Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 8: The Flinders Ranges.

Saturday, Oct 15, 2011 at 14:55

Member - John and Val

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We set out from Copley and took a side trip in to the Aroona dam, unfortunately now closed to campers. Some new visitor parking areas had been developed since we were last there and these overlooked the very impressive lake. The surrounding hills are sparsely vegetated, exposing layers of rock which, with no wind, made some stunning reflections.

Then on southward through country looking greener than we have ever seen it, to enter the Park at Brachina Gorge. The corrugated gravel road goes east for about 10km across flat country before entering the gorge, but gives wonderful views of the western face of the Heysen Range. The light here is always wonderful and seems to be constantly changing, especially with a few clouds about.

Brachina Gorge cuts through and exposes rocks that range in age from 450 to 600 million years old and provides a geological record of world importance. This period includes the time when the first signs of life on Earth were emerging, and thanks to how the rocks were formed and then folded, there is important fossil evidence said to be visible along the course of the gorge. There was comprehensive signage where we entered the gorge at the “young” (western) end, but unfortunately through the gorge itself much of the signage has disappeared or been damaged.

Neither of us has more than some elementary geological knowledge, and to get a fuller understanding of just what we were looking at, some prior reading would have been valuable. We searched unsuccessfully for fossils and stromatolites in the younger areas; we knew there could be none in the older sections. But fossils or not, this country is rugged and spectacularly beautiful. Many of the rock beds are tilted and some are folded and buckled making patterns in the exposed rock faces. There are strong colours; red of the rocks contrasted with the grey green of the Cyprus and gums. There are big grey shingle beds, the whole scene softened by frequent pools of water. The sun even shone now and then. And, although it’s a clearly defined, the road frequently follows the course of shingle-bottomed creeks, making for an interesting though hardly demanding drive.

After many stops to explore we finally came to a lookout that gave some really beautiful views south along the Heysen Range. Then we headed north from the Brachina Gorge road up the beautiful Aroona Valley between the Heysen and ABC Ranges. This was serious Heysen country, and the inspiration for many paintings. The country looked familiar, seen by us before portrayed in watercolour and in oils. It was a thrill to pick out and photograph peaks that featured in Heysen sketches and paintings.

Ruins of the original Aroona homestead and its bore water supply and some old fruit trees still remain. We could only wonder about living in this remote corner of the Flinders with such magnificent views to the Heysen Range. Nearby is the roomy wattle and daub hut built in the 1920s and used by Heysen as a base when he visited on his sketching expeditions. We camped overnight at one of the nearby campgrounds to catch this special country in the early morning light, just as he must have done.


John spent part of the following bright sunny morning trudging the well defined track, part of the Heysen Trail, that covered country where once Heysen must have walked with his sketchpad, his stool and charcoal. Then it was time to go back to the Brachina Gorge road and head eastward. There were numerous creek crossings with many magnificent River Red Gums and it was difficult not to stop and photograph and just admire every stately old gum that we saw. We checked out the camping options at a number of the National Park campsites along the creeks, and though many were well set out and attractive, it was too early to stop so we kept moving on.

We were surprised when we came to the intersection of the Brachina Gorge Road and the road between Wilpena Pound and Blinman, to find that the road heading north was sealed. All our maps showed it as being gravel, but we weren’t complaining about being back on a sealed surface for a while. Some way north of the intersection the road leaves the National Park and we travelled north through open grazing country to Blinman, with its history and old mine.

We arrived there about lunch time and a decided to sample the excellent home made pies at the Blinman store. Well satisfied, we went up to the site of the old copper mine, named after Robert Blinman who discovered the outcrop of ore about 1860. Although the site hadn’t changed since we were last there ten years back, it was still interesting to wander around the big (and thankfully well fenced) holes in the ground and marvel at the effort required to dig out the ore using not much more than pick and shovel. There are also the remains of some of the machinery used when copper was smelted there on site.

Following a recommendation we then set out to see Glass Gorge. This turned out to be a disappointment as the gorge was little more than a creekline through Cypress covered hills. So we went back to Blinman and turned west towards Parachilna Gorge. This is a good gravel road but with lots of sharp corners and excellent views to distant blue peaks.

Not far west of Angorichina we reached a creekline which was clearly used as a camping area on either side of the road. After exploring on foot and locating a good spot, John guided Troopy up along the creekside terrace about 500 metres and set up the perfect camp. Although there were wheel tracks suggesting that others had camped there, it was inaccessible to anyone without Troopy’s clearance and capability. It was sufficiently off the road for privacy and quiet, surrounded by tall peaks, had water views, plenty of firewood, and a clear area with Heysen gums all around but none overhanging. (The River Red Gums have a reputation for spontaneously dropping heavy branches.)

We quickly set up camp, collected some firewood and decided that this was a good spot for a layday, when, apart from relaxing, there is a chance to catch up on minor maintenance. So we set up the solar panels to top up the batteries to totally full, downloaded the cameras, washed clothes and did some serious cooking. Nothing beats a lamb shank stew cooked in a camp oven for a couple of hours over a very slow fire!

Chores done, we were able to take some leisurely walks and explore along the creek in both directions. At one stage we heard voices and eventually picked out a couple of tiny figures high above us on the skyline. They must have had gorgeous views from up there but we were content to just watch as they moved along the ridge. The only downside to this beautiful area was a few plants of the nasty looking wheel cactus that is the subject of an eradication program, and a big mob of feral goats. We watched them in the morning high up on the ridges, and as the day progressed they moved downslope to drink at the creek. There were a lot of kids, another legacy of the good season.

Next day, although we were reluctant to leave this lovely spot, we travelled west through the remainder of the gorge passing a number of other creekside campsites. Back at the bitumen we turned north to Leigh Creek where we fuelled up for the long run ahead and did some final food shopping. Then to Copley for lunch (we can’t pass Copley without a quandong pie from the bakery!) and a last chance for a while to set up the phone and laptop so as to join the cyberworld and deal with emails. Then we went north to Farina.
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J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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