Ticking Off The Bucket List - The Gawler Ranges & Mt. Ive Station

Sunday, Jan 01, 2017 at 20:52

Kevin S - Life Member (QLD)

September 2016
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South Australian weather was not kind to us at the start of our trip south fromYulara. Despite assurances from the Bureau of Meteorology and Weather Chanel that the sun was shining, as we packed up to leave the Ayers Rock Camping Ground the sky was covered with cloud and we were getting wet. But things improved as we came south, at least temporarily, and we travelled on in fine warm conditions.
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Earlier rain and its impact on roads prevented a visit to the Painted Desert but we saw Coober Pedy (second visit) in fine conditions, allowing us to visit some attractions that we had missed and to pay more attention to others. For example, at the Breakaways we had time to visit the north lookout which gives a different outlook over that beautiful and unique landscape.
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We left the Stuart Highway north of Glendambo and followed the well maintained sand road to Kingoonya. We had intended to spend a night in this small town on the Transcontinental Railway and then continue south to Mt. Ive Station in the Gawler Ranges. But weather intervened, with rain forecast for the following day. The licensee of the Kingoonya Hotel assured us that it would be safe to proceed but my natural caution kicked in, so we decided to head directly to Port Augusta the next day.


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It was at a pleasant stopover in Kingoonya. We booked into the tiny antique caravan park, sharing it with another couple who were travelling with a camper van. The park has just changed hands and work is already under way to modernise it, including a small general store which will also service the town’s small population.
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After setting up, we adjourned to the pub for a drink and dinner. It was Sunday afternoon. We caught the end of the day’s entertainment. The hotel patrons had been conducting a court case for a local parking infringement, which they had made last most of the afternoon. Such is the entertainment in small country towns. But we then dined royally on curried prawns with jasmine rice.
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Our route to Port Augusta started out parallel to the Trans Continental Railway line. Further west the line runs straight for hundreds of kilometres. Kingoonya is on a shorter straight section that runs almost east west. Before we reached Glendambo the rail line had turned south east towards Woomera. As did we, when we reached Glendambo, and back on the Stuart Highway.
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We had been seeing wild flowers everywhere but we found our first Sturts Desert Peas between Kingoonya and Glendambo, growing in the rows of soil pushed aside by the graders.
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Rain started before we reached Port Augusta, where we booked for two nights. It continued throughout the next day, only abating during the evening. The radar showed significant rain had fallen around Orin Knob. The road to the Gawler Ranges turns North West from there, so road conditions were a bit uncertain. Indications were that the rain had been, at the most, very light further North over the Gawler Ranges. Next morning the SA Main Roads web site declared the roads fully open, so we were good to go.

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The first part of the journey was on the main highway to the West, so was easy going, although we had a stiff head wind. Soon after turning right to depart from the road to Whyalla we passed many kilometres of fence with signs at about 200 metre intervals. The red flags at gateways gave it away. It is a military firing range and was active as we drove past. But no puffs of smoke were visible or weapons fire audible.
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We had visited Iron Knob on our first caravan holiday to South Australia, many years ago, from our then home in Melbourne. The town is a mere shadow of its former self with almost no services remaining but the iron ore mine continues to operate. But the town does have a convenient free camping park and a post office with basic general store facilities. But alas, no fuel supplies!
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The distance from Iron Knob to Mount Ive is just on 135 kilometres, all of it gravel and sand and mostly in good condition. Graders were at work part way in, giving the impression that the road is regularly maintained. Similarly, the road from Kingoonya, both north and east to the Stuart Highway, had been recently graded, as had the road south of Kingoonya for about 90 kilometres, according to the Kingoonya publican.
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The Gawler Ranges are not high mountains but some altitude is gained over the distance from Iron Knob to Mount Ive. Recent rain was evident in the fresh greenness of the country and some washouts in sections of the road near Iron Knob. Flocks of sheep grazed on grass, parts of which resembled a mowed lawn. Green vegetation ran beside the road and up the slopes. Many of the hillsides were covered with attractive silver green shrubbery.
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At intervals spring flowers, predominantly yellow, broke up, or became mixed with, the many shades of green. The wattle was in bloom, interspersed with other flowering shrubs. An all together captivating scene!
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As the journey progresses the road passes a couple of stations located close to the road and the turns to others that are out of sight. Early in the trip Lake Giles, holding plenty of water, was passed on our left. Further on the hills close in on the road to some extent and it becomes clear that the road is passing along the length of a valley. The hills are the Gawler Ranges, or at least part of same.
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The turn to Mount Ive Station is marked by a submarine, seemingly rising to the surface from the bowls of the earth at the kind of angle of ascent that you see in movies. I’m not sure of its significance but its presence means that you can’t miss the turn.

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It’s only a short distance from the main road to the station. First you come to a small cemetery on the left, then to the Homestead and you then pass station sheds until you reach the building that comprises reception, bar and happy hour location.
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The main visitor facility is the shearers’ quarters. This extensive building has a large common area with tables and chairs, a kitchen, bunk rooms and toilet and shower facilities. Adjacent to the central building are several old Besser block and stone buildings. The stone structures are quite old and are part of early station staff accommodation that are now used as guest accommodation. Partly surrounding the shearers quarters are camping areas, with a few powered sites. Hot water is provided by a wood fired donkey, but only when the stoker remembers to tend his fire.
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More rain was forecast from the West, its time of arrival uncertain. We had planned to stay for three nights but decided to reduce it to two, for safety. The full day available under this arrangement was to be used for a trip to Lake Gairdner.
Mount Ive Station offers a range of station tracks. The longest and the only one with a cost attached, is to Lake Gairdner National Park. The cost when we were there was $55, but part of this amount has to be paid on to SA National Parks. The fee gets you a key to allow you to pass through the locked gate.

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The drive to the lake is through station grazing lands belonging to Mt Ive and a neighboring station, first along the main road from Iron Knob and then on the Lake Gairdner Track. The track was in reasonable condition but with areas of corrugation. It runs through shallow valleys between moderate hills that are mostly covered with small silver green bushes that don’t quite seem to make it to the hilltops.
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Two side trips are included in this trek. The first is to a rock formation called The Organ Pipes. The Gawler Ranges are known for rhyolite rock formations which often form rectangular pillars of brightly coloured rock that can resemble the pipes of an organ, particularly to those with imagination.
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The road in to the formation was rather gnarly, with large loose stones covering the wheel tracks. Sharp inclines and snake like meanderings completed the fun. Slow and careful progress brought us to a space between the trees that serves as a car park. Unfortunately the formation is at the head of a steep gully with a climb that I judged to be a bit much for my aging legs, particularly in the time available. Photos from a distance had to suffice. But I did find a rather attractive flowering tree of a type that we had not seen previously.

The second side trip was to a dam built by early settlers in the 1860s. Constructed from ryolite blocks and sealed with concrete, it holds usable water to this day. It is set in a wonderful rocky gully the sides of which are decorated by natural rock gardens. I’m sure that it must have been a favorite camping spot for station hands in the early days, but no building ruins are evident.
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The road in to the dam was in much better condition that that to the rock formation. On the way out to the main track we caught the first glimpse of Lake Gairdner, a further drive of about 15 minutes.

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The centre of South Australia, that area north of Spencer Gulf, contains many salt lakes of all sizes. They are all fascinating. Some are to be seen from the Stuart Highway between Glendambo and Port Augusta, including the well known Lake Heart. Lake Gairdner has been described as the jewel of them all. It is not hard to see why.
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The lake is huge, so it is not possible to see all of it at once other than from the air. The access track leads to the southern shores of a major inlet. The area is where motor racing occurs, on the dry lake bed, usually in February, we were told. A building has been erected overlooking the lake that serves as an amenities centre for the race teams and spectators. At other times the building is securely looked, as is a toilet and shower facility located a few hundred metres away at the camping area. A solitary long drop toilet stands against the most attractive background of the lake and distant hills for the use of visitors at other times.
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There was about 30 mm of water in the lake when we were there but it is not hard to imagine it as the dry salt flat which is its attraction as a car racing surface. Chunks of salt protrude from the water along the shore line. Mountain ranges provide a magic setting. The racing would be an exciting spectacle, but probably rather a hot environment in which to be a driver, pit crew or spectator. .

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On the way back to Mt Ive Station we stopped to look at old stock yards near the road. We then came across the most magnificent display of Sturts Desert Pea, growing in a graded drainage trench. It was a much more impressive display than those we saw near Kingoonya.

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Back at camp we were visited by the camp kangaroo: a Joey being raised by hand at the station. It had been found on the road and brought to the station. Later we watched as it was fed by an English young lady who was working at the station. At some point the ‘roo will be released into its natural environment.
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The setting sun illuminated clouds, not in the West but in the East, with a single large bank of cloud transformed from white to orange. A great photo opportunity!

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Next morning we headed back to Port Augusta. Not far into the journey we paused at a rest area at the site of a small monument that commemorates Edward John Eyre’s camp number 6 where he camped on his journey North on 23rd September 1839. The Gawler Ranges Progress Association has installed a picnic table at the site.
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Further along, on the road in front of Siam Station, stands a standard issue aluminium telephone box and another picnic table, this one sawed from a single tree trunk and protected under a shelter. The telephone box is not connected to telephone cables but it still serves a useful purpose. The coin box has been divided into two parts to provide twin donation boxes for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Gawler Ranges Progress Association. Who could resist making a donation to each?
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We used the pull off for our morning coffee break before moving on to Port Augusta and ultimately to the Flinders Ranges. But we had successfully ticked Mt Ive Station and the Gawler Ranges off the Bucket List.
Kevin
It is important to always maintain a sense of proportion

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