Exploring the Flinders Ranges - a week of camping and walking - July/August 2009

Tuesday, Jul 21, 2009 at 00:00

Member-Heather MG NSW

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

We were up early in the free camp west of Iron Knob and on our way by 8am so as to avoid driving into the dreaded headwind all day. Gas and diesel were purchased in Pt Augusta - and it was 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 for bothering to get permission. Apparently it is rare to go to the trouble of getting permission!

We turned off the highway just south of Pt Augusta at Stirling and were soon travelling up the Pichi Richi Pass towards the town of Quorn. This is such a scenic drive with the Flinders Ranges close to the road all around and rising quite suddenly from the flat plains which hug the coast of the peninsula. We were surprised to see a very green short ground cover so this area must have had recent rain.

On arrival in Quorn we took a drive to Warren Gorge 21 kms from the town on dirt road to find it not really suitable for us to camp overnight. To be truthful we didn't really have all that much of a look around before turning around and retracing our steps to the town. It is all part of the lottery that is finding a place a bit off the beaten track! We lunched in the Quorn flat rest area. It has toilets and is close to the shops and I bought a few groceries at a supermarket as we didn't bother shopping in Port Augusta like I had planned when we left Kalgoorlie.

We filled up with diesel in Hawker and continued on toward Wilpena deciding to camp in this picturesque little rest area on the banks of the now dry river.It is the only place where free overnight stays are permitted between Hawker and Wilpena and has wonderful Rawnsley Bluff (we think that is what it is) and views of the surrounding ranges both in front of and behind the van. The ground is covered in short green vegetation - almost like a lawn and it is so different from the sites we have occupied for weeks. Large twisted beautiful ancient river gums line the banks of the pebbly creek bed and on the opposite side there's a stand of cypress pines. There are few other campers here and they are a long distance from us, so we are obviously here for a similar experience and not to be squashed in like sardines. The two negative aspects are that there aren't any toilets and it is quite close to the road but there are rubbish bins as well as tables and seats in the main area.

I took a few photos as the sun turned the ranges magnificent shades of red and we sat around our camp-fire fire until dark enjoying the beauty of this place. The road is now much quieter since dark and we think it will be a quiet night.

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

We were here before 10 am because we stayed so close by last night.
I enquired about a powered site as we have friends arriving 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. It makes little difference to us really as we dont need water.

It was difficult to find a level site that was big enough for the van in the unpowered area which wasnt already occupied or overhung by low branches, but we managed to find one eventually and parked it sideways. This turned out to be fortunate as the sun streamed in through the windows and kept the van warm which was very pleasant as much of the area is overhung by shady trees. The site is too small 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 little line at the back of the van. Of course as soon as it was all wet, the clouds rushed 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. It was very cold and uncomfortable due to icy strong winds and even light drifts of showers and conditions were not at all good for photos due to partial cloud cover. I managed to take a few which aren't so bad, considering.
There were excellent views from the summit but we didnt hang around up on top as it was too cold despite us wearing our goretex jackets! We didnt pause much on the walk up or down either and completed it in around half the recommended time! Not bad for a couple of near 60's! (one 60 and one slightly younger!!)

Back at the van we enjoyed hot drinks, and showers at the amenities then walked on sore feet to our friends van sites in the powered section - too far from our own after such a rigorous walk. It was very good to catch up with them and we sat around until well after dark huddled over a small campfire while a freezing wind blew chilling our bones! Our friends 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, around 3 degrees 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 at the Brachina Geological road. Because we had already purchased our National park entry Permit yesterday, ($6.50 for pensioners) 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 camp ground is set in a very scenic location with views of the Heyson Range across the way and on the banks of a 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.

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 until it warmed up a bit 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 but maybe its because of the season.

On Thursday afternoon (the day of our arrival) we did the loop Yuluna Hike walk which starts at the Aroona Campground and passes our campground. We walked from here and picked up the walks pamphlet when we got to the trail head around two kms away, continuing from there.

At Aroona we walked around the wattle and daub hut, Hans Heyson accommodation when he visited the area in the early 1900s to paint the glorious hues of the ranges and river gums. Nearby is also the site of the homestead. Being an ex high school art teacher I was fascinated to be in the same place as one of our best known and loved artists from this period and to be perhaps retracing his steps.

The Yuluna hike is approximately 8 kms in length and took us around two hrs however we didnt exactly walk slowly. T

here were some uphill sections along a dirt road from where there were wonderful views 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. There were large river gums along the floor of the creeks as well as other smaller trees. There was much evidence of the power of the water when it thunders down after rain higher up in the hills in times of rain with trees uprooted and trapped horizontally between others still standing - a scene which is difficult to visualise when it is dry. We found this very scenic as well as good exercise. There were roos and emus along the way in the creek beds which didnt seem too startled when we walked past so it must be quite a popular walk.
By the time we arrived back at the camp ground the day was beginning to cool down and John organised a camp fire while I prepared a meal 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 my favourite times of the day when we are travelling and Exploring Oz.

Friday 24th AM.

Today we walked to Red Hill lookout for spectacular views over the Aroona Valley and beyond. It involved retracing our steps for part of yesterdays hike for a few kms until we took a right turn. From this point we walked a couple of kms which rosesteeply up hill, before arriving at 'Red Hill Lookout' sign.

I stopped frequently using the wonderful views as my excuse as we climbed higher (it was seriously good exercise for our lungs and legs) but the real reason was because I needed to pause and catch my breath! Along the way we also did 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.

We carried our lunch and snacks and ate with one of the best panoramic 360 degree views I have ever seen, 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 reading, relaxing and after dinner 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 place and is 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 camp 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 they look very dark from our vantage point.

We had some exercise hand washing and wringing the clothes worn during the last few days and hung it out in the sun to dry, then 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 - these 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 and then their cemetary we wondered???

John eventually discovered a place where the rocks allowed us to pull ourselves up and through the gaps and suddenly we were able to wander around on top. Along the edge ran a kind of parapet of rocks like an ancient castle and beyond were views of the ranges, the dirt roads a ribbon in the distance and below us the van a dot in the camp ground.
On the other side of the hill it was an easier, more gentle slope so we walked 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 found our way onto the Trezona loop walk for a short distance followinf it to 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 higher up the ridges of more angular blocky rocks in diagonal stripes - dotted with small shrubs and sparse green shoots.

The mountains appeared as undulating curved shapes with lines running through the sides diagonally from a distance and we took the walk at a sedate pace (for us) to ponder and enjoy the views.
Again there were so many roos, also many large 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' but we discovered a cairn of rocks when we reached the summit and it was obvious that many had already been where we trod!

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. We spent 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'. It was a another clear cold night.

Monday 27th July

Our morning was occupied with the 8.2 km 'Trezona hike' a loop walk through the landscape much of which used to be grazed when the park was a pastoral property. It wasnt at all difficult but I enjoyed a final view at the ranges and we aso had the opportunity to look inside the Middlesight Water Hut which is used as an overnight camp for walkers who do the Heyson Trail. The present hut replaced the original galvanised iron hut built during the 1930's as a musterer's camp and has 4 bunk 'beds' and provides shelter.

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.

Our route form Youngoona took us along the Blinman road, much of which is sealed and what little isnt will soon be. The road workers are out and busy. Despite the recent rain we had no problems with the roads.

Blinman was 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 someone to arrive and take our money for souvenirs - very trusting people! I could 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 is very keen to see NSW and home!

This was a very scenic drive on dirt road and meandered its way downhill and through the gorge floor. We had planned to maybe free camp along this part of the drive 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.

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