Tag Archives: Flinders Ranges

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 stepped 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


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: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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September 7, part 4

If you look at a map of South Australia, you’ll notice that the sea, in the form of Spencer Gulf, cuts inland a fair distance, and as a result, the Flinders Ranges actually touch seawater at this point. (Which is why the ranges got named for a navigator.) Hence, while the mountains were still visible, we headed toward salt water.

While still in mountainous terrain, we drove through Port Germein Gorge, along a narrow, winding road that cuts through the southern Flinders Ranges. Steep, stony walls, magnificent gum trees, wildflowers and wildlife made the drive a delight. (Be advised that, since our visit, fire and flood have seriously damaged parts of this road, so it may not be open if you visit now, and some of the magnificent gums trees have been lost–though its importance to local communities has triggered efforts to reconstruct the damaged stretches.)

We stopped in Port Germein, a small town (population around 200) that was originally settled as a shipping port. With easy access to gentle beaches (good for both swimming and exploring tidal pools) as well as the mountains, it’s easy to see why this is a popular eco-resort area. We stopped to admire the wooden jetty, built in 1881 and still the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, at just over a mile in length. Originally constructed for shipping wheat, the jetty is now the place where locals go for a bit of quiet fishing.

Following the coast, we came next to Port Pirie. Facing the waters of Spencer Gulf, Port Pirie is still within the boundary of the Flinders Ranges. The town’s history is tied to the railroad, and Port Pirie was once one of Australia’s busiest rail centers. Reflecting this past, the city’s National Trust Museum is housed in a former railway station.

Port Pirie Museum

Port Pirie Museum

Final stop of the day was in Port Broughton, where we pulled up at the Port Broughton Hotel. Surrounded with Norfolk pines and with a view over the sea, the location of the hotel was splendid. The hotel was another wonderful, old, outback-town hotel, with a broad veranda, second-floor balconies, and an exterior lavishly decorated with iron lace. Inside the hotel, I delighted in the high, elaborately decorated ceilings, abundant leaded glass, and many antiques, even in the bedrooms. Delightful.

Port Broughton Hotel

Port Broughton Hotel

After briefly pointing out highlights of our surroundings, Richard got us all settled in. I really like Nikki’s husband, Richard. He’s funny, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and very dedicatedly Australian. He has been a charming bush guide, and I imagine that he is the kind of man who’d make a really good, true friend. And Nikki is as open, honest, intelligent, and delightful as I had remembered. I am truly having a wonderful time with the two of them.

The three of us enjoyed a lovely dinner–fresh fish, as we were so close to the water. We talked over an after-dinner cider, but then it was time for bed. It has been a very long day, and we have another long day tomorrow.

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September 7, part 3

We headed back southward, but after Hawker, Richard turned down a different road than the one we’d arrived on, taking us before long to the Kanyaka Station ruins. These ruins are the remains of a huge property that was first claimed in 1851 and settled in 1852. Only six months after establishing the station, the first owner/settler, Hugh Proby, drowned in a flash flood during a thunderstorm–a fact that made me realize how fortunate we were that Richard knew to get us clear of the potential flash flood while we were in the ranges. With new owners, the station grew to be one of the largest in the state (365 square miles, or 240,000 acres, at its largest, by 1856) that was once home to as many as 70 workers and their families.

But then the drought hit–a three-year drought that killed 20,000 sheep on the station. Surprisingly, the owners hung on for another 20 years, and even recovered, when the drought ended. However, by 1888, the station was abandoned.
The station had grown to be almost an entire village, since it had to be self-sufficient, this far from a city of any size. The main house, workers cottages, shearing shed, and out buildings were all made of local stone, and as a result, many of those buildings have survived, at least partially.

Kanyaka Station ruins

Kanyaka Station ruins

Kanyaka Ruins-2-lighter

After a good wander around the ruins, we were off again. Next stop was Quorn. This is another of the historic railway towns that dot this region, with its importance established in the early 1900s as the junction for both the east to west and north to south railways. During World War II, thousands of troops passed through the town, most of them fed by the local Country Women’s Association. In addition to being historic, Quorn is charming, and it has been a popular place for making movies. Films shot here include “The Sundowners,” “Gallipoli,” “The Shiralee,” “Sunday Too Far Away,” and “Robbery Under Arms.” (Of these, “Robbery Under Arms” is the only one I haven’t seen–but it was fun recognizing settings from the other films.) The train station and the town’s Austral Hotel have starred in the most films.

Quorn's train station

Quorn’s train station

Continuing on, we passed through Wilmington, another historic town settled in the mid-1800s, and another lovely access point to the Flinders Ranges. Next up was Melrose, which I’d actually driven through on my previous trip to Australia, though that time, we were headed up and over Horrock’s Pass and on to Port Augusta. The town is much changed, but the massive, gnarly river red gums lining the creek were still there, and still amazed me just as much as they had previously.

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September 7, part 2

With Hawker being the hub of Flinders Ranges tourism, it is probably not too surprising that our next destination was, in fact, the ranges. Suddenly, the colors changed again from red to green.

The mountains, and the national park they inhabit, were named for English navigator Matthew Flinders, who first sighted the ranges in 1802. Abundant mineral deposits initially attracted miners, who at various times mined (successfully) gold, silver, copper, lead, barite, and coal. But now, the big draw is natural beauty and it’s hikers and campers who are drawn to the park.

Like other mountain ranges in Australia, the Flinders Ranges one sees today have been worn shaped by erosion over long ages, with the tallest peak today reaching only 3,825 feet. But they are wonderfully handsome, in their wildly sculpted ruggedness, with their geologic history written large across their faces. The ranges are also famed for their spring wildflowers–and it is spring.

Richard drove us along the Moralana Scenic Drive, which is scenic indeed. We stopped frequently, to admire dramatic vistas, lush carpets of yellow, red, and purple wildflowers, and abundant birdlife (galahs, corellas, finches, wrens). Kangaroos appeared regularly, which, as always, delighted me. I was in heaven.

Richard guided us to a lookout that let us view the dramatic, ragged edge of Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheater in the heart of the mountain ranges. We alternated short drives with long hikes, breathing in the fresh air and the fragrance of the eucalyptus trees.

Enjoying the Flinders Ranges

Enjoying the Flinders Ranges

About half an hour down a path through a steep-sided valley, Richard decided we needed to turn back. Clouds had been gathering, and Richard could see that, in the distance, it was raining. I would have guessed we had plenty of time before the rain would reach us, but Richard explained that, even though the rain seemed fairly distant, a flash flood could come rolling through within a short time after the rain came down, and the stone walls offered us nowhere to go if the roaring water caught up with us while we were still there. So we hiked back out to a safe spot, were we enjoyed the flora and fauna in an area that was not a potential riverbed.

But eventually, it was time to leave this glorious place and continue on our way.

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Saturday, September 7

Started the day cheerfully. We were invited into the kitchen, to have our breakfast with the owner and his wife. (Nikki and Richard have been here before.) Good breakfast in good company, but then we were off.

Rolling down narrow roads, we passed through some charming, small towns as we crossed into the foothills of the Flinders Ranges. Richard kept up a remarkable flow of information as we drove and whenever we stopped. First stop (more of a pause really) was the tiny town or Orroroo, which has the odd distinction of sitting on the Goyder Line.

The Goyder Line is a line that was drawn in 1865 by then Surveyor-General of South Australia, George Woodroffe Goyderis a line drawn in 1865 by then Surveyor-General of South Australia, George Woodroffe Goyder. Goyder was a remarkable gentleman, who explored widely and understood Australia’s environment long before others did, but despite his many accomplishments, drawing this line is the thing for which he is remembered–and with good reason. This is the line that marks the boundary between land where there is enough rain to attempt agriculture and the land where it is not safe to raise crops, as rain is unreliable and sometimes completely absent. Those who ignored the line discovered that Goyder got it right. However, between having land on the good side of the line, along with a nearby creek that was dammed early on, Orroroo has survived as a farming community.

The scenery changed fairly dramatically as we continued north from Orroroo to Carrieton, transforming from green rural to red outback. After Carrieton, we reached Cradock, a town started in 1878 with high hopes by those who thought Goyder must be wrong and that the old saying “rain follows the plow” would prove true. It didn’t. The town burst into existence and after a few years of drought was largely abandoned. There is still a hotel with a bar (built in the 1880s) and a few other buildings, some closed, but not a lot else.

Then on to Hawker. This rugged little town is doing much better than Cradock, largely because it’s a wonderful place for people who plan to explore the nearby Flinders Ranges. Though the town dates back to the late 1800s, and I enjoyed seeing the older buildings at the town’s center, our stop also considered a bit of more recent history. Richard guided us to Hawker Motors and the Fred Teague Museum.

First, Richard pointed out the display of photos from the filming of the 1987 movie “The Lighthorsemen.” The film of the astonishing World War I story was shot in this area, using many locals as extras, and the actors, extras, and action were captured by the folks in town. The rest of the museum offers a delightfully quirky collection of everything from mementos of early settlers to a splendid collection of local minerals, all carefully collected by Fred Teague over the decades he lived here in Hawker. The museum is at Hawker Motors because Teague founded that, as well. However, before he ran the garage, he did stints as a gold prospector, drover (Australian cowboy), and, most impressively, spent 18 months driving the Marree-Birdsville Mail, the mail route along the stunningly difficult, 322-mile Birdsville Track, which even today tests (and often wrecks) modern 4WD vehicles.

Richard suggested that, if I can get back to Australia again, we could take on the Birdsville Track–which would make up for my having missed my chance on my last trip, when I got stuck in that flood. Something to keep in mind.

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