Sydney to Flinders

Thursday, Jun 03, 1999 at 00:00

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

This trip started with the usual flurry of mayhem that one must endure in order to appreciate the solitude of the outback. Leaving the city comes at a price. Ours was complicated and stressful to the point that I had chest pains for a month that resulted in a lung x-ray, ECG testing, and heart stress testing only to reveal that the doctors just didn’t know what was wrong with me. But I did. I think I’m allergic to Sydney. What greater message can your body give you to pack up and leave?

And leave we did.

Useless materialistic evidence of our modern existence was stashed in a shed on a family property near the Blue Mountains. We will have settled down when we feel the urge to call for them.

But leaving SYDNEY this time was harder than before. Our plans had been well communicated throughout the family and they knew we were probably going to make our home somewhere far away on the opposite side of Australia.

We’d returned to SYDNEY in late February after circumnavigating Australia. After 9 months frugal living, bush camping and adventurous 4WD exploring we didn’t adjust to the city too well. At first we thought we’d make it. David had a great job promotion he’d been waiting on and once the conditions were confirmed we should’ve been able to settle ourselves. But the promised promotion was not forthcoming on his return from long service leave and he found no trouble mustering the courage to give a short, sharp goodbye message to those he had worked with for 15 years. And so began our current lifestyle. David established his own company and he had consulting work within a few days.

Things must happen for a reason for it was this chain of events that enabled us to free ourselves of our "normal" existence and embark on something quite different.

Running a company has its challenges but the business was instantly successful. Problem was we were relying on a network that we’d established in SYDNEY. What we wanted was the same success on the other side of Australia. Somewhere far away from the road rage, the crime, the never-ending traffic jams, the crowds, the parking problems and being treated like a number, not a person.

The first week on the road was like slowing down the clock. The town of PARKES, where I spent some childhood years, never looked so beautiful and we were humbled by the locals’ kindness and hospitality. We found excellent bush camping along the banks of the Lachlan River at LAKE CARGELLIGO and tried our new yabbie pots and shrimp traps with limited success. We picked up a tip for baiting the traps with soap but coupled with setting the traps at night we weren’t sure which was the reason we didn’t fair too well.

Our plan had been to get to Broken Hill as quick as possible via Ivanhoe. But once we were out camping and enjoying the slower pace we agreed on a change of plans to include MUNGO NP and a drive up the Darling River from MILDURA - MENINDEE.

The drive from LAKE CARGELLIGO to MUNGO was all dirt and although you could do it in a conventional vehicle it was certainly more comfortable in the 4WD. We found some rutted sections where there had been recent rains between HILSTON and MOSSGIEL but the scenery was spectacular, especially through the many unfenced properties. Mungo’s most notable feature is the long stretch of "lunette"sand dune called the Walls of China.

The photos of red sand that you’ve probably seen have been taken at sunset, definitely the best time to view the area. There is a 60km, one way drive around the park which takes you to other interesting areas and opportunities to see thousands of gangly emus darting at the slightest sound and an infinite number of rather shy kangaroos.

We could’ve left MUNGO and gone directly west to the small town of POONCARIE to begin our drive up the DARLING RIVER but we couldn’t confirm if fuel was available there so we made a short diversion into MILDURA. Fuel was more expensive as we crossed the border into Victoria so we bought it on the NSW side of the bridge and returned north to Pooncarie. By the way, fuel is available at Pooncarie.

Surprisingly we found it very difficult to get any information about driving along the Darling from the Mildura Tourist Info but we saw a dirt track on a map that seemed appealing to us and were determined to put a bit more dust under our wheels. In Pooncarie it is quickly evident that the hub of town is the general store so here we asked where we might find a place to bush camp along the river. The old man drew us a priceless mud map that took us across the river in town, and then through half a dozen properties. You can't really camp on the along the river here because each property owns a section of river front land. The mud map showed us where we'd see an eagle's nest, a cemetery and other interesting bits we'd never have noticed so we took our time up the red earth track. He also suggested a perfect bush camp on the river bank (technically part of someone's property but a common locals spot). The track is called the Old Pooncarie Road and is not strictly 4WD but after rain vehicles that use it leave deep rutted sections that would quickly swallow a low clearance 2WD. Add to this the odd corner of bulldust this is not a track that you’d want to take the family car along. If you’ve got a 4WD you’ll appreciate the ability to get off the Silver City Highway that runs from Mildura to Menindee and that’s mainly why we took it. The Old Pooncarie Road eventually brings you into the southern end of the Kinchega NP, which has the best camping you’ll find along the Darling River.

In the KINCHEGA NP we found 35 designated camp spots, each about 10min drive apart so it is not likely you’ll hear the neighbours. Each site is has an excellent vantage point of the river but it pays to check out each one before choosing your camp site. Some have better sun, better shade, better access to the water (for setting yabbie pots), ours even had a few hundred metre stretch of white sand which we sunbaked on! We camped here for 3 nights from Sun, Mon, Tues giving 4 nights we've camped on the DARLING RIVER. The yabbie pots finally produced enough big yields to give us a huge entrée (15 yabbies) and we enjoyed the open fires and opportunities to cook a few dampers and warm casseroles to ward off the cold.

Finally, we dragged ourselves away from the Darling and made our way to civilisation in Broken Hill. Even this far out of Sydney we bumped into people we knew from the Toyota Landcruiser Club and drove the 110km into town with them where we parted ways, us to stay a few days and for them to continue onto the Flinders Ranges in a mad rush.

BROKEN HILL is an interesting town to visit and we easily spent the next few days doing the sights. Not to be missed is a sunset stroll amongst the sculptures 6km North of town on the Nine Mile Road. The road ends at a locked gate and a car park and from here it is a steep 700m walk up a bitumen road to the sculpture site. You’ll see tour groups come up the hill in mini-buses and if you want to know the stories behind the sculptures you could tag along and listen to the commentaries. There are about a dozen 3m tall stone carvings made by prominent artists from around the world but the most photographed is this one…

We were lucky to visit on the only day of the month when the full moon and sunset occur at the same time in bipolar regions of the sky giving spectacular colours and atmosphere.

The following day we went on a very special underground mine tour. From the main street in town you can see the signs high up on the ridge for the tour but the tourist information centre will advise that tours of the DELPRAT MINE are conducted Mon – Fri at 10.30am and 2pm on Saturdays only. It cost $23 per person but the 2hour tour was well worth it.

Arriving 10minutes early as requested we were each sized and given a grey flannel cloak which was secured with a webbed belt that had another piece of webbing hanging off it. When our guide, "Snowy" Cubben an ex-miner, assembled us together he explained that we’d be carrying our own battery pack on our belts to power our head-lights that were mounted to our hard hats.

So all geared up we were packed 10 deep into the mine shaft cage and descended 400 feet (135m). The tour underground was fascinating and Snowy even demonstrated the use of an air operated power drill that fired in a 1 inch tungsten bit drill 8feet into the hard rock to create a pattern of holes that were then injected with explosives. Snowy’s stories of life down the mine shocked us all. The sounds of the basic machinery and the extent of hard labour to earn a shilling and thruppence were horrendous. The tour was a great insight into underground mining of the early 1900s.

We headed out to SILVERTON, site of some famous movie productions, for lunch at the Silverton Hotel. We enjoyed freshly made pea and ham soup served from the crockpot with garlic bread but there were plenty of hot pasties, pies and ice-creams to choose from. There were only a handful of people touring around but it is just a ghost town afterall. There was plenty of evidence that during the filming of a movie or commercial that a lot more goes on, with walls of photos of famous people such as Michael Hutchence from INXS who made a video clip, Mel Gibson during the making of Mad Max and the cast of A Town Like Alice that was also made here. The pub often has a name change for the benefit of filming, particularly for beer commercials and out the back in the beer garden are strung up all the name plaques. But there are many other good reasons to go to Silverton other than quiet reflection in the pub for this town is rich in galleries and museums. We grew particularly fond of the pastel paintings by Bronwyn Standley Woodroffe and Albert Woodroffe in the Horizon Gallery and thought it was time we tried our hand at some art work while on our trip through the outback. Peter Browne’s gallery at Silverton is also worth a visit even if you’re not a real art buff. The artist’s humour is portrayed in all his paintings which are oils and his distinctive emu eyes aren’t easily forgotten.

There are two places to see Pro Hart; his commercial gallery called Ant Hill Gallery (opposite tourist centre) and for a fee you can see his private collection which are reputed to be the largest private collection of artworks in Australia. And if after all this you are totally inspired to attempt some painting yourself you can stock up on art supplies at the Living Desert Art shop and gallery of works by Phil Jones.

Leaving Broken Hill behind we saw the last of large scale shops like Woolies and Big W that we are likely to see until we get to Alice Springs (about 6 weeks away) so it was important that we were fully stocked and prepared for whatever lay ahead. In the trailer we are carrying an esky which I filled with vegies. Contrary to our experiences of travelling in the heat, travelling in winter means you can successfully carry vegies such as sweet potato, potato, eggplant, carrots, onions, zucchini and capsicum out of the fridge. I also filled a "Frij" bag full of oranges, grapefruit, bananas and mandarins. If there’s likely to be a fair bit of 4Wding going on then it’s best to wrap the vegies or line the esky with soft linen serviettes. (I use the ones from the picnic tablecloth set that I’ve never used and they’re just perfect).

48km west after leaving Broken Hill you cross the border into SOUTH AUSTRALIA and it’s 197km to YUNTA. If you don’t want to go to WILPENA POUND but want to get up to ARKAROOLA take the turn off at Yunta for a good 4WD shortcut. We kept going another 25km out of Yunta and took the gravel road short-cut to ORROROO that bypasses PETERBOROUGH. Orroroo was a pleasant surprise and had a few banks (NAB, State), a few pubs, and a hardware (where I bought a bucket with a lid and picked up a stone to do some washing). If you haven’t done this I’ll explain: if the water’s too cold to put your hands in to do the washing and if you’ve got better things to do than scrub your clothes then put a stone in a bucket and let the washing do itself as you travel. Our bucket just sits on the floor of the car at the back door and when we get to camp I hang it out.

From Orroroo its 68km to HAWKER or 120km to Wilpena. The drive from Hawker to Wilpena is extremely scenic and there are a few good spots to stop and walk along the way so we ended our day’s drive from Broken Hill at Hawker in the campground with great views of the FLINDERS RANGES. I also took the opportunity to check my supplies, as the supermarket in Hawker is about the last decent one we expect to see for some weeks.

Leaving Hawker there’s a good steep walk to get you going at Arkaroo Rock to an aboriginal site. The site isn’t that great but the walk and the views are worth it. There’re quite a few signs for lookouts and spots to pull over to take photos on the way up to Wilpena, which are all worth taking the time to do. There’s a few marked Parking bays that would be decent bush camps for an overnight stay too if you want to avoid paying fees in Hawker.

It was late morning when we pulled into WILPENA POUND RESORT and so we took our time to fully comprehend the variety and complexity of activities available. For $75 each we booked a 30 minute scenic flight with Wilpena Pound Airways for 3pm that afternoon. In the meantime we setup camp. There is a powered section for caravans - a large concrete pad within closer proximity to the toilets/showers/laundry than elsewhere, but we chose the more remote and picturesque setting of the bush camp area. Nestled amongst the dense gums it wasn’t hard to find a quiet spot to ourselves. Our view was toward the back-end of the pound itself and the light played majestically on the red rocks inspiring us to get out our newly acquired pastels in an effort to capture the colours.

Masterpieces complete, it was time for our flight. Fortunately, another 3 people had booked on our flight which reduced the cost by another $20. Our pilot David was from Sydney and had only been working at Wilpena since January. He recognised my surname "Jacka" and asked about my ancestry as his best friend is a Jacka and one of 7 other Jacka boys from Riverwood boys school. Interesting coincidence. The flight over Wilpena Pound was sensational and gave us a good overview of the area we were planning to explore on foot tomorrow.

Although there are half a dozen or so good walks to do within the pound itself the highlight is an 8 hour full day walk that encompasses both a summit to the 1150m St Mary’s Peak (the highest mountain in South Australia) and a traverse across the pound floor and across the former sheep station returning to the resort 17km later. It was an exhausting walk but thoroughly enjoyable. The walk is divided into a number of sections with the second hour being the hardest of the day.

Starting from the back of the camping area the first hour is spent walking leisurely along the dense pines & grass trees with St Mary’s Peak just a fantastic view ahead (picture above). Into the second hour of walking the track begins the steep ascent to the saddle which is finally reached at the end of the second hour. This is by far the hardest section of the climb. At this point you can turn right and continue your climb for another hour to reach the summit and return (2 hours return) or continue to walk downhill into the pound itself and finally out onto the plains of the pound floor. It is certainly not a climb for the unfit or for those unused to scrambling up loose rocks and traversing along steep rock faces.

From Wilpena Pound Resort there are two choices for travelling North. At a junction 5km out on the main road a right turn will take you along the Brachina Geological Drive (scenic drive with sign posted geological information) or a left turn (which we took) takes you to scenic Bunyeroo Valley and Brachina Gorge where there is good bush camping.

We stopped at all the lookouts and took a walk along the Bunyeroo Gorge and still made it to Brachina to set up camp by midday. The main road comes to an intersection where we turned right. About 2km along we found ourselves an excellent camp with an inspiring backdrop for another try at paining.

Leaving Brachina the following morning we doubled back on our tracks to the intersection and passed the sign to the Aroona ruins (we later met a couple who camped there and said it was excellent). We continued on to BLINMAN and only thought to drive through the township at the last moment (the road to Chamber’s Gorge and Arkaroola bypasses the town by 2km). Although the Blinman General Store didn’t have many supplies or an axe which David was hoping to buy (having broken the handle of his yesterday) we did find something rather interesting.

At the far end of town we found an excellent historic mine site. We spent about an hour exploring the 1840s copper mine and smelter site and then realised there was a locked entrance to an underground dug out. We went back to the general store and paid our $1 per person to get the key to go inside.

From Blinman it was 72km to CHAMBERS GORGE along a good dirt road (although a bit windy and dippy in sections). It was my turn to drive today so I probably took the drive a bit slower than David would’ve but our timing turned out to be perfect. 10kms along the turn-off to Chamber’s Gorge is the first of a number of marked campsites. Although there is not much of a view here and there are no facilities, at least the ground is cleared and a little level. The surrounding area is very rocky and harsh and along the access road you wouldn’t want to make a bush camp. The road continues past this camp at a sign indicating road is passable to 4WD only but you can easily get a 2WD vehicle at least another 5km to the next 2 campsites.

These campsites sit directly beneath Mt Chambers itself and if you are easily inspired you’ll end up yearning to climb to it’s summit as we did the following day.

Passing the campsites on your right the track continues further into the gorge. In fact the track follows the creek bed and sandy banks for a fairly difficult 12.5km where you’ll need to engage low range to negotiate the jump-ups into and out of the dry, rocky creekbed. We left our trailer at the first camp to explore the gorge to its limits and would thoroughly recommend the drive for the sheer beauty and magic of the area. We saw hundreds of kangaroos, feral goats and a few rabbits, eagles, ringneck parrots and emus. The place is just teaming with wildlife and it’s obvious not many visitors make the effort to get all the way along the track. We ended our excursion at a fence that people had driven over before us and we could see more tracks heading towards Lake Frome but at 12.5km you have passed the main tunnel of gorges and rock. Thankfully, it was nearing sunset on our drive and this would definitely be the time to go to see the colours reflected to their best.

We also found many more spots where people had previously made camp but also a number of signs indicating that camping was forbidden near permanent waterholes for fear of detracting the animals that are so dependent on its lifesource. We returned to collect our trailer and found that another camper had arrived and taken the spot we had our eye on in the 3rd camping area. We moved back along the gorge track for about 1km and off to the right, still under the shadow of Mt Chambers we found the perfect camp.

From this vantagepoint we were able to pick out a path to reach the summit of Mt Chambers, mostly following feral goat tracks. As we started our climb the following morning, a mob of goats ahead of us continued to show us the way and within an hour or so we had reached the top and were rewarded with views of Lake Frome to the East, Wilpena Pound to the South and the entire Flinders Ranges swelling across the West. The top of Mt Chambers is 983m.

The desert sky is revealing an enormous amount of stars on the typical clear, cold nights we’ve been experiencing. I know the temperature hasn’t dropped below 7 degrees yet because my olive oil hasn’t yet gone cloudy (when I’ve been looking). We were both very keen to get to ARKAROOLA and view the stars through the 14.5 inch telescope at their private observatory. So after our heroic climb up Mt Chambers and a quick lunch we made the 102km drive to Arkaroola. Arkaroola is a private wilderness sanctuary and is not part of the Gammon Ranges National Park. There are some bush camps in the NP at a turn-off along the road to Arkaroola but we were in need of a hot shower, and a top-up with fresh water. We were both a little disappointed initially with Arkaroola and yet again found it didn’t quite live up to our expectations (as encouraged by the glossy brochures). However, we were able to book on the astronomy tour and do the washing. I had hoped to buy some basic supplies but would you believe it... the supply truck had burnt to the ground on route and there was nothing fresh to purchase. As for the hot shower there was no hot water coming out of the taps when I went for mine which reduced me to tears of exasperation as I had to climb a steep hill with my toiletries under my arm to get to the toilet block from our camp with no reward. The star-gazing was excellent but nowhere in evidence were the proclaimed star-chairs that we’d been "sold" on at the Sydney 4WD and Fishing Show in July this year. I was beginning to not like Arkaroola so much.

Arkaroola is well known for their famous "Ridge Top Tour" but at $60 per person you really wonder if you need to be taken in someone else’s 4WD just to see a good view. Depends on your frame of reference and for us it wasn’t worth it. This is the only 4WD tour that is not self-drive as there are over 100km of 4WD territory to be explored if you wish. We didn’t come to go 4Wding as we do enough of that anyway but we had developed an interest for the historic mines and had picked up a booklet in Blinman describing at least another 2 good mine sites around the Arkaroola area.

The following day we easily found the ruins of a smelter at Bolla Bollana but then had great difficulty finding the Yudnamatana Mine. Now we’ve found it the details are as follows:

From Bolla Bollana continue along the same road until you reach an intersection. Turn left at the sign marked Wheal Turner and Umberatana H.S. Continue on along this rough track until you come to a 3 ways intersection (GPS S 30° 12.537’ E139° 13.794’) . The way you’ve come is marked "Arkaroola", left is marked "Umberatana" and right is marked "Yudnamatana". After 8.8km you come to an unmarked gate. Continue for another 8.4km to a gate with a sign saying "Mt Freeling Station". Continue for another 6.8km and you will start to find evidence of mining activity (GPS S30° 10.430’ E139° 16.862’). At the main area you will see a grave that has been more recently erected to the memory of the miners just off the track on the right. From here on you will find open cuts, a cemetery, the ruins of the main smelter with 2 boilers and flu still intact. Behind this on the left are great open shaft holes. To the right, deeper in the valley is the main shaft and many ruins of cottages and equipment. It’s a large area and there is some great scenery but it’s a rough drive that will take longer than you think.

You can return to Arkaroola by backtracking or go the way we went to Umberatana H.S. and continuing to skirt the entire outside circumference of the Gammon Ranges. The drive is rough and dusty but the track takes to close to many interesting large working stations that are really worth seeing to be believed. This way we continued all the way into LEIGH CREEK where we found an excellent array of supplies, bought a new axe and felt much better for stocking up. Diesel however, was 2c cheaper at Arkaroola at 86c/L where we returned along the CopleyBalcanoona road and arrived quite weary just after sunset.
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
Always working not enough travelling!
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