Category Archives: Geography

September 9, Part 2

The weather was beautiful, the sky was clear, and it was, again, a lovely drive. Galahs, eagles, corellas, crows, ruins, flowering gum trees, mistletoe, sheep, horses, an ostrich farm. Always something to see.

Arriving in Quorn, we spent some time admiring the handsome, antique steam train that would take us on our tour. There is something evocative about its appearance and even more so about the sounds—the hiss of the steam brakes, the chuff, chuff, chuff of the engine. This is an important train-preservation location, so most of the people here are real enthusiasts—and those running the operations, from engineers to conductors to ticket sellers, are all volunteers.

The train was full, so they put us in the guard’s van, the car in which guards and break men traveled, in order to have a good view of any problems that might occur on the train. The open half-doors on both sides actually gave us a better view than the windows in the passenger cars.

And we were off on a brilliant one-hour ride to Woolshed Flat that took us through fields of wildflowers and among rolling hills.

The conductor said that, if I’d seen the movie Gallipoli (I have), I might recognize some of the countryside. I already knew from my last trip that Quorn, especially its train station, had appeared in Gallipoli, as well as numerous other Australian films, but learned that Pichi Richi Pass and parts of the Flinders Ranges also appeared in the movie.

We stopped in Woolshed Flat for tea and scones, then reboarded the train for the return trip to Quorn. (Different seats this time, so different view from and of the train.)

And then it was time to head for home. However, Richard took us by back roads, rather than the highway—more inland, and more scenic. Saw a few new places and some familiar from previous trips, and loved it all. Wilmington, Melrose (still lovely and charming, with old, well-kept buildings and massive river red gums), Murray Town, Wirrabara, Stone Hut, Laura (boyhood home of C.J. Dennis), and Gladstone—the point at which, at the beginning of our trip, we had turned toward Port Pirie. Charming old railway town, with wonderful Victorian hotels and train station. Through Georgetown, not stopping this time, retracing the beginning of our little trip.

We enjoyed an amazing moonrise—full moon hanging, huge and yellow, on the horizon.

Into Clare just before 7:00 p.m. We stopped for dinner at Bentley’s Bistro, in the wonderful, old, 1865 Bentley Hotel. Enjoyed our meal, but didn’t linger, as we still were an hour and a half away from the Barossa Valley.

Pulled into Richard and Nikki’s driveway after 9:00 and quickly unpacked the ute. Then we relaxed for a while, chatting, and looking at books about Australia, until we could stay awake no longer.

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Trip 3:Saturday, September 9, Part 1

After a good night’s sleep (beds are not a bad thing), we started the day with a good breakfast while watching the financial news. When we stopped outside, I dashed off to take a couple of photos–gum trees (eucalypts) blossoming–because even here, there is wonderful beauty. Then we packed the ute and headed out into the day.

First stop was the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden. Here, they showcase the plants that are ideally suited to climates like this one (green now, but most of the year is dry). They also encourage people to landscape with plants that do well in arid regions, to conserve water while still being surrounded by beauty.

Arid Regions Garden


We stopped next to check on the trailer and get an estimate for when Richard can expect to get it back.

Next, to the Wadlata Outback Center, a fascinating information center and tourist attraction that uses displays, videos, models, and slide shows to relate the history of the Outback. It covers Aboriginal Dreamtime, the geological history of the continent and region, explorations and explorers (Giles, Eyre, Sturt, and Stuart), homesteading, wool, wheat, disaster, plants and wildlife, the pedal radio, the School of the Air, the Flying Doctor Service, the Birdsville postman, trade, trains, and life in the huge iron-, gold-, and uranium-mining communities. Delightful museum.

Then on the road to Quorn, to catch our ride on the Pichi Richi railway.

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September 8, Part 2

We continued on into the Flinders Ranges National Park, past Rawnsley Bluff, the leading edge of Wilpena Pound. Wilpena Pound (aka Ikara) is a natural amphitheater of mountains in the heart of the Flinders Ranges. The entire area, but especially Wilpena Pound, are famous for both geological history and remarkable beauty.

Rawnsley Bluff


Driving along the hills of Arkaba, Richard pointed out trees he thought I might not know: Callitris, aka Australian native pine or cypress-pine. It’s evergreen and coniferous, but not actually a true pine tree. I’d seen the handsome trees before, but it was nice to have a name to attach to them.

Richard stopped near Arkaba Creek, and we had a picnic lunch in the dry creek bed, shaded by huge old river red gums. Then on the road again, headed for a small landing strip where 20-minute scenic flights over Wilpena Pound are offered. The little, single-engine plane had room for four, so Nikki, Richard, and I joined the pilot and taxied down the short, dusty runway.

Airplane’s Shadow


It was a mixed experience for me. The scenery was spectacular. The formation of Wilpena Pound is best seen from the air, and I got some great shots of the Pound, but the combination of thermals, wind, mountains, and a small plane made for a wildly lurching flight. Fortunately, I discovered that I could hold the airsickness bag with one hand and still take photographs with the other. But changing lenses was out of the question.

Flinders Ranges

Wilpena Pound from plane


After we were back down and I was more or less recovered, we drove into the pound. Beyond glorious. Greenery and wildflowers blanketed the “bowl” formed by the mountains, running up the stone walls that surrounded us. (The Flinders Ranges are, in fact, famous for their abundant wildflowers.) This time of year, the greenery softened the outlines of the astonishing geological structure. Richard stayed near the ute, to plan the rest of our trip (he’s been here many, many times), and Nikki and I headed off to explore the “bowl.” First stop was to study the sign of where the hiking trails might lead us.

We hiked for about 20 minutes along Wilpena Creek, enjoying the beauty of our surroundings. The sunlight was brilliant, and in one spot, made the tall grasses look like they were glowing. I took photos of trees and rocks and flowers–and even of lichens growing on rocks, because I like lichens. They grow in places where it seems unlikely anything would grow. But we couldn’t help but notice that the shadows were getting longer, so we headed back to where Richard was waiting. Getting back to Port Augusta before dark seemed like a good idea.

The trail

Grasses in sunlight

Lichens


The changing vistas as we drove back across plains and through mountain passes were spectacular, especially with the lowering sun making everything warm and magic. Reached the cabin just before sunset and started right away on preparing dinner: spaghetti Bolognese.

Richard turned on the TV, as he and Nikki are great gardeners and figured, since we weren’t sleeping in tents, they might as well catch their favorite gardening show. What made the show a bit more special is that the gardens being shown were in Mount Tom Price, in Western Australia, which Nikki and I visited together on my first trip to Australia, before she ever met Richard.

Not as wild and rugged as originally planned, but still a splendid day.

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Trip 3:Friday, September 8, Part 1

We’ve decided to stay where we are, since it’s a nice little cabin and quite near the Flinders Ranges. But first things first. After a hearty breakfast, we jumped in the ute, took our damaged trailer to the repair shop, and spent a couple of hours immersed in insurance forms (though I was just there for moral support—Nikki and Richard did all the work). But that out of the way, we headed for the mountains.

Approaching the Flinders Ranges

Road into Flinders Ranges


On the far side of Pichi Richi Pass, with stopped in Quorn, to buy train tickets for tomorrow—because Pichi Richi is not just the name of the pass, it’s also the name of the railway that was built from Port Augusta northward. The Pichi Richi Railway, opened in 1879, was originally intended to stretch all the way to Darwin, though that never happened. However, it did make it to Alice Springs by 1929, and it became an important route, especially during World War II. Service on this line ended in 1957, but that was not the end of the railway. Local train enthusiasts formed the Pichi Richi Preservation Society and, since 1974, the rails have carried historic steam trains filled with visitors to the area. (I wondered if Pichi Richi Pass was named before or after the train reached Alice Springs, where Heavitree Gap, the break in the mountains that gives access from the south to the Alice, is also called Pitchi Richi, with the added “t.” It was explained to me on my first trip that Pitchi Richi means “break in the range,” which is certainly also appropriate for Pichi Richi Pass, so perhaps it was geology rather than the connection that led to the similarity.)

Quorn Railway Station


We drove across the Willochra Plain, passing the Kanyaka ruins, which we visited on my list trip. Showing nothing of the harshness that led to the ruins, the plain today was very green, with orange, yellow, purple, and white wildflowers running riot over the rolling terrain. Birds were everywhere, not just here but throughout the day: galahs, corellas, kites, eagles, kestrels, magpies, Port Lincoln parrots, and more.

We stopped briefly in Hawker, where Richard was greeted warmly by friends from his days as a guide in this area. The roadhouse at the center of town had a display of souvenirs and photos from the making nearby of the film “The Lighthorsemen.” One of Richard’s friends pointed out the locals who had bit parts in the movie—all much younger in the photos than they are now, as they movie was made a while ago. But it was a remarkable bit of history, and I have no doubt taking part in reproducing it would be a memory not readily given up. (If you have any interest in the history behind the movie, as well as a clip of the key battle, I posted about it after mentioning a monument to the Light Horse that I had seen in Western Australia. You can see it here.)

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Trip 3:Thursday, September 7, Part 1

We were up just before dawn and began packing up bits of camp. The sunrise was glorious, and the light spilling over the astonishingly lovely bushland was magic.

Gawler Wildflowers


Our orphan lived through the night. Today, we’ll try (among other tasks) to find him a new home. We headed back along the dusty, red miles of beautiful wilderness, not stopping until we got to Iron Knob. Short break, mostly to buy beverages, and then on again, and back on to the Eyre Highway.

The knob of iron that gives Iron Knob its name


Skippy slept in my lap for most of the drive, only poking his head out of his pillowcase-pouch occasionally to look around or to suck on my fingers, hoping for milk. He is a heartbreakingly beautiful creature, with big, brown eyes and a coat like silk. His huge ears swivel independently, as he tries to pick up a familiar noise, and he shivers occasionally, no doubt because nothing is familiar.

First order of business in Port Augusta was getting the tow hitch on the ute repaired, so we could pull something again. Richard then arranged rental of a larger trailer, one on which we could load the totaled trailer we’d left out busy. Then we headed for the local vet Nikki knew, to drop off “our baby.” Skippy is so adorable, the vet’s staff fell in love with him—and they immediately called to make arrangements for him at a nearby animal reserve. One thing that amused me was saying cans of milk on the shelf for various forms of local wildlife, including wombat milk and kangaroo milk. Nice to know that they are equipped for emergencies like this.

Then back across town, to pick up the rented trailer. Port Augusta is a very utilitarian town, the “Crossroads of Australia,” where highways and trans-continental train tracks all converge, connecting in some cases with the busy harbor. As a result, there are lots of unattractive warehouses and work buildings—and charming, handsome, Victorian-era hotels. The area is pale and dusty, but flanked by beautiful Spencer Gulf and the Flinders Ranges.

Spencer Gulf


Port Augusta offers lovely old houses and dozens of service stations. Magnificent old gum trees and flowering bushes suggested to me that earlier settlers might have thought it a beautiful spot, and in its heyday, as a busy port, it would have been fairly wealthy, as well. Now, it’s a kind of tacky, ugly spot with some pretty bits in a magnificent location. But the residential areas are nice, and the people here are remarkably friendly.

And whatever else can be said about it, Port Augusta had everything we needed, including a good place for lunch. We were directed to a carry-out place that offered spit roasted chicken, salads, fish, gyros, and chips/fries. We got chicken and salads to share, and had a bit of a picnic nearby.

After lunch, with the new, larger trailer hooked up to the ute, we headed back into the wilderness, to retrieve our gear.

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September 6, Part 2

Port Lincoln, Eyre Highway, and through Lincoln Gap to Iron Knob. Iron Knob was once a thriving iron-mining town. In the late 1800s, it was the first commercial iron ore mine in Australia. But the mines closed. Now, the town is popular with retirees, as the lack of industry means fairly inexpensive housing.

We had turned off Eyre Highway onto the rocky, red track that leads to the Gawler Ranges. Myalls (a type of acacia tree), a few sheep properties, and then into the wilderness. Nikki told me that this was one of the least traveled areas in Australia, and that we would be unlikely to see anyone else for a while now.

The rough, red road cut through a scrubby wilderness. It was strange but wonderful, with the ground cover changing every few miles: scrub, spinifex, grass and wildflowers, saltbush and blue bush, and widely spaced trees. This may not sound beautiful, but it was. There was something in the ruggedness and remoteness that appealed to me. Birds were abundant, too: galahs, emus, red finches.

Then there were what I thought were kangaroos, but I was told they were euros. Also known as wallaroos, euros are heavier and harrier than kangaroos. It’s spring, so many of them have joeys in their pouches.

Oops.

Just witnessed one of the defensive maneuvers of euros–jump toward an approaching threat, to startle the possible enemy, and then run away. The problem is that a vehicle speeding down a dirt road doesn’t startle. The euro slammed into the trailer, breaking the hitch that connected it to the ute, so we had no control over the trailer. Richard immediately braked, and the trailer began to pass us, but the safety chain was still attached, so the trailer began to drag the ute around. Richard had a real fight on his hands, trying to regain control. (Nikki later told me that, because camping trailers are heavy, they can flip a car right over. It was only Richard’s years behind the wheel that kept that from happening.)

When we finally came to a stop, we shakily got out of the vehicle and surveyed the damage. The camping trailer, which was a fair distance away, was wrecked—caved in where the euro hit, plus the axel was bent. The contents of the trailer were strewn for about a mile behind us, and most everything that could break had broken. Fortunately, other than the tow hitch being broken, the ute is okay–and so are we. More adventure than we’d bargained for, but it made our decision as to where we should camp for the night pretty easy.

Assessing the damace


Being a veterinarian, Nikki’s first concern, after making sure we were okay, was to check on the euro. As she walked back to where the animal lay, I saw her go rigid. I was not far behind her, and I heard her say, “Oh, no.” Sadly, the euro was dead (Nikki said it was clearly very quick, as the euro still had grass in her mouth), but of greater concern to Nikki was that the euro had a joey in her pouch.

Nikki said she knows a vet in Port Augusta who cares for orphaned wildlife, so we’ll take the joey there tomorrow. But until then, we need to take care of him. Nikki wrapped him in a towel and stuck him in a pillowcase, so he’s snug and warm and feels sort of like he’s in a pouch—enough so that he stopped shaking. My first thought was of milk, but Nikki said cow’s milk would sicken the joey. We just needed to keep him hydrated. So we took turns dipping our little fingers in water and letting him suck the water off of them.

Keeping Skippy warm


We cleared everything off the road, on the off chance that someone might drive by (they didn’t—that’s the downside of being in a remote wilderness that no one visits—if you need someone to come by, they don’t). Then, making the best of a difficult situation, we set up our camp in a clearing, started a fire, opened the cooler, and prepared a wonderful “mixed grill” of lamb chops, steak, and sausage. It’s a beautiful evening, with the nearly full moon flooding the bush with pale silvery light.

Not a bad place to camp


We’ll need to get an early start tomorrow, so we made it a relatively early night. We passed “Skippy” from person to person as we got ready for bed, so he would always have someone holding him. It was freezing, so this was as much to keep him warm as to keep him feeling secure. As the temperature kept dropping, I was grateful for the thermal garments Nikki had loaned me, as well as the sleeping bag and blankets

The evening was not what we had planned, but it was, as Richard says, “Classic”—the classic outback adventure, complete with an orphaned joey.

Classic, indeed.

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Trip 3:Wednesday, September 6 Part 1

Up at 7:00, had breakfast, and got a tour of Nikki and Richard’s wonderful garden. (The hedges around the front gate are rosemary, so the place is fabulously fragrant.) Then we packed the ute (an Aussie pick-up/utility vehicle), hitched up the camping trailer, and headed out bush again. Richard’s years as a tour bus driver and outback guide were about to be put to good use.

We drove out of charming Nuriootpa, through delightful Greenock, among the rolling hills and spring-green fields of the Barossa Valley. Grazing sheep, vineyards full of awakening vines, and flocks of galahs alternated with small towns and large wineries.

Brief stop in Kapunda, where I photographed the town’s centennial statue of a miner. Before even bigger deposits were discovered in Burra, this was an important copper mining area.

Then on the road to Clare, rolling through a countryside that might be English but for the gum trees. Into Gilbert Valley, where large patches were brilliant yellow with canola flowers.

Into Auburn, birthplace of poet C.J. Dennis, author of The Sentimental Bloke. I’m a fan, so I was pleased. If you’re interested in knowing more about Dennis and his charming verse, I posted about the poet last year: C.J. Dennis post.

As we continued through the Clare Valley, we were surrounded by vineyards, but then we drove into a grain-growing region—one of the best in the world, Richard told me. Their specialty is malting barley that is so highly regarded it is even exported to Germany.

Before long, we could see the lower Flinders Ranges in the distance, across the miles of undulating, green farm land. We pulled into Georgetown, a classic little old town with buildings of field stone, with iron lace and wooden verandas much in evidence. We past the old railway hotel, a feature of most of these old towns, and stopped at the charming 1912 General Store. The interior of the store was as iconically rural Australian as the exterior. Here, we enjoyed a lunch of excellent meat pies with sauce and locally produced ginger beer.

Then on the road again, heading toward Port Pirie, across the hills, then swinging north, with the lower Flinders to our right and Spencer Gulf to our distant left. Yellow, gold, and purple flowers lined the road.

We joined Highway 1 and continued toward Port Augusta. We stopped briefly to watch stumpy-tailed lizards crossing the road. Samphire flats stretched toward the water. (Samphire is an edible succulent plant, sometimes called sea asparagus, pickleweed, or sea beans, that grows on some shorelines, marshy areas, and mud flats.)

The country not directly adjacent to the water was drier than that we had left behind. The mountains got closer and higher. Glorious flowering bushes surrounded us. We got closer to Spencer Gulf as got nearer to Port Augusta.

Not surprising, of course, but it’s quite a bit colder here than it was at the top of the continent. However, as we drive farther north, the clouds are clearing and the bright sun is warming things up a bit. Fortunately, Nikki was able to lend me some warm clothes for camping out in colder weather.

And into Port Augusta. Just a short stop, to buy groceries for our stay out bush—and to stretch our legs after the long drive. After buying food, we headed across the street to the grog shop, to buy some Strongbow cider. (I had learned to love Strongbow during my first trip to Australia–well before it was available in the U.S.) Then we were off again, heading for the Gawler Ranges.

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