5 days in The Flinders Ranges

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Located from 200km to 800km north of Adelaide, the largest mountain range in South Australia is discontinuous and includes the Southern, Central and Northern Ranges. Over 500 million years old, the geology is diverse and dramatic and each town or city along the way offers something different. I’ll share with you the path we took, after doing some research.

Day 1: Pt Wakefield Road to Quorn. We stopped for a break and an excellent coffee at the Flinders Rest pub in Warnertown, then non-stop to Quorn. After checking in at the Quorn caravan park, we drove out on the Arden Vale Road (dirt, but good) to the Simmonston Ruins, where eager pioneers had built, anticipating the railway’s course, which altered.

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There are several sights along this track, including Proby’s grave, the sad tale of a wealthy 24 year-old Hugh Proby, who drowned in a freak flood (the same flood that had pioneers think that there’d be plenty of water in the area).

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Everywhere is a good spot to get some view of the Ranges, but Buckaringa Scenic Drive and lookout was reasonable, despite the falling light.

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We headed to Warren Gorge expecting somewhere to hike, but found instead a popular place to camp on the cheap. You could certainly do hikes if you stayed here, but it wasn’t the gorge walk we were expecting. Fabulous examples of rock formations and flora typical to the area.

On our way back, we checked out the road to Dutchman’s Stern Conservation Park for the next day. 

Day 2: Dutchman’s Stern is a great hiking spot, but the road out isn’t suitable for a caravan. Most of it was fine for a regular car, but there were some deep corrugations.

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We decided to do the Terrace Viewpoint and see how we went for time, but then continued on to the summit. As time was short we returned by the same route, rather than doing the loop hike. The paths vary, but are not suitable for wheelchairs and there’s often loose rock. We made it in 2 hours and are of average health and fitness for over 55s. No terribly steep bits, just the occasional rubble.

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good signage

The views, on this early, foggy morning were inspiring, even before we got to the Terrace Viewpoint.

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Making it to the summit about 10 minutes later.

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and walk back with wildlife.

Accommodation is available at the homestead and shearer’s quarters, for a reasonable group, if you decide to base yourself here and look around the area or do more walks. We went from here to Death Rock. I couldn’t find why it was called that, but the local Aboriginal people call the area Kanyaka, meaning piece of rock, and it was significant to them because it was, and remains, a permanent waterhole.

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oznor

Hugh Proby (mentioned earlier) moved to the area and set up a cattle station that became one of the largest in the area until drought forced its closure. The ruins are substantial and hint at more prosperous times. They are very picturesque.

It is an easy drive from here to Hawker and then on to Wilpena Pound, where we camped in an unpowered site, beside the river bed. The park is very large and there is a swimming pool, but I’m not sure if it’s for motel guests. The rest of the park allowed open fires, which I didn’t expect at this time of the year.

exuberant campfire builders later in the night

We set out fairly soon for Sacred Canyon, which has some Adnyamathanha engravings. The Aboriginal people do not mind that you take photos of it and the canyon is short, making it manageable for families with young children. If you can make it along the serious corrugations to the canyon, it is pretty, interesting and has some great rock formations.

We continued on a short way to Huck’s lookout and Stoke’s Hill lookout, the latter having a short but shocking dirt road. The views were ok, but late light on a cloudy day isn’t the nest for photos (sorry).

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We passed some emus on the way back to the campsite. They were everywhere and you need to keep an eye out for them, as they can dash across the road and into your path.

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Day 3: We took Explorer’s Highway, beside paddy melons, to the Great Wall of China

and then on to Blinman, the highest recorded town in South Australia. It has an art gallery, great bakery/coffee shop, pub and excellent public toilets.

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From here we headed to Glass and Parachilna Gorges. It was a long stretch that had no water, like most of the Ranges, and you couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful it would be with some rain. Apparently, it had been 18 months since they had had a decent rainfall and the effect was shocking. Gorges that I had been to in years past, with thundering rivers, were dry dust bowls. Campers took advantage of the dry beds and pitched in isolated spots.

Driving towards Brachina Gorge, on good road and with the Ranges to your left, was lovely. Brachina Lookout is interesting, with its geological information repeated as you travel through the gorge, as if through time. But, again, the dry river beds we lunched beside were disappointing. Plenty of campsites here, if you are self-sufficient or only need a toilet.

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Returning to Wilpena, I took the walk at the back of the park, to the old Wilpena Station. This is a beautiful path and easy on foot or in a wheelchair, or you can get a lift at the tourist centre, I think, most of the way.

Wangarra lookouts walk
good signage
significant rock
creek bed

The lookouts were not remarkable and I think the view from the hill at the back of the park is much better and you get plenty of roos.

steep upward path to the lookout
the view from the first lookout
view from the hill behind the park
roos a-plenty

Day 4: We set off at 8.45 am for St Mary’s Peak, the highest mountain in the range, without intending to climb beyond the shoulder, as the Adnyamathanha people hold the peak as a significant site.

We checked at the tour centre first, as the maps provided weren’t clear, as in which direction to head. There is an easier, level track that is longer but pretty flat, with exposed sections, and an outer track that is fast, steep and difficult.

After a disagreement regarding which marker to follow, we believed that we were on the easy track, and powered on.

a level path for about an hour

The track was picturesque and enjoyable for about an hour and then we got to some very steep climbs requiring vertical scaling of rock walls. We stopped for a bite (thankfully we had the scroggin) and went on and up. Needless to say, we had taken the difficult way and although it was quite quick, we didn’t joyfully anticipate the drops on return. 

the steep escarpment required goat-like skill
A view of St Mary’s peak, I think

Taking the longer route back (12 km) took a lot longer than it should have. A mistake in judgement had us travelling with one bottle of water and no sunscreen. The way was flat but very exposed and by now it was midday. The whole trek took us 7 hours, instead of the suggested 6, or less. BIG MISTAKE – please don’t make it. 

view at the shoulder
Hill’s homestead

We stopped at the Hill’s Homestead, built in 1888, and read about Jessie Hill, daughter of the owner. We meandered along the shady path back to camp for a huge rest and an average beer on our return, only venturing to the office to seek WiFi.

WiFi is picked up more easily near the office

Day 5: We went home via Cradock, stopping at Maggie’s Rendezvous in Orroroo for homemade quandong pie (don’t miss it) and to admire their pink ribbon support. Maggies had some quirky table puzzles and nic nacks that kept you distracted while you waited (not that it was a long time). We had lived in Orroroo a short time while doing teacher placement and it is a lovely town, very friendly.

local real estate doing it pink
Maggie’s Rendezvous supporting pink day

Last stop historic Clare for a bakery vegetarian pasty and then home.

historic Clare

Safe travels. Take plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen. It’s not pleasant if you forget!!

Out of time and out of place in Australia

For Becky’s time squares, a selection of the timeless, time-worn and time-travelled.

dated at over 3 billion years, the stromatolites of Hamelin Pool in WA are the oldest living fossils in the world.
Evidence of rivers at Watarrka, 400 million years ago, in the deserts of central Australia
now located in St David’s Cathedral, Hobart, but a long way from home
From another time, but still in use for tourists, paddle steamers on the Murray River, Echuca.

4 points on FREE CAMPSITES IN AUSTRALIA

So, you’ve planned to see Australia, or parts of it, and your itinerary has road trip written all over it.

“The best way to see the country,” everyone says. “YOU decide where and when you go.”

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Overall, the message is DO IT.  There are stunning free spots and others that are front row to top locations, like Mataranka Springs, The River Murray or Litchfield National Park.

But is it safe? Do you save money? Where are these places? What will you need?

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NEEDS

Everyone needs fresh water. Many places won’t have it, and you could be a long way from where you can buy it, so carry 10 L per person per day in several small containers (https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/about-the-rfds/preparing-to-travel/). They’re available from most supermarkets and some petrol stations. DO NOT ASSUME that what comes out of taps is safe to drink. Bore water is used in country Australia and is fine for washing your hands, or clothes but not always for drinking.

Many free campsites have a toilet and some have a shower, but others have neither. The resources, listed below, usually tell you what is available if those comforts are important to you. Of course, some travelers wake early and go to the nearest fuel station or caravan park to use their facilities, carrying a small shovel and toilet paper in case they can’t make it. The porta-loo (portable toilet) is about $80 from camping stores and you buy chemicals to put in it, which mixed with water breaks down the waste matter. The loos can be emptied at sullage points, usually near caravan parks, when the flush is dry. WE have found roadside toilet facilities to be very good and NT and WA keep theirs in top condition. Always carry toilet paper, just in case the roll is empty.

 

You cannot use a river or the ocean as a bathing spot, as the soaps will damage native flora and fauna. There are other dangers that can lurk there, too.

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If you suffer from the heat you will want air-conditioning, which means you need power. It is rare to find a free campground with power, but not impossible. If you have solar or gas power, they will not usually keep an air-conditioner going for a whole night, as well as powering cooking devices, etc., so check storage capacity.

Depending on your mode of transport and accommodation, you will need shelter, or protection from the wind and rain. A tent is easy to come by in camping stores and department stores like Target and Big W. You can even go on Gumtree (online local sales) to get bargain buys. We had a Dutch couple pick up a mattress for the back of their van. Some free sites are on cliff edges, in open plains or near river banks, and are therefore not suitable year round, or on a particular night. No matter how tired you are, the conditions need to be considered before pitching camp.

If you don’t have a small burner, you’ll need places with BBQs or fire pits. They are uncommon. You might as well spend a little to buy a burner, plate and cutlery, cup and tongs. Dig a hole to bury any waste, so that you don’t attract dingoes (wild dogs), foxes or other vermin.

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SAFETY

Regarding sites near riverbeds, look for the banks, as you could be IN the riverbed and if there is a big downpour you could find yourself swept away. There are sometimes warnings about this, but not always. Similarly, don’t park yourself too close to the ocean‘s edge, as the tide could come in further than you thought and uproot you, or bog you. It is EXTREMELY expensive to be pulled out.

 

You do need water, food and shade, to stay alive and well.

Australia has many snakes and 2 of the top 10 deadliest snakes in the world. However, snake bite is pretty rare and anti-venoms are available. Most snakes avoid humans, but the Eastern Brown snake, a very ordinary looking specimen with a very venomous bite, will go up to people. Be watchful and stamp your feet a lot, especially on the way to the toilet at night. Many sites have warnings regarding snakes.

Spiders have to be the next topic. We have some pretty venomous spiders, the worst inhabiting tropical, wet places, but spider bites are rare and you should always have closed shoes when walking or hiking. The red back spider is easy to spot, but does not approach humans unless provoked.

Far more likely to bite you is a bee and many people don’t realise that they are allergic to them. The rest of the world may be saying goodbye to bees, but our ecology is still going well. Bone up on beesting first aid and make sure you have phone reception in remote areas.

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Insect repellent will keep the flies and mosquitoes at bay.

In tropical areas, crocodiles are a very real threat and you should be aware of the possibility of their being in the area, as there have been 8 deaths in the last 4 years. There are fresh and salt water crocs, so during the wet season, keep well clear of bodies of water, even when they look appealing. Crocodiles will walk a fair way for food!

IMG_1847

Company, while being something you were trying to escape on your holiday, can keep you safe. Safety in numbers, having another pair of eyes, whatever your expression, you can’t deny it. Around 4pm you’ll see experienced campers pulling over and making camp. Join them! They will share stories of where they have been, what is a good spot, what to avoid and you might make a friend for life, or be invited to their neck of the woods.

Summers are hot in Australia and in some areas that means an increase in fire danger. If you are in a fire-prone region there will be signs, warning you of the level of risk and you need to stay alert. Recently states have trialed the use of media, where an alert is sent to your phone, telling you to leave the area and in what direction to head. Carry a fire extinguisher.

oznor

Isolation is caused by more than being alone. In such a big country, you could be a very long way from a town or settlement, with all the dangers that brings. Have your phone charged, consider using Telstra as your provider, as they currently have the widest reach of wifi and internet. Alternatively, you can download ‘Emergency + ‘ or take a satellite phone with you if you plan to be remote. If anything happens, stay with your vehicle.

The original owners of the land, the Aboriginal people, have protected areas in some places, like on parts of the Nullarbor Plains. Research this, as you are strongly advised not to trespass.

There are warnings everywhere – that while you are on holidays, thieves are not; lock your cars and vans, etc. When you meet so many friendly people and it is blazing hot at night, you can be tempted to leave everything open and welcome everyone. In the majority of cases, that will work out well for you, but there have been serious crimes and misadventure in Australia. As a percentage of travellers, it may be low, but surely any fateful encounter is unwanted. Be vigilant and contact 000 (emergency) if anything happens.

FINANCE

It is pretty expensive to drive around Australia. Our fuel costs are huge. You can get memberships discounts at various caravan parks but free camping is definitely cheaper.  One caravan park was $140 /night for a basic cabin (no toilet or shower) and $30 for an unpowered site.

Car hire is better in some states than others, and there are tales of companies saying you caused damage that was already there – so take photos of the vehicle and get insurance.

If you are not experienced in 4WD driving, don’t attempt anything daring, as it will not end well. Similarly, if you notice anything odd with your vehicle, get it checked immediately. We are members of the RAA (Royal Automobile Association) of South Australia. Each state has a similar organisation and it’s worth investigating their cost, as they provide emergency assistance and towing for free or a reduced cost. There are mechanics in most towns with fuel stops. Repairs are likely to be expensive, in labour, parts and accommodation.

Most towns have facilities for paying by card or withdrawing cash. Some will not take American Express. All fees associated with withdrawals from banks have been almost removed. Check with your bank or credit union. Most ATM (automatic telling machine) machines accept other cards.

Some sites are free and others have a low fee ($2 or $5 per night per vehicle).

LOCATION

So, where are these free campsites?

We have subscribed to WIKICAMPS, which has information that you download, so that it can be accessed when you don’t have wifi. As you drive along it will tell you if there is a campsite ahead, what it was rated by users and whether it has a toilet or not. You can just download it for a one-off fee, but not add comments or new spots.

There is also CAMPS 8 and CAMPS 9, books that you can buy with the same information, but maps added. The reviews I have read suggest that WIKICAMPS updates quicker due to it’s members being able to add information instantly. However, CAMPS is an app as well.

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We use a UBD touring atlas, available at the RAA or online. Made up of comprehensive maps, divided into states, it shows sites as rest area only, free campsite no toilet, fees, free campsite with toilet and rest area with toilet. Its only downfall is that it is large (A3).

Some areas and states have a lot of free camps and others do not. It is worth mapping your route ahead of time and be mindful of the distance. Western Australia is made up of very long stretches between towns and they take longer than you would expect if you work out distance and speed. I don’t know why!

There are some absolute gems, so get your vehicle, tent, table, chair, water bottles, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, food for 2 days, small burner, fire extinguisher, pillow, sleeping bag and download Wikicamps.

Thousands of places waiting to say g’day.

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4 points on FREE CAMPSITES IN AUSTRALIA.

So, you’ve planned to see Australia, or parts of it, and your itinerary has road trip written all over it.

“The best way to see the country,” everyone says. “YOU decide where and when you go.”

IMG_4778

Overall, the message is DO IT. But is it safe? Do you save money? Where are these places? What will you need?

cof

NEEDS

Everyone needs fresh water. Many places won’t have it, and you could be a long way from where you can buy it, so carry 10 L per person per day in several small containers (https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/about-the-rfds/preparing-to-travel/). They’re available from most supermarkets and some petrol stations. DO NOT ASSUME that what comes out of taps is safe to drink. Bore water is used in country Australia and is fine for washing your hands, or clothes but not always for drinking.

Many free campsites have a toilet and some have a shower, but others have neither. The resources, listed below, usually tell you what is available if those comforts are important to you. Of course, some travelers wake early and go to the nearest fuel station or caravan park to use their facilities, carrying a small shovel and toilet paper in case they can’t make it. The porta-loo (portable toilet) is about $80 from camping stores and you buy chemicals to put in it, which mixed with water breaks down the waste matter. The loos can be emptied at sullage points, usually near caravan parks, when the flush is dry.

You cannot use a river or the ocean as a bathing spot, as the soaps will damage native flora and fauna. There are other dangers that can lurk there, too.

IMG_1529

If you suffer from the heat you will want air-conditioning, which means you need power. It is rare to find a free campground with power, but not impossible. If you have solar or gas power, they will not usually keep an air-conditioner going for a whole night, as well as powering cooking devices, etc., so check storage capacity.

Depending on your mode of transport and accommodation, you will need shelter, or protection from the wind and rain. A tent is easy to come by in camping stores and department stores like Target and Big W. You can even go on Gumtree (online local sales) to get bargain buys. We had a Dutch couple pick up a mattress for the back of their van. Some free sites are on cliff edges, in open plains or near river banks, and are therefore not suitable year round, or on a particular night. No matter how tired you are, the conditions need to be considered before pitching camp.

If you don’t have a small burner, you’ll need places with BBQs or fire pits. They are uncommon. You might as well spend a little to buy a burner, plate and cutlery, cup and tongs. Dig a hole to bury any waste, so that you don’t attract dingoes (wild dogs), foxes or other vermin.

IMAG0869 (2)

SAFETY

Regarding sites near riverbeds, look for the banks, as you could be IN the riverbed and if there is a big downpour you could find yourself swept away. There are sometimes warnings about this, but not always. Similarly, don’t park yourself too close to the ocean‘s edge, as the tide could come in further than you thought and uproot you, or bog you. It is EXTREMELY expensive to be pulled out.

You do need water, food and shade, to stay alive and well.

Australia has many snakes and 2 of the top 10 deadliest snakes in the world. However, snake bite is pretty rare and anti-venoms are available. Most snakes avoid humans, but the Eastern Brown snake, a very ordinary looking specimen with a very venomous bite, will go up to people. Be watchful and stamp your feet a lot, especially on the way to the toilet at night. Many sites have warnings regarding snakes.

Spiders have to be the next topic. We have some pretty venomous spiders, the worst inhabiting tropical, wet places, but spider bites are rare and you should always have closed shoes when walking or hiking. The red back spider is easy to spot, but does not approach humans unless provoked.

Far more likely to bite you is a bee and many people don’t realise that they are allergic to them. The rest of the world may be saying goodbye to bees, but our ecology is still going well. Bone up on beesting first aid and make sure you have phone reception in remote areas.

IMG_1758

Insect repellent will keep the flies and mosquitoes at bay.

In tropical areas, crocodiles are a very real threat and you should be aware of the possibility of their being in the area, as there have been 8 deaths in the last 4 years. There are fresh and salt water crocs, so during the wet season, keep well clear of bodies of water, even when they look appealing. Crocodiles will walk a fair way for food!

IMG_1847

Company, while being something you were trying to escape on your holiday, can keep you safe. Safety in numbers, having another pair of eyes, whatever your expression, you can’t deny it. Around 4pm you’ll see experienced campers pulling over and making camp. Join them! They will share stories of where they have been, what is a good spot, what to avoid and you might make a friend for life, or be invited to their neck of the woods.

Summers are hot in Australia and in some areas that means an increase in fire danger. If you are in a fire-prone region there will be signs, warning you of the level of risk and you need to stay alert. Recently states have trialed the use of media, where an alert is sent to your phone, telling you to leave the area and in what direction to head. Carry a fire extinguisher.

oznor

Isolation is caused by more than being alone. In such a big country, you could be a very long way from a town or settlement, with all the dangers that brings. Have your phone charged, consider using Telstra as your provider, as they currently have the widest reach of wifi and internet. Alternatively, you can download ‘Emergency + ‘ or take a satellite phone with you if you plan to be remote. If anything happens, stay with your vehicle.

The original owners of the land, the Aboriginal people, have protected areas in some places, like on parts of the Nullarbor Plains. Research this, as you are strongly advised not to trespass.

There are warnings everywhere – that while you are on holidays, thieves are not; lock your cars and vans, etc. When you meet so many friendly people and it is blazing hot at night, you can be tempted to leave everything open and welcome everyone. In the majority of cases, that will work out well for you, but there have been serious crimes and misadventure in Australia. As a percentage of travellers, it may be low, but surely any fateful encounter is unwanted. Be vigilant and contact 000 (emergency) if anything happens.

FINANCE

It is pretty expensive to drive around Australia. Our fuel costs are huge. You can get memberships discounts at various caravan parks but free is definitely cheaper. Car hire is better in some states than others, and there are tales of companies saying you caused damage that was already there – so take photos of the vehicle and get insurance.

If you are not experienced in 4WD driving, don’t attempt anything daring, as it will not end well. Similarly, if you notice anything odd with your vehicle, get it checked immediately. We are members of the RAA (Royal Automobile Association) of South Australia. Each state has a similar organisation and it’s worth investigating their cost, as they provide emergency assistance and towing for free or a reduced cost. There are mechanics in most towns with fuel stops. Repairs are likely to be expensive, in labour, parts and accommodation.

Most towns have facilities for paying by card or withdrawing cash. Some will not take American Express. All fees associated with withdrawals from banks have been almost removed. Check with your bank or credit union. Most ATM (automatic telling machine) machines accept other cards.

Some sites are free and others have a low fee ($2 or $5 per night per vehicle).

LOCATION

So, where are these free campsites?

We have subscribed to WIKICAMPS, which has information that you download, so that it can be accessed when you don’t have wifi. As you drive along it will tell you if there is a campsite ahead, what it was rated by users and whether it has a toilet or not. You can just download it for a one-off fee, but not add comments or new spots.

There is also CAMPS 8 and CAMPS 9, books that you can buy with the same information, but maps added. The reviews I have read suggest that WIKICAMPS updates quicker due to it’s members being able to add information instantly. However, CAMPS is an app as well.

IMG_5290

We use a UBD touring atlas, available at the RAA or online. Made up of comprehensive maps, divided into states, it shows sites as rest area only, free campsite no toilet, fees, free campsite with toilet and rest area with toilet. Its only downfall is that it is large (A3).

Some areas and states have a lot of free camps and others do not. It is worth mapping your route ahead of time and be mindful of the distance. Western Australia is made up of very long stretches between towns and they take longer than you would expect if you work out distance and speed. I don’t know why!

There are some absolute gems, so get your vehicle, tent, table, chair, water bottles, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, food for 2 days, small burner, fire extinguisher, pillow, sleeping bag and download Wikicamps.

Thousands of places waiting to say g’day.

IMG_5257