SA - Wine, The Coorong NP, Goog's Tk and the Flinders Ranges

Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 at 16:34


South Australia – April 2010

• For decades George had wanted to drive Goog’s Track and spend some time in the Flinders Ranges, whereas I had wanted to explore South Australia’s coastline for many we put it all together and came up with a plan for a leisurely trip along the SA coast from Mt Gambier to Ceduna, inland along Goog’s Track, a loop up through Woomera and over the top of Lake Torrens to the Flinders Ranges where we would do some star-gazing and 4WD-ing before heading home.
• If anything was likely to mess up our plans, it was the weather. We had to have dry weather after we left the coast i.e. Ceduna, or many of the roads would be impassable. We were concerned about unseasonal March flooding in the Andamooka area and whether roads through the Flinders Ranges would be open in time for us. However, on 8 April the Roxby Downs-Andamooka area received a huge 86-150mm rain, beating a 40-year record. They usually receive only 160mm in a year! The roads were flooded, bitumen was lifted, the Roxby Downs shopping mall was flooded, and many roads closed. All we could do was watch closely to see whether the roads would be open or not.

Day 1: Monday 5 April – Melbourne to Mt Gambier
Our first trip without children for 32 years. A leisurely drive with coffee in a little country town, and a nice lunch in a Greek restaurant in Ballarat. We arrived in Mt Gambier with heaps of time for a stroll around the delightfully unexpected Umpherston Sinkhole – an amazingly lush circular garden about 20m underground and open at the top – plus we had a drive around Mt Gambier’s startling Blue Lake whilst there was still some late-afternoon sunshine.
Overnight: Golden Chain Tower Motor Inn = $88 – very comfortable and quiet.

Day 2: Tuesday 6 April – to Penola
We did an early-morning tour of Mt Gambier’s Blue Lake, including a tour of the automated pumping station and the old underground aquifer – very professionally conducted all very interesting, then off to Penola.
Wow, Penola is such a pretty and neat little town; the residents obviously take a lot of pride in maintaining their properties and there are masses of roses everywhere! I was very keen to visit the Mary MacKillop Interpretative Centre as she is about to be canonised as Australia’s first saint in October of this year. I was surprised that George found it so fascinating and we spent quite some time there, touring the tiny schoolhouse, buying up on souvenirs for friends and neighbours, and simply browsing the displays. George was interested in the early history of the local Catholic Priest, Fr Julian Woods; seems that he spent more time out in the bush on horseback than at church. Turns out that he is quite well known in geological circles, as he was one of the first people to observe the low ridges between Penola and the coast, and he (correctly) conclude that each ridge represented the level of the ocean at a number of different points in the Earth’s history.
Penola is the gateway to the Coonawarra area – literally on its doorstep – so how could we resist? We visited Yalumba’s Menzies Wine Room and had a lovely lunch at Upstairs at Hollicks, a very nice restaurant at the Hollicks vineyards and cellars. We asked why there were so few people out and about – apparently the SA locals don’t visit this area, only Victorians! It was pouring with rain so we had the place almost to ourselves which was nice, and the views over the vineyards were still spectacular, especially with the foliage just starting to turn brilliant shades of orange, gold, pink and crimson. After lunch, we drove to Naracoorte for a look around and were very surprised that the Coonawarra area is such a tiny discrete area - we’d read about it being 20kms x 2kms of course, but driving through it in just a few minutes to get to Naracoorte really made its compact size noticeable. Amazing - the only two places open for dinner in Penola on a week night were a hamburger joint or the pub. We had hamburgers. Overnight: Penola Caravan Park = $80 – dark and depressing, not very clean at all, and the cabin door could not be locked, so I’d be reluctant to stay there again.

Day 3: Wednesday 7 April – to Kingston
We spent the morning in Coonawarra, tasting wines at Balnaves (George couldn’t resist and splurged on some nice reds to cellar) and then, on the way to Kingston, detoured on a whim to explore the Woakwine Cutting.

It was simply amazing – a rock cutting, some 30m deep and 1km long, made by two very committed farmers in three years to drain some swampy land for pasture! The remnants of a long-lost pioneering, can do spirit.

We passed through Robe on our way to Kingston. Robe was a bustling little place full of shops and cafes...and very very touristy. Kingston, however, was refreshingly different - quiet, spread out, very few shops and no tourists - very relaxing and pretty though. For lunch, we had a grossly over-priced lobster salad for $55 at The Big Lobster aka Larry and then, for dinner, we had a lovely relaxing meal – excellent seafood again - in the motel restaurant.
Overnight: Golden Chain Lacapede Motel, Kingston SE = $107 – just lovely, would certainly stay there again.

Day 4: Thursday 8 April – to Coorong
It was a lovely sunny day so, after a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon at a small café in Kingston run by a friendly female couple in their 60s, we went back to the analemmatic sundial (it’s one of only eight in the world where you align your body to the month, and then your shadow indicates the time). The concept is many centuries old and surprisingly accurate...providing there’s a sun casting a shadow!
We then accessed the beach at The Granites and drove along the sand for about 80kms. At first it was idyllic, with not a vehicle in sight. However the conditions were surprisingly changeable and parts of it were of real concern – narrow and high shell-grit ridges running from the dunes right down to the water’s edge. Each ridge had to be negotiated very slowly, and without quite knowing just what was on the other side of the ridge – two such ridges has a one metre drop off into a gully on the other side. On the way, we stopped to get a close look at a Little Penguin on the beach – it was alive but obviously sick or maybe injured as it didn’t move away from us, poor thing.

We also saw a massive, very dead and very stinky seal on the beach, as well as another big male seal just resting. Typical male?. The tide was well on the way in, we’d seen only two other vehicles in 80 klms, and it was with some relief that we reached the turn-off to Tea Tree Crossing. The trip between the 42 Mile crossing and Tea Tree crossing was interesting – almost like a compacted dirt road, high above the high water mark. The beach was impassable by this stage. Lots of camping “bays” along the beach, however most of them looked very exposed to both sun and wind. After we crossed the dune at Tea Tree crossing we headed for a nice secluded grassy spot which George, the canny camper, had spotted on Google Earth.

The site was lovely, just off the main track but we had almost total privacy as we were sheltered by some hard-to-find trees in this very open landscape - paperbarks that had been shaped bizarrely by the strong winds.

Day 5: Friday 9 April – still in Coorong
It started drizzling at dawn and rained all morning so George collected buckets of rainwater to top up our water drums. The rain was the perfect excuse to snuggle in the tent and read. We heard vehicles pass nearby on the main track but we were the only ones in this huge flat grassy area – how lucky was that? With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been good to spend an extra night in this lovely spot.

Day 6: Saturday 10 April – to Victor Harbor
It was nice dry weather for packing up, after which we drove over the Tea Tree Crossing, a huge expanse of bare flat sand with just a few centre metres of salty water over it, joining the Younghusband Peninsula to the mainland.

We took the car ferry across the Murray/Lake Alexandrina at Wellington and drove to Strathalbyn, SA’s antiques capital. It was another pretty little town, all tarted up in its period splendour. We browsed some antique shops and enjoyed a nice lunch before driving to Ashbourne, specifically to see the magnificent River Red Gums lining the road. They did not disappoint; they were awesome, absolutely huge, with trunks of the loveliest colours and really beautifully shaped gnarly branches.
Then on to Goolwa and its impressive barrage which keeps the salty tidal waters out of the Murray River. We crossed the Hindmarsh Bridge (of 1994 ‘secret women’s business’ fame) and visited the official mouth of the Murray – awe-inspiring, really, when you think about the Murray starting way up in the Alps, almost 2,400kms away!

After a picture postcard trip driving down the coast, we reached Victor Harbor – it’s just like a tiny Port Macquarie! David, the manager of the motel where we stayed was so friendly and helpful. He let us in the back gate to the motel as our roof rack was too high to get in the normal way. He insisted on opening the back gate again when we left to have dinner with dear friend, 93-year-old Gerry Wijte, and also a couple of hours later when we returned - very impressive service!
Overnight: Victor City Motel = $98 – modest but very central, amazingly helpful and friendly manger – would definitely stay there again.

Day 7: Sunday 11 April – to Hahndorf
We started the day with a brisk and chilly 800m walk across Victor Harbor’s causeway to Granite Island, as it was far too early for the famous Clydesdale-drawn tram. Once over on the island, the weather turned quickly and it started to drizzle. As we walked even more briskly back across the causeway it started raining quite hard. My umbrella was useless as it was also blowing a gale, so I got rather wet. George had his bush jacket on, so he was ok. However, by the time we reached the car, the rain had cleared...and we thought Melbourne’s weather was erratic!

Only 30kms inland of Victor Harbor, we visited Glacier Rock, the largest glacial boulder in the world. It’s on a beautifully smooth rock pavement exposed in the river bed, all dating from some 500M years ago when Australia was joined to Antarctica and the area was covered in glaciers. Then on to the little township of Yankalilla, on the western side of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Its claim to fame is a water stain which appeared in 1994 on the back wall of the local Anglican Church – supposedly shaped like the Virgin Mary, veiled and leaning over the child standing on her lap – and which has become the world’s newest Marian Shrine. It’s been formally acknowledged by the Anglican Church, a special shrine has been built, and pilgrims come from around the world to light candles and pray. I tried, I really tried, but all I could see was a water stain. To compensate, we had a lovely breakfast at a café down the road (Lilla’s...just in case I decide to buy one of those gorgeous watercolours of rooster and chickens!). We drove north through beautiful rolling countryside with more magnificent River Red Gums and amazing views of the coastline, and up to the 1962 Myponga Reservoir where the main road is actually built on top of the curved dam wall, so we had spectacular views.
Hahndorf is just gorgeous, like a little picture postcard, especially at this time of the year with all the trees in beautiful autumnal shades, and it’s only 30mins drive from Adelaide! It reminded us very much of Berrima, south west of Sydney on the road to Canberra. We had lunch with a friend at the German Arms, a huge German-themed pub serving gigantic portions and many German beers – I even tried a beer, much to George’s amazement. It was supposed to taste fruity with undertones of honey, but no, it just tasted like stinky old beer to me! The German thing is because Hahndorf was settled by German Lutheran migrants, many of whom came on the Zebra in 1838 and named their farming township after the Danish captain of the Zebra, Dirk Hahn. After our enormous lunch, we did a guided tour of The Cedars, the house, studio and land owned by Sir Hans Heysen (1877-1968), and were very lucky that the regular tour guide was ill so we had the actual curator of The Cedars to chat with! It was fascinating; I’ve always loved Heysen’s gum trees, skies and flowers but this tour really opened my eyes to his amazing body of works, and walking through his house, browsing through his studio, and seeing his huge property (he kept buying neighbouring blocks to save the magnificent trees he liked to paint) really brought his story to life. I came away with a variety of cards, bookmarks and books!
Overnight: Hahndorf Inn Motor Lodge = $125. It was supposed to be a bit of a treat however it was not at all well-designed. Our unit and windows backed on to the pool area and our next door neighbours spent several noisy hours in the heated pool with their very small boy who then ran around their unit screaming and crying until 11.45pm. Then the bonking started at 1.50am, followed by a rather noisy shower. When we left early the next morning, instead of my usual consideration for neighbours, I made lots and lots of noise...revenge is sweet! No way would I stay there again.

Day 8: Monday 12 April – to Kimba
It was a rather chilly 7°C as we took a few photos in Hahndorf at 8am, and shared a German pastry with our hot coffee for breakfast. The road north to the Clare Valley twisted and turned through the hills, and we stopped for a Devonshire tea at a pretty little town called Auburn before arriving at Sevenhill Cellars dating from 1851. It’s the oldest winery in the Clare Valley and Australia’s only Jesuit winery. As well as making sacramental wines, they also produce premium table wines so we bought a bottle for our neighbour. It’s a gorgeous area in which to spend a day: old stone-lined cellars with rows of oak barrels, beautiful old stone buildings, a stone-lined crypt with 41 Jesuits priests buried over the years, magnificent old St Aloysius’ Church with lovely stained glass windows and a painting of the Madonna presented to the Jesuits by King Ludwig of Bavaria in 1848, all surrounded by hectares of old vines, a Marian shrine, a cemetery, etc. - a truly lovely and tranquil place to visit.

We then had a long drive of over 300kms through flat dry and dusty grain and sheep country, arid scrub and amazingly sculpted hills of tailings at Iron Knob. We eventually arrived at Kimba, a rather bizarrely named township which apparently has nothing at all to do with the little white lion on TV in my childhood. Kimba has two claims to fame: (a) it’s supposedly the geographic half-way point across Australia - although I guess that depends on where you start and finish - and (b) it’s the home of The Big Galah- yes, an 8m high pink galah...who could resist? We also had a surprisingly nice dinner at the service station to which the motel was attached.
Overnight: Kimba Motel and Caravan Park = $87 – very comfy, would stay there again, no problem.

Day 9: Tuesday 13 April – to Port Lincoln
We drove to Cleve for breakfast and used the opportunity to post off the many gifts and cards I’d been collecting, then straight to Port Lincoln. Our original plan had been to camp overnight at Memory Cove in the Lincoln National Park , (on the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula) and I’d subsequently made the necessary bookings. Each day of our trip, I would look at the arrangements or plans for the next few days and see what needed to be confirmed, changed or cancelled. George and I agreed that I’d really not left enough time to camp at Memory Cove as well as get to Coffin Bay, 80kms away, in time for a 9.15am cruise. But we really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to drive to Memory we decided that the best approach would be to pick up the gate key and permits from the Port Lincoln Visitor Centre, spend the afternoon visiting Memory Cove, hand the key back in, and stay overnight in Port Lincoln. It worked a charm, although it was a lot of driving for George.

Memory Cove was beautiful and well worth the drive, although a two-night stay would have been even better. The drive was through unexpectedly flat land with low dense scrub – we even saw some emus. Only 15 vehicles per day are allowed into the area and there are only five campsites at the cove, some small sites and some classed as ‘family’ sites, all clustered in fairly close proximity with a shared drop toilet and picnic area. It would be ideal if there were only one or two vehicles there but I’d not be happy to be stuck there with a couple of families! There were no other campers there at all whilst we were there, although two other vehicles came and went. The curved beach was simply lovely – brilliant turquoise waters and white sands – and the same pink granite boulders covered in brilliant orange patches of lichen that first caught our eyes on the east coast of Tasmania.
Back to Port Lincoln where we visited the Dreamtime Rainbow Rock shop, full of jewellery made from rainbow opal matrix from Andamooka, the only known source of opal matrix in the world. It’s treated with sugar and acid to carbonise the host rock and turn it black so the streaks of opal flash brilliantly. George bought two stunning square pendants, one for me and one for our daughter Kristy, which was very sweet and generous. Then we handed back the keys, and visited the 5000kg life-size bronze statue of Makybe Diva on the Port Lincoln foreshore. She’s the only horse to win the Melbourne Cup three times, and all in a row, in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and is owned by local tuna fisherman Tony Santic.
We headed to our motel to clean up and do some laundry before treating ourselves to a lovely seafood dinner – oysters, scallops and seafood pizza - at the famed Del Giono’s Restaurant. Overnight: Blue Seas Motel = $98 – comfortable and central with lovely views but no laundry facilities, although it’s only a 5 min walk over a steep hill to a public laundry.

Day 10: Wednesday 14 April – to Streaky Bay
We had a lovely drive across the Eyre Peninsula. The Coffin Bay oyster cruise – or Half-Day Seafood and Wildlife Cruise as it’s officially called – was fantastic and great value for money ($75 each). We were blessed with crisp but sunny weather, the boat was beautiful, the driver/owner/tour guide was friendly and knowledgeable, the ten or so other people were unobtrusive and the fresh oysters were sublime. Apart from the spectacular scenery, we got up close and personal with five NZ fur seals frolicking in a protected rocky area, and they were totally oblivious to us.

The boat was followed by maybe 20 or so bottlenose dolphins, coming and going in groups of four or five, darting under the boat, jumping out of the water - at times, they were so close, we could have reached out and touched them! We motored past an island called The Brothers which was simply stunning, very eerie and sculptural as it’s made of the eroded remains of petrified tree roots from many thousands of years ago when all this area was covered in rainforests of giant trees.
We followed the coast road north towards Streaky Bay, driving along some very pretty cliff-tops, particularly around Elliston. This is where we had hoped to do Pedro’s Crayfish Tour, a half-hour tour of a crayfish boat and processing plant, with crayfish snacks served at the end of the tour and optional crayfish cooked fresh on the beach for anyone interested. Unfortunately the government had lowered the crayfish quotas this year and so the crayfish season had finished six weeks earlier than usual – bummer!
About 40kms south of Streaky Bay we turned off to see Murphy’s Haystacks, amazing pink granite rock formations (called inselbergs) dating back some 1.5M years. Some are pillars (part of the base rock) and some are boulders (sitting on top of the surface) and they’ve apparently been that way for over 34,000 years, with the rest of the flat area around them gradually eroding away to expose them, and their surface becoming all mottled from lichen. They seem to literally spring up in the middle of flat plains, looking like solidified blobs rising from the bottom of a heated lava lamp. What was truly bizarre for us is that, here we were, in a remote area, looking at these ancient rock formations, whilst a huge busload of maybe forty or fifty little old Italian or Greek women and men tottered around, taking photos and queuing for the toilet – yes, there was even a ‘his and hers’ toilet block out there in the middle of nowhere!

Another delicious seafood meal at our very comfortable motel in Streaky Bay: Streaky Bay Hotel/Motel = $100 which included a very generous continental breakfast – comfortable and great value in a relatively remote area.

Day 11: Thursday 15 April – to Goog’s Lake
Today we travelled to Ceduna. My Lord, that’s a depressing place with groups of dishevelled people sitting in the gutters - it did, however, have a surprising variety of shops and facilities. Then we left the coast of SA for good, heading towards Goog’s Track on the outskirts of Ceduna...although we were rather concerned that we may reach Perth instead as the maps we had were surprisingly reticent about where the track actually started and the directions we’d been given were rather vague. George told me not to stress, as he’d gotten directions from some person he spoke to in the street while I was getting groceries. The National Parks office was of little value, and showed no interest other than collecting our camping fees. Of course, being male, George refused to ask for more specific directions! So I was somewhat relieved to finally reach the Dog Fence and the start of Goog’s Track. No worries, said George. Tyre pressure down to about 23psi, a leak, and back on the track. Boys!!

Now there’s another fine story of a man’s commitment, similar to the Woakwine Cutting story.

Goog Denton (1938-1996), owner/manager of Lone Oak sheep station wondered what lay north on his remote property. For the three years between 1973 and 1976, working on weekends, he and his son Digger (1966-1993) were helped by the rest of their family to clear Goog’s Track, initially with only a ute and a Fordson tractor, later with a bulldozer and 4WDs. The first 55kms took 18 months, at which stage they built a small shack to act as a base camp for the rest of the track to Mt Finke. His wife and daughter would cart fuel, water and supplies out in the back of Landrovers. Near the site of the base camp are memorials to Goog and Dinger. 5kms east is Goog’s Lake, a large salt lake about 15kms x 1km. After three long years, the track to Mt Finke was completed, joining up with a rough track to the railway at Tarcoola that had been hand-cleared in the 1950s by landowners wanting to get their wool through to Thevenard/Ceduna by rail. An amazing story of determination! The Memorials were quite poignant.

Overnight: Goog’s Lake which was lovely and peaceful.

Day 12: Friday 16 April – still at Goog’s Lake
Nowadays it’s a reasonably good 4WD-only track for 200kms traversing more than 300 sand dunes and – what a relief – no facilities whatsoever. The track was in much better condition than we expected. The southern approaches to the dunes were a little chopped up, whereas the northern approaches were quite smooth, although much steeper. We pretty much did the whole of the track in 3rd low – hit the bottom of each dune at about 30kph, and cruised over the top at about 5kph.
We were there early in the season, the track was a bit wet in areas, and we saw only a group of three other vehicles at the lake. On the second night that we were camped amongst the black oaks along the shores of the lake, we noticed the vehicles setting up camp on a hill top a kilometre or so away. The next morning, after we’d packed up and were trying to find the way back to the main track, we drove along a track that took us right beside their vehicles and could not believe our eyes: these crazy people (two couples in their seventies and a single old guy) had actually pitched their tent on the track, completely blocking had to see it to believe it!

Another thing that really struck us was the scarcity of bird and animal life – not even reptiles – along the track and at the lake. We saw a few dingo tracks on the lake, and even some camel tracks on Goog’s Track, but little else. It was eerily quiet, too. Of course the bloody flies at the lake made up for that – our old fly nets came in very handy. We saw magnificent sunrises and sunsets reflected in the lake, and the stars were brilliant.

Day 13: Saturday 17 April – to Kingoonya
We had a record-breaking pack-up as the flies were horrendous on this last morning, even before the sun was up. We were on the road by 7.40am - see note above re crazy people camping across the track.

After a leisurely drive past Mt Finke – we neither saw another vehicle nor heard any chatter on the UHF - we reached the Trans-Australia Railway Line (and Next G coverage, believe it or not!) about 3.00pm.

Then on to an amazingly smooth and wide road east to Tarcoola. We dropped in to see this ‘ghost’ town which, between 1901 and the 1980s was a thriving town, and is still in very good condition, even though the only residents are a woman and her daughter. Its only claim to fame now is that it’s at the junction of the Sydney/Perth and Adelaide/Darwin railways, each of which supposedly stops there, although I have no idea why. Anyway, on such a smooth road we soon reached Kingoonya where I’d booked accommodation for the night at the Kingoonya Waterhole Hotel. The town now has five permanent residents: an elderly woman, a man and, since the pub re-opened a couple of years ago after a 20-year shut-down, the manager, his wife, and little girl. We were excited to see the long train hauling all its cargo but were horrified to realise that the engine, rail trucks, and the hundreds of metres of cargo displayed very few lights l...we approached each railway crossing with renewed caution from then on!
Overnight: Kingoonya Waterhole Hotel = $65 - our room was very basic, as expected, fairly clean, with a communal shower room outside. However the people were very friendly and we had a melt-in-your mouth steak dinner. And yes, we would stay there again, mainly to support a young couple who are brave enough to gamble on re-opening an old pub in the middle of nowhere!

Day 14: Sunday 18 April – to Andamooka
Our first stop of the day was Glendambo where we were bemused by the welcome sign. Under the heading ‘Population’, it had ‘Sheep 22,5000, Flies 2,000,000 (approx.), Humans 30’ - gotta love that Aussie sense of humour! And they underestimated the number of flies?

About 40kms west of Woomera we came across Lake Hart, a huge expanse of salt flats. Some American backpackers had walked way out on the salt crust to the shallow waters and told me that it was very salty. I took their word for it. There was a huge pile of salt crust piled up, about 10m high, over to one side and it had dried solid, so George climbed up on top of it and also took some close-up photos of the beautifully textured surface with its sparkling crystals. We called in to the Woomera Visitor Centre for lunch and were pleasantly surprised by how modern and spacious it was. The burgers were great, too. Then we did a bit of shopping and I did our laundry at Roxby Downs, a thriving little community with the cleanest public laundry I’ve ever seen, whilst George took the opportunity to wash the car (please remember this point). The guy who owned the laundry was on site that day – very friendly and helpful, and an absolute gold mine of information about the area. About 30 minutes after having the car washed we were on our way to Andamooka, where we encountered a locust plague. It was revolting: the smack of the juicy insects as they splattered against the windscreen and the stench as they cooked on the car! Got to Andamooka with the front of the car covered in green slime.
The approach to Andamooka was amazing – piles and piles of opal tailings – it looked like some sort of moonscape. And the road was still very wet, with huge expanses of water on both sides of the road.

We were so very lucky to be able to get through when we did – a week before and we would have had to cancel this part of the trip! We visited the row of miners’ old wattle and daub huts dating from the 1930s depression years. Oh my lord, they were an eye-opener: dry-laid stone walls, hessian bag ceilings, roofs and chimneys made out of old kerosene tins. Many of them still had old hand-hewn furniture, cooking implements and opal-noodling tools laid out, as though their owners were about to return at any moment. George loved the old corrugated iron dunnies on the hill behind the row of huts – very Australian!
Overnight: Duke’s Bottlehouse Motel = $105 - a great little motel, very clean and comfortable with excellent food at the pub next door.

Day 15: Monday 19 April – to Arkaroola
Unfortunately we couldn’t get to Arkaroola via the Mulgaria Track over the top of Lake Torrens as that track was still closed due to the recent wet weather. This meant a detour via Maree and Leigh Creek – a lot of extra driving but we’d not seen either place so that was a good opportunity to explore them. The Borefield Rd north of Roxby Downs was in better condition than we expected. On the run up to the junction with the Oodnadatta Tk we were surprised to find that the graders had been very busy after the unseasonal rain, and maintaining a steady 80kph was pretty easy.

Marree was interesting. A very dusty little Australian country town. A little bit down at heel, however the people we met very very friendly and helpful. Must be pretty warm in summer!

There was water across the road just south of Marree and we saw a poor young backpacker bogged to his axles, with a frustrated publican trying to pull him out with a length of rope! “Do you need a hand, mate”, says George. “No mate”, says the publican, “if this doesn’t work then he stays here”. George mumbled something thankful about keeping his snatch straps clean and dry.
North of Lyndhurst we visited the Farina Ruins. This was a bustling little town in the 1890s, and very important as it was the railhead of the Great Northern Railway, so it was full of explorers, Afghan cameleers, pioneers etc. It was called Farina – Latin for flour – as there were high hopes of turning it into a grain-producing area. Unfortunately, there was not enough water for a grain crop - not even enough for a small town - so it started dying off in the 1930s when the railway went through to Alice Springs. By 1960 the post office had closed and now all that’s left are the rather eerie ruins.

The Ochre Pits just north of Lyndhurst were amazing too – Aboriginal people had been digging the beautifully coloured ochre from these pits for thousands of years to use in celebrations, trade, medicine, burials, etc.
We saw some amazing and varied scenery today on the way to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary – flat red desert sands to gorgeous tree-covered mountain ranges. And it was another clear and sunny hot day. We stayed just one night as our main aim there was to do the Tour the Universe astronomy tour at a 14” computerised telescope in one of the three observatories there. Two unfortunates: (a) and (b) by nightfall there was a total cloud overcast so the astronomy tour was cancelled – bummer! However we did get to drive to The Pinnacles nearby, and it was a superb view.
Overnight: Even though we’d booked several weeks in advance, within the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary we had only two choices: either the top-end $180/night accommodation or Greenwood Lodge budget accommodation at only $65. We made the wrong choice of Greenwood Lodge! The wilderness sanctuary is very environmentally friendly and the air-conditioning in our room was turned off at 6pm...even though the afternoon sun was still pelting in. It was an uncomfortably hot and sticky night.

Day 16: Tuesday 20 April – to Blinman
An ‘easy day’ today. We started with a detour into Mt Chambers Gorge where we found a gorgeous (pardon the pun) place to camp for a few days on another trip. It was on the bank of wide pebbly creek bed with the creek bubbling nearby and the sides of the gorge made of layer upon layer of slate or shale which flaked off just like giant slate tiles. It was all over the creek bed, too - amazing! It was an idyllic spot – so peaceful and beautiful - where were all the campers?

We reached Blinman and had a lovely lunch at the Bush Lime Café where we also bought Mother’s Day gifts for our mothers before spending a leisurely and decadent afternoon in bed!
Overnight: Blinman Budget Accommodation = $80 – clean, quiet, comfortable.

Day 17: Wednesday 21 April – to Hawker
Today was a long one, jam-packed with interesting things. First off, we visited the Walls of China just south of Blinman. These are unusual rock formations that started when thin lines of ironstone were deposited on top of the existing base rock. Ironstone is much more durable than the base rock so those hills topped with ironstone seem to rise up from the surrounding countryside and resemble the Great Wall of China. These formations also appear in other areas nearby, and George took some great photos of them later in the day.
Further south, near Willow Springs station, we drove up Stokes Hill Lookout. It was still quite early, about 9am, and there was a faint mist in the air however the view was absolutely stunning.

George phoned Willow Springs to see if the wet weather had affected the tracks on the SkyTrek self-drive tour. We’d booked, but weren’t sure of the effect of the recent wet weather. A man told George that the tracks were closed – so very disappointing. We made our way south to Wilpena Pound to see what else we could do. I played dumb and asked the lady at the Tourist Information Centre if she would check on our booking for the SkyTrek tour. She phoned, a lady answered, and we were told to come straight up, which we promptly did - we were so glad we’d double-checked! I picked up the map and gate key from that same lady and was told that part of their property – the Bunkers Reserve - had been bought by the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby Preservation Society. Although they had a licence agreement with that society to allow drivers on the SkyTrek tour to access the land, there was some tension and the society was threatening to lock the SkyTrek drivers out of the Bunkers Reserve. I was told that if there were any signs or blockages across the tracks, we should just try to get around them if possible... all very mysterious!

We drove the four-hour circuit with no problems at all, although George later read that SkyTrek had closed whilst the access problems were being sorted out. We must have been one of the last vehicles to get through in April, and thank goodness we were because it was an amazing trip with stunning views, especially along the ridge tops. It was interesting and varied driving for George but also very challenging and stimulating and we were so glad we’d been able to do it. The map and accompanying trip notes were excellent, very professionally done and with just the right amount of information about topics as diverse as why there were very dense pure stands of Native Pines all the same height (natural regeneration following a period of exceptionally high rainfall), what Bullock Bushes look like (old olive trees) and their importance in grazing cattle, ripple marks on slate caused 500M years ago when the area was a shallow sea, Old Moxan’s Hut built around 1900, used by a station employee until 1960 and restored by the Nissan Patrol Club in 1993, an old wedge-tailed eagle nest and information about them, the old Mt Caernarvon Trig Point dating from the 19th century, and many more points of interest. It was all so fascinating.

We saw a group of about nine emus, some quite small, on the road on the way to Wilpena Pound. They were quite unconcerned and appeared to be grazing on the many grasshoppers which were still on the road. George slowed the car to a crawl as they wandered over the road in front of us and I madly snapped photos. Wilpena Pound was a bit of a disappointment. I expected to be able to see the crater shape of the natural amphitheatre but all we could see were the surrounding hills and mountain ranges – very beautiful hills and mountain ranges, but not quite what I expected.
We drove to Hawker where we spent the night in a comfy and very clean little cabin in the Hawker Big 4 Caravan Park ($77) and had toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner, setting off the smoke detector alarm twice in the process.

Day 18: Thursday 22 April – to Horsham
Hawker’s a dry and dusty little town. We visited the Jeff Morgan Gallery to see the amazing panorama paintings – a huge 360° view of Wilpena Pound, a 5x2m painting of Cooper Creek, as well as a couple of other huge paintings - all very impressive. At Orrooroo we stopped off to see The Big Gum Tree which is over 500 years old and about 10m in circumference - I took a good photo of George at its base. Then we visited Terowie, just south of Peterborough. Poor old Terowie, almost a ghost town now with many houses and shops boarded up, but I was very keen to see where General Macarthur had made his first press statement, the famous ‘I will return’ speech in March 1942, following his retreat from the Philippines. I’m sure that some other town in Australia makes the same claim, but can’t remember which one.
We turned towards the Riverland area, crossed the Murray by ferry at Waikerie, and had a coffee in Berri with some ExplorOz friends of George’s, Glen and Sadie. We passed through Pinaroo and across the border to Murrayville where we drove around trying to find the Murrayville/Nhill track in the last bit of light. Some ‘track’...the last 50kms were sealed! It was dark so we couldn’t see much at all which was a shame and we were very glad to reach our motel in Horsham and get a good night’s sleep.

Day 19: Friday 23 April – to home
...home! We had a really enjoyable and relaxing trip that was a good balance of activities as well as on- and off-road driving. With hindsight, however, we would rather have spent an extra day camped at Tea Tree Crossing, two days camped at Memory Cove (providing we had only a few quiet neighbours) rather than one night at Port Lincoln, and two days camped at Mt Chambers Gorge rather than one night at Blinman i.e. only an extra three days in total but it would have made the trip a perfect balance of commercial accommodation and camping.
The only real disappointments of the trip were that we didn’t get to do Pedro’s Crayfish Tour in Elliston due to the shortened crayfish season, and a total cloud cover meant that we didn’t get to experience the Tour the Universe astronomy tour at the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary...but we had a fantastic trip all the same!
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