793km (492 miles) NW of Sydney; 737km (457 miles) SW of Brisbane

Lightning Ridge, or "The Ridge" as the locals call it, is perhaps the most fascinating place to visit in New South Wales. Essentially, it's a hardworking opal-mining town in the arid northern reaches of New South Wales -- where summer temperatures hover at the 113°F (45°C) mark. Lightning Ridge thrives off the largest deposit of black opals in the world. Quality opals can fetch a miner around A$8,000 per carat, and stones worth more than A$500,000 each are not unheard of. A popular activity in the opal fields is to pick over the old heaps of mine tailings. Stories (perhaps tall tales) abound of tourists finding overlooked opals worth thousands.

I strongly recommend you visit the Grawin and Glengarry opal fields, both about an hour or so from Lightning Ridge on a dirt track suitable for two-wheel-drive cars in dry weather only. (Check with the Tourist Information Centre before you go.) Bristling with drills and hoists pulling out bucket-loads of dirt, these frontier townships buzz with news of the latest opal rush. If you can convince a local to take you there, all the better -- the tracks can be misleading. Ando's Outback Tours takes in Glengarry and Lightning Ridge on its 5-day trip.