Arden Hills Self Drive 4WD Track - Quorn

Sunday, Jun 18, 2017 at 07:28

Stephen L (Clare) SA

Just north of the small southern Flinders Ranges town of Quorn in South Australia is one four wheel drive track that does not get a mention very often, but should be on all serious four wheel drivers bucket lists to do, and is known as “Arden Hills Self Drive 4WD Track”.

The Stokes family have run Arden Hills for over 100 years and Graham and Inge Stokes are the fourth generation to own Arden Hills property, which is solely used as sheep grazing and breeding country. Around 10 years ago they though about diversifying and opened up their station to the public and offer a serious low rage challenge that will test both vehicle and driver and is not for the faint hearted.
To Gain access to this private track through a locked gate in Warren Gorge, will require all drivers to register and pay the very small fee at the Flinders Ranges Visitor Information Centre, Quorn Railway Station, Quorn, who can be contacted on 08 8648 6419 or 1800 220 980.

The drive out of Quorn is on the Arden Vale Road that is bituminised all the way to the turn off into Warren Gorge. For anyone that has never visited this area before, it is well worth the time to stop and explore the Gorge, and if you are lucky, you may see one of the elusive and shy Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies that are found in the rocky crags of the gorge.

In December last year, I received an email from a fellow EO Member that lives in Quorn and asked if Fiona and I would be interested in going along for the drive. With our love of the Flinders it did not take a second thought and I was on the phone to Graham to say yes and get a few more details.The day was to coincide when a fellow EO Members that was coming down from Queensland to see Graham and Maxine again and the extra company would have been great. Unfortunately due to health issues, Kevin had to postpone his March visit until later in the year, but Graham said that the drive will go ahead since he had already asked Fiona and I along for the day.

Once you arrive at the locked gate, you venture will begin and for the first few minutes will find you traveling on the very well defined station track and the moment that your vehicle starts to face uphill, it is time to engage your hubs if they are manual and select low range gearing. Another challenge is that the track has not seen any maintenance for some time and added with last Septembers very heavy rains, has caused a number of very deep wash aways that are impossible to drive through.

The lack of major tall vegetation, with the exception of the grass trees - Xanthorrhoea quadrangular gives you unreal views in all directions as you slowly crawl higher and higher, with numerous photo stops to stop and capture the magnificent country that you are travelling through. Around half way through the drive and still on the assent is the first feature of the drive in the form of a small and simple memorial to a valued friend and mate of the Stokes family. “Stretch” as he was know was so touched by beauty of these hills that when on his last days as he was stricken with terminal cancer, made one of his last requests, to have his ashes spread near one of his favourite places. The memorial consists of a small piece of local marble that was once mined on the property and a small plaque and a now very weathered pair of his old “RM’s” boots. The Stokes families only request is to respect this final resting place, and as you look around the area, ponder the effect that this special spot had on Stretch.

Leaving Stretch’s memorial, you still climb higher along the rocky track and the views just keep getting better and in the distance you can see the track that you will be eventually taking following the crest of the distant hills. At a point when you think you will be heading for the top of Mt Arden, you then descend down into a small valley that is very different to all the country travelled so far. This small valley has trees that are hundreds of years old and are the old and gnarly giant River Red Gums, that are interspersed with more grass trees. At this location, and proving the weather is not hot and a fire ban day is a great bush built BBQ complete with a table and seats and another memorial plaque to Quentin Smith, one of the first tourist pioneers that took people through the Stoke’s property and other locations through the Flinders Ranges.

Leaving this quaint little valley, you then ascend yet another steep ridge as you make your way over the rugged track. Reaching the ridge line, you then slowly follow the crest of the range and are rewarded yet again with some unreal 3601views and as you look south along the ridge, you will see where you have to travel. After following the ridge for some time, it is then time to head back down to the valley below and you approach a sharp and very rocky corner known as $1000.00 Hill.

This aptly named hill and corner was given this name by Graham Stokes, when in the 1980’s, it took bulldozer driver John Swears a number of days to cut this corner and track down the steep hill, and as Graham commented, “ Those dozer drivers had nerves of steel ” and this was the actual costs back then to construct this section of track. While in this area and in times of the wildflowers being in flower, it would be worth the time to stop and have a look at them, as there are a few unique Correa and other rare plants in this area.

The track down to the gully below is more an eroded gully rather than a track and extreme care is required and wheel placement is critical, and at one state when we did the drive we had a sea saw affect as one of the front wheels was high in the air and the car was on a strange angle. Down in this small gully and the River Red Gums seemed to be growing straight out of the rock and there were signs that at one stage, a bore had been sunk in the hope of utilising the underground water deep below the surface. While still in the gully, there was a large length of old metal piping that had been hand riveted, a dead giveaway of its age.

The ridge hopping continues and the countryside was now spinifex and the occasional Grass Tree and then the steep descents continued as you leave the ridge line and head east and you start to make your way back to where you first started the drive from Warren Gorge. The Arden Hills Self Drive is one drive that anyone with a love of the Flinders Ranges and a four wheel drive should make a priority to visit the next time you are in the Quorn area.

A very special thanks to fellow EO Member, Graham and his wife Maxine for being our guides for the day and showing us their back yard as such and to Graham and Inge Stokes for opening up their property and sharing this unreal, true four wheel drive.

Stephen Langman

June 2017
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