The Flinders Ranges

Blog #10 – The Southern & Central Flinders Ranges – Days 51 to 57 of 180

Wilpena Pound from Stokes Hill at Dawn

The road trip from Broken Hill to Peterborough was a tough grind towing a vehicle with strong headwinds most of the way.  This really sucks the fuel as it is not as easy towing what becomes a wind sail behind you.  Normally I can expect 12 – 13 litres per 100 klm for my Prado towing a 1700 kg fully loaded trailer but, on this section, I was up around 17.5 litres per 100 klm. It was a cold, windy and wet day with passing showers and not much to see.  One odd thing was that the fruit & vegetable quarantine station was 212 klm from the border near Yunta.  The man running it was a very grumpy soul as he was stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

travelling on the Barrier Highway on a freezing day

By the time we arrived at Yunta we were starving as it had been six hours since we had breakfast.  Decided to have lunch in the fuel station and so ordered a hearty lunch of a hamburger with large chips (note large).  When the food arrived, the chips were in a brown paper bag containing nearly 1 kg of chips – I kid you not x 2!!!  Lesson learned – ask what serving portions are before placing order – we had enough potatoes for 4 more meals.  The chips were very nice and the hamburger was excellent.  Truckie stops are the best places to eat on the road as the food is always fresh otherwise, they would not get a lot of patronage.

Back on the road again and I swear the day was getting colder.  Winter was definitely upon us.  It was only 12 degC outside but add in the wind chill factor it was only 2/3 of that.  Finally arrived in Peterborough late in the afternoon and found the caravan park as it looked as if we would need to be on a powered site for the next three days due to consistent cloud cover and not much solar.

The caravan park was very nice and the couple running it were very hospitable.  That night was our first frost on the trip and very chilly.  The sign behind the counter at the caravan park office could not have been truer – “It is always windy here & It can be very cold”.  When I was looking for information on the area, I found that the coldest temperatures ever recorded in South Australia was -8.2 degC at Yongala only 8 klms away.  Still, this was the last big town before we turned north into the Flinders Ranges so it was our last chance to do vehicle & trailer maintenance with mechanical businesses locally.  In my case I had to drive down to Jamestown 30 klm away to get a fuel filter replaced plus pick up a spare.  The Toyota dealership was very good in booking me in straight away to get the work done as they knew I was travelling.

You cannot stop in Peterborough without visiting the Steamtown Museum as this town was the centre of an extremely large rail network in the previous century.  This where the Indian Pacific & The Ghan crossed paths.  The SA Government was opening up farmlands north of Burra plus major mining operations so the decided to build a number of railways linking the region to a major port (Port Pirie) plus the rail line to Alice Springs and another to Silverton & Broken Hill.  In the 1920s Peterborough became the crossroads of the continent, with the original Transcontinental coming through from Sydney on the way to Perth in 1917 plus the original Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs in 1929.  Just to add confusion all these rail lines used different gauges. 

The original Ghan used the narrow gauge (3’ 6”) and the Transcontinental used standard gauge (4’ 8”) plus some broad gauge (5’ 3”).  Between 1923 and 1932 the population swelled to nearly 5000 of which 1300 were directly involved in working for the railways. Peterborough became the largest railway depot outside of Adelaide with its own workshops, a 23-bay roundhouse and a 3-gauge turntable.  In the early 1970’s with the introduction of diesel locomotives and a standard rail gauge the railways began to diminish in Peterborough.  With closure of the railways in the 1990’s the town’s population dropped dramatically and is now around 1900.  Today the standard gauge rail linking Adelaide to Darwin is some 200 klm to the west so all the towns north of Peterborough are now reliant on tourists driving through as even the rail lines have been ripped up and recycled. 

It was interesting learning of the early rail history as I remember going on holiday in Queensland back in the 1960’s on narrow gauge trains.  They used to call the carriages the ‘Red Rattlers’ as they swayed so much on the narrow railway gauge.  The old cars have been kept in good condition and they even have medical carriages plus a First-Class carriage including a piano.  Another oddity was where the small children slept in the sleeper cars.  It was a small alcove above the doors and the bed was over the corridor.  Good thing my mum never travelled on the trains in those days as she would be too short to even lift us little kids up into those beds unless she had a step ladder – she is only 4’ 8” tall!!!!!

Kids bed on the old Ghan is behind that little door up above your head

One interesting story, told by our guide John, was that during the war it used to take the troops nearly three weeks to get from Adelaide to Darwin as the line was not completed from Alice Springs until 1942.  I pity the poor sods who had to travel on that train in the summer time as it would have been roasting out there.

With the cold weather and rougher than average roads were taking its toll on Greg’s back so we opted to stay an extra day so he could rest up.  We did a short drive around the district looking at places of interest (few and far between) and started packing for an early start the next day up to Central Flinders.

We had not been booking in advance so we could have a very loose travel agenda and move on at our leisure.  Originally, we were going to stay at Rawnsley Park just outside the Ikara-Flinders NP but then found that it was cheaper to stay in the park at Wilpena Pound.  Without thinking we opted for un-powered sites as we would rely upon solar for power (SA Parks have a no generator rule to top up your power).  We hadn’t realized the park was densely populated with pine trees.  On the bright side our campsite was only 25 metres from the toilet & shower block – definite bonus.

As we drove north through Orroroo, Walloway, Carrietown to Hawker there were many abandoned and partially demolished homesteads as a reminder of peoples shattered dreams in this harsh land.  I have taken some photos which I will use later to composite into a large montage when I get home.  The views in front of us were spectacular as the ranges climbed into the sky from the flat dusty plains. 

Broken dreams

Finally arrived at Wilpena Pound Resort in the late afternoon and the staff in the office quickly had us booked in for three nights.  The only caution was that we could camp anywhere but we should stay away from the lycra brigade (her words) as their was a large contingent of bike riders occupying one side of the park.  Dutifully warned we toured into the park and found two flat spots side by side to make our camp.

Pleasantly surprised that the tree coverage in the resort helped keep the place much warmer than the open plains of Peterborough.  The next two days we explored the area around the park doing landscape photography from the Rawnsley Bluff lookout, Pugilist Hill & Stokes Hill.  My only regret is that I did not leave myself enough time to book a scenic flight over the Pound itself (next time and there will be a next time I will).  We also did a drive through Bunyoro & Brachina Gorges – truly magnificent countryside with many of the upheaved rock formations dating back some 600 million years ago.  Even better I managed to get some photos of the yellow-footed Rock Wallaby & a Wedge tailed Eagle.

Part of Wilpena Pound

Each morning I woke early and raced out to my chosen spot to get the light right when photographing the Pound.  As an interesting story I found out some interesting history of how Rawnsley Station & Rawnsley Bluff were named.  Originally this was part of a much larger property called Arkaba but when a young man emigrated from the UK named Rawnsley told the SA government that he was a trained surveyor he was sent out into this district to survey the pastoral leases as the farming lands were being increased with the promise of good sheep and wheat country.  After three months when asked for a report, he fessed up that he was not a trained surveyor and had not a clue on how to do it.  By then the station and the bluff had been named after him.  True story I promise!!!!  Today the bluff is called Arkaroo Rock and the beautiful colours of the rocks in this region need to be seen to be believed.  Definitely one of the places I have marked to do a return trip too.

Rawnsley Bluff in the early morning light

After three days it was time to move on and drive up towards Blinman & Parachilna Gorge on our way to Marree and the start of the Oodnadatta Track.  It was a lovely drive on a cool day discovering, and referencing for the future, some fantastic camping sites along the way.  We were on a mission to get to Marree so did not stop to do any exploring or photographing. This was a pity as there was some magnificent views in the Parachilna Gorge but nowhere to pullover. Will comeback and camp in this gorge next time and take the time to take more photos.

Two points of interest stood out once we turned north at Parachilna – the bakery at Copley who served up a delicious lunch of homemade pies – Greg had Kangaroo & Claret & I had Chunky Beef & Pepper washed down with the house specialty dessert of Quandong Pie with cream & ice cream.  Quandong fruit is a native peach and very tasty.  I cannot recommend this place highly enough as the food was fantastic it is just a long way to or from anywhere.  Unfortunately, no cheap fuel to be had here as the station was closed and the next place to get fuel was at Lyndhurst further up the road.

Fueled up and the next stop would be the start of the Oodnadatta Track at Marree. Will be glad to get there after a long days drive. Next blog will the Oodnadatta Track following the old Ghan line……

7 Comments on “The Flinders Ranges

  1. Even though this is a boys trip Dave…from your beautiful description l feel transported with you on your journey…what amazing scenery and ks you have covered and met lovely folk..especially at Coward Springs when you cover that in your next l said in my other fb that yellow footed rock wallaby and those wedge tail eagle shots are have learnt alot of history and see it too..17.5 ml of rain at Flinders Rangers would want to be there now..stay safe and well…look forward to hearing about your plane flight and pics x


  2. Fantastic job you are doing mate l love reading your adventures. Look after yourselves regards Prycey


  3. Me to I love reading your adventures and transports me back to our trip in that area. We loved the train museum and we enjoyed a ride on the Pichi Richi train from Port Augusta to Quorn. We walked into the Pound but like you missed the flight over the top because the weather was bad. The pound was full of cloud. We did enjoy a flight from Maree over Lake Eyre.
    The drive through the gorge was beautiful like you said.
    I’m a bit perplexed by the date you have mentioned for the Ghan going from Alice to Darwin. You said 1942 but I thought it was 2004.


  4. Had a friend who ate her fruit before arriving at the fruit police block when travelling from Mildura to SA and put skins and pips in plastic bag to hand over at checkpoint – they were not very happy: took her into a room and took note of all her particulars, photographed her with offending fruit remnants and said she could expect to hear further re a fune ,.. we spoke to another traveller at Burra who overheard our friend telling us her story and said the same thing happened to her. So they are very serious!


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