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.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.