In north west NSW, on the edge of the outback and the NSW/QLD border, lies Lightning Ridge – the largest opal producing fields in Australia and a town as colourful in character and diversity as its world famous black opal.


We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Yuwaalaraay  people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

About Lightning Ridge

Lightning Ridge is a small town in outback NSW, around nine hours from Sydney, known for its legendary opal fossicking and colourful characters. The township also boasts great yabby fishing, relaxing hot springs, and epic sunsets.

Read more: Remember to leave no trace

Lightning Ridge History

Lightning Ridge is located on the lands of the Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay people who have cared for the land for generations. Although Lightning Ridge is most known for opal mining, the Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay peoples never mined the area for opals. They were known to be there through Dreamtime stories, but never taken from the ground.


Strike Me Lucky // Opal Fossicking in Lightning Ridge (NSW) Merridy Cairn-Duff opal


After colonisation, around the 1870s, opals began to be found in and around the Lightning Ridge area and in 1901, Jack Murray became the first registered miner.

An opal rush began and by 1909 over 1200 miners resided in the area. A township was created away from where the main shafts were dug and survives till this day as a thriving and bustling opal fossicking township.

How To Get to Lightning Ridge

By Car

From Sydney the most direct and scenic route (with fewest changes in speed zones and the least semi-trailers sitting on your bumper bar) is up the F3 Freeway, taking the Hunter link freeway out to Singleton. Continue on to Musswellbrook, Scone, Quirindi, Narrabri, Wee Waa… Lightning Ridge.

On a good run with a yummy cafe stop at Murrurundi and lunch at Narrabri, it takes nine hours. It’s immensely pretty and once past Narrabri, pretty dead flat. I’ve visited Lightning Ridge about 18 times and the trip never gets dull!

By Public Transport

From Sydney you can catch a train from Central Station to Dubbo which will take around 6.5 hours. From Dubbo, take a bus to Lightning Ridge, around a four hour journey.


Strike Me Lucky // Opal Fossicking in Lightning Ridge (NSW) Merridy Cairn-Duff dried earth Outback style an opal wash site

Places to Stay in Lightning Ridge

I love Lorne Station, an old cattle farm just near the airport – it’s much quieter than in town, is flat for camping, and has shade (rare!) and a large camp kitchen and amenities block. All you need to take is a tent and sleeping bag. Lorne is specifically set up for large caravans and tents.

Lightning Ridge Holiday Park is a great option if you want to be closer to the action. Situated within walking distance to shops, galleries, and cafes, the park offers a variety of accommodation including cabins and camping sites. BBQ, gas cooking, and kitchen facilities are all conveniently located on-site.

Things to do in Lightning Ridge

Fossick For Opals

There’s no shortage of opals to be found in Lightning Ridge! Fossicking is known as ‘noodling’ – you essentially look through old piles of dirt the miners have discarded, hoping to find pieces of colour which they’ve missed.

There are several public noodling areas you can visit for free, as well as small sites located at various town attractions – my recommendation is The Walk-In Mine and Lorne Station. Head to the visitor centre for the latest information.

Note: Grawin opal fields are now closed to the public.


How To Fossick for Opals

Grab a bucket with a little bit of water and a small metal garden rake. Keep the sun over the back of your shoulder and get on your knees. The closer your eyes are to the ground the more success you’ll have. Slowly rake through the dirt.

Opal is generally found in greyish, blueish, or black coloured potch. Potch is colourless opal, it still has a glass like appearance to it, as does opal. So look for the blue and grey rocks, and any pieces which look shiny in the sun – that’ll be the light reflecting off the opal!

Not all opals look like this, some are large chalky pebbles that have thin veins of crystal opal showing – these can often have precious gems hiding inside them.

Wetting the stones helps you to see if there’s any colour. Expect to see lots of people licking stones, it’s quite normal!

I’ve got some rocks, now what?

Never ever ever smash them with a hammer – if a stone has an opal inside it, you won’t be able to glue all those little pieces back together!

There are numerous people in the town offering a stone cutting service, usually at no cost. You could also take them all to your local lapidary club where there are always opal cutting enthusiasts.

Relax in a Hot Spring

The Lightning Ridge bore baths are the perfect place to relax and unwind. Warm and healing water from the Great Artesian Basin fills the circular pool. The water sits between a meditative 40 to 50 degrees celsius, perfect to massage those tender opal fossicking muscles!

Strike Me Lucky // Opal Fossicking in Lightning Ridge (NSW) Merridy Cairn-Duff rock pool

Skill Level


All you need to go fossick for opals is determination and a sense of adventure (and the few items listed below).

Essential Gear

  • A bucket
  • A small metal garden rake
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag and mat
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Patience!
  • Maybe a fly net
  • You do NOT need a fossicking licence
  • Swimmers
  • Towel

What it’s Like Visiting Lightning Ridge

Lightning Ridge is my ‘escape place’ – a place I can go where I can’t be contacted if I so choose – I can spend a whole day scrounging around in the dirt and not see another soul.

No matter where you’re from, you’ll leave this town feeling like you’ve found home. Everybody welcomes and respects you no matter how rough or quirky you may be.

I could waltz into the club covered head to toe in dirt and nobody would bat an eyelid – because everybody else looks worse after a day of mining!

Life is tough, so are the people – they don’t worry about the little things in Lightning Ridge, the only thing that matters is finding more opals (which arguably, is one of the littlest things).

Aside from the alluring loot, a highlight for me is the quirky resourcefulness of its residents – I love driving around looking at how people turn old junk into useful contraptions, if not their very own dwellings.

There’s easily 101 uses for an old tyre, car doors are used as markers and advertising signs, and old cars become chook pens – nothing goes to waste.

The people are as dinky di Aussie as you’ll find, though many are from foreign lands. Our infamous larrikin humour is on display in many ways, my favourite being a sign at the Grawin Fields which reads ‘Place bodies here ->’.

My other favourite attraction is the town’s large bore bath, a giant public pool entrapping the artesian bore water from kilometres beneath the surface. It’s usually around 40 degrees and a 10 minute soak can cure anything!

Tips For Visiting Lightning Ridge

Best Time of Year to Visit

July is home to the Lightning Ridge Opal Festival. It’s a mammoth affair and accommodation can completely book out months ahead.

Lightning Ridge gets extremely hot, over 50 degrees is common in summer months. Mid May to June is the perfect time to visit. During winter, temperatures can drop to 3-5 degrees at night.

Lightning Ridge FAQs

Why is Lightning Ridge so special?

While opals are found in several parts of the country, Lightning Ridge is the only place in Australia where rare Black opals are found.

Why is it called Lightning Ridge?

Lightning Ridge was named for a farmer, his dog and 200 sheep who were found struck by lightning on a ridge.

Can you fossick at Lightning Ridge?

Yes you can, there are a few ‘heaps’ within the township where you can try your luck

Where do you fossick in Lightning Ridge?

The Lost Treasure Opal Mine Adventure runs tours daily where you can learn about Opal mining history and have an opportunity to fossil for your own treasure.

What gemstones are found at Lightning Ridge?

As well as black opals, dark, crystal and white opals have also been found at Lightning Ridge

Do I need a licence to fossick for opals?

Nope! Just a bucket, a rake, and a bit of luck.

Can I sell whatever opals I find?

Yes – there are ‘buyers’ in the town who are always wanting fresh material. There are also many professional opal cutters who can polish the stone and jewellery makers for settings, but these take time and most of these folks are already booked out weeks at a time with local miners’ requests.