Treasure hunter unearths opals

A tourist visiting the Okanagan on her annual vacation took a dig to remember at the local opal mine.

Donna Nelson was visiting from Saskatchewan and decided to go on a weekend opal dig, figuring it would be a fun afternoon adventure. Little did she know the adventure was going to cash out.

“We took a nice tour on those four-by-four roads and I had been up there maybe an hour and half when I sat down to take a picture of the whole field and when I went to put my camera away, there it was!” explains Nelson. “It was that simple!”

At first she thought there was maybe $100 worth of stones on the rock, but then the owner came over and he was excited too.

“He was pretty flabbergasted and that's when it started dawning on me that this thing was worth a lot more than I thought it was,” laughed Nelson.

The rock that caught her eye had one big opal on the outside, but when they broke it open they discovered a pocket full of several other opals on the inside.

As it turns out, Nelson had discovered an amazing rock containing over 19 opals, and worth nearly $3,000.

“We puttered around for the day and got lucky. It was just as easy as sitting down to take a picture and seeing 'ooh sparkly'!” she laughs.

Nelson and her husband discovered the opal when they chose to go on the tourist digging adventure with Okanagan Opal.

“She hit the jackpot,” shared a smiling manager, Mike Yorke-Hardy. “People can dig their own holes and keep what they find. We can turn it into jewellery if you find something that is of quality, which she did for sure.”

The opal mine, which you may not have even known existed in the Okanagan, was found by Robert Yorke-Hardy in 1991. The mine is located about a quarter of the way down Westside Road from Vernon, and then up into the mountains.

The mine is now a family operation with son Mike Yorke-Hardy manning the office, retails and operations, while brother Chris Yorke-Hardy cuts the stones and creates the jewellery.

“My dad found the mine in 1991 and it is the only one in Canada that has ever been found. It is pretty unique,” explains Mike. “The mine is in quite a remote location. You are up to 5,000 feet which is the same height roughly as Big White and Silver Star, just on the other side of the lake.”

This year over 60 tonnes of rock was mined by the company. BCIT mining students were brought up for the summer and employed at the mine to help with the work. Now the team will go through all the rock, see what they can find, cut the stones and make the jewellery.

Yorke-Hardy says the business is optimistic about their future and is only now really finding their marketplace. This summer they were able to mine more, create more and had more digging tour trips than ever before.

He adds that the digs are not for everyone, but the nature enthusiasts and those who love the outdoors would enjoy the experience.

It's a full day trip up to the mine and those interested are guided by the company. They must bring their own vehicle, their own tools, food and water and for $50 they can spend the day digging in the mine and keep what they find (up to five pounds).

“Some people don't find anything but some people find really great stuff, like Donna who found the best that has been found in a few years,” says Yorke-Hardy.

Nelson is getting all the stones made into jewellery and says she can't wait to try the experience again.

“I am looking forward to trying it again. I doubt I will get that lucky again because that sort of stuff doesn’t happen to me, but I guess I am going to have to stop saying that though, eh?” she giggled.

Nelson says she and her husband come to BC every year and love it so much they are going to make their visits permanent.

“Our farm is up for sale and we are moving there,” says Nelson. “We are moving to the Okanagan Valley, where else? It is beautiful out there and we are going to retire there.”

Opal Digs for this year have wrapped up but will start again next Spring. They typically run twice a week from approximately June 15 – Sept 15. Click here for all the dig details.

Fun Fact: The Opal is also the birthstone for the month of October!


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