One of the major destinations in South Australia, the Flinders Ranges are a lovely set of mountains that run through much of the northern part of the state, and contain numerous national parks and nature preserves. It was once home to the Adnyamathanha and Ndajurri people. White settlers have since turned much of it into farm and pastoral land growing wheat and grain or running sheep and cattle.
The main destination, and the area we chose to explore, is the Wilpena Pound. It was so named because the surrounding peaks create a natural enclosure nearly 80 square kilometers. For many years there was only one way into and out of the pound. The pound is also home to the ranges highest peak, St Mary Peak.
The drive to the ranges is lovely. It is nothing but rolling green hills dotted with sheep and farmhouses. Though I know that none of it is natural growth, since it is all farms of some sort, it is beautiful country to drive through. The hills all look like they have been draped with a blanket and all the sharp edges smoothed out (to quote Courtney), and the hills and fields just roll on and on.
The first night we stayed just outside the park in a free camping area. It is a parking lot for the short hike up to Arkaroo rock, which is a site of aboriginal rock paintings. There are no amenities there, but we had a lovely evening sitting around a campfire with two German travelers, swapping stories and discussing the future. The nights are freezing, literally since it’s winter here, so sleeping in the tent was a bit of an adventure, but we made do.
The next day we went into the Wilpena Pound area of the national park, and went for a hike. Now, before we started our stint on the station, we had done some serious hiking, and were in great hiking shape. Over the past few months we have done none, so we both expected to be a bit out of shape. My boots are also brand new, so we did not want to get too crazy on our first hike. We choose a six hour hike that was mostly flat called bridle gap. The hike was 18.2km round trip, and only gained a coupe hundred meters elevation at the very end.
The hike was lovely. It begins near the visitor center and winds its way along a creek in a narrow valley. The creek is filled with huge old red gums, and the bed is littered with the detritus of the last flood. The gums are a sight to see.
There are numerous informational plaques along the first km or two that give information about the area, wildlife, floods, and the occasional fire that have swept the area in the past couple decades. Three kms in is an old homestead that is being maintained by the park. Here, there are another series of plaques describing life for the original homesteaders. I found the information rather interesting.
From the homestead it is a lovely four and half km walk to where the path starts up into the hills. The scenery along the path changes amazingly fast. One moment we were walking among tightly packed gum trees, which tower over the trail. The next moment we were walking through an area of skinny pine trees with no undergrowth besides a short grass which blanketed the earth. Despite the amount of trees, it felt amazingly open. Old burned out gums dot the landscape and birds dart and sing in the treetops. Then, just as suddenly, you are walking through a tunnel of tea trees, their green leaves, red leaf stems, and wonderful smell surrounded us. We could see nothing but the trail and the sky above. Then, once again, the gums were gone and we were amongst the pines. Off the side of the trail were multiple sunny meadows were the kangaroos grazed and lazed about in the sun. I wanted nothing more then to stop and spread out a blanket and spend the afternoon eating and lazing about in the sun. But we had hike to finish, so such was not to be.
For the final bit, the trail turns into a rocky creek bed. Though the incline is light, the uneven and terribly rocky surface made the going a bit tough. This particular hike ends at a lovely little gap in the mountains, which looks out over another valley along the edge of the park. Like most of the mountains we have seen in OZ, these are sharp and rocky, and give the allusion of having been worn away over a long time. The rocky outcropping was a perfect place to have lunch and relax before the trip back.
The walk itself was wonderful, but I did mention earlier that we picked it thinking it would be a good way to start getting back into walking shape. Well, we were a bit ambitious. The 18 kms was probably a bit much, especially in new boots. By the time we got back, my feet were killing me, and for a couple days after we both had sore legs. Getting out of the car or bed has been rather hilarious with both of us limping our first few steps. But we will be back at it soon enough…