This is the diary of my holiday to the Flinders Ranges at the end of October 2003. I hope you have as much enjoyment reading it as I did on the holiday.
The Big Wet
The last time I was in South Australia it was our ill fated holiday to the Flinders Ranges back in the mid seventies. Mum had always dreamt of going to see the wild flowers. I am not sure how old I was but was definitely still in primary school so probably ten or eleven. So come the September School holidays we all pile into the Kombi van and head north.
Leaving before dawn our first stop was Mildura, which was an all day drive. Arriving at dusk we pitch the annex, make dinner and settle in for the night. The weather on the drive up had been beautiful and sunny, but next morning the clouds moved in and it started to rain. The plan had been to spend a few days in Mildura but as it was now raining heavily Mum and Dad decided to move on the next stop, which was Broken Hill.
So driving all morning through the rain we reached Broken Hill at midday. We all pile out in our T-shirts and shorts, while the locals are all in over-coats watching the flood waters wash down the main street. The camping ground is two inches under water and you can not even see the camp sites. Another quick huddle by Mum and Dad, and it is decided we will get out of the rain by moving on to Peterborough. Now this should have been a good decision as we would be moving west as the rain moved east and there was no where to stay in Broken Hill anyway. So off we go.
Now none of us had ever been in this region of Australia before, but anyone familiar with the area can tell you that there is nothing there, and I do mean nothing! We drove for hour upon hour though red desert with only the occasional bit of scrub or a bend in the road to break the monotony. At one point we thought that we were gaining on another car (a bit of a rarity in the Kombi van). After half an hour we only seemed a bit closer, but it was now a bit bigger so we decided that it must be a truck. Another half hour and it is too big to be a truck so there was much speculation as to its nature. Finally we reach it – it is an over pass where the highway meets the train line. Crossing it we then spent the next hour watching it disappear into the distance. This should tell you two things: this region is very, very, very flat; there was nothing else to see (apart from red desert and rain).
We finally arrive at Peterborough. It is dark; it is still raining; the camping ground is under water and nearly full; it is impossible to pitch the annex. We make do with me sleeping on the front seat, the dog on the floor and Mum and Dad up the back. Next morning Mum goes to the toilet block while Dad goes to see the ranger (I get to take the dog “for a walk”). Mum comes back with stories about all of the other people who have been stranded by the rain. Dad says the police have closed the road north as it has been flooded and that people are trapped by the water in Wilpena with a helicopter airlift being organized. Everything and everyone is soaked; it is still raining. Mum and Dad decide that they have had enough and we head for home via Adelaide.
Driving all day we arrived back in Melbourne well after midnight. After three days of non-stop driving my own bed had never felt so good. It was still raining a week later and was one of the biggest floods on record. We all came down with colds and even the dog had to go to the vet. While we went on many long driving holidays after that, we never got the opportunity to go to South Australia again.
Day 1 – Echuca
After setting off several hours later than originally planned, I left about 10 am and headed for the country. I’m blaming this late departure on the start of daylight saving so 10 am was really 9 am. It couldn’t have been because I slept in or was disorganized. Really, it was the daylight savings and not my fault at all.
I left behind a cold, damp morning in Melbourne, with gray overcast skies and occasional drizzle. Luckily I had packed for everything from blizzards to beaches and was prepared for sunburn, frost bite and everything in between. I know that some of the coastal areas along the Great Ocean Road on the way back can be very cold even at the height of Summer. The guys at work said that the Flinders Ranges can get up to 40 degrees at this time of year. Now this I find hard to believe after the last time we tried to have a family holiday there (see The Big Wet above) but have packed shorts, sunscreen, etc. just in case.
Apart from a few quick “rest and stretch” stops the only break in the journey was at Bendigo for lunch. Then it was straight on the Echuca on the Murray River, arriving about 2 pm. I wandered around the historic river port for awhile taking photos with the digital camera. Once I had found a motel for the night and set up the laptop, I was surprised to discover that I had taken 34 images!
Day 2 – Mildura
After going for a run through Echuca and having breakfast, I set off for Mildura via Swan Hill. It was a pleasant enough drive but seemed to take forever with lots of long straight roads through flat plains of either wheat fields or semi desert.
I arrived in Mildura just after 3 pm and found an idealic camp site right on the NSW bank of the Murray River. The site manager said that most of the campers preferred the other side of the camping ground but I don’t know why as it was just a bare field with no view? A quick trip to the supermarket and I had my dinner organised – ravioli, pasta sauce and some white wine, with a tin of peaches for dessert. Then spent the rest of the evening reading while watching the river flow past.
Day 3 – Peterborough
After hearing a bit of occasional rain during the night, I woke to find that the clouds were rolling in and it was looking rather bleak. I found this to be a bit ominous as this was exactly what happened last time. So it was with some trepidation that that I set off for Peterborough.
I stopped for lunch at Lyrup, just past Renmark, where there was a car ferry over the Murray River. This was quite surprising as I hadn’t seen a ferry like this in years. Apparently it runs continuously all day – every day and there was certainly a constant flow of traffic while I had my lunch.
The drive from Mildura to Renmark in the morning had been under mainly blue skies, but I could now see that they were storm clouds rapidly building to the west, which was where I was heading. By the time I got to Truro, where I turned off the Sturt Highway to head north, it was over cast and drizzling heavily. The plan was to camp at Burra over night but by the time I arrived it was steadily raining. The only Motel was booked out and there weren’t too many other places to stay. My only options were to go on to Peterborough or go back to Gawler. Not wanting to retrace my steps I decided to go on which was a bit of a pity because there were several historic mining areas around Burra that I would have liked to have seen.
Only minutes after leaving for Peterborough the skies opened and it started to pour rain from black clouds. Even though it was only four o’clock in the afternoon I had my car head lights on, as well as all of the windscreen wipers and demisters. At one stage it hailed for several minutes. After an hour of this I arrived at Peterborough and stopped at the first Motel that I saw (by luck it also happened to be the best one in town).
Watching the TV news I found that the lead item was the severe storms in Adelaide where roofs had been torn off houses, trees uprooted and power lines brought down. The emergency services were struggling to cope with the crisis. The forecast was for another day of rain and storms. I find this very ironic as last time we turned back at Peterborough due to the rain and here it is happening again!
Day 4 – Wilpena
Morning: Well here I am sitting in my Motel room in Peterborough watching the black clouds roll in. I woke with bright sun light shining though the gaps in the curtains, but when I had a peek this was a false promise because as predicted the clouds were coming in from the west. It is very cold, more like Melbourne really, so I am glad that I packed for all conditions because I think that I am going to get them.
Not sure what the plan for today is yet. I had hoped to get to Wilpena today but this will depend on the what happens with the weather. There is plenty else to see and do in this area whereas I really need fine conditions to be able to going bush walking and fully enjoy the Flinders Ranges.
Evening: I have finally made it to the Flinders Ranges! I left Peterborough just after 8 am as I was unable to find anywhere to get breakfast. So far every morning I have been able to find a bakery or coffee shop to get a muffin and a cappuccino, but not in Peterborough! Yes, there were shops but they were all closed. Did eventually find a nice bakery in Jamestown about an hour later.
So far the weather had been over cast but dry. As I traveled towards the Mount Remarkable National Park I could see that there were black storm clouds all along the ranges. The closer I got the worse the weather became.
I stopped for lunch at the tiny town of Melrose at the base of Mt Remarkable. I was now pouring rain so heavily that visibility was down to a couple of kilometers. Many of the locals had wood fires going as I could see the smoke coming out of the chimneys. I was feeling quite low at this point as it seemed that the rain would never stop. Checking the map I decided to press on as there was still other things that I could do in this area for a couple of days until the rain cleared if necessary.
I crossed over the ranges at Horrocks Pass. Once on the other side it was like a different world – the rain stopped, the skies cleared, the sun came out and the landscape changed from moist greenery to dry desert salt bush. Looking forward to I could see the Spencer Gulf and Port Augusta in bright sunlight – looking back I could see the ranges covered in black clouds. It was then just a few more hours drive to Wilpena.
I arrived about 4 pm, set up camp, made dinner and studied the park brochures that I had picked up at the visitors centre, before settling in for the night.
Day 5 – Wilpena Pound
Today is a perfect spring day with blue skies (not a cloud to be seen) and a cooling fresh breeze. I set off bush walking straight after breakfast. First stop was the Hills Homestead and Wangarra Lookout. The views out to Wilpena Pound were spectacular. I wasn’t sure what I was going to see in the Flinders Ranges but this was well worth it.
On the way back from there I then took the track to the summit of Mt Ohlssen Bagge. This was listed as having “Steep rocky inclines followed by rewarding views of Wilpena Pound and the surrounding area” and they were not wrong. The track was certainly rocky but at 941 metres this is one of the high points of the ranges and the views were suitably rewarding.
I met a group of English tourists at the summit, who asked me to take their photo. Of course they all had cameras and they all wanted one. Each time one of the slower members of the group finally made it there would be yet another round of photos to include that person as well. I must have taken about twenty photos for them (hope they came out).
I’m hoping that the weather holds so that I can stay for several more days.
Day 6 – Murray Bridge
During the night a strong wind developed with the sound of occasional rain on the tent. I had hoped to stay in Wilpena another day and do some more bush walking but that is not possible if it is raining. At first light it was freezing cold and the clouds were rolling in. I managed to get the tent packed up before the rain started which was lucky as the dust in the camping ground would have made awful mud. As it was the dust was in everything. It was now raining heavily so I set off for the Yorke Peninsula.
The Yorke Peninsula was very similar to the Bellarine Peninsula (near Geelong) with rolling hills and small grazing farms. I arrived at Wallaroo on the edge of the Spencer Gulf about 3 pm. There were occasional rain showers with a strong wind and it was very cold. After looking in my Lonely Planet guide I decided that there wasn’t very much in the Yorke Peninsula that I could do while it was raining, so I decided to move on to the next stop which was Murray Bridge.
The plan had always been to go from the Yorke Peninsula across to Murray Bridge (perhaps not so soon) but I hadn’t really thought about it up until this point. I now realised that I would have to drive through Adelaide during peak hour Friday evening traffic. As I often have to drive in Melbourne traffic I decided “How hard can it be?” and set off. Well peak hour in Adelaide is not worth mentioning, about an easy run in Melbourne. In fact if it was like that in Melbourne people would be talking about how light the traffic had been.
After driving all day I arrived in Murray Bridge about 6 pm. The TV news in the Motel has the forecast for two to three more days of storms and rain. Tomorrow I will start heading for home and see where I end up.
Day 7 – Home
It was a sunny morning in Murray Bridge and I set of just after 8 am. The weather wasn’t too bad so I took the Princess Highway turn off at Tailem Bend rather than go straight home. This took me through the Corrong National Park. I would have liked to have gone in to the actual park but by this stage there were frequent heavy showers and the roads into the park were all unmade. Not wanting to get bogged I moved on.
I stopped for several breaks along the way but it always seemed to be raining when I got to some where of interest. I reached Warrnambool just after 5 pm and as it was still raining I decided to not go via the Great Ocean Road but head for home instead.
After a very long day of driving I arrived home just after 8 pm.
ps: As forecast it rained for another two days before clearing for a lovely sunny Melbourne Cup Day.