Walking in the Flinders Ranges

17 to 20 September 2019

Broken Hill to Peterborough, 238km

to Rawnsley Park Station, Finders Ranges, 180km

Before leaving the metropolis of Broken Hill to head deeper into the outback we had another swim (a habit we intend to keep whenever we find a public pool), Stefan had a long overdue haircut and we stopped at Coles to stock up for two weeks groceries before hitting the long straight road again.

The Barrier Highway runs parallel with the railway which once transported silver, lead and zinc from Broken Hill to Port Pirie on South Australia’s coast. Today freight trains still run along the tracks

but no longer need to stop at the tiny towns, like Olary, along the way. Olary is now just a hotel and, by the look of it, not that well patronised. The settlement’s population was 4 at the last census in 2016, probably just the people who run and work at the hotel.

Along the Barrier Highway we crossed the state boundary between New South Wales and South Australia where we fell foul of the State’s strict quarantine rules. At the checkpoint we were caught red handed with our fresh supply of groceries from Broken Hill. All our fruit and half of our vegetables, bought only a couple of hours before, were taken from us for fear they might carry fruit flies.

We continued parallel to the railway right into the town of Peterborough. Formerly an important hub for trains running east to west and north to south. The trains stopped stopping in Peterborough in the 1980s but there’s no doubting this is still very much a railway town. The town’s museum is in a railway carriage, there is a memorial to those who died in the service of the railway and there are tales (or tails) of Bob the railway dog who rode up and down the tracks for years.

So, of course, in Peterborough we had to stay in a railway carriage! It was a great excuse to have a warm night but also a gorgeous place to stay too, done out in Victorian style complete with proper tea making facilities. If it weren’t for the outback view out of the window we could have been having breakfast in an English tearoom.

From Peterborough we turned north towards the Flinders Ranges and the landscape suddenly became greener with lines of hills on the horizon. Our coffee stop in the town of Hawker was accompanied by a bright pink, strawberry lamington. Further north we started to get our first views of the mountains pushed up millions of years ago by the collision of two continents into a range of rippling rock.

Our home for the next few days was to be another sheep station, Rawnsley Park Station, which sits under the craggy cliffs of Rawnsley Bluff. The sheep were much more visible here than at Trilby Station, coming down to drink in the pond beside the campsite and even wandering through the tents and caravans.

The Station has laid out a series of well-signed walking trails and, flies in tow, we set off to explore them.

Out first walk, to Clem Corner, took us through lychen covered rocks emerging from the ground to a forest of pine trees with black bark. You would be forgiven for thinking a forest fire had been through but it hadn’t – not here anyway.

Having climbed a little higher we got our first views of the multi layered and multi coloured rocks of the Elder Range with the ethereal Hills of Arkaba in the foreground.

Our second hike took us to the Pines Cave accompanied by more pretty lychen and delicate spring flowers with views across the Ranges

to the eponymous cave which was a little disappointing given its star billing. The hike from there to the top of Ulowdna Range was a tough, steep one.

This time we remembered our fly nets and were grateful to them for keeping the hordes out.

We had other, less annoying, animal company along the way and the towering cliffs of the Rawnsley Bluff were always there to guide us home.

Rawnsley Park Station sits just south of the Flinders Ranges National Park proper and Ikara or Wilpena Pound was a short drive away and promised a walk to take us right into the heart of the mythical caldera.

The walk started in the cool eucalyptus forest, a graveyard for dead trunks but still alive with patterned bark.

We were lulled into a false sense of security by the flat terrain which gave glimpses of the orange cliffs

and lush ponds with green, green grass.

The Adnyamathanha people are the traditional owners of Ikara. Their dreamtime story tells the story of the creation of the circle of mountains by two giant snakes. It was definitely not a meteor crash site, as more modern popular myth suggests! After our pleasant stroll along the flat it was a tough 700m climb up the red rock to the Wangara Lookout

but worth it for the 360 views of the mountains surrounding the circular, tree covered plateau.

As well as hikes, the national park offers a number of scenic drives and we took one through Bunyeroo Valley to have a picnic lunch looking down into Bunyeroo Gorge with its near vertical layers of rock and backdrop of jagged mountains.

We had time for one last short walk in the park and drove to find the Sacred Canyon, more spectacular geology of red rock. We walked through the water hewn rock of the now dry river bed

and found the ancient engravings of the Adnyamathanha people. We learnt that circles represent waterholes, double arrows mean kangaroos and boomerangs signal, well, boomerangs.

After many kilometres bumping along the unsealed roads of the national park Tick had his first injury. The bracket for the UHF radio aerial broke and, unknown to us, we drove home trailing it along the road. A bush repair with some gaffer tape back at the campsite would do until we could find a replacement bracket.

It hadn’t rained at Rawnsley Park Station for three years. However, our trusty weather forecasting app told us rain was coming on our last night there. Now, this is the app which we have used to predict the weather when sailing for the last three years and it has rarely been far wrong but when we shared our information about the rain with a few fellow campers they just laughed at us and said “rain’s not due for another couple of years”! We wanted to believe them as putting the tent down wet is no fun but we also trusted the app. Sure enough, just as we were about to start cooking our tea, the rain came. It was too much for the electricity across the campsite and everywhere fell into darkness. With the camp kitchen out of action,we opted for a picnic inside the tent instead and listened as the rain fell for the best part of the night. As annoying as a still wet tent is to pack up, we were glad the farmers had got their much needed rain.

From the Flinders Ranges we had two options for getting to our next destination of Coober Pedy – either 679km and 17 hours on the unsealed Oodnadatta Track or 681km and 7 hours on the smooth tarmac of the Stuart Highway. As fun as the legendary track would have been, we had a birthday to celebrate in a couple of days so we decided to get to Coober Pedy to celebrate it there…

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