lurking around this amazing outback town.  The locals were welcoming and friendly which of course made us feel comfortable.

The park in which we chose to stay was on the outskirts of town near the Artesian Bore Baths.  Having only been completed last year the park was lovely, as were the owners who kindly upgraded us to an ensuite site.  We almost had the place to ourselves as January is seen to be too hot a month in which to venture this far west.  The locals were commenting on how cool it was for this time of year, only high 30’s rather than mid 40’s!

We spent our first afternoon looking around town which included visiting the John Murray Art Gallery, a local bush artist; his work is clever, whimsical and comical, just so appropriate for this character filled area.  An opal trader was next on our agenda, at Peter’s we were versed in what to look for and taught about doublets and triplets etc…  Now that we were opal experts we continued our tour of town… We admired the Olympic size swimming pool and neighbouring pool which was littered with impressive waterslides.  Apparently five school students raised the funds for both, a monumental achievement in such a small town.  At the Artesian Bore Baths we simply swept our toes through the water for it was far too hot (the bore water) to warrant us fully entering the bath.

The following morning we set out on the self guided, self drive ‘Car Door’ tours, of which there are four.  Fitting with the quirky nature of this unique outpost the tour routes are marked by painted car doors.  There is the blue car door tour, the red card door tour, the yellow and the green.  Each one traverses a different pocket of the outlying opal fields and each is interesting in its own right.

Many an extravagant building has been started using all matter of materials, there are bottle houses, can houses, an amazingly appealing castle which is still being lovingly built with local stones each placed by hand and immaculately done…  The roads are rough gravel tracks snaking their way through the mullock heaps and past claims which look to be scattered all over the place.

Back in the township we were visiting the Australian Opal Centre when Rod ran into an old Navy mate and his partner, Mick and Glenda.  They had both retired from the navy and set off traveling in April (same time as us), fancy running into them in the Ridge!  We quickly made plans to meet up for dinner at the Bowling Club that night.  We had a lovely night catching up on news and sharing travel stories, our conversation only drawing to a close when the club closed and we had to vacate!

With great delight we set off on a day trip the following morning, venturing about 70kms further west from the Ridge as we had been told of some great bars in the old opal fields out past Cumborah.  The road from the highway was bitumen and passed through various properties farming goats, sheep and cattle.  At Cumborah we had to take a detour as the main road in to Grawin has been closed off since January 2011 when the flood water came down from Queensland and as yet has still not dried up.  (Could it be that there are not enough votes out here to warrant the effort of fixing this road?!)

We travelled along the gravel road, up and down over grids before turning into the scrub.  The road wound its way through the bush with tracks leading off in all directions.  Our first stop was at the Sheepyard Inn.  Tucked away between mining claims this lovely big open bar has a corner dedicated to the military with memorabilia having been donated over the years.  We tried to listen intently as the owner gave directions to the War Memorial and on to Grawin, right at the big tree, out over a grid, follow the white road, then continue on over another grid to your left then around the bend….

We were amazed at the War Memorial, a tranquil place of remembrance on Beard Lake (a man made little Dam), there were picnic tables and BBQ’s along with plaques honouring those who gave their lives for country.  We will just add this to our ‘Do next time’ list – Anzac Day at the Sheepyard Inn!

We continued on and it wasn’t long before we came to another area which was just filled with old cars, trucks, caravans and tin sheds all littered between mullock piles, remnants from those in search of their fortune.  We drove past the Grawin General Store and Post Office and on to the Club in the Scrub.  A fabulous community club which was built by volunteers using rustic cypress pine.  Established in the mid 1970’s, it was not until January 1990 that they actually became a registered club and obtained a liquor license.  Up until then they were raided by the police a few times a year!  With no gaming machines, it makes for a pleasant change and is truly a community club… (not unlike the Morning Star of Williamstown!)

Continuing to wind our way through this unique area we came upon our last stop; the Glengarry Hilton.  A couple of tin sheds forming a large open bar which oozed atmosphere.  We enjoyed perusing the old photographs which line the walls and tell the story of the local characters and history of the area.  They too only got their liquor license relatively recently.  We chatted for ages to the lady working the bar, like everyone else we had encountered throughout the day she was remarkably friendly and told some great yarns.

Still in awe of this unique little character filled area of opal fields we started our trek home, winding along the gravel road, through the scrub up and over the grids and out to Cumborah.  We were once again thankful that we had had the opportunity to visit this unique, quirky and special pocket of Australia, it was just brilliant!

Back at the Ridge it was time to get organised for tomorrow we would be bidding farewell to Lightning Ridge, continuing our exploration of inland New South Wales and we couldn’t wait to arrive at our next destination...

Highlights of Lightning Ridge:

-          Grawin Club in the Scrub

-          Sheepyard Inn

-          Glengarry Hilton

-          Car Door self drive tours

-          Catching up with Mick and Glenda
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ValS. on

Once again, great commentary as the journey inland continues. It certainly is a great way for those of us who are in the comfort of our lounge room, probably with the telly tuning us into the world news in the background, to realise what a diverse country we live in. No waterways on this run, but it is still beautiful and you are obviously making lots of new friends along the way. Keep it up. V.

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