We set off from home earlier than expected on our weekend away. The fierce west wind had been blowing all day and now at 6pm it had started to dissipate as we headed into it.
Our destination for the first night was Hancock’s Lookout in the Southern Flinders Ranges. We had not visited there in at least ten years and our newly acquired Camps 8 book stated that it was still a Free Camp. Arriving at the foot of Horrocks Pass we turned left to take the gravel road to the lookout when we were met by a sign stating that there were no camp fires, no caravans and no camping allowed. Stunned by this sign we decided to drive on regardless for the seven kilometre distance, and to go and take some late photos and then return and look for a place to camp for the night.
The road climbs up over some low hills and it is quite scenic as you pass by and under the shade a giant old gum trees clinging to the meagre topsoil and sending their roots down and along granite veins to precariously cling to their environment.
About halfway up the drive we met a sheep farmer herding a mob of sheep down towards his farmyard. I switched lights off so as not to blind the sheep and waved to the farmer as we passed by slowly while waiting for the sheep to mill out of the way. I got a dirty look from the farmer. It only occurred to me later that the sign meant no caravan access. He probably got sick of rescuing caravans that got stuck in the creek crossings.
I took some sunset photos up on the ridge at Hancock’s Lookout and then we made our way back down the hill. It wasn’t long before we caught up with the moving sheep brigade and we held back with our lights off until they had reached their destination.
By this time it was dark. Now the question was where to camp for the night. We decided on Woolshed Flat Rest Area in Pichi Richi Pass about half way between Quorn and Port Augusta. The road was quiet from Wilmington to Quorn but livened up a bit heading in the direction of Port Augusta. It is quite a long hill coming out if Quorn and it did not seem to want to let up. Eventually we were heading downhill again and we were at our destination. Now we were hungry as it was 10 at night and we hadn’t had a bite since lunch time and so we rustled up some quick spaghetti and fell into bed. Although we were parked close to the road what traffic there was, was unobtrusive. I woke with a fright from a noise which I thought I had heard but then dropped off to sleep again. In the morning I saw that some idiot had buzzed us in the dead of night as tyre skid marks could be seen close to the caravan.
The raucous call of the Kookaburras woke us early and I for one could not recall that I had ever heard then in the Southern Flinders Ranges. Subsequently I have been told that in earlier years they had inhabited the whole of the Flinders Valley but for some reason were now contracting southward.
The morning had misty clouds hanging about but by the time we reached Port Augusta the sun was out and clear day was looming. We did some shopping (shopping is never-ending, it seems) and then took the main road out of the town, which, if driven in a westerly direct, will bring you out at Norseman, in Western Australia. However, we turned south on to the Lincoln Highway and made our way along Long Sleep Plain to the iron city of Whyalla. Then we drove on to Cowell where we refuelled and bought some Cowell Oysters from the Roadhouse. The countryside has some ranges between Whyalla and Cowell and active iron ore mining has taken pace there. Then the undulating hills and flats coastal plains take over and this is one to the prime areas for growing wheat and to a lesser degree, sheep.
The small coastal towns and villages, once a hive of local activity, have decreased in size. People have drifted away as farming land has been going to the highest bidder and the workforce is there no more as farming is now very highly mechanised. Now the townsfolk vie for the tourist dollar and try to attract visitors to stay longer in the region.
We passed Arno Bay and then turned off the highway at Port Neill. Then we took the gravel roads from there meandering along roads that cut through the wheat fields to various destinations.
At Lipson Cove, a preferred spot for us in days gone by, we saw the commercialisation of the place with long drop toilets and a Honesty (Dishonesty) Box and camping sites for two camps but the whole camping area taken up by one camper. Disappointed we turned around and drove back to Cowley’s Beach where we had a wonderful two night camp with no one else around except for a few Seagulls and a Willie Wagtail family. I parked the van sideways as there was still some remnants of the westerly wind about and we settled down to a feed of oysters and some chilled wine followed by a long sleep listening to the crashing waves on the beach in our subconcious mind.
Jude was up at daybreak to let the dogs out of the car when I heard her talking to someone. Peeping out through the curtain I could see a male figure sit down and light a small fire. When Jude came back into the van she said that the young bloke had been curled up asleep in the bushes nearby. So much for our watch dogs. I thought that he may have been a beachcomber and later, when he appeared walking back from the beach, asked him that. He gave me a vague answer and said that he couldn’t get enough heat going to warm his baked beans. Then he sauntered off in the direction of Port Neill.
A short while after breakfast another male voice caught our attention asking if our dogs were friendly. This time it turned out to be the Landowner of Cowley’s Beach who had just come to to see who we were. He lived behind the hill and one could narrowly discern his TV antenna sticking out from behind it. He told us that he had development plans but that they were on hold due to the suggested deep water port that a mining company wanted to build there. This issue had been running for eight years now with no resolve. It would be a pity to desecrate this pristine foreshore with any kind of development be it for mining or for tourism. After those two encounters our only other visitors were seagulls and other small birds.
On the way out on Saturday morning we visited Carrow Wells campsite but it wasn’t too exciting with a dusty walk to the beach and therefor not for us. Next was a sojourn at the Port Neill foreshore and soon again we were back on the Lincoln Highway heading north. At Arno Bay we called in for something we needed from the local shop and then stopped off to view an art exhibition which was on. There Jude bought a raffle ticket and she was informed two weeks later that she had drawn a prize which was a painting and that it would soon be delivered by post.
We now took the road to Cleve and once there found some stuff we needed in this quiet town. It was but a short drive from there to Yuldulknie Weir Campground, where we stopped for the rest of the day. The weir was built in the 1920’s to supply water to small communities and farm in this dry land.. At the moment the water is low as the country is in drought. The day had been warm to hot but by nightfall a cool change swept over the peninsula and we retired indoors after playing ball with the dogs.
Years ago we were exploring the peninsula and found a remote beach campsite out from Cowell. We looked at some tracks on our maps which seemed to skirt the coast and asked a local about them but that person wasn’t too sure stating ‘there be swamps out there’. Yeah, maybe when it was a wet summer again. After a refuel and some more oysters we drove to Lucky Bay but could not see the significance of the name unless, of-course, you were a dyed in the wool fisherman.
The tracks over the low lying wheat fields took us close to the beach but we backed off on going there as those tracks became very sandy and we did not relish the prospect of bogging the caravan. Turning west again we crossed the highway and drove to the point of a T Junction where we found a Tourist Drive sign. I was hoping that we could get to the Cowell-Kimba Road, so that we could then find our way to a place called Secret Rocks along a gravel road back to Whyalla
I turned off onto this track remarking that it wasn’t used much. Initially there was a slight rise as we drove along dodging overhanging trees. The weir was dry and then the road started to climb but nothing the car could not handle. There was nowhere to turn around with a 19ft van hanging off the back. We came to Cocky Gate which showed the ingenuity of its designer. Then the road dipped downhill for a short distance and then turned onto what looked like a fairly steep climb. I engaged 4×4 Low Range and second gear and the 3 litre diesel engine held its power to pull that 2.5ton van up and over the rise. Breathing a sigh of relief we were soon on the Cowell-Kimba Road which was sealed.
It wasn’t long and we were drifting eastwards once again along a gravel road in search of Secret Rocks, which we found after a few kilometres. The rocks are typical sandstone domes as found in the northern part of the Eyre Peninsula. Traditional Aboriginals used the rocks to gather water in some of the gullies within the rocks and later European farmers took up the idea as well to capture water for stock and for domestic use in this very dry location.
We passed through Whyalla and made our way out to Lowly Point just past the Gas Refinery and near the Lighthouse. There is a Free Camp at the boat ramp but it seemed a bit crowded. However, we found a parking bay right on the seafront in the late afternoon and spent a quiet night there. Earlier in the evening and into the dark local fishermen were trying their luck off the rocks below. I steep embankment down to the waters edge proved no hinderance to those with powerful four wheel drives who slid down and scrambled up the sandy bluff to a very narrow passageway below. It kept us entertained. We were expecting to be asked to move on but no one came and we fell asleep listening to the waves spluttering against the rocky shore.
Monday morning saw us up and about early and on the road to Port Augusta where we invariably had a list of things to do. Then it was a test for the Isuzu towing the van up and over Horrocks Pass which it did quite comfortably and by mid afternoon we were back home again