Our Forced Retreat to The Flinders Ranges

Monday, Jun 24, 2013 at 20:10

Stephen L (Clare) SA

Like any trip that I plan, the weather will play a very important factor in the successful outcome of the trip. For the months leading up to our proposed trip to visit friends on the Birdsville Track, the weather was just perfect, but the same could not be said days before our intended departure date. I was hearing first hand reports of a fair amount of rain having fallen around the Leigh Creek area, so I gave Patsy a phone call up at Etadunna Station, and her reply was,” it was perfect blue skies and a balmy 23° C up along the Birdsville Track”, so I hoped that things would take a drastic change for the better in the Leigh Creek area.

Checking out the Elders Weather site the same could not be said with a large rain band forecast to pass through the centre of Australia and passing through the very country we hope to visit with some substantial amount of rain to be received. Leaving a foggy Clare, we had rain on and off all the way up to Hawker which was a real great start to the trip. From Hawker north the rain increased in intensity to the point that we had to have the wipers on all the time and large sheets of water were now covering the sides of the Main Highway. Knowing first hand what it is like to be caught out on a wet Birdsville Track, we decided to make Leigh Creek our destination for the first night, as I had a strange feeling about the weather and the road conditions further north. Booking into the Caravan Park, the caretaker must have thought we must be crazy, asking for a non-powered site, and not a cabin as he expected.

It rained all night and a quick phone call to Patsy first thing Saturday morning confirmed that it was indeed raining up along the Birdsville Track, with Patsy recording 4mm of rain overnight and a quick check of the Elders Weather site confirmed that Marree had received over 20mm of rain and Leigh Creek 35mm. Experience told me straight away that it would be pointless to even attempt the drive up to Marree, as with that amount of rain, all tracks would be soon closed if they were not already. Driving out of the Caravan Park, the Caretaker said you might as well book into here again for another night, as the Main Road south was closed to all traffic due to flooding creeks.

Another quick check of the Elders site and there was a massive rain front around 2 hours west of the area and if we did not get out them, even Leigh Creek could become stranded. The very first creek crossing south of the town had water flowing across the road and this continued on with nearly every creek crossing the further south that we headed. We were warned by fellow travellers that were heading north that the road further south was closed due to flooding waters at one of the creek crossings over the Main Highway and there was a large line up of vehicles on both sides waiting to cross and there would be no way that we would be able to get through to Hawker.

We passed a Police vehicle heading north and he made no signs of wanting us to stop or turn around, so we continued further south until only around 67 kilometres north of Hawker where the Brachina Overflow crosses the Main Highway. Then as we were warned, the Highway was blocked by a torrent of very fast flowing water as the Brachina Creek raced across the Highway and stopped all vehicles dead in their tracks, including large Road Trains. After around an hour and a half, the water level was slowly dropping, but the clouds out over the Ranges were very black and would be dropping large amounts of rain on the Ranges, which would result in even more water flowing down the Brachina Creek. The first vehicle to test the still very fast flowing water was a road train, but it still would not be safe enough for smaller vehicles, so all we could do a just wait. A quarter of an hour later, two more trucks went through the fast water followed by the first four-wheel drive vehicle. Safely negotiating the water crossing, he was followed by another five four-wheel drives, including us and we were now free of this barrier. It would have been a long wait for the large line up of conventional vehicles, and we wondered just how long they ended up waiting before it was safe for them to cross.

After a quick stop at Hawker, we continued south back to Clare where we would rearrange our camping gear and decide what we would do for the next week. Checking the Internet when we got home, all roads through the Flinders Ranges and north of Lyndhurst were now closed to all vehicles, so we made the wise but very disappointing decision to turn around when we did. The next 2 days we watched the weather charts and the worst of the weather had passed, so we decided that we would head back to the Flinders and spend 5 nights back up at Wilpena Pound. Heading back to the Flinders and it was a real typical winters day here in Clare, with low cloud covering all the hills and fine drizzling rain, and it was not until we were near Orroroo that the cloud cover dissipated completely and clearer sky’s to the north.

We had morning smoko at the site of the very old River Red Gum at Orroroo before heading north to the Flinders again. I wanted to test just how quick the roads were drying out, seeing that they had now had no rain on them for over two days, and I knew just the road, which is just outside of Cradock and was in fact the old Main Hawker to Cradock Road before the new bitumen road was made and takes the back way into Hawker. The roads was very good to the point where we were actually kicking up dust with only a few puddles of water in the lower sections of the road. This was a good sign that the roads further north in the Flinders would be drying out and would hopefully open to traffic again very shortly. Arriving at Wilpena Pound, we booked into the camping area, where we were able to get our usual spot and there were very few campers in the Pound, which I would have thought from the recent heavy rains in the area. When I asked just how much rain had fallen here, I was informed that Wilpena had received 75mm of rain, which explained why the creeks were all raging torrents like they were only days before. With the tent set up and the fire going, it was great to be back to one of our very special places and still very close to home. This was bush camping with the best of both worlds, hot showers, normal toilets and Internet coverage, yet still if a true bush setting of Wilpena Pound. It was a cool that night around the campfire, with not a cloud in the sky and if it was going to stay like this, our week back in the Flinders would be just perfect.

Next morning the Ranges were blanketed in a cover of cloud so it looked like we were now back into the chance of rain, just what we did not want. With fire going again, the smell of the smoke was very pleasant and as Fiona was toasting her bread over the coals of the fire, we were visited by a number of varieties of local birds that were sitting on Fiona’s chair waiting for a free feed. Over the next four days, we visited many of the visitor attractions that the Flinders Ranges are famous for. During one of our day drives, we revisited the Brachina Overflow where is crosses the Main Highway. The crossing had been clearing of all debris and if we had not been caught out there only days before, it is hard to believe that there was so much water thundering across this usually dry crossing. The weather for the week was overcast and the odd small shower of rain. The Flinders Ranges has always been one of our favourite place to visit and camp, but is does not matter how many times we have stayed up there, it is one such destination that we always look forward to visiting again.

My only word of advice for anyone that intends to visit this iconic destination in South Australia, and if you have never visited the area before, do not under estimate the time that you will require to see all that the area has to see and visit. A first time trip to the area for the person that that likes to explore all that is on offer, then a minimum say of at least 2 weeks in the area would be recommended, and then you still not see all there is see. The Flinders can be visited any time of the year, but a visit in spring can re rewarded with great displays of wildflowers, and with the local rains that have fallen right across the whole Flinders Ranges area, this year is shaping up to be another great year for wildflowers.

Smile like a Crocodile
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