Uncle Milton and I set off at a leisurely pace in the fresh coolness of a Peterborough morning, heading west. The town of Orroroo, slipped by as the name could slip off your tongue and we headed for Wilmington to buy fuel from our favourite outlet. We cruised over and down Horrocks’ Pass to see the sparkling waters of Spencer Gulf.
We stocked up on essential emergency supplies at Port Augusta, such as Port, Muscat and chocolates and took to the great big, wide, black strip heading west.
At Lake Gilles we stopped for lunch and admired the quietness of the place. At the town of Kimba and the Big Galah, we turned North West and made our way through Buckleboo Station to the Gawler Ranges National Park. The road follows through some good looking farming land with traces of deep and rich black soil.
Once in the park, which at this time is still under construction we were advised by the friendly Head-Ranger that a good camp site was to be had at Waganny and this proved to be spot on. On our way to the camp site and through the interspersed Mallee landscape, we were greeted with the sight of many Red and Western Grey kangaroos adorned in their woolly winter coats. Some of the buck roos were quite large.
After we had unpacked everything and made our camp, we settled down to a pleasant evening of good food, good wine and our own company. The crystal clear skies brought the Milky Way to the fore as we looked for Satellites in the night sky.
The Gawler Ranges National Park was proclaimed in January 2002 and its boundaries include the former stations of Paney, Pine Lodge and Scrubby Creek. Edward John Eyre was the first European to visit these areas and was not impressed with it at all. He named the Gawler Ranges after the then Governor of South Australia, George Gawler. Pastoralism began in the 1850’s but it was only in 1869 when a good supply of fresh water was found that Paney Station became established. Pastoralism improved as a Vermin Proof fence was erected around Paney and other stations and merino sheep were brought onto the plains and gullies. More recently the Damara sheep from West Africa have been introduced to this area of low rainfall. An average of only 295mm per year has been recorded over the period from settlement.
At the present time the Park is under construction with a new road infrastructure going in to provide access to 2wd vehicle and caravans to some of the areas. Four wheel drive only tracks will remain the same. This park is for bush camping only so you must come well prepared and although there is plenty of dead wood around, you are encouraged to bring your own along.
As the sun topped the hills in the distance, with a light mist drifting in the foreground, it was time to drag myself out of my comfy bed and stoke the coals from the previous night.
Today we broke camp again and set off at a leisurely pace and followed along Turkey Flat Track though a scenic valley in between the ranges. Four wheel drive was required to drive up a jump-up which was strewn with loose rocks as we made our way to Kolay Mirica Falls. This name is unfamiliar and I can only assume that it is the name of a person who was associated with this area at some time in the past.
The falls are a good example of the scenic landscape which exists within the park. There is an extensive exposure of volcanic rock known as Rhyolite or Organ Pipes and large rock fragments jut out of the landscape at all angles. The falls would be spectacular when a local thundershower would cause them to flow. Today however, there was only a small spring-fed trickle, which kept the small pools of water topped up. We found tadpoles swimming in these pools. The falls showed an indication of wetter times in the not too distant past.
The track meandered on past Kolay Hut and on to Chillunie Campground which we inspected for future camping. Then we backtracked again all the way past the Turkey Flat Junction on to Pondanna Outstation where a lovely old stone house has been kept up for visitors to use. Restoration of this place is ongoing and from a brand new rain water tank we were able to fill our water containers.
After the outstation the track wound up over a saddle where bulldozers have recently cut a 200 metre fire break. Recent fires in the area had burnt out quite a large portion of the southern hills of the park and this break prevented the fires from coursing further up the hills.
We camped at Yandinga campground in a seclude valley and sat at the fire chewing the fat on varied topics.
In the morning we set off to find the Organ Pipes. After several attempts to locate the unmarked track we finally found a fence line track and drove on. Ten kilometres later we entered a valley where the Rhyolite rock formations stand out like organ pipes. A walk up the creek brought more views of these natural phenomena.
Back on the road again we left the Gawler Ranges National Park for the 40km gravel road ride to Minnipa. From there we drove on to Poochera where we turned south to Streaky Bay. We decided to have lunch at a popular lookout but the sight of a decaying cat nearby sent us on to search for better places. We enjoyed our lunch at the tiny hamlet of Haslam. There, the locals have provided excellent amenities free of charge, servicing six caravan bays. A long jetty and a boat ramp are there for the enjoyment for those wishing to pursue fishing pastimes. Whiting and garfish may be caught from the jetty. And so on to Ceduna where we visited the National Parks office to get up to date information on Googs Track, stock up some supplies and fuel up the G60.
The run to Googs Track was uneventful and once inside the Yumbarra Conservation Park I let the tyres down to 20psi. Initially the track winds its way through dense Mallee scrub and the track is corrugated in places. We pulled in to the first likely looking opening in the trees that we could see to camp for the night.
A lonely dingo kept us amused for a while, howling its mournful song in search of a mate. We replied with our own variations of howling and the dingo decided to leave us to our own devices.
Some cloud appeared in the morning as we set off along the track. Milton counted 111 dunes to Googs Lake. The track was quite corrugated in places and some of the dunes were quite high but the wheel tracks were firm. Four wheel drive wasn’t required but I drove it in High Range just to make the dune crossings easier. At Googs Lake we had smoko atop a high dune overlooking the lake and then scouted around for a good campsite and soon found one. Milton went for a long walk on the lake while I did some vehicle maintenance by tightening some nuts and bolts on the truck. That night we had fireworks in the camp as the rocks which we had placed around the fire started to crack and explode sending chards of stone in all directions.
Driving out from the lake the following day we followed some tracks that took us to a lookout out point further along the lake. Googs Lake is 15 kilometres in length and I kilometre wide. Then it was back on to the track again and heading for Mt Finke. Along the track Milton counted 262 major dunes. There were plenty of corrugations and on the south side of numerous dunes the track had been scalloped out mainly due to drivers using incorrect tyre pressures. I had to resort to low range on a number of occasions. We saw three vehicles on our whole two day trek but they couldn’t see us.
The Yellabinna Regional Reserve is a sea of Mallee scrub and small heath lands interspersed with Black Oaks, a similar tree to a She-oak. It must have been hard going for the early explorers with so much fallen timber and root stakes. No wonder John McDougall Stuart called it ‘as black and dismal as midnight’ in 1858. There were lots of Emus, Dingo and other small mammal tracks to be seen on the dunes as well as numerous spider holes. The G60 took to coughing and spluttering for a while but we kept on moving and bouncing along the track.
At Mount Finke we drove right up a steep track in second low to get a picturesque view of the Reserve. Had lunch and then, as the track looked like it was leaving the dune area, I reinflated the tyres to 30psi. And ‘Murphy’s Law’ came in to effect soon when the track changed back to soft dune country. As I was loath to get out and deflate the tyres again I had to gun the old bus up the dunes. Two dunes defeated me on the first attempt. The track meanders through open country after the last dunes and eventually meets up with the Dog Fence. Along this track the bracket holding my bull light broke. We spent some time removing the light.
Eventually after 208 kilometres from Googs Lake we arrived at the Transcontinental Railway Track. From there we put in another hours’ driving time and passed through Tarcoola. About 30 kilometres from Kingoonya we found some tracks going on to a dry salt lake and found that the vehicles (trucks by the size of their wheel print) had camped there. The wind was blowing quite hard and I said that we should try and find a spot closer to the edge of the lake. With no warning the G60 began to sink in and with top revs running I managed to drive out of our predicament. We camped on the dune amongst some small trees. The wind died down at sunset. A quiet night. The Ghan Train passed by at 2am. Some clouds appeared but rolled away again.
We got moving by 9am the next morning. Stopped at Kingoonya which has only a caretaker living there. Then we took the road south through Kokatha, Kangaroo Well and Monaree Stations. Passed by Lake Everard and inspected a roof water tank. A whole roof of sheet iron, about 20metres by 10 metres, supplies water to three steel dams when it rains. The road was corrugated for most part and we spent some time trying to stop the dust from pouring into the G60. We arrived at Lake Gairdner at about one thirty after using a Public Access Track across Yardea Station, which was badly chopped out, with large bulldust holes. We set up camp at Waltumba Camp Site in the National Park. Went for a walk on the lake. The surface of the lake is snow white and encrusted with varied forms of salt crystals. I refuelled the G60 with 80 litres from my jerry can supply and did a few maintenance jobs. We lazed the afternoon away. The breeze was blowing steadily but faded at sunset.
A calm, quiet, cloudless night. But at 5am, drip, drip, drip………..RAIN! I flew out of my bed and hastily packed everything away. Milton rose from his comfy bed and within half an hour we were packed. Then it stopped raining, the skies cleared and we were ready for the road. So we set off for the drive through to Iron Knob. The journey was quite scenic with the rolling hills of the Gawler Ranges which run to the south of Lake Gairdner. One passes through Yardea, Mt Ive, Kolendo, Nonning, Siam and Corunna Stations. At My Ive Station there is accommodation as well as camping facilities and fuel supplies. We did not drive into the station as we had enough fuel. At Iron Knob we had a look around at the interesting old tin houses. This iron ore mining town has now ceased to operate but there are still some inhabitants living there.
We arrived home just after 1pm after an uneventful trip from Iron Knob, through Port Augusta, Wilmington and Orroroo.