Flinders Ranges – September 2016

Saturday, Dec 17, 2016 at 21:10

Member - Stephen L (Clare SA)



With our flying visit through the Flinders during our Oodnadatta Track trip in August, we intended to spend more time again in the Flinders in September when we knew the weather should be just perfect………well this was going to be a very big understatement.

Within 10 days of returning home from our August trip, the weather set in yet again for the year and closed off all Outback Roads, this time hitting many areas hard including the Flinders Ranges, closing every dirt road in the area. We kept telling ourselves, it will be OK, it will fine up in a few days and things should fine and conditions should be perfect by the time we head back again.

It was now down to the last week before our intended departure and I was now making many phone calls to station people to get first hand local information and it was not looking good, with many of the four wheel drive tracks that we had planned on driving were still all officially closed, and a week of fine weather was going to be needed to dry things out before they would consider opening them again. This did not happen and the Northern Flinders was still getting very heavy rain fall, so it was now a complete change of plans, as we intended to spend a lot of time in the Farina and Beltana area. The next step was in the Merna Mora area, but again all their tracks was closed and it was going to be at least a week, before they would open any tracks, so now it was our last option, Rawnsley Park and some of the tracks in that area.

Fine conditions in the lower Flinders Ranges were looking very positive and then the day before we were ready to leave, heavy rain was predicted again, so we waited two days before finally leaving Clare in perfect spring conditions. The drive up was great and my first intended detour was a dirt road that we had not driven before, a section of road between the main HawkerOrroroo Road through to Wilson. Considering the local rain of only a couple of days previous, the dirt road was in good condition and only a few very small muddy sections in the lower lying areas. We took this road as it would take us directly to the old Wilson Cemetery, one place that we had wanted to visit for a long time. before heading to Hawker for a fuel top up and to catch up with a friend, John Teague from Hawker Motors.




After a good run through, we arrived at Rawnsley Park and set up the camper in one of the powered sites along the creek. The first thing that I asked reception was on how long the Arkapena Track would be closed for, and I was informed that with all the recent rain, it was going to be some time for safety reasons, just what I did not want to hear. It was now to Plan ‘B’ and if we could not do Arkapena, then we would give the Skytrek a try seeing we had only driven the old drive which was great. With limited phone or Internet coverage from the camp kitchen, I rang the Reynolds’s from Willow Springs and was informed they were open for business and we booked in for the follow morning. With the next days activities organised, we then set up the Snow Peak fire pit, as the fire ring at our site was full of very wet charcoal and would have been almost impossible to get a warm fire going. We hoped that the fine weather was going to hold and live up to what the conditions should be at this time of the year…perfect.






We were up early next morning to get our showers in and be on the road as soon as possible, as you can not start the Skytrek drive any later than 10am and I allowed an easy drive of an hour to get to Willow Springs. We arrived just after 8:45 and were given a run down on what to expect and set off with key in hand to see first hand now just how good or bad the new track would be. The first half of the drive follows the very same route as the original drive and just before entering the Bunkers Reserve, you now swing away to the right and we were now covering all new territory. The drive covers a lot of open country and is a vast contrast to the original drive. For those that have never experienced this type of country before, it would be interesting, but through our extensive Outback travels, this country was very similar to many other areas we had travelled through before and it is not until the last 12 kilometres of the Skytrek drive that we were now into country that we loved, real low range country and giving the Prado a workout in country that it felt at home in. After all, we do not put our vehicles with that second gear lever and never use it. The views were great, but not as spectacular as the original Mount Caernarvon drive and we came away a little disappointed, but still glad that we had finally driven the new track so we could compare the two for ourselves. Overall, the Reynolds family do a first-rate professional job of promoting their property and drive, but sadly because of local issues no longer can offer the ultimate experience of driving to highest possible vehicle access point in the Flinders Ranges.



Well what a difference in 24 hours and from a perfect day with blue clear sky to thunder, lightening and torrential rain the next morning. The rain came down around 7:30am and it just would not stop raining for more than two and a half hours. Our campsite now resembled a water front site, with the creek below our camp flowing fast and water everywhere, and mini streams flowing under the camper. Thank goodness for a powered site, as it was now out with the blow heater and fingers crossed that it would fine up. Around 10am it did stop raining briefly, so we headed for our late morning showers, only to get back to the camper and the whole thing happening again. It did stop briefly again around 12 noon and we walked around the park, dodging the small streams that were everywhere. For the rest of the day, it was not worth leaving the park, as we knew that most of the roads now would be closed from all the rain.



Next morning it was still very overcast with the odd drizzle of rain and we did not want to do nothing all day, so I rang up the Blinman Mine Tour to see if we could get into one of their tours, and as it turned out, we were able get into the 1pm Tour, which would give us ample time to get up to Blinman. The drive up to Blinman was a very vast contrast to normal years, with the countryside as green as the more favourable lands further south. Evidence of the heavy rain was still on show, with many of the small creek crossings still having water over the roads and the greatest depth of water over the road was the Wilpena Creek crossing of the main road, with still a depth of just over 400 mm covering the road. On the way back from Blinman, we headed up to Stokes Hill Lookout, were we checked up on emails and a few other Internet items.




The following morning was how the Flinders should be at this time of the year, perfect, so I headed over to the office to see if the Arkapena Track was open yet, but the answer was “No” from all the rain over the last couple of days. We did a few of the walks within the park, before heading down to Hawker to catch up on a couple of things we had been wanting to do for a long time, with our first stop being the Castle Hill walk. This walk gives good views over the surrounding area and the township of Hawker. From here we then headed out to the Jarvis Hill Lookout and with the day like it was, it could not have been any better. We were not in to hurry to finish this walk, and we just sat and admired the views for quite some time before heading back into Hawker and our last point of interest to visit, the old Bruce Grave site. Knowing first hand where the grave was located made it a very easy job to find and from here it was back to Rawnsley Park, getting the fire going again and have a very relaxing time admiring the Ranges. I did head up to the office to see if the Arkapena Track would be open in the morning, but again was advised it was still closed and it was not looking promising for the next day.




Clear perfect condition prevailed next morning, so after a quick shower I head over to the office again, and Linda knew exactly what I was after. She gave the station a phone call while I waited and then after about 10 minutes, the office phone rang, and while she was talking on the phone, she smiled at me and gave the thumbs up, which was the best news I was waiting for six days for. With our fee paid and paperwork signed, I was given the key and told to have a great day and to let them know what I thought of the drive when we returned. This fantastic drive is broken up into separate sections, with the first part being for AWD vehicles and the second section for vehicles with a transfer case and must have low range capability. Rather that report on the drive here, I will do a complete new Blog on the drive, but will say that if you are looking for a drive that is totally unreal, and leaves Skytrek in its wake, the Arkapena Track is a must do drive for anyone that wants to experience true four wheel driving at its best, with the Ranges as a background for the complete drive. When we returned the key, I thanked Linda for her grateful help and asked her to pass on to the owners our personal thanks for opening up their property to strangers like me to experience some unreal driving and scenery. What a perfect way to end our stay at Rawnsley Park and as much as I wanted to stay longer, we had arranged four more days over at Merna Mora Station to experience tracks what they have on offer.




After 6 very different days at Rawnsley Park, from thunder, lightning, torrential rain, to perfect clear skies, it was time to head to Merna Mora Station to sample what they had on offer. Our original plans for the trip was to head further north in the Flinders, but these areas received a lot more rain than in the southern Flinders and many roads were still closed. On our arrival at Merna Mora Station, all tracks that they have available for the paying public were still closed from the recent heavy rains, with the Heritage Tracks expected to be open the following day. With camp set up, we walked around the area and headed out to collect firewood from the creek, which they allow campers to do and then just took it easy for the rest of the day around the campfire.





Perfect weather the next morning and I went straight over to the office around 8am and was given the good news that the Heritage Drive was open, so I paid our fee, signed the papers and in return, given trip notes and a key for the locked gates and we were off. The first part of the drive has you following station tracks to a number of very interesting places before finding your way on the Main Hawker – Parachilna Road, were after only a couple of hundred metres, it was time to head into more great country, this time slowly gaining altitude as you head higher up into the Ranges. As with any of these great drives, my thoughts were to the original dozer drivers that had to put down these tracks on virgin ground and what a feat that would have been.

The second part of the drive was in real low range four-wheel drive country and very different to what we expected. As with any low range country, it was just a matter of slow and taking your time and we were rewarded with great driving conditions and great scenery. There were a coupe of sections that required some rock re arrangement so the vehicle would not get hung up, but apart from that, it was a very rewarding drive and one that we would do again and wondered how it would compare with the more publicised Bunbinyunna Track that we hoped that we would be doing the next day.



Next morning was the usual routine and with more perfect weather, it was over to the office where we paid our fee and were given track notes and a key for the locked gates and we were off. Unlike the Heritage Drive Track that starts off using easy station tracks, the moment that you leave the Moralana Scenic Drive Road and pass through the first locked gate, it is very much low range work for the rest of the drive. There are a number of very interesting stops along the way. Once you have made your way over the Bunbinyunna Range, you then travel in a small valley with the Main Ranges of Wilpena Pound on one side and the Bunbinyunna Range on the other. There were so many highlights of this drive that it would be hard to say what was the best feature, rather than say the complete drive for someone with an open mind and a love of true four wheel driving. After a fantastic day of true four wheel driving, we collected some wood for the campfire and headed back to Merna Mora and had another great night by the fire.



An extra day of sunshine now had the Lake Torrens Track open, so as with the other mornings, we had fees paid in return for a detailed set of trip notes and we headed west out through the station tracks that form this loop of over 90 kilometres. These tracks were so very similar to many remote station tracks that we regularly drive on and for us, the country was country we had seen many times over the years, but for someone that has never headed bush before, it will be a very good insight to remote travel away from the beauty of the Ranges. The drive took us out to the eastern edge of Lake Torrens, which is as far as the western boundary of Merna Mora goes, and beyond is all National Park Country of the Lakebed. None on these tracks very hard and it was very easy going. There are some good points of interest along the way, but with the tracks in good condition, we were able to do the drive in good time. We were back at camp just after 1pm, were we had a quick bite to eat, before heading east and out on the Moralana Scenic Drive to fill in the afternoon which is always a great drive to do. Every creek crossing had flowing water from the rain from the previous week and many sections were badly washed away. At the end of the drive, we headed back down to Hawker on the bitumen to top up on fuel and get a few supplies. With Internet services again, we checked emails and more importantly, the weather forecast, and were horrified to read that there was a severe weather front expected right across South Australia within the next 24 hours, just what we did not want to hear, as we planned on another 4 days in the Flinders. Returning to Merna Mora, we made the most of our last campfire and packed up items that we would not need in the morning, so we could get away early the next morning.
Next morning we were asking ourselves if the weather was going to be wrong, as the sky was clear and a perfect morning in the Flinders. We were not prepared to take any chances and we were on the road and heading south towards Hawker just after 8am. By the time we arrived at Hawker, the wind had picked up and the clouds were rolling in. The sky became darker the further south we travelled and by the time we reached Jamestown, it was raining very steady. The constant cracking on the radio informed us that there are a lot of thunder and lightning somewhere out there and radio reports were not looking good. Within an hour of getting home, the hail, wind and rain come down with pure vengeance and in less than 30 minutes, we received nearly 40mm of rain and the flooding started and around 3.45pm Clare lost all power, and would stay that way for just under 24 hours.

This was not the ending of a trip away we had planned for and the rest is now history. It is now back to the drawing board and working out where our next trip will be.



Stephen Langman

December 2016

Final Note

One thing that I did not mention, was that the Flinders Ranges were starting to be in full bloom from the great Winter rains.

Here are some sample of the Wildflowers that we managed to see during our time in this trip.


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