Day 2: It’s truly a comical bike to ride, especially out here in Walgett where the Grom struggles to maintain state highway speeds. With the luggage boxes fitted and all geared up for a road trip, its maximum speed is around 85km/h. If I go full race mode by ducking my head for aerodynamic improvement, it will reach 90km/h. Add another 5km/h if you have a tailwind or a downhill section… 🙂
Sleeping on a cold concrete surface, my night in Coonamble was a battle against continuous interruptions. Spending the night with wet clothes on due to them getting wet in the rain, it was a rough night. I was glad that sleep came to an end as soon as the sun was up, even though I didn’t feel completely refreshed. Nevertheless, the service station opened for the day so I was ready to top up my tank and make a move on towards Lightning Ridge.
Starting off the day with a pleasant sunny morning, things were looking up. Apart from dropping my phone and cracking its back plate, I was anticipating a short ride to my end destination in favourable weather conditions. Puddles of water still remained on the road, but they were drying up quickly. Without the havoc of yesterday’s storm, the weather was at least just one thing less to worry about for the day.
A little look around in Coonamble, a town of a population of 3000 people. The local Coonamble economy relies significantly in wool and wheat production, as well as surface mining of basalt for construction uses. Tourism, to a lesser extent, is also a part of the town, derived from its annual rodeo event that draw in crowds in the thousands. One little fun fact about Coonamble: Its name comes from the indigenous Gamilaraay words that translate to ‘amazing sight’ and ‘bullock dung’. In short, an amazing landscape of cow manure. Great.
The road from Coonamble to Walgett was a pleasant morning cruise. The lack of traffic and the open, flat landscape made it a breeze to travel on. The ride was much more enjoyable than the previous day, when I had my eyes constantly scanning the side mirrors to anticipate vehicles behind me. Despite cruising at 30km/h below the speed limit at almost full-throttle force, I was happy to be just cruising at a lower speed, enjoying the scenery around me and generally just feeling positive about the whole trip; only good vibes to keep me occupied.
Visiting Walgett was a reminder of the disadvantages of isolation and the result of insufficient social resources. I’m sure that residents love their town, but the gloom that characterises the streetscape cannot be ignored. Shops, council buildings and houses are all guarded by bars and roller shutters, indicating the insecurity that plagues the local area. It’s a town that I prefer to leave as soon as possible, stopping for just petrol and essential supplies.
Overall, today was an easy day of covering a much shorter distance with less than 100km from Walgett to Lightning Ridge to be completed. I was more than happy to stop and take plenty of breaks, at the same time knowing that I will still have the better part of the day to settle down at Lightning Ridge and explore the town. This kind of pace is a rarity for me.
This was just my second time visiting this region of NSW, but I felt a sort of gradual comfort with the road as I crept closer towards the state border. Riding along this stretch of Castlereagh Highway, passing all the road signs and that distinctive scrap metal statue, Stanley the Emu, Lighting Ridge is like my outback home away from home. If there’s any outback town that I’d have to stay for a prolonged period, it would definitely be this northern outback town. It indeed feels like home in this very friendly small town.
As mentioned in my previous blog post, my friend Chris was, by sheer luck, staying at the same caravan park as I was. He was all stocked up for the Christmas break, unlike my unprepared self. He and his wife very kindly and unconditionally invited me to join them for dinner later in the evening. Just bring your hungry self, they said. I was extremely thankful to say the least. It’s probably the best way to laze around and take it easy after yesterday evening’s chaotic run in the storm.
Water supply at Lightning Ridge is sourced via bores. The water feels ‘hard’ like stale grey water. I had to hand wash my clothes but, whatever method I used to wash them, they didn’t feel totally clean. The water is characterised by an unmistakable residue, as though you are using soapy water, but the water itself doesn’t froth up. The water is not drinkable straight out of the tap unless its been boiled. From what I’ve heard from the local people, nobody in town actually drinks it voluntarily. The majority of people rely on purchased bottled water for their drinking needs.
As soon as I set up my tent in the caravan park at Lightning Ridge, I went for a boiling hot session at the local heated artesian bore pools. It’s the best way to relax all those aching muscles, and prepare myself for the next few days on the long open road until I return to Sydney. The pool is absolutely free to use for the public all around the clock, except for morning maintenance times. The pool is part of the reason why I love this town.
The artesian water is sourced from the Great Artesian Basin that serves as the only source of fresh water for a great proportion of inland Australia. Covering an area of a quarter of mainland Australia, it is the largest artesian basin in the world, located across QLD, and parts of NT, SA and NSW.
Later in the afternoon, I went for a little snoop around in town. Summer is the town’s off-peak season, so it was pretty much dead during my stay. Apart from the servo, there weren’t any businesses open, so I was restricted to a general ride around town. Black opal mining is a big thing here, so there’s a lot of reference to the opal subject, whether it be businesses named after it, or those that actually deal with the actual opals. The opal guides are extremely popular during the cooler winter season, when the town is bustling like a tourist trap.
Lightning Ridge is surprisingly cosmopolitan for a small town that is many hours away from any major city. Over 50 nationalities reside in this town of 4000 people. Of all ethnic groups, apart from Indigenous and Anglo Australians, Serbians make up a significant portion of the population.
One of the key attractions of Lightning Ridge that I had mentioned when I previously visited this place was Amigo’s Castle, an incomplete medieval-style sandstone structure. The venue is now no longer accessible by the public. I’m not sure what had happened to lead to this, but the owner must have become sick of people entering his premises. A slight disappointment, because I originally wanted to take a complete set of photos inside with the Honda Grom. But it is all fair enough because the guy lives in it, and he’s entitled to his privacy. At the very least, the castle can be appreciated from the main driveway.
Surrounding the immediate town centre of Lightning Ridge are the numerous trails that lead to opal mining fields. A few venues are operational by miners, but the majority are dormant. However, open mining shafts remain, so it’s best that visitors remain on a clear path if exploring. Don’t want to end up like Timmy O’Toole trapped down a well.
Unlike a lot of my camp nights, tonight’s arrangement was as perfect as it could be. No need to scramble around in the dark for a spot for the tent as it was already pitched during the day, and food all provided by my friend. Relaxing in this still, warm night, underneath clear skies, without an ounce of worry or stress; this sort of feeling never gets old, and the reason why I feel that this place is my second home in the outback. I’d do this everyday if I could. Lightning Ridge, it’s inevitable to say that this won’t be the last time that I’ll visit again.
Basic Statistics for the day:
- Route: Coonamble, Walgett, Lightning Ridge
- Total distance: 218km
- Range of ambient temperature: 22°C to 34°C
Expenses for the day:
General map route: