[The Pound from the East, Flinders Ranges]

[The View from Stoke's Hill, Flinders Ranges]

Flinders Ranges (Wilpena Pound) Trip

September 2003

Pictures from our September 2003 Flinders Ranges (Wilpena Pound) Trip

Like our Kangaroo Island trip, this was just a long weekend trip, but to a place we had wanted to go for quite some time. While we did visit the Flinders Ranges, we really concentrated on the area around Wilpena Pound. The Pound is just what is sounds like - a ring of mountains which looks like a giant (15 km across) meteor crater. The only reasonable way in or out of the pound is through a narrow pass where Wilpena Creek exits the Pound. For this reason, the first English settlers decided it was a perfect impoundment for cattle, and proceeded to use it as such. They ran into other difficulties (such as the one-two punch of first no water, then far too much - a common theme in Australia; last year, Queensland's long drought was finally broken, but the resultant floods caused more damage than the drought! Similarly, this year's rains brought first relief, then increasing damage to the farmers of South Australia's northern agricultural region).

We left a rainy Adelaide on Thursday morning, and headed north through the wine regions. The weather reports had been indeterminate, with showers forecast off and on for all four days. However, the rain was pretty steady and although we enjoyed the trip north, first through the Barossa wine region and then through the Clare Valley wine region, we hoped there would be a change in weather once we reached Wilpena. Along the way, we noticed lots of solo Galahs. These parrots are normally very gregarious, and previously we had only seen them in flocks. We wondered whether these were young birds off looking for their own territory or whether some other phenomena was at work. In Clare, we stopped for an early lunch at a little cafe.

As we continued northward, we began seeing lots of ruins of early settlers' huts, reminders of just how unforgiving the climate could be - it is still early spring here, and there has been a lot of rain, so everything is surprisingly green - but that will change soon. This is also the first spring in 12 years where there is promise of enough rain for a decent show of spring wildflowers. However, as we mentioned in the trip to the Red Centre, the rainfall in the interior is not reliable enough to support many desert plants from other desert regions of the world - never mind supporting normal farm crops. We did still see a lot of cultivated fields, including many that were completely yellow from flowers - just bright yellow fields as far as the eye could see. After our return to Adelaide, we learned that these were Canola fields.

We continued on to Quorn, home of the Pichi Richi Railway. This is a tourist railway with steam engines which was a recent victim of the massive liability insurance problems which have hit Australia in the last year. They were shut down for a while, but have somehow recently managed to find funding or liability coverage to resume train operations. In many cases, insurance costs have gone up 1000%, closing many tourist operations, canceling fairs, and causing doctors to avoid surgery wherever possible. North of Quorn, we realized we were in the country when we met a large flock of sheep coming down the "main" road. The shepherd (and his three sheep dogs!) were all comfortably sitting in their truck, slowly accompanying the sheep.

Along the way, we came to a grove of old and gnarled River Red Gums that we just had to stop and inspect. These trees are magnificent, and, as they age, they tend to become hollow at the base - sometimes just from natural growth patterns, sometimes from fire or disease. The Aboriginal people used them as shelters. To get an idea of the size of some of these, here is a picture of Sandy in one; and here is a picture of Clara in another.

The last major town before really hitting the Flinders Ranges is Hawker (population 290). We stopped for gas, and also visited Jeff Morgan's Wilpena Panorama gallery. This is a spectacular 360 degree painting of the Wilpena Pound shown from the perspective of the highest point in the vicinity, St. Mary's Peak. Jeff had the idea in mind for several years, before finally starting construction on the circular brick building, and then doing the painting - 13 months of long nights! But it paid off in a wonderful experience for those lucky enough to pass through Hawker and see it. Jeff has produced a number of smaller paintings of the Flinders area and it's wildlife, and the girls each acquired a print of one of his works, while Sandy was taken with the work of Jeff's son, who is a wood-turner specializing in the River Red Gums which are such an important part of the Flinders landscape.

Shortly after leaving Hawker, we approached the Pound itself, and made our way to the Wilpena Pound Resort. We arrived in the rain, had a fair wait to get our room, then found ourselves in someone else's room! We headed back to the office, and got another room. The setting was quite nice, and the buildings blended into the landscape very well; however, we were surprised at the small size of the room, so now we really were hoping that we would not be confined to the room because of rain.

Everyone managed to get some sleep, and when we did get up, the sun was shining, and the sky was blue. Our spirits lifted with the weather. We decided to try the breakfast buffet at the restaurant and then headed off on a driving loop of the Flinders. We chose to use this as our car-based exploration day because Tim didn't want to have to deal with the expected weekend crowds on the narrow, unsealed roads of the Park - he decided he'd rather deal with them on the hiking trails of the Pound!

We decided to take the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, first heading east towards the "main" road. It was such a pretty day, we stopped to see the area just outside the resort, as we had been unable to see it when we arrived the previous afternoon. Here is a semi-panoramic picture (about 270 degrees) of the area, showing typical red dirt roads and time-worn mountains. We then headed north towards Oraparinna. This particular area where we stopped was across the road from the Wilpena Woolshed (more on that later) and adjacent to the large solar array which provides 50 % of the energy used by the resort. Along the way we noticed lots of white "cockies" (Australian for Cockatoo) - these appeared to be Little or Western Corellas - they really aren't little, we're not sure where the name comes from. We stopped at Huck's Lookout, where the girls had a bit of a run, and Tim took a few pictures.

From Huck's Lookout, we drove to Stoke's Lookout, the road to which gave Sandy some pause, but Tim and the girls thoroughly enjoyed it. The view from the top was quite "speccy" (Australian for spectacular) - especially when one considers how old these mountains are. Just as the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern US are much more worn down than the considerably younger Rockies in the West, these Flinders Mountains are even older. All that is left are bits of the "outside" edges of two separate ranges - the Finders and the Elder Mtns - if the mountains were "whole" they would put the Himalayas to shame. One of the other interesting things at Stoke's Lookout is a bronze bas relief model of the Flinders, centered on the Pound. The girls had a good time "sitting in the middle of the Pound (on the relief model!)

After Stoke's Lookout, we decided we'd never make it back before dark if we explored every inviting track, so we skipped the Appealina Ruins, Willow Springs Historical Site and the Wilkawillina Gorge, progressing on to Oraparinna and Dingly Dell. Along the way, we passed a large number of Emus (Clara stopped counting after reaching 42). They were groups ranging from single birds to 5 or 6 moving together. Here's one enjoying the shade of an old gum; here's another a little closer. No young birds, however. We also saw the first of several Bob-tailed or Shingleback Skinks. These skinks have very short stubby tails, and if you looked quickly, it was hard to tell which was the head! They run about 15 inches long, and have blue tongues.

Beyond Dingly Dell (we still don't know the source of the name, other than it was given by the early settlers in the area) we turned further west and a bit south, away from Blinman, and towards Brachina Gorge. We started looking for a likely lunch spot, and investigated a few turnoffs and some ruins, before finally settling on Trezona Campground (apparently formerly known as Slippery Dip). This campground is located in a stunning setting, along Brachina Creek. The creek was mostly dry, but showed signs of being a massive torrent at the right time of year, very wide, huge gnarled River Red Gums everywhere, and amazing geological features along the riverbed and bank. Layer upon layer of multicolored sedimentary deposits and boulders containing an amalgam of different colored stones. We had a very enjoyable lunch, and explored along the river, with the girls finding one amazing thing after another.

Eventually, however, we had to move on. We followed Brachina Creek west, and decided to follow the it further westward into the gorge, even though that was out of our way. The walls steepened, and the water over low spots in the road became deeper and more frequent. The girls loved the water crossings (at times the road just went straight down the creek), while Sandy was increasingly nervous. We ran into the most traffic we had seen all day (maybe a dozen other 4WD vehicles in total), perhaps because the Brachina Gorge track exits onto the main north-south road around Wilpena (outside the Flinders National Park). We passed an artist working on a painting, and one site where people were camping - otherwise, we had it to ourselves. Red-orange cliffs, lots of wildflowers, gums - it would be wonderful to be able to spend a couple days in one spot there, watching the change of colors as the light changes. Eventually, however, we had to turn around, and retrace our steps (or continue on out of the park and make a big loop around outside to get back to Wilpena).

Since we knew what to expect, Tim made a little better time, and generated a few higher splashes at the river crossings to excite the girls and worry Sandy. We reached the turnoff to Bunyeroo Valley and headed north, along tributaries of Bunyaroo Creek. While we had seen a fair number of flowers so far, here we came into a region where the fields were purple as far as the eye could see, covered with Salvation Jane (aka Patterson's Curve) - unfortunately, an imported weed which has forced out many of the native wildflowers. It is still quite pretty to see - and supposedly, in a couple weeks (if a little more rain fell) the predictions were for an absolutely spectacular wildflower season, the first good one in 12 years. In addition to the fields of Salvation Jane, the gums, the rugged (if short) peaks and the wildlife (Emus, Skinks, Cockies, Galahs, etc.), there were also forests of cypress, something we hadn't seen much of to date. We stopped at one rest area for a bit of a run and a few pictures (here's Clara concentrating on a wildflower photo. Here, here and here are some more.) From there, we explored a bit up Bunyaroo Gorge, which had a greater variety of wildflowers - possibly because it is one of the few areas in the Flinders that has water year round. As you might have gathered from our previous writings, we are quite taken with the spectacular variety of Australian gum trees - the wide variety of colors, shapes and characteristics never fails to catch our fancy. Here's another example of a gum with a pair of intertwined gums from the area near Bunyaroo Gorge. Then it was up to Bunyaroo Valley Lookout for another beautiful view, and then back down from the ridge and back to Wilpena.

Along the way, we stopped at Wilpena Woolshed ("woolshed" is the Australian term for a shearing shed, where all the sheep are sheared each year. They tend to be of tin construction and very hot in warm weather.) Today, however, we weren't there for the shearing (even though it was potentially the season; shearing was going on at other stations in the general vicinity) - we were there for the Painters of the Flinders Ranges art show. This is the second year of the show, and it appeared to be enough of a success that they will have another next year. It is intended to provide a source of income for residents of the region, and provide another reason for tourists to visit the area. We went in, and immediately gravitated to the work of Keith Palmer/. We asked a fellow at the desk a few more questions, and it turned out to be Bud Stephenson, another of the artists. He was an extremely outgoing and friendly fellow, who asked whether we would like to meet Keith and immediately invited us round to the "bistro" for a drink with him and Keith (both of them were staying at the resort) that evening.

As we left the woolshed, we noticed a wedgetail eagle quartering the dirt track beyond the woolshed, apparently searching for food. This was one of many eagles and falcons we saw soaring on the thermals over the park. From there, we went back to our room, got cleaned up, and then headed for the bistro (which is a bar which serves meals adjacent to the restaurant at Wilpena). Along the way, we saw our first and only wallaby of the trip. There we met Keith and Bud, as well as John and Edna Millard (from Crystal Brook, and former neighbors of the Lucy in Clara's class - so we had friends in common). John is a portrait artist (although most of his pictures on exhibition were wildlife or mountain / gums scenery). We discovered that he was the artist who had painted the portrait of Jeff Morgan which we had seen the previous day in Hawker at the Wilpena Panorama. Also present was Susan Borgas, another of the exhibiting painters.

Clara and Lucy had also brought their sketch books, and while we were inside talking, they settled themselves outside in the garden, and began sketching). Bud, John and Keith noticed this, and wanted to see their work, so they brought in their books and passed them around. They commended the girls on their art, noting that Clara was clearly going to be a realist (she was working on a very detailed sketch of one of the bushes, detailing every leaf and twig), while Bud was quite taken with one of Lucy's Uluru pictures which was more abstract but had a great deal of color. (We later understood Bud's interest in this picture, when we realized that all the pictures he had on display were very abstract - quite unlike the pictures of his which are available for viewing on the website above.) Lucy was actually working on a realist drawing herself at the time (see here.) We had a very enjoyable evening with the group, the perfect end to a perfect day. Heading back to the room, we enjoyed all the stars, and a very bright view of Mars. The resort has small lights attached to many of the gums and wattles, which makes a very pretty scene to walk through (although it does make star-gazing a bit more difficult.)

Saturday, we had a leisurely start to the day, and eventually made our way back to the Woolshed, where we decided after all to buy one of Keith's paintings. We are extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to meet Keith, and get a painting in the style we've wanted since we first arrived (one of our early trips was up into the Adelaide Hills to Hahndorf, the home for many years of Hans Heysen, the best-known of the Australian artists specializing in the landscape - he was pretty much the father of this school of painting, and Keith was in fact a student of his.)

We lingered longer than intended at the show, the discussions with the artists the night before having lent us new eyes with which to see their work. But we decided we still had time to make it to Sacred Canyon for a quick look-see, and still make it back in time to catch the shuttle bus from the Resort to the edge of the Pound (which would save us - and especially Lucy - three kilometers of walking.)

Sacred Canyon is a beautiful if small (or at least narrow) canyon with Aboriginal engravings. It is also a good place for the girls to have a run, scramble and climb!) The sign at the entrance described the site and engravings:

Aboriginal Art of the Flinders Ranges in the form of engravings, paintings and drawings is call Yura Marlka by the Adnyamathanha people of the Flinders Ranges.

The Adnyamathanha people are a mix of the formerly distinct by related Wailpi, Kuyani, Jadliaura Piladappa and Pankala groups. The name Adnyamathanha is a collective term now used by the groups and literally means hills people: Adnya stone, hill and matha - group.

Aboriginal rock engravings are found throughout South Australia. They were produced by repeatedly hitting the surface of the rock with a sharp object to produce a series of inter-connecting pits or by rubbing the rock surface with a sharp object to produce a groove. Common motifs in South Australia include symmetric circles or linear designs and animal tracks. Animals and human like figures can accompany these designs.

As you walk through Sacred Canyon you will see many engravings, including motifs depicting animal tracks, geometric circles and linear designs. If you look closely you will see emu and kangaroo tracks among the engravings. The age of the engravings is not known, nut the Adnyamathanha people believe that the engravings were not made by people but were created for them by the ancestral beings during the Dreaming.

Note the linear (snake-like) and kangaroo track (hook-like) carvings here and the circular and emu track carvings here. The girls also discovered a rock shelter, and many pools of water (miraculously they managed to stay mostly dry!) and flowers clinging to the cliffs. We had to cut our exploration much shorter than the girls would have liked, and had to call them down from climbing a cliff in order to head back. Tim had to make good time back; fortunately he remembered the road pretty well from the trip in, and we made it back to the Wilpena visitor center a couple minutes before the bus arrived. As we road along, the bus driver told us that unfortunately he was new on the job, and couldn't give us a description of everything we were seeing. So, we enjoyed the quiet ride along Wilpena Creek, and eventually arrived at the terminus, just outside the start of the cut through the ridge into the Pound itself.

There are two paths into the Pound - one is mostly level and follows Wilpena Creek; the other climbs up onto the ridge and gives more of an overlook of the creek (it is also essentially a 4WD track for getting vehicles into the Pound in an emergency.) The trails come back together at Hills Homestead. This was the home of the Hills family for 15 years, from 1899 until 1914. They cleared land, and tried to grow crops, and painstakingly built a road along Wilpena Creek to provide a way to get goods in and out. However, their last and most elaborate attempt at a road was washed out in 1914, which they took as a sign, and departed for farmlands elsewhere. The main four room homestead has been restored (although it was not open when we were there), and there are a variety of old farm implements (plows, boilers, etc.) scattered about. We took a short breather then headed up the trail to Wangara Lookout(s), another 750 m in distance and about 250m in elevation gain. Before we left, a gentleman who had just come down warned us there had been a brown snake (very poisonous) on the trail, and a lady just ahead of him had nearly stepped on it. So, we climbed with our eyes peeled.

We were a little concerned about Lucy's endurance, but she is turning into quite the trooper, and has far more endurance than she did even a year ago. This picture shows her in good spirits on the way up (this portion of the trail was the exception, rather than the norm - it was generally mostly rocks and substantially steeper). On the path up, we saw lots of skinks (large and small), and interesting yellow and black beetle and expansive views, but no snakes. However, the weather forecast did come true - while it remained mostly blue skies with only a few clouds, it was very windy. In fact, we could see dust being blown in from the north, and it became quite hazy by the time we reached the second of the three lookouts. We decided to turn back at that point, before we really did wear Lucy out completely! From the trail, it was easy to see the paddocks that the Hill family had cleared 100 years earlier - still clear of trees for the most park, this indicates just how long it takes the native vegetation to rejuvenate.

We made our way to the Hills Homestead, and then continued on (this time via the "high road") back to the shuttle terminus. However, we had missed the shuttle, and it would be nearly another two hours for the next one, so we just walked back, enjoying the beauty of Wilpena Creek, the gums (check out the colors of this gum tree trunk), wattles (most of which were in spectacular yellow bloom - and which Clara has just been diagnosed as being allergic to!), yacca (for some reason, one of the girl's, especially Clara's, favorite plants) and other flowers and birds (including some beautiful ring-necked parrots, others of which we had seen the previous day). We also got a close look at the resort's water supply, a dam (Australian for a man-made or dammed pond) which captures the water from Wilpena Spring near the Hills Homestead; the water is greenish brown, and comes out of the tap as yellow (after filtering), due to the tannins in the water. This is similar to what Tim discovered on Islay during his trip to Scotland in 1998, where the water wasn't just yellow, but dark brown - yet perfectly safe to drink. As we neared the resort, we met up with another family from Adelaide staying there who had 3 and 6 year old kids. We chatted a bit, and found that they have relatives in New York, and are hoping to visit before too long. Then it was back to the room, and baths for the girls (showers for Tim and Sandy), and while Tim cooked his "slop du jour" (never the same twice, he proudly states), Sandy went over to the bistro to thank Keith and Bud, and "shout" them (Australian for buying a round of drinks) since we were too knackered to make an appearance as a family for a social evening (as we had said we might to Bud earlier in the day).

It was early to bed, and then up and pack the next morning for the return to Adelaide. Our luck (in spite of our worries on Thursday) had been perfect - Sunday dawned grey and rainy. So, instead of doing a final bit of sightseeing on an unsealed road just south of Wilpena, we made a straight shot for Adelaide. Along the way, we continued to see a lot of flowers (both native and non-native), magnificently twisted gums, and ruins. We stopped at the ruins of the Wilson Stationmaster's residence for a poke about (here and here - notice how much the light and weather changed between the two pictures taken 5 minutes apart), then again in Hawker at Jeff Morgan's (unfortunately, he was closed until 12 since it was Sunday). We did managed a picture of the SA state flower, the Sturt Desert Pea before leaving town. We arrived in Quorn just in time to hear the whistle of the departing Pichi Richi Railroad; Tim raced (he was actually well under the speed limit, it just appeared to Sandy that he was racing because he had slowed down so much to watch the train depart) to get ahead, pulled over, and jumped out with the camera. He took a few pictures (here's an example), then we followed the train for a ways through more fields of canola. We decided to follow the train's route through Pichi Richi pass, and then head straight for home. As we came through the pass into the tidal plains below Port Augusta and adjacent to the St. Vincent Sound, the landscape changed yet again. Instead of rolling, crop-and-woodlands-covered countryside, we came out into a flat, saltbush covered plain. We came out on Main Route 1, and headed south. All told, it was about 450 km from door to door, and about 6 hours, and no speeding camera tickets (yet!)

As an aside, one of the things that gradually impinged on our consciousness over the weekend was one of the songs the girls were constantly humming or singing. It was "What do you do with a drunken sailor." Tim asked the girls where they heard that (expecting to hear they learned it from one of their friends), only to find they had learned it at school during Book Week! Given the current state of political correctness and fear of offending that most American school boards currently operate under, it is hard to imagine kids in US schools learning this song.

As is always the case - the trip was too short - but gave us yet another place to return to someday!

The End

Pictures from our September 2003 Flinders Ranges (Wilpena Pound) Trip

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