Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fabulous Flinders and attractive Adelaide

Roadworthy again from Port Augusta, we doubled back north into the famous Flinders Ranges for a few days. The Flinders Ranges region stretches for over 600 km from Port Pirie in the south to around Leigh Creek in the north, and is known for its rugged hilly landscape, Wilpena Pound (a large crater-like area surrounded by sharply-sloping hills including Mt Mary, the highest peak in the Flinders at about 1100 m) and wildflower displays in spring. There are 2 National parks in the area: Flinders Ranges, in the centre-north of the region, and Vulkathuna-Gammon Ranges in the north. But it also has some charming old towns (like Quorn and Hawker), very diverse geology including active earth tremors (over 200 per year are recorded), hot springs, coal deposits (chiefly at Leigh Creek), a history of mining and pastoralism (Thomas Elder founded what became the Elders agribusiness company here in the mid 1800’s), ruined towns like Beltana … the list go on.

Of course we did not see all this! But we did:

- Climb Rawnsley Bluff to get great views into Wilpena Pound, plus south and eastward across other hills such as the Elder Range. This walk was a bit of a grunter – 12 km including a 400 m steep climb to get to the ridge top. A good work-out.
- Putter along some of the twisty-turny gravel roads through lower gorges such as Brachina and Bunyeroo, with incredibly fractured and diverse rock structures, glorious old red gum trees in the creek beds, strange-coloured kangaroos (including white ones with black ears) and stunning views
- Stay at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the north for a couple of nights. This is a privately-operated joint, on 60,000 ha of very steep, rugged country. Originally a pastoral lease in the early 1930s, it was comprised of the cast-offs of 4 other pastoral leases that graciously gave over their most difficult country to form the new lease – talk about a hospital pass. It was farmed for a while but is now not grazed and run as a tourism venture only – however, mining companies are circling, see below for more info
- Took the Ridge Top tour at Arkaroola, a white knuckle ride over 22 km of steep track culminating at Sillers Lookout which is a handkerchief-sized patch on top of sheer drops with amazing views looking across to Lake Frome in the east. If you are going to Arkaroola, this is a must-do – it’s the sort of 4WD track you don’t get to go on very often!
- Drop by Beltana to get a sense of what it might have been like 140 years ago when the Overland Telegraph Route and the railway were big ticket items in these parts.
- Have lunch at the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna – pizza with toppings that included emu mince, camel mettwurst (sausage) and shaved kangaroo meat. Mmmm, yummy. This joint is a hoot: it specialises in feral food and is well worth a visit!

Arkaroola is interesting because it is one of the main sites of earthquake activity. The geology of the area has been studied intensively, since it has a huge diversity of rock formations, dating from about 1.8 b years ago and it’s possible to see all sorts of earth-forming processes going on (if you know what to look for). Douglas Mawson, famous mainly for his Antarctic explorations, was professor of geology at the University of Adelaide in the 1910s – 1940s (?) and pieced together the geological history of the area. This included the realisation that it was once covered by glaciers (hence his interest in Antarctica) and that the ranges could originally have been as high as the Himalayas before glacial and other erosion got to work on them.

Mawson was also the first to identify uranium-bearing rock in the area (in 1915), and the Beverley uranium mine, situated on the flat country to the east which has been formed by erosion of the ranges, is now one of Australia’s largest uranium extractions. Right now there is a battle going on at Arkaroola where a mining company is applying for a licence to dig up Mt Gee and cart it off for its uranium content. How they can hope to make money out of such an expensive exercise in such rugged and remote country is anyone’s guess. Anyway, the South Australia Government will need to decide between the merits of wilderness conservation and the mining industry because the two are not really compatible at Arkaroola.

For the last 2 days we have been moseying around Adelaide, which is a very attractive city and unfairly maligned by Melburnians and Sydney-siders for being boring and old fashioned. OK, it’s not as big at Sydney or Melbourne (about 1.2 m people), but it has everything you’d want and much less congestion. Mind you, it has been a bit of a shock re-adjusting to city driving after so many days when we saw only a dozen or so other vehicles in a whole days driving. (Indicators?? Where are they again??) It’s been great to lay-up here for a while but tomorrow we head off again, probably to Wentworth or thereabouts to launch an assault on the Darling River run in southern NSW.

Hope all is well for you.


The Chappies

16,700 km in 76 days. Touched the west, north and south coasts - only the east to go (Sydney)

Bunyeroo Gorge road, Flinders Ranges

Flinders Ranges scenery. Average annual rainfall = 130 mm (5 inches)

Rawnsley Bluff walk - finishing the tough stretch

Sillers lookout, Arkaroola

Mt Gee, Arkaroola. Marathon Mining wants to cart this away and take the uranium out of it

Old workers cottages at Beltana (the cottages are old, not the workers!)

Prairie Hotel Parachilna. Check out the blackboard menu

Feral white camel, near Orroroo. Similar to the ones on the menu at Parachilna, perhaps?

Torrens Lakes, Adelaide


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