The Flinders Ranges
offers some of the best bushwalking destinations in South Australia
and the St Mary Peak hike is very high on the must do list for both local and overseas visitors. The hike has two main routes to the St Mary Peak summit, the shorter and direct route known as the outside trail and the longer route that takes in the actual Wilpena Pound and known as the inside route. Due to the distances involved and the type of terrain that will be travelled over, hikers must be prepared for long days hike and take the appropriate supplies for the day, including extra water. At the small shelter and information board, hikers are given details of the walk and what is involved. The route that this trek follows, gives hikers the chance to sample a variety of scenery, vegetation and landscape features as well as some specials features when combined with this inside route, including the Old Hills Homestead.
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Starting off from the Trailhead Information shelter and taking the outside route, this very well defined track follows one of the old original boundary fences through dense stands of native Cyprus pines. Every two hundred metres along the track to St Mary Peak, walkers will find the new small signs, with distances to both St Mary Peak and to the Wilpena Visitor Centre Trailhead, or the old blue and white arrow marker, painted on the trunks of trees or on the rock surface. For the first hour or so, the track is over slightly undulation terrain, crossing a number of small watercourses, before starting the climb and the upward push to Tanderra Saddle, which usually takes around another hour to complete. It is while making your way to “The Saddle” that hikers will be rewarded with some stunning scenery, as you start to gain altitude with many great views in all directions of the valleys in the distance and views back to Wilpena from where you have travelled up from. It is not a race, take your time and just take in the scenery that is laid out in front of you.
Reaching Tanderra Saddle will have taken the good part of 2 hours, and what a great place for that morning tea smoko or lunch break. Sit back and admire the terrain that you have just conquered and taking in the great views that are on offer, while looking up at the still very tall and inspiring St Mary Peak that is still waiting to be tackled. Once back on the well defined trail it is now approximately another hour’s climb to reach the highest point in the Flinders Ranges
– St Mary Peak. As previously followed, there are the small metal markers, as well as blue reflective markers to follow, as well as the countless other people making their way to the St Mary Peak summit or on their way back down. On reaching the peak, there is nothing to block your view, and you will be rewarded with 360° views that can be described as breathtaking. The only thing that will be higher than you now, will be the soaring Wedge Tail Eagles that uses the thermals to gain higher altitude in search of prey for their next meal. For those that do not have a GPS when doing this hike, you will know that you are at the St Mary Peak summit, as there is a well worn marker, with countless names of previous hikes names scratched into the marker, plus many people just laying back, as you feel like you are on top of the world.
There is an old saying, what goes up, must come down, and this hike is no exception. After spending some very enjoyable time at the Flinders Ranges
highest peak, you must retrace your steps back down to “The Saddle”, as there is no other way back down, other than the way that you have hiked up. Reaching the sign at “The Saddle”, you have the choice of again retracing the track down, the way you came up, or take the extra challenge and complete the pound walk via the loop route. As before, the track is very well defined, but over a greater distance. Leaving “The Saddle” it is all down hill until you reach Cooinda Camp. For those that are camping out, this is the only location inside the Pound where camping is permitted, with open fires banned and cooking only on fuel stoves.
At this point of the hike, the terrain is very flat and easy walking, even if at a slower pace after having hiked over 12 kilometres already. Vegetation is also varied, from dense stands of Native Cyprus Pines, large River Red Gum, to open grassed covered areas. For the now weary hikers, there are a couple of seats in two locations along the walk, so you can rest those weary legs. Reaching the Old Hills Homestead, also offer hikes the chance to replenish your water supplies from two rainwater tanks there, as well as toilet facilities. This now restored old homestead was once home for the Hill family who farmed the land inside of the Pound. Overlooking the old homestead, are a number of panels, explaining life in the pound, as told by Jessie Hill, ‘If the walls could speak’, who lived here with her family as a young girl from the mid 1880’s, and telling of the hardships endured by her family as they tried to make a living off of the land and were the first pioneer family to live in the homestead. Leaving the Hills Homestead, the track is in excellent condition, as it is the main track into the Pound and for a greater number of walkers that take the 3 kilometre walk from Wilpena to visit the Homestead. Reaching the trailhead, you have now completed a very rewarding hike, have taken lots of photos and seen some very varied and interesting scenery.
On the 20th February, 1941, the Government Gazette carried detailed definitions of the boundaries of the states Ranges, including the North and South Flinders Ranges
, as well as the Andamooka Ranges. The Flinders Ranges
generally provided no surprises, except with the inclusion of Willouran Ranges as an arm north-westwards as far as Cadnia Hill, which is well north of Lake Torrens. This inclusion was recommended by the Department of Mines and Energy, as it belongs to the same geological sequence as the main Flinders Ranges
Boundary points were mostly listed as specific hills, each forming an outer limit of the Ranges. The line running through Parachilna Gorge and Blinman is the dividing point that defines the South and North Flinders Ranges
. Even though there are two main defines areas of the Flinders Ranges
, the region usually falls into 3 main regions. The southern Flinders is a region defines as below Hawker, the Central Flinders between Hawker and Parachilna – Blinman Road and the northern and drier flinders to the north.
Within these landscapes there is an enormous diversity, with Ranges, plains and valleys intermingling, with rock formations varying by millions of years. It is this diversity that provides the visitor a constant variety, which the Flinders Ranges
are famous for. The region is semi arid or arid, with the surrounding plains and further north being desert. The Ranges receive greater rainfall than the surrounding area, but even this can be extremely varied. These conditions, as well as the soil types has a direct variation on the type of vegetation that can be found throughout the Flinders Ranges
, from mallee, savannah, dry sclerophyll woodlands to salt marshes. Because of this broad range of vegetation, almost half of South Australia
’s native flora species are found in this comparatively small area of the State. Most of the vegetation can also be associated with different terrain, River Red Gums with creek beds, native pines with lower slopes and valleys, yakkas and Spinifex with rocky highlands and saltbush, bluebush and cassias with the dry open pains. The Flinders Ranges
vegetation provides a series of unique plant ecosystems which deeply interest botanists and general visitors.
Wildlife in the Flinders Ranges
is very varied. The most common native animals spotted are the Red and Western grey Kangaroo, which are active at dawn and dusk, and Emus which are active during the day. Those that are lucky may even catch a glimpse of the rare and threatened Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby that make its home in the rock gorges. There are over 60 species of reptiles in the region, with the most common species spotted including the sleepy lizard, skinks, goannas, and Central bearded dragon.
Introduced pest animals that are commonly seen in the Flinders Ranges
will include rabbits, foxes, feral cats, and the most commonly seen feral animal, wild goats. Introduced for their meat and milk by early miners and settlers, they would come to be the most destructive feral animal in the Flinders Ranges
, which is found in most inaccessible areas destroying mature vegetation and preventing regeneration by eating the seedlings.
The Flinders Ranges
are one of the oldest Mountain Ranges in the world, with fossil evidence dating back over 640 million years and today’s weathered remains of a once great mountain that was once up to 6 kilometres high. For over 15,000 years, these ranges where the home for the local Adnyamathanha Aboriginal people. There are many fine locations in the Flinders Ranges
where their paintings and rock art sites can be viewed and it is well worth the time to visit one of these sites. At the time of European settlement
, it was estimated that there were about 500 aboriginal people living in the Flinders Ranges
, and like many other locations throughout Australia
, the Adnyamathanha Aboriginal people defended their lands from the white people that were settling in their tribal lands and clashes were common, with many Aboriginal people being killed in the ensuing battles.
During the 1860’s, drought ravaged many parts of South Australia
, and the Flinders Ranges
did not escape these effects. Many of the Aboriginal people were forced to retreat to ration depots, where poor living conditions and disease wiped many of the Aboriginals out. By the mid 1870’s many of the Aboriginals were working on the local stations, working as shepherds and stockman. In this way they were still able to keep their very strong bonds with the tribal lands that they had been displaced from. In 1929 the United Aborigines Mission established a new mission at Nepabunna, east of Copley, which was a special place of the local Aboriginals. When the last full blood passed away in 1973, so ended the handing down of special dreaming stories that could only be handed down to fully initiated members of the tribe. With the coming of white man, the Flinders Ranges
were set to see many changes to the local Adnyamathanha people.
European History - Matthew Flinders
The first European to view ‘a chain of rugged mountains’ was Matthew Flinders in March 1802 on board the “Investigator”, while charting the coastline of Spencer Gulf, during his circumnavigation voyage of Terra Australia
, to see if the Eastern and Western coastlines of Australia
were in fact 2 separate islands (as thought by many at the time) or one large continent. Dropping anchor near today’s Chinaman’s Creek, Flinders sent off a party of men to climb the highest peak in the distance. Departing from the shore about 6 am, the party reached the base of this high peak around 2 pm, taking a good number of hours of climbing to reach the St Mary Peak summit around dusk. Looking out over today’s Willochra Plain, the party described what lay to the east as ‘the view did not furnish any lakes or bays to the eastward, but a dead, uninteresting, flat country… the country on the opposite side of this chain of mountains was quite flat and no doubt covered with shrubs and small trees’. Spending the night on the side of the mountain, the party did not arrive back to the Investigator until late the next day. This peak that was climbed by the first white people was named Mt Brown, after Robert Brown, the ships botanist, who was a member of the climbing party. While Brown and his group were on their reconnaissance of Mt Brown, Matthew Flinders and a small group of men set off in one of the Investigators’ long boats to investigate the coast at the head of the Gulf. Flinders party were not able to get as far as they had hoped, being stopped by mud flat and mangroves. Using a high peak in the distance as a point for taking bearings, Flinders named this peak Mt Arden after his great grandmother and named no other peak or the ranges that he viewed, and describes the ranges as ‘a ridge of high, rocky and baron mountains’ . These ranges remain unnamed for a further 37 years.
Edward John Eyre
The next European to see and visit the still unnamed mountainous area was Edward John Eyre
in 1839, who undertook a series of exploration expeditions to the Flinders Ranges
over the next two years. While on his first exploration expedition, he discovered on the western side of the ranges, a permanent supply of water that made the ideal place for forming a permanent depot for further expedition, naming the place Depot Creek. Depot Creek was now put on the maps, and was to prove an important depot for Eyre
and other future explores to the Flinders and west coast regions of South Australia
. A little further north of Depot Creek, Eyre
became the first white person to climb the tall peak named by Matthew Flinders in 1802, Mount Arden and from this high peak, the reality of the Flinders Ranges
began to be revealed. From the summit of Mount Arden, Eyre
wrote ‘From north-east to north, were vast masses of mountain ranges rising out above the other, of great height and broken outline but, as far as we could judge, of a rocky and barren appearance like all of the front hills of the Flinders Ranges
… I set off myself on horseback, accompanied by a black boy, to go to the north ... The country was barren and bare of grass. At about 20 miles we found the hills trending still more to the eastward and a black rocky range was seen at some distance lying, as it were, across the front of them ...’
The travels of Eyre
proved very useful, and he named a number of features during his visits. In a letter dated 10th July 1839 by the then Governor of South Australia
, Governor Gawler to Colonel Torrens, which was published on page 3 of the Government Gazette, dated 11 July 1839, Governor Gawler described the work of explorer, Edward Eyre
and advised that he had named the mountain range ‘Flinders Ranges
’, after their discoverer, Matthew Flinders, who never named any of his discoveries after himself. During these exploration visits by Eyre
, he discovered vast large salt lakes, that he thought was one large horseshoe shaped lake and would stop further exploration north of the ranges past this impassable barrier.
Even in 1843 when the then Surveyor General of South Australia
, Captain Frome journeyed north to confirm Eyre
’s theory, he skirted Eyre
’s Lake Torrens to the east, hoping to find a way through this barrier and discover a way to the centre of the continent. When he reached and climbed what he thought was Mount Serle (an error in Eyre
’s mapping and was about 20 kilometres further east of Mount Serle) in the northern Flinders, he discovered to the east a large salt pan, the eastern boundary of Lake Torrens (which today now bears his name, Lake Frome) conforming that the Ranges were hemmed in by a giant horseshoe shape salt lake and was therefore not able to proceed any further.
Finally in 1851 Benjamin Babbage was appointed by Earl Grey, at the South Australian government’s request, to make a Geological and Mineralogical Survey of the Colony. Babbage was appointed Commissioner of Gold licences and in 1853 government assayer. In 1856 Babbage was sent north to search for gold as far as the Flinders Ranges
. He found none, but discovered MacDonnell River, Blanchewater and Mount Hopeful and was able to dispel the current idea of the impassability of Eyre
’s horseshoe shaped Lake Torrens by ascertaining the existence of a north-east gap to the Cooper and Gulf country
. Babbage had actually crossed the gap, but it was Peter Egerton Warburton, using Babbage’s detailed information to traverse this gap completely.
With the increasing number of exploration work by various South Australians, news of pastoral country was filtering south. During the early years of the Colony’s life, Bungaree Station, just a few kilometres north of Clare, was the outer limit of civilization in the new state, but slowly the pastoralist were gaining new grounds and slowly pushing north for bigger and better properties. The first pastoralists were termed squatters, for the earliest years; people could establish themselves temporarily on crown land, as there was no formal approval, and arrangements would last until the land was sold or leased. From 1850 occupational licences were granted, with the only prevision that the pastoralist had to define their lands quite successfully, resulting in many private surveyors being employed to accurately map the country. These early surveyors thus became explorers
in their own right and by the 1860’s, all the Flinders Ranges
were under pastoral leases.
During the early years of settlement in the Flinders Ranges
the area received very good rainfall, resulting in large areas of land cleared and crops planted, as well as overstocking the properties with both sheep and cattle. These years of good rainfall soon reverted back to the usual low rainfall, resulting in crops failing and many thousands of head of stock perishing because of the low rainfall and drought conditions. Measures were put in place by the Government to stop further cropping and overstocking of land that was deemed not suitable for cropping, and an invisible line was created of maps, a line that is still in place today, and is known as Goyder’s Line. Goyder’s Line of rainfall is an imaginary line marking off a very large area of rural South Australia
that receives 254mm of rainfall a year or less. This line was named after the then Surveyor General, George Goyder, who in 1865 travelled nearly 5000 kilometres on horseback to distinguish a division between arable (guaranteed rainfall) and arid land. North of the Goyder’s Line was deemed Pastoral land and should not be cropped and was also the start of Saltbush and Bluebush country.
During the early years of European settlement
in the Flinders, South Australian’s were looking for Copper. By the late 1850’s a large copper ore deposit was discovered in Blinman. The mine site was sold to the Yudnamutana Copper Mining Company in 1862 but was closed in 1874. The Blinman mine was then worked on and off over the next 20 years, but was never a profitable venture to continue. Many other sites in the Flinders opened, all with the thoughts and hopes of finding that mother load. Sites like Nuccaleena, Sliding Rock, Prince Alfred, and Yudnamutana were just some of the sites that showed promise, but petered out after a few short years after mining commenced.
Copper was not the only mineral of importance that was discovered in the Flinders Ranges
. There were a number of gold fields discovered, as well as silver and lead. Mining is still undertaken in the Flinders Ranges
today, with coal, barites, talc and uranium being mined at various locations. Another venture that has taken off with great interest is the diversification of station properties, which have opened up their properties to the increasing number of four wheel drive owners. This is great news to owners who are seeking terrain challenges, and those who wish to discover another side to the Flinders Ranges
- which, only a number of years ago, was only viewed by station owners and workers.