Every colour of the rainbow appears in opals, Australia's national gemstone. Indeed, according to Aboriginal legend, the swirling colours were created when a rainbow fell to earth. Australia produces 95% of the world's opals, making these mesmerising stones a uniquely Australian souvenir. They range from the most common white or 'milky' opals found in Coober Pedy to the rare black opals of Lightning Ridge. Tour our famous opal fields or buy opals from specialty stores across the country.
All major Australian cities and tourist hubs have specialty stores, where you can buy opals set in jewellery or as loose and uncut gemstones. Black opals are the most valuable, followed by boulder opals, crystal opals and white opals. This valuing system is based on the idea that darker stones have more vibrant colours, though individual gems vary.
For an opal adventure, visit the opal fields across outback South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. They sit on the site of the Great Artesian Basin, once a vast inland sea. Opals evoke this ancient underwater world, with fluorescent blue-greens and coral-like streaks. They're also known as the ‘fire of the desert', and are mined in some of the hottest, most inhospitable parts of Australia. You should visit the opal fields between April and September, when temperatures are less intense.
In South Australia's quirky mining town of Coober Pedy, most locals live underground to avoid the searing summer heat. Stay in an underground hotel and visit the underground homes, churches and shops. Above ground, tour the opal mine and fields and watch an opal cutting demonstration. Hire a 4WD and day-trip to the other opal-mining towns of Andamooka, Mintabie and Roxby Downs. Together, these South Australian fields produce most of the world's white or milky opals.
Black opals are the world's most sought-after opals, and they're mined at Lightning Ridge, almost 800km north-west of Sydney. Fortune-hunters have been heading here since the 1800s and today are joined by tourists, who also come for the outback experience. Tour the mine at Bald Hill, shop for souvenirs or play golf on an old opal field. Relax in the mineral artesian spas, walk the pockmarked landscape and spot native birds. The town hosts the Black Opal Rodeo and quirky goat races during Easter and the Lightning Ridge Opal Festival in July.
The opal trail winds further inland to White Cliffs, a once bustling opal town where only a few hundred people remain. Explore the disused mining shafts where the locals live over summer and see light opal crystals, prized for their translucence and high colour clarity.
Boulder opals are unique to Queensland, and you can hunt for them around remote outback towns such as Quilpie, Yowah and Opalton. Buy rough and polished opals at the high-spirited Yowah Opal Festival in July or visit Opalton where the largest ever piece of opal was mined in 1899.
Go opal-hunting in the outback or capture your opal in a city store. Either way, this uniquely Australian gem will be a vibrant reminder of your Australian adventure.