Steve Sertis, Perth, WA
A long, long time ago in a place not that far away, a mountain system was formed, which over time weathered away to become what we now call the Flinders Ranges. The ranges themselves stretch from just south of Port Augusta toward the NT border, and cover an area that is nearly 400km from north to south, and about 200km from west to east. Within the Flinders Ranges are the spectacular Flinders Ranges National Park (125,000 hectares), the Gammon Ranges National Park (91,840 hectares), and of course a section of the Heysen Trail, which in total is around 1200km long.
Our journey with World Expeditions to this remarkable place took place in late April. It began with a long road trip from Adelaide, via Port Pirie and Hawker, to our first bush camp at Arkaba Station, just outside the Flinders Ranges National Park. As we arrived at nightfall, we could only imagine the landscape that awaited us at sunrise the next day.
The small section of the Heysen Trail from Moralana Creek to and including Wilpena Pound (Maps 4 & 5) is certainly worth walking. Our first views of the pound came as we ascended its southern rim via Black Gap. The pound is an amazing, an almost perfectly formed geological bowl, the floor of which is 200 metres higher than the surrounding country. The pound is 17 km long by 8 km wide and contains 8960 hectares. Within the pound are a number of walk trails and quite a lot of history to experience. The Hill family, who leased the pound for farming, built a stone homestead there in 1904. This now forms part of the many walk trails in and around the pound and is a great place for lunch or just a well deserved rest amongst the massive River Red Gums.
The highest point of the pound is St Mary's Peak which is 1188 metres above sea level. The walk itself begins easily enough, but all ascents provide some challenges as well as many rewards (yes, that’s right - breathtaking views!). The walk is about 16km return and is a side trail adjoining the Heysen Trail. From the west of the peak, walkers can see flat, arid plains, the start of what eventually becomes the Nullarbor Plain. To the north, east and south, in stark contrast, is the rugged and uneven landscape of the Flinders Ranges.
The fourth day of our trip took us to Yanyanna Hut, an old homestead just north of Wilpena Pound, via Wilcolo Creek, at the head of the Bunyeroo Gorge Trail. St Mary’s Peak, just to the south, was a constant companion and a reminder of the ascent the day before. As well as following part of the Heysen Trail, we also took in a section of the Mawson Trail, a 900km mountain bike trail with, as you would expect, its own distinct trail marker.
While the Heysen Trail always had its basic marker (a red arrow on a white base with its red and white logo on a separate sticker), there were variations. For example when the trail crosses a creek (and by the way what we call a creek on the Bibbulmun Track is not what they call a creek!) you will find what is referred to as a paddle marker on either side. When you reach one, look for the corresponding paddle on the other side to see where to continue after the creek crossing, which can be a bit tricky when there is water flowing, as the creek can be anything up to 10m wide. In addition to these markers, the signage for the small walks is incredibly detailed. I was amazed to find a stage post with a metal plated map affixed to the top!
On day five we departed from the Flinders Ranges National Park and the Heysen Trail to head for the Gammon Ranges National Park to the north-east. We left our camp at Italowie Gorge and walked 15km to camp for two nights at Grindell’s Hut. The current Grindell’s Hut was built with stone in the early 1950s and is available for rent. It sleeps eight people in three bedrooms and has solar powered lighting. The original building, situated behind the new one, was originally the residence of John Grindell, who was suspected by his son-in-law and neighbour, George Snell, of rustling cattle. George Snell disappeared in 1918 and Aboriginal trackers later helped police to find his cremated remains. Soon after, while drunk, John Grindell confessed to the crime and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Day six posed the biggest challenge for us—the steep ascent of Mt John Roberts (880m), the highest peak in the Gammon Ranges—a return walk of 18km. This walk certainly pushed some of us out of our comfort zone but once again the reward of views and achievement, and a return to a regular heartbeat, were immense. Some of the group wondered if they should have joined Catherine, who decided on a day of R&R at camp. However, these individuals would have missed seeing me distressed, when I reached the top, at finding two massive rocks planted in my backpack! Did we ever work out who put them in there? I bet it was someone very sneaky and devious!
Our final trek of 6km was a more relaxed walk through Weetootla Gorge on day seven. A few of us were lucky enough to spot the elusive rock wallabies, and we all enjoyed the final chance to enjoy the serenity, colours and beauty of the ranges before heading off to the Clare Valley for a little vino-therapy!
Our thanks to World Expeditions for organising this special Bibbulmun Track Foundation departure and to all the participants who helped raise the $1100 donated by World Expeditions to the Foundation from the trip.