We enjoyed our final night at the Warrumbungles – finally the clouds cleared and we got to see the beautiful starry night.
The next morning it was time to pack up and head to Lightning Ridge. Interestingly Lightning Ridge was Sam’s choice, he was keen to search for opal!
We arrived in Lightning Ridge after a fairly dull 4 hour trip full of straight roads. We did however, spot our first emus in the wild! Our caravan park was very new and well-appointed and only 300m from the hot artesian springs. We headed up in the cool of the night to be greeted by deliciously hot 41.6degree water (yes, Julian’s watch even has an inbuilt thermometer). The pool itself was about 12 m in diameter and it was amazing to be staring up at all the stars while having a soak.
Sunday morning saw us at the caravan park all morning, me to do the laundry and the boys to do some bike riding and fossicking. In the afternoon we trundled off to do a tour of “The Chamber of the Black Hand”. This theatrical sounding place is an underground opal mine full of one man’s hand carved walls and paintings. He caught the opal mining bug but couldn’t hold back his innate gift for carving and painting. He has carved everything from Michelangelo’s David to the Dying Lion of Lucerne, to Michael Jackson and most of our Pollies, to dragons and all sorts of animals – even meerkats. It was amazing. Another dip in the hot springs, dinner then bed.
Monday dawned another clear sunny day – this one a bit hotter than yesterday. We did a bit more fossicking (noodling or specking) and then headed into town to the John Murray art gallery on our bikes – a mix of Vargas, John Earle, Magritte and Dali. Sam bought a small print which he was quite taken with. Onwards we rode to the Australian Opal Centre which was full of opalized fossils and other curios. Then we discovered another flat tire – this time on Sam’s bike.
After lunch we did a few of the ‘car door tours’ – following the tourist trail started by prospectors who used car doors to mark their claims. We visited Nettleton’s 1902 shaft that started it all. Back into town for a play at the water park in town before pizza’s in the camp kitchen and our last visit to the thermal spring for a final par-boil!
With the kids asleep, I nipped out to the edge of town to photograph the 15m high sculpture of an emu named ‘Stanley’ against a dazzling star filled sky. The 30 km round trip was very slow, with dozens of skippies lining the road keeping me on high alert. It reinforced a comment from another traveler about driving at night – ‘too much light is never enough’.