Exploring the Flinders Ranges - a week of camping, walks and photography.

Thursday, Jul 23, 2009 at 00:00

Member-Heather MG NSW

Tuesday 21st July
Free camp 20kms south of Wilpena in Flinders Range.

We were up early from the free camp west of Iron Knob and left early so as to avoid driving into the dreaded headwind all day. Gas and diesel were purchased in Pt Augusta and they were the cheapest we have seen in quite some time. John asked whether he could fill our two 20 litre water containers and was thanked by the owner who is apparently not shown this courtesy often.
We turned just south of Pt Augusta at Sterling and were soon travelling up the picturesqu Pichi Richi Pass towards the town of Quorn. This is such a scenic drive with the Flinders Ranges suddenly close to the road and rising quickly out of the flat land around the peninsula coast. We were surprised to see a very green short ground cover so this area has had recent rain. On arrival in Quorn we took a drive to Warren Gorge some 21 kms from the town on dirt road. We had a bit of a look around and maybe didnt find the main camping area, however decided to go back into Quorn as it was not too level and the tracks were narrow. We didnt want to get into a predicament as far as not being able to get out as there seemed to be no other campers.

Back in Quorn, we pulled into the flat rest area and had our lunch while we pondered our next move. The rest area has toilets and is close to the town so we wandered around the shops and I bought a few groceries at the supermarket. I hadnt bothered to shop in Port Augusta as planned when we left Kalgoorlie.

We continued towards Wilpena and bought diesel in Hawker. Around 20 kms south of Wilpena we discovered this pretty little camp on the banks of a now dry river.(The only plce where overnight stays are permitted between Hawker and Wilpena according to our Camps 5 book). It has views towards Rawnsley Bluff and across the ranges to the front and behind, and the ground is covered in short green vegetation - almost like a lawn. Large twisted beautiful ancient river gums line the banks of the creek and on the opposite side theres a stand of cypress pines. The few others here are a distance from us so we assume they are here for much the same reasons as we are - to enjoy the views and quiet. There arent any toilets but it does have bins as well as tables and seats in the main area.
During late afternoon I took a few photos as the sun turned the ranges magnificent shades of red and the shadows lengthened. We sat around a fire until dark and enjoyed the beauty of this place, the stars and the cool clear evening. After dark, the noise of traffic on the road ceased and we knew a quiet night was in store.

Wednesday 22nd July
Wilpena Resort (Unpowered site $20)

We were at the resort before 10 am because we stayed so close by last night. At the entrance to the National Park we stopped and paid our entry fees.

I enquired about a powered site as we have friends have booked in for tonight, however the man on the desk seemed a bit flustered that we hadnt booked so.... I made a decision to go unpowered as it makes no difference to us really.

It was difficult to find a level site that was big enough for the van in the unpowered area which wasnt already occupied, and overhung by low branches, but we managed to find one and parked sideways.This turned out to be fortunate as we had the sun streaming in through the windows which was very pleasant as much of the area is shaded by overhanging trees. There was no space to put out the awning.

I was surprised to find a washing machine and even more surprised to find it empty so did a load of washing which I hung on my own line at the back of the van. This was obviously a signal to someone in a higher place as almost immediately clouds boiled in across the mountain tops and rain threatened.

The weather deteriorated during the afternoon however we managed to climb Mt Ohlssen Bagge after an early lunch and found it very cold and uncomfortable due to icy strong winds and even light drifts of showers.The conditions were not at all good for photos due to partial cloud cover but I managed to take a few which aren't so bad, considering. The views from the summit were excellent but we didnt hang around up on top as it was too cold despite us wearing our goretex jackets! We took very infrequent pauses either up or down as it was just too cold and completed the walk in around half the recommended time! We were happy to have done the climb as on our previous visit to the area a few years ago, we had climbed St Marys Peak.

Back to the van we enjoyed hot drinks and showers at the amenities. On sore feet we found our way to our friends van sites in the powered section - too far from our own site after such a rigorous walk. It was so good to see them and we sat around until well after dark huddled over a small campfire while a freezing wind blew and chilled our bones! They are off the 'do' the Birdsville track and it will be interesting to see how they fare in an on road van and an Avan (wind-up).

We returned to the van and were very glad to have the gas heater to warm us up while I was cooking dinner.
The night (and morning) here was our coolest to date but at least the sun shone on us early.

Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th July.
Koolaman Campground in the Aroona Valley
Flinders Range N Pk.
$10 per night.

We left the resort before 9 and took the bitumen road towards Blinman, turning onto the dirt when we reached the National Park entrance and the Brachina Geological road. Because we had already purchased our park Permits yesterday, we continued around 10 Kms until we arrived at the turn off to the Aroona Valley. This road meandered through and crossed the gorge a couple of times and involved a couple of short steep climbs and both looked like they could be a bit of a problem if we encountered rain. We also had to dodge a couple of trees due to the height of the van.

The campground is in a very picturesqu setting with views of the Heyson Range across the way and is beside a (now dry) creek lined with river gums. It has clean composting toilets and good flat sites near the main fireplace which we have used for the last two nights - for cooking and for warmth. The nights here have been chilly and the heater has been well used - the temp inside was 4 d. celcius on Friday so I stayed in bed and slept in a beanie - what a fashion icon I am!!! It was a very cozy night and we both slept very well. We have been surprised at how few people are using the camp grounds to stay but maybe its because of the season.

On Thursday afternoon (the day of our arrival) we did the loop Yuluna Hike which starts at the Aroona Campground and returns past our campground. We walked two kilometers from here to the Aroona Camp where the track head is located, and collected a pamphlet detailing the walks. Before we set off on the hike, we strolled around the wattle and daub hut which was Hans Heyson's accommodation when he visited the area in the early 1900s to paint the ranges and river gums. Nearby is also the site of the original homestead.
Being an ex secondary school visual arts teacher I was fascinated to be in the same place as one of our best known and loved artists from this period, and imagined I was retracing his steps.

The Yuluna hike is approximately 8 kms in length and took us around two hrs however we didnt exactly walk slowly, feeling the need to exercise our hearts and lungs. There were some uphill sections along a dirt road from where there were wonderful glimpses of the Heyson Ranges and the valley, before the track dropped down and meandered along a valley, across a couple of creeks and then along the bed of a river through a gorge. Trees clung to the rocks and earth high above the ground and there were large river gums along the floor of the creeks. We found evidence of the power of the water when it thunders down after rain higher up in the hills with large trees uprooted and trapped horizontally between others standing - a scene which is difficult to visualise when it is dry. There were roos and emus along the way in the creek beds which didnt seem too startled when we walked past. It was a lovely walk.

By the time we arrived back at the camp ground the day was beginning to cool and John organised a camp fire while I prepared a meal to of Morrocan chicken with prunes and apricots to cook in the camp oven.
We felt very lucky to be the only people in the camp and we sat around for quite some time after dinner enjoying very clear skies and the stars and the silence while the fire kept us warm. This is one of the most enjoyable times of the day when we are camping away from towns and I love to savour it.

Friday 24th AM

Today we walked to Red Hill lookout for spectacular views over the Aroona Valley and beyond. This involved retracing our steps for the last part of yesterdays hike and during the first kilometer or so we took a short detour to the remains of one of the shepherds huts, now just a pile of rubble, small pieces of crockery and broken glass. Continuing on our way, we took a right fork in the track and from this point the next two kilometers rose steeply with every step revealing more breathtaking vistas across the ranges. Eventually we came to 'Red Hill Lookout' sign.

I stopped frequently using the wonderful views as my excuse but in reality needed to pause and catch my breath! We carried our lunch and snacks and ate with one of the best panoramic 360 degree views, made all the more spectacular due to recent rain. What is normally parched red rock and earth was quite vivid green, and complemented the deeper blue/grey green tones of the conical pines which cover the hills. The hill top where the lookout is situated is bare of trees and is marked by a large cairn of rocks which we sat against while we ate. It was such a wonderful photographic opportunity with clear skies and vistas and I took many photographs.

Our return walk seemed to take far less time and wasn't nearly so taxing being downhill so we were back at the van by early afternoon.
The remainder of the day was spent relaxing, reading and prpparing dinner after which I downloaded my photos onto the laptop and spent time editing and organising them.

Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th July
Youngoona Camp ground
Flinders Ranges N Pk

We woke to cloudy skies and decided to move on today as we had done most of the walks nearby. Youngoona is only a few kms from our previous camp, back along the road towards the park entrance and the sealed Blinman Road but there are only four sites and no facilities apart from fireplaces here. It is also set on the banks of a creek, now dry, and only a short walk to the site of the Youngoona Hut. We set up all alone with views across to the Trezona? Range, a series of hills with very interesting dark rocky seams running diagonally up the sides. I have since discovered the rocks are pink limestone - but from our vantage point they look very dark.

We had some exercise hand washing and wringing the clothes worn during the last few days and hanging it out in the sun to dry - which was a much lengthier pastime than we had anticipated! Afterwards we set out to conquer the hill closest to the camp ground. This proved to be more difficult than it appeared and was much steeper when we were on the side of it, so we zigzagged our way ever upward following animal tracks or scrambling up the crumbly rocky hillside. John went on ahead a little to try to find a way over the large blocks at the top which looked small and insignificant from the van but were at least twice his height - and he's around 6'.2''.
While exploring, he came across a small overhang with around a dozen decaying bodies and bones of roos which we found intriguing. Was this the nursing home for local elderly roos or maybe a caravan park for retiree roos or maybe their cemetary we wondered???
John eventually discovered a place where the rocks allowed us to pull ourselves up and through to the top and suddenly we were on top and gazing over the parapet of rocks which resembled a medieval fortress. Beyond were views of the ranges, the dirt road a ribbon and our van a dot below in the camp ground.

On the other side of the hill the slope was more gentle so we meandered down and around until we met up with the creek and by following its path made our way back to the camp ground. Along the way, we disturbed many roos feeding and they bounded off in terror for a distance then sat up and watched warily until we were no longer a threat.

While sitting outside eating lunch we decided to climb another of the higher hills further along from the camp so we set off with water bottles and stumbled onto the Trezona loop walk for a short distance where it crossed a creek. At this point we left the track and started up the hill in a similar way to the earlier walk. The geological formations were truly fascinating - areas of smooth round cornered boulders fitting together almost like uneven pavers which we picked our way across and over, then sections of gravelly, loose rocky soil and finally the ridges of more angular blocky rocks in diagonal stripes - dotted with small shrubs and sparse green shoots.

The mountains appeared as undulating formations rippling across the horizon with diagonal linear stripes of darker tones and we took the walk at a sedate pace (for us) giving us time to ponder and enjoy them. There were many roos and huge rabbit warrens which must undermine the surface with hundreds of metres of burrows. It was another invigorating walk and we felt like explorers because we werent following any marked 'tracks'. A little later we discovered a cairn of rocks at the summit and it was obvious that many had already been where we were! Damn!!!

It was back down the side of the hill and across the creek to the camp to get the fire ready as the evening cooled and dark arrived. We cooked dinner inside and enjoyed the warmth of the heater while we showered. (Have I already described just how much we love this Kovea 'Little Sun' heater which is fuelled by small canisters of butane?? It is so efficient and makes life in unpowered situations very comfortable during cold weather).

Storm clouds gathered and swept across the sky and during the night it began to rain. John had dropped the awning before bed which was lucky as the wind howled and shook the van and the rain on the roof lulled us to sleep. We woke to similar weather and it continued throughout much of the day.It was a very lazy day indoors reading and for me it was a great opportunity to catch up on writing and editing photos too. I cooked up a meal of hearty corn and pumpkin soup with hot scones for lunch - perfect comfort food for a winters day.

Towards evening the clouds blew over and the clear sky returned in time for a fire and 'mexican beef and kidney beans a-la-campoven'. The night was clear and cold.

Monday 27th July

Our morning was occupied with the 8.2 km 'Trezona hike' a loop walk through the landscape which was grazed when the park was a pastoral property. It was an easy walk and I enjoyed a final view of the ranges. We took a look inside Middlesight Water Hut which is used as an overnight camp for walkers who do the lengthy Heyson Trail, this present hut replacing the original galvanised iron hut built during the 1930's as a musterer's camp. It has 4 bunk 'beds' and provides shelter in times of bad weather.

We arrived back at the van mid morning and packed up by 11.30. I was reluctant to leave however it is good to know that we can always come back to explore more of this most spectacular region of South Australia in the future. It isn't all that far from our home on the east coast.

From Youngoona we took the left turn to the Blinman road, much of which is sealed. There is work for most of the distance to the town and before too much longer it will be fully sealed. Despite the recent rain we had no problems.

Blinman is a fascinating and picturesque little village with many historical buildings dating from colonial days. We visited the general store and were amused to have to wait for some 10 minutes for a friendly lady to arrive and take our money for souvenirs - very trusting people! I would have liked to have stayed in the town and was keen to explore however was outvoted by the driver so we moved on to look for a lunch place along the Parachilna Gorge road. I think he has a big desire to get back to the east coast and doesn't want to loiter along the way from here. This part of the Flinders is definitey one I want to return to.

The drive on dirt road from Blinman to Parachilna was most scenic and meandered its way downhill and through the gorge floor before reaching the flat parched landscape which is characteristic of much of the area. We had planned to maybe free camp along the gorge but didnt really think it was far enough off the road so instead we pulled up for lunch in a flat place and listened to the melodies sung by butcher birds while we ate. What a lovely place.

From Parachilna we continued south and made our way back to Hawker, Carrieton and stopped overnight in the small and friendly park at Orroroo. Tomorrow will see us back in NSW, most probably in Broken Hill for a night or two.
Our time in the most beautiful Flinders ranges has come to an end for now although I know we will return before too long to continue our explorations.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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