*** SOUTH AUSTRALIA 2011 ***
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BACK-PACKING TRIP TO AUSTRALIA 2011 - South Australian outback, Flinders Ranges, Clare Valley:
Leaving Adelaide for our trip into South Australian outback: today we were to head north from Adelaide in a hire-car for our 5 day trip with our daughter Lucy into the South Australian outback and the Flinders Ranges (see map right). We were away by 9-00am to drive around the eastern side of the city and out onto the main road north. Leaving the city behind, the broad dual-carriageway headed out into flat, rich farming terrain; this clearly was the produce-growing region serving the city, filled with market gardens. Traffic was reasonably light and we made good progress northwards; the sat-nav gave the instruction to go ahead for 262 kms, and the display showed a single road leading ahead without any side branches (see left).
This route was the southern start of the Stuart Highway which crosses Central Australia from Port Augusta, eventually leading to Alice Springs and finally Darwin on the north coast of the continent (see left). The only significant traffic were the frequent road-trains of multiple heavy trucks (Photo 1: Road-trains). The road ran parallel with the modern Ghan Railway which carried long freight trains in both directions. After 2 hours' driving and good progress northwards, we pulled into a truck-stop alongside the road and railway for a pause, to enjoy a brunch of bacon-egg butty or toasted current bread. For us this was an instructive initial glimpse into Australian rural life. On the drive up, we had passed through vegetable growing areas of market gardens, broader, flat prairie lands of cattle and sheep grazing dotted with farmsteads, and classic open bush-land with just low vegetation. Occasional roads led off to the side, some tarmaced leading to signposted towns named in very English manner, others simply dirt roads leading to farming settlements.
Port Germein's Jetty, longest in the Southern Hemisphere: setting off again following the railway, we passed the insignificant industrial settlement of Port Pirie on the eastern coast of the Spencer Gulf and dominated by a huge smelter plant. A short distance further north, we pulled off the main road into Port Germein, set at the narrowing northern head of the Spencer Gulf (see below right). 219kms north of Adelaide, Port Germein with a current population of just 240 consisted of a single street of cottages and post-office cum general stores, ending at the 1,532m long jetty which extended out into the Gulf (Photo 2: Port Germein Jetty). Port Germein's raison d'être clearly had been as an important transport hub and shipping point for cereals grown in the surrounding districts of South Australia, following the opening in 1881 of what was once the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere. Due to the shallow water along the coast, the long jetty was necessary to allow anchorage for sailing ships to be loaded with grain from the surrounding hinterland. Bagged wheat was brought in carts from local farms on the eastern side of the Southern Flinders Ranges, and in small boats from the west coast of the Gulf. About 100,000 bags of wheat each year were loaded into the holds of sailing freighters at the jetties of South Australian ports like Port Pirie and Port Germaine for transport back to Europe. We were to see one of these steel-hulled sailing ships, the Pommern, at Mariehamn in the Åland Islands in 2012: this Glasgow-built merchantman had operated the grain route from South Australia, holding the record for completing the Roaring Forties home-run around Cape Horn to England in 86 days loaded with grain. Today we paused here at Port Germein's jetty, taking photos at the pier, where the low tide left estuary mud along the shore-line shallows of Spencer Gulf (Photo 3: Spencer Gulf) (see above left).
Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens at Port Augusta: continuing north towards Port Augusta, the road ran along the sandy coastal plain of the narrowing gulf, edged on the eastern side by the line of hills of the Southern Flinders. We turned into the town of Port Augusta to find a supermarket for provisions for Sunday's evening meal, to fill the hire car with fuel, and to get cash from an ATM. Beyond the town, a short distance up the main Stuart Highway, we located the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens. The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens were established in 1993 to research, conserve and promote a wider appreciation of Australia’s arid zone flora. Located on the shores of the Upper Spencer Gulf at Port Augusta, with spectacular views of the Flinders Ranges, the Gardens are set out with 250 hectares of natural arid zone habitats; these are planted with collections of Australian flora from those regions of the country with an average annual rainfall of 300mm or less, the definition of arid lands (Australian average rainfall).The Gardens covered a seemingly huge area of semi-wild scrub-land, with naturally laid-out zones of wild shrubs from the different regions of SA desert lands (Photo 4: Arid Lands Botanic Gardens). With the aid of a commentary-plan from the info-centre, we walked the loop-paths photographing many of the fascinating specimens of native wild flora (see above left). But for botanic gardens, the plantings were disappointingly labelled, and therefore frustratingly difficult to identify individual species. Having said that however, the desert setting in the warm afternoon sunshine was hugely impressive (Photo 5: Desert setting), with an occasional gecko scuttling around in the sand beneath bushes (Photo 6: Gecko). We did see further examples of South Australia's iconic flower, Sturt's Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa) (Photo 7: Sturt's Desert Pea), this time growing in its natural conditions in dry, red desert sand. Typical plants of the arid Australian bush-land included needle-like Hakea Bushes (Hakea leucoptera), and porcupine-clumps of Spinifex grass (Triodia scariosa); the brittle tips of these plants' spiny leaves are rich in silica, and if brushed against easily break off sticking in the skin with risk of infection. We also found more distinctive arid desert flora: a Cactus Pea bush (Bossiaea walkeri) with its flattened leaf-like grey-green stems and red pea-type flowers (Photo 8: Cactus Pea), isolated clumps of erect, narrow-leaved shrubs with tall flowering heads, later identified as a Yakka, also known as Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea sp) (Photo 9: Grass Tree - Yakka); the Narrawa Burr (Solanum cinereum) with showy purple flowers and crinkly leaves with viciously large spines along their mid-vein (Photo 10: Narrawa Burr - Solanum cinereum) (see above right), and a specimen of Harlequin Mistletoe (Lysiana exocarpi), a shrub endemic to Australia and parasitic on Acacia and Eucalyptus, with distinctive red tubular flowers and protruding stamens (Photo 11: Harlequin Mistletoe). In spite of having seen many Eucalyptus trees so far in our Australian travels, for the first time now we could examine close up Eucalyptus flowers and fruit (see left) (Photo 12: Eucalyptus flowers). We had the opportunity to complete one of the circuits, particularly admiring the desert plant life of the Flinders region. But time was moving on and the sun beginning to lower; we still had another hour's drive north to reach Quorn before dusk, to avoid risk of encountering kangaroos on the road.
Over the Pichi Richi Pass to Quorn: returning to Port Augusta, the sat-nav directed us onto the more minor road which followed the course of the Pichi Richi Railway over a shoulder of the Flinders Hills. After a pause for an Aussie souvenir photo by a road-side kangaroo warning sign (see left), we continued on the winding road over the Pichi Richi Pass alongside the railway in the late afternoon sunlight. It was glorious bush-land terrain, covered with scrub and eucalyptus and lit by golden sunlight (Photo 13: Pichi Richi Pass) (see right). By 5-00pm, we reached the one-street outback town of Quorn to find tonight's accommodation, the Austral pub-motel (Photo 14: Austral pub, Quorn) just opposite the Pichi Richi Railway station. The pub frontage and line of the street was like something out of the Wild West, and we happily fell into the bar to book in. Our motel room around the back was functionally adequate if rather basic, and having stowed our kit, we returned to the bar to settle in for schooners of Amber and Coopers after such a long and wearying drive and our memorable afternoon in SA outback sunshine at the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens. And to round off the day, we enjoyed an excellent supper of tender, juicy kangaroo steaks with an unusual range of Aussie vegetables, a superbly memorable evening. Paul stayed on to watch Aussie Rules Football on the bar TV with a last glass of Amber, and a Pom's tutorial session from the landlady on the curious rules of AFL, before turning in himself.
Our day on the Pichi Richi Heritage Railway: we were up early to complete yesterday's log and to get breakfast over in the pub, in order to be over at the station (see below left) for a good seat on the train. We had booked our tickets on-line for our ride on the preserved Pichi Richi Heritage Railway, but seats on the train were on a first-come-first-served basis, and a number of folk were gathering early. The steam locomotive brought in the vintage wooden coaches then returned to the depot; we browsed the souvenir shop, waiting for 10-00am when we could board the train to reserve our seats.
History of the Ghan Railway: construction had started in 1878 on the 3'6'' narrow gauge Port Augusta and Government Gums (now known as Farina, north of the Flinders Ranges) Railway. Quorn, named after the Leicestershire village, grew up as a small outback railhead town around the railway which reached the town from Port Augusta in 1879. The line was extended in 1891 to Oodnadatta, and to Alice Springs 1,241 km further north into the interior in 1929, establishing a crucial rail link into Central Australia.
The Old Ghan, as the Great Northern Railway was called (allegedly from the Asian camel drivers or Afghans who worked on the line's construction), served all the outback towns on the journey northwards into the interior to Alice Springs. The current elegant stone-and brick-built Quorn station was completed in 1916. Quorn's hotels and pubs provided accommodation for passengers as a staging halt on the days-long railway journey. In 1917, Quorn became the rail travel crossroads in Australia, when the east~west Trans-Australian Railway was completed across the Nullarbor Plain linking Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. This made Quorn an important town, given that people travelling by rail both east~west or south~north in Australia would need to pass through Quorn. As a result, many fine buildings were built as the town prospered and expanded. During WW2, Quorn became an assembly area in the movement of troops and supplies to Darwin in readiness to repel the threat of Japanese invasion following the 1941 bombing, and for the transport of evacuees south. After the war, business in Quorn declined, particularly after the new standard gauge Ghan west of the Flinders was completed in 1956 (see map of Ghan Railway), and the Old Ghan narrow gauge line closed in 1970. The Pichi Richi Preservation Society re-opened the line in 1973 from Quorn southwards to Port Augusta over the Pichi Richi Pass through Woolshed Flat, following the route of the original 3' 6” narrow gauge Old Ghan.
Our ride on the preserved Pichi Richi Railway: the Pichi Richi Railway now operates weekend steam-hauled services on this southern section of the Old Ghan route as far as Woolshed Flat and back. The engine pulling this morning's train, 4-8-2 locomotive number W933, was built by Beyer-Peacock of Manchester in 1951, initially for the Western Australian State Railway (see above right). We secured seats in the end-carriage and managed to open the windows for photography (Photo 15: Railway photography). At 10‑30am the train pulled out, gaining height gradually on the 1:60 gradient up to Summit at an elevation of 406m (see above left), and over the Pichi Richi Pass (344m) (Photo 16: Pichi Richi Pass). The outback scenery was magnificent, with the line passing through grazing country bounded by the scrub-covered, red-brown rocky hills of the Flinders Range (Photo 17: Flinders Hills). We all took a number of photos from the train windows, both of the terrain and of the engine down the curving length of the train amid the Flinders outback hills (see above right) (Photo 18: Curving length of train). Over the Summit, the line descended via tight curves through more wooded terrain with beautifully shaped, silver-coloured Eucalyptus, down into the siding at Woolshed Flat for a 40 minute break (see left); while other passengers took refreshments, we photographed the engine as it ran around the train, and examined the wildlife. The ground around Woolshed Flat was covered with tiny snails and wild gourds, and before re-boarding the train, we had to inspect one another's boots and carefully pick off the sharp, prickly fruiting burs. On the return journey, again many photos were taken around the curving length of the train, with the engine now working hard up the steep grade of the pass (Photo 19: Working hard up grade) (see right). On the return ride we saw more of the Grass-trees (Xanthorrhoea), first seen yesterday at the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens, growing across the open hill-side (Photo 20: Yakkas - Xanthorrhoea); fellow passengers called these Yakkas, or more colloquially Blackboys from their tall flowering heads sprouting from the mop of grass-leaves which were said to resemble Aboriginals carrying spears. Back at Quorn, souvenir photos were taken of the steam locomotive to recall our ride on this preserved section of the Old Ghan Railway (Photo 21: 4-8-2 locomotive W933). Collecting the hire-car, we set off northwards on this afternoon's venture to drive outback dirt roads heading towards tonight's goal of Hawker.Into the SA outback at Dutchman's Stern and Warren Gorge: crossing the railway and turning north from Quorn onto back-roads, the gravel surface was good. We headed inland through groves of gum trees to turn off again onto a narrow side-lane detour leading to the conservation area of The Dutchman's Stern; this was named by the British navigator Matthew Flinders after a prominent 820m high bluff shaped like the stern of an 18th century Dutch sailing ship (see left) (Photo 22 - Dutchman's Stern). Time however was pressing, and further exploration was limited to photos from the viewpoint. Returning to the principal dirt road, we continued northwards along Arden Vale. Groves of gum trees lined the road, with the creeks totally dry at this time of year. At Warren Gorge we turned off again for a short distance to a small wild camping area in a grove of old, gnarled gum trees (Photo 23 - Warren Gorge Gum trees), an astonishingly beautiful spot with jagged, bright orange rock formations giving a stunning contrast with the clear blue sky and dark Cypress Pines, and pink and grey Galah cockatoos squawking in the branches off Eucalyptus trees (see right).
Willochra Plain and Goyder's Line: continuing north, the gum trees were left behind as we passed into the wide, open terrain of Willochra Plain, the name Willochra being derived from an Aboriginal word meaning Flooded creek where wild bushes grow; the plain is crossed by the large but ephemeral, gum tree-lined Willochra Creek. Much of the plain is semi-arid and drought-affected, lying north well beyond Goyder's Line, which since 1865 has demarcated the limits of South Australian lands suitable for arable agricultural settlement, and land only suitable for pastoralism. In 1865 George Goyder, then SA Surveyor-General, was commissioned to map the boundary between those areas of the new colony that benefitted from sufficient annual rainfall to support arable farming particularly for wheat growing, and those subject to drought. North of Goyder's Line, annual rainfall is less than 10 inches, too low to support crop-growing, the land being only suitable for stock grazing (see map left). In spite of Goyder's invaluable work, successive colonial governments of the 1870s and 1880s surveyed and released former livestock grazing pastoral land for leasing for crop farming. But many such settlements inevitably failed because of the arid nature of the drought-prone land, and now tragically stand long-abandoned. The Willochra Plain terrain stretched away to open horizons in all directions, a frighteningly eerie, empty place, the land covered with low Mallee scrub. This was cattle and sheep grazing country on a huge scale, crossed by a network of dry creeks. But the scattered ruins of forlornly abandoned farms and homesteads told the sad story of failed 19th century attempts to settle and to farm these arid, inhospitable plains.
Abandoned settlement of Kanyaka: after driving some miles across these grazing lands of Willochra Plain (see above right) (Photo 24: Willochra Plain), we paused at Proby's Grave. Hugh Proby was a Scottish aristocrat who had led the founding of the ill-fated pastoral farming settlement at Kanyaka in Willochra Plain in 1850; he was drowned in the swollen Willochra Creek in 1852 aged 24 during violent rain storms while trying to recover stampeded cattle. His brother and sister had shipped out a huge granite slab from Scotland to be engraved with his memorial which now stood here (see right) (Photo 25: Proby's Grave). Looking around at the arid, scrub-covered endless plains, it seemed inconceivable to attempt even to rear cattle here let alone to grow wheat. Some distance further, we reached the junction of Simmonston. It had been proposed to build another outback town here on what was envisaged as the route of the Ghan Railway advancing northward from Quorn. Plots of land were sold to prospective settlers and building began in 1880. But an alternative route east of the Flinders was selected for the railway; the town of Simmonston died before it was even begun, and the lonely remains stood here amid the scrub and desolate red earth of Willochra Plains as testimony to the unfortunate settlers (Photo 26: Site of Simmonston) (see left). Rejoining the main tarmaced road to Hawker, we continued north crossing a number of now totally dry creeks. We paused at the aboriginal water hole of Kanyaka amid a rocky grove of gum trees; legend has it that dying aborigines were laid to rest in the shadow of the great rock overlooking the water hole. As we walked over to the waterhole, the outback flies were horrendous. Nearby were the ruined remains of Proby's failed farming settlement of Kanyaka (Photo 27: Waterhole and settlement of Kanyaka), named after the waterhole. We wondered what had happened to this and so many of the other failed settlements we had passed during that afternoon.
Wonoka sheep station, our accommodation for the Flinders Ranges: passing Hawker, we turned off further north onto a dirt road (see right) leading for 7 kms into the bush to the farmstead and sheep station of Wonoka where we had rented the former sheep-shearer's cottage for the next two nights. Eventually after a long drive through the scrub-covered bush-land grazing grounds, we reached the isolated farmstead, to be greeted by the farmer, Peter McInnis; we learned that his family had settled the lands in the mid-19th century, originating from Ireland and the Isle of Mull. He now kept 2,000 head of sheep, all Merinos with their tough wool, on the 20,000 hectares of land of this lonely sheep–station. We settled in to the straightforward former sheep-shearer's cottage, and stood gazing around in awe at the spectacular views to the surrounding Flinders Hills, now lit by the last golden light of the setting sun as it disappeared below the line of hills (see above left) (Photo 28: Wonoka sheep station). We have stayed in some impressively memorable locations during our travels, but none as isolated and grandiose as this. Today we had at last sampled the real outback of Australia, and very weary after such a long and eventful day, we cooked supper of stir-fry with pasta and barbecued corn cobs. With the salmon-pink sunset after-glow now silhouetting trees along the horizon (Photo 29: Sunset after-glow), darkness fell remarkably quickly at 6-00pm, and as night came on, the sky was lit by a full moon (see right), with the Southern Cross clearly visible. It was such a peacefully still evening, disturbed only by the bothersome outback flies and bugs attracted to the cottage lights; we were thankful for the fly-screens on the doors.
North to the Flinders Ranges: the alarm was set early, just in time to see the morning sun breasting the eastern hill-side, and flooding the cottage with bright sunshine. We sat out for a hasty breakfast in these magnificent surroundings (Photo 30: Breakfast at Wonoka), and were away by 9‑00am, to drive back down the sheep-station dirt track to the main road into Hawker. The sky was pure blue and the early sun hot; it was a truly beautiful morning. Hawker, as the cross-roads town of this northern part of the Flinders Ranges 350 kms north of Adelaide, was just a small place with 490 population. It also had a number of camping-caravan sites, a small general stores, bank-ATM, and a couple of filling stations; and that was about it, other than a Restaurant-Gallery at the Old Ghan railway station which looked (and surely was) ultra-pseudy and even more ultra-expensive. Having satisfied ourselves that the general stores had reasonable stocks for supper, and stayed open until 5-00pm, we pressed on northwards to Wilpena.
As we drove north from Hawker, the open outback terrain looked forbiddingly attractive in the morning sunshine, backed by the red sandstone ridges of the Flinders. We paused at the Rawnsley Bluff look-out with its magnificent views across the outback grazing lands to the whaleback ridges of the Elder Range (Photo 31: Elder Range) (see above left and right). This was a well-made road and we made good speed northwards to pull into the Arkaba Hill look-out, again with wonderful views across to the red sandstone mountains which enclose the southern bounds of Wilpena Pound lit by the morning sun (see left) (Photo 32: Wilpena Pound southern outer face). Our plan for today was to climb to one of the lookout points on the rim of Wilpena Pound, but at this stage, it was difficult to envisage the exact topography of the Pound and its relationship with the rest of the Northern Flinders; we needed maps.
Topography and history of farming at Wilpena Pound: Wilpena Pound is a natural oval, bowl-shaped amphitheatre of sedimentary rock, 17 km long and 8 km wide, in the heart of the Southern Flinders Range mountains; its huge cattle-pound appearance gave the geographical feature its name (Map of Wilpena Pound). The flat plain enclosed within the basin is covered with scrub and trees, and totally surrounded by jagged hills which form the amphitheatre rim. This valley surrounded by its rim of mountains was formed 600 million years ago during the Palaeozoic Era by faster erosion of the valley floor soft bed-rock, compared with the harder sandstone rocks which form the enclosing cliffs of the Pound. The wall of mountains almost completely encircles the gently-sloping interior of the Pound, with the only breaks being the gorge of Wilpena Gap on the eastern side of the range, and the other leading through the narrow, rocky Edeowie Gorge on the western side; most of the Pound's inner area drains into Wilpena Creek which exits through Wilpena Gap. The highest peak in the Pound, also the highest of the Flinders Ranges, is St Mary Peak (1,171m) on the north-eastern side.
For 1000s of years, the Adnyamathanha aboriginals were the only inhabitants of Wilpena Pound; they called the Pound Ikara, meaning meeting/initiation place. Although the first European to sight the distant peaks of the Pound was Edward Eyre on his first 1839 expedition to explore the vicinity of Lake Torrens, Eyre did not actually visit or investigate these ranges and so had no idea of their geographical formation. Matthew Flinder's botanist Robert Brown had climbed one of the highest peaks of the southern Flinders in March 1802, but Wilpena would have been beyond his view just over the horizon. William and John Browne were the first to discover Wilpena Pound in 1850, and realising its prospects for pastoralism, applied to lease the land. The Browne brothers won the claim for Wilpena, and Henry Strong Price ran the 40,000-hectare Wilpena Station for them, purchasing Wilpena from the Brownes in 1861. Initially, being such a well-protected and isolated natural enclosure, the Pound was seen as an ideal stock compound used for grazing horses. By 1863 the Wilpena Estate consisted of well over 200,000 hectares of grazing land, but was almost ruined by the drought of that decade.
The Pound was leased to the Hill family from Hawker in 1901. They worked determinedly to clear the valley for wheat growing, something never before attempted so far north. Goyder's Line had proved accurate with regard to agricultural expansion during the great drought of the 1880s, and Wilpena is some 140 kilometres (87 mi) north of the Line. But being in the shadow of some of the highest mountains of the Flinders, rainfall in the Pound is a little higher. After the immense labour of constructing a road through the torturous Wilpena Gap, the Hill family cleared open patches in the thick scrub of the Pound's interior and built a small homestead, the remains of which can still be seen today. They harvested their first wheat crop from the Pound in 1902 despite it being a drought year, and for several years they had moderate success growing crops within the Pound. But in 1914 a major flood destroyed the road that they had laboured so hard to construct up through the gorge. They continued to keep horses and cattle in the Pound until the lease expired in 1921 when, defeated in their efforts, they sold their homestead to the government and the land was abandoned. The Pound then became a forest reserve leased for grazing, and in 1945 the tourist potential of the area was recognised when a National Pleasure Resort was opened on the southern side of the creek just outside the gorge. The Pound later became part of the Flinders Ranges National Park.
Wilpena Pound National Park Information Centre for maps and routes: 40kms further north, we crossed the National Park boundary and paused to pay our $7.50 entry fee. It was noticeable that once into the protected area of the national park, where the natural vegetation had been spared from grazing, small pine trees flourished along the road side. We turned off to the Wilpena National Park Information Centre in search of maps, details of the Pound's topography, and for advice on half-day walks. The most suitable round trip bushwalk, given our limited time, was the Wangara Lookout Walk: this overall 8 km route would take us up Wilpena Creek via Sliding Rock Gorge, the only natural access to penetrate the surrounding barrier of hills into the interior of Wilpena Pound, leading past the conserved remains of Hills' Homestead. From there, a side route would take us up to the lower and upper Wangara Hill lookouts on the enclosing mountain rim of Wilpena Pound, offering panoramic views into the entire geological feature (Map of Wilpena Pound). Having now gained this greater understanding of Wilpena's topography, we thanked the national park warden for her helpful advice, and went through to the small store to stock up with food and water for the day.
Sliding Rock Gorge alongside Wilpena Creek: fully kitted up for a day's bushwalk in the hot Australian outback sun, and armed with local maps and compass, we set off through the groves of gum trees up into Sliding Rock Gorge alongside Wilpena Creek (see above right) (Photo 33: Wilpena Creek footpath). The path was well-formed and way-marked, and despite the number of cars at the parking area, was not unduly crowded (see above right) (Photo 34: Sliding Rock Gorge bush-trail). The sunlight and dappled shade were magnificent (Photo 35: Wilpena dappled shade), and the fascinating variety of gnarled old gum trees provided endless opportunity for photography (Photo 36: Gnarled Gum trees) (see above right). The path followed the course of Wilpena Creek, the drainage course for water gathering in the natural bowl of the Pound. The creek was mainly dry at this time of year, but in places residual pools of semi-stagnant water remained in the bed of the gorge (Photo 37: Semi-stagnant pools). We made frequent stops for photos amid the groves of white-trunked Eucalyptus trees (Photo 38: Eucalyptus groves). The sky remained clear and sun bright, and the air was filled with the calls and squawks of typical Australian bird-life, with good sightings of brightly colourful Rainbow Lorikeets (see above left); we also saw, both in the gorge and on the higher Wangara slopes, specimens of Dusty Miller (Spyridium phlebophyllum), a characteristic plant of the Flinders rocky ridges (Photo 39: Dusty Miller - Spyridium phlebophyllum). We took our time, totally revelling in these remarkably classic Aussie bush-land surroundings and red-sandstone topography.
Wilpena Gorge leading to remains of Hills' Homestead: with all 3 of us relishing these 2 hours of glorious photographic opportunities, we eventually emerged from the gorge at the entrance to the Pound, to reach the site of Hills' Farmstead (Map of Wilpena Pound). Here we sat on a log in the shade to eat our lunch. The restored shell of the Hills' family homestead stood in the middle of the clearing, and information panels told the heart-rending story of their struggles to clear the land in the Pound's basin for growing wheat and for cattle grazing, and to overcome the problems of draught, disease and death. The family had struggled on into the 20th century, until finally defeated by the gorge road's flood destruction, they gave up their heroic struggle to farm this impossible terrain and abandoned their homestead. Their homestead ruins now stand as a memorial, and wording of the plaque said it all: if only the walls could talk.
Panorama of Wilpena Pound from Wangara Lookout: from the site of the homestead, we followed the steep, way-marked track which gained height rapidly up rock steps (see above right), winding a way up the natural slabs of sloping strata (see below left), around the red-sandstone outcrops (see above left) (Photo 40: Wangara path), and rising steeply through scrub bushes to emerge high above the tree-line of gums (Photo 41: Wangara tree-line). This led after a stiff climb to the lower lookout, giving initial views across the inner depths of the Pound. Further climbing led across steep sandstone slabs to emerge onto the Upper Wangara Lookout, and from here a complete panorama opened up of the entire length and breadth of Wilpena Pound surrounded by its enclosing circle of craggy sandstone hills (Photo 42: Scrub-covered Wilpena Pound); this superb vantage point gave the perfect impression of the Pound's shape and structure. The original strata of softer surface limestone within the Pound had over aeons been eroded away to create this huge natural bowl, surrounded by the enclosing harder, more resistant rim of sandstone (Photo 43: Wilpena panorama). The natural covering of bush, woodland and scrub across the floor of the valley had reasserted itself over the last 100 years, after having been partially cleared by the efforts of the Hill family to create wheat growing areas and cattle grazing pastures (Photo 44: Scrub-covered Wilpena basin). But there were still clearer areas which we interpreted as being more waterlogged where the trees were less inclined to grow. We took our photos from this magnificent lookout position (see right) (Photo 45: Wilpena Pound), and began the descent of the steep slabs, the sandstone giving good grip despite the gradient of the slope (Photo 46: Descent from Wilpena rim). After a brief detour to a side rocky outcrop for views to the NE, we continued the descent of the lower slopes back down to the site of Hills' Homestead (see below left); here we sat enjoying the shade among the trees for a second lunch instalment of snack-bars and apple, and a refill of water bottles from the rainwater storage tanks.
With the sun still bright, we took a steady pace for the return walk back down Wilpena Gorge. The gum trees took on a different appearance in the golden light of afternoon, and yet more photos were taken. As we plodded down, we kept a watchful eye for possible Koalas up in the tree branches, but unfortunately none were seen. We did however pass a small flock of wild goats grazing down in the creek bed among the gum tree groves (see right), and completed the 8 kms circuit with the return to the car park by the national park office.
Return to Hawker: setting off at 3-30pm, we returned to the main road and turned south, just getting a brief sighting of a pair of grey Kangaroos bounding across the road 100m ahead and disappearing into the pines. Wispy cloud had gathered, dimming the bright sunlight, and we feared that this duller light would encourage more Kangaroos across the road. We therefore took the return drive at a steadier pace. There were several sightings of Emus and we paused to photograph a flock grazing on a hillock amid the scrub (Photo 47: Grazing Emus). But none were close enough for detailed photos. After pausing at one final lookout for more photos of the distant Elder Range across the intervening bush-land (Photo 48: Elder Range) (see below left) all lit by the now brighter afternoon sun, we reached Hawker at 4-15pm, and scoured the poorly stocked general store for supper materials and a much-needed pack of beer. The storekeeper should certainly have been happier than his manner suggested, given the prices he was charging!
A second night in the peace of Wonoka sheep station: rounding Wonoka Hill onto the main B83 road north, we turned off onto the dirt track driveway to Wonoka Sheep Station (see below left) through the seemingly barren bush-land grazing. We paused briefly to photograph a dried up creek bed (see below right) (Photo 49: Dried up creek bed), and as we stood on the dry, red mud-banks, Galah cockatoos swooped overhead and a Willie Wagtail with his fan-shaped tail flitted around the dry creek bed. Back at Wonoka cottage, we stood awhile chatting with Mr McInnis the owner about the local features. The state of the local bush-land we could see around us was more or less natural, despite seeming to us so barren; the only change he could recall was the increase in growth of the low Acacia scrub encouraged by sheep grazing. On the distance horizon, the Elder Range which we had photographed earlier stood out clearly. The sun was just dipping below the western hillside although it was only just gone 5-00pm and, while there was still daylight, we prepared supper of sweet potato, chopped peppers and mushrooms to add to the left-overs of last night's stir-fry, and barbecued sausages bought at Hawker. After such a wearying but wonderfully satisfying day, we hungrily tucked into this hearty supper.
Darkness fell quickly by 6-00pm and the full moon rose swiftly above the eastern skyline giving the sky a bright light. We sat in the kitchen after supper, Lucy reading a book on the history of the Flinders from the cottage bookshelf, Sheila researching tomorrow's return route, and Paul writing today's log. Today had given such a wonderfully fulfilling set of new experiences and learning, and from the Wangara high-point, we had been rewarded with such a magnificent panorama of the complete circular bowl of Wilpena Pound and its surrounding craggy enclosing sandstone hills. Tomorrow we should begin the return journey down the eastern side of the Flinders Range.Early morning at Wonoka sheep station: the alarm was set early for 6‑15am to allow time for log completion, showers, loading the vehicle and breakfast, and an early start at 8-00am. We were jerked into early consciousness by the compelling need to rush outside to photograph a flaringly pink dawn sky which cast a salmon glow over this wonderful Wonoka landscape (Photo 50: Flaringly pink dawn sky) (see right). It was a startlingly bright morning at Wonoka's peaceful setting, and again flocks of pink and grey Galah cockatoos soared over the farmstead this morning (Photo 51: Galah cockatoos). Before leaving, we added suitably appreciative comments in the visitors' book, and as we were loading the car, Mr McInnis came over. He told us that, what we had thought was the smell of wild thyme, was simply the dewy grass drying in the morning sunshine. He also described the creek we had stopped at last evening as more of a storm water drainage; at times of heavy rain, the creek ran high and fast for a couple of days, draining off the surface water, then drying up again to the red sandy mud we had seen last evening. He also told us about Wonoka's water gathering and storage arrangements: rain water was gathered into tanks for drinking, and spring water pumped up from deep wells by the windmills we had seen everywhere; this water was very brackish in taste from dissolved minerals dating from aeons ago when SA was submerged. He gave us more details of his work on the sheep station: his 2,000 sheep roamed freely over 20,000 hectares of Wonoka's bush-land grazing; at shearing time they had to be rounded up by driving around on his motorbike with his dogs. Although none of his sheep were gathered in the shearing shed at present, he invited us over to see the recently shorn Merino wool (Photo 52: Sheep-shearing shed), and explained the routine of shearing and baling up the wool for auctioning at Port Augusta market. Shearing at Wonoka was routinely carried out once yearly in February, with contract shearing gangs coming in and paid by the numbers of sheep shorn. Other stations sheared at different times of the year to allow an evenly spread work schedule for the shearers. A sheep's wool was shorn in one piece, and typically produced a 2 kg fleece. After sorting and grading, (different grades of wool were sold at varying prices), the fleeces were baled by machine into batches of 104 kgs, for contractors to transport to market.
We wished we had time to stay longer at Wonoka and learn more about these fascinating new experiences. He was an engaging and charmingly unassuming, taciturn man with a delightful drawl; so interesting to listen to and to learn from. We had felt so at home here at Wonoka; as Lucy so aptly put it, we should all leave part of ourselves at Wonoka, and should take with us such rich memories, even from our brief stay.
Kanyaka homestead ruins memorial site: we said our farewells to Peter and Cheryl, and drove back down the Wonoka driveway to the main road. Passing Hawker, we continued south on a hot, sunny morning, and paused again to explore more thoroughly the ruins of the 1850~60s sheep station of Kanyaka, founded originally by Hugh Proby, which we had seen briefly on the outward drive. After Proby's death in 1852, his sheep station leases were taken over and enlarged by partners Alexander Grant and John Philips, who settled here at Kanyaka and built the homestead, wool shed and surrounding dwellings during the 1850s. During these years the Kanyaka sheep run had flourished, growing to over 360 square miles in area, and despite the impact of drought, had at its peak shorn 60,000 head of sheep a year with up to 70 men and their families living at the homestead. It also functioned as a staging point and post office on the road north into the outback. But tragically the widespread and devastating droughts of 1864~67 brought an end to the great pastoral settlements; Kanyaka was eventually abandoned by Philips in 1888, and the surviving sheep driven to the Coorong area south of Adelaide.We turned off the main road down to Kanyaka's homestead ruins (see above left), now preserved as a heritage site and memorial to those who had laboured, suffered and striven to make a success of this pioneering settlement (Photo 53: Kanyaka ruins) (see left). We walked hesitantly across the bush-land to photograph the ruins, treading with deliberate wariness in case of snakes lurking in the scrub. Down beyond the creek lined with magnificent gum trees (see above right) (Photo 54: Gum tree lined dried creek), we walked around the preserved ruins, amazed at how extensive the settlement had been at its height (Photo 55: Impression of Kanyaka size), and stood sorrowfully to pay our respects at the settlement's graveyard (Photo 56: Kanyaka graveyard) (see above right). Tragically the farmstead had not lasted long enough to fill the area marked off as the settlement's graveyard before the cruel natural hardships of this wilderness had finally brought its downfall. Sadly we wondered what had happened to the survivors of Kanyaka, despite all the efforts they had made to farm these inhospitable outback lands and hardships they had endured.
Re-joining the main road, we set off again southwards passing the point where we had joined this road from the outback Willochra dirt track 2 days ago. Despite the speed at which traffic moved on these dead straight main outback roads, every few kms signs warned of an approaching floodway, the low-point dip where a creek water-course crossed the road at times of rainfall. From a distance, the dry creek bed was visible lined with gum trees. At the centre-point of each floodway, a water depth post showed that, in times of heavy rain, a torrent of up to 2m depth could surge across the road at this point (see left). We heard of motorists being drowned through careless crossing at such floodways. A number of elaborate caravans pulled by 4WD vehicles passed by heading north, perhaps reflecting the approaching Easter holidays. The morning continued bright as we made good progress southwards, back into Quorn to pass the railway station and Austral pub which we had left seemingly weeks ago.
The one-horse outback town of Wilmington: turning off by the Austral pub, we started on the road across the broad, empty Willochra Plain, the northern arid outback-lands now giving way to prairies of rough pastureland or stubble from harvested crops. The lonely road extended away southwards, totally straight and empty. By 11-00am, we reached Wilmington where we hoped to buy food for today's lunch. A superficially attractive, one-street town where we filled up with fuel at the one garage, it in fact proved to be a totally one-horse town, and being Tuesday, the one horse was on its day off: the local café was closed, and the poorly stocked general stores was unable or unwilling to provide further provisions. Unsupplied, with other than pasties and sausage rolls, we pressed on, and soon after, turned off up to the northern end of Mount Remarkable National Park.Alligator Gorge in Mount Remarkable National Park: the single-track lane gained height steeply, undulating over 11kms of switchback road across the higher flanks of Mount Remarkable through dense woodland, and ended at a parking area perched on a spur (Map of Alligator Gorge). Having paid our $8 national park entry fee, we kitted up and descended steep steps down into the rocky bed of Alligator Gorge (Photo 57: Alligator Gorge) for the 2kms circular walk following the dry creek bed along the cliff-lined floor of the sandstone gorge. To our relief, there were no alligators in Alligator Gorge; the gorge was named after a local shepherd called Ally. The gorge floor was thickly wooded with gum trees and many more Yakka grass-trees (Xanthorrhoea) (Photo 58: Yakka - Xanthorrhoea) (see above right) than we had seen further north; many of them had brown flowering heads dotted with tiny white star flowers (see left). The stratified sandstone of the high gorge side-walls glowed a vivid crimson-red in the golden afternoon sunlight (Photo 59: Sandstone gorge walls) (see right). The creek, which at times of flood would have washed along the gorge-bed, was almost dry, and the faint track alternated between banks of the creek and the stones of the creek-bed itself (Photo 60: Semi-dry stream bed) (see below left). To begin with, we turned right along the gorge floor under the high sandstone side-cliffs, following the course of the creek which rose up a lengthy series of flat slab terraces (Photo 61: Eroded stream bed). In places, the sandstone of the gorge floor showed traces of petrified sand with a ripple effect from the bed of an ancient sea, now preserved in stone. The gorge walls rose between 50 and 80 feet above us, and at their foot in the bed of the wooded gorge, the stratified sandstone blocks were eroded by the stream in times of spate (Photo 62: Eroded gorge walls); it was a truly spectacular place. We followed the rocky-floored creek bed, rising up the creek through the Yakka and gum trees until the path petered out amid dense scrub. Returning down the rocky slab terraces of the gorge bed, we paused to sit on the slabs to eat our lunch, revelling in the awesome silence of the gorge fissure.
Setting off again, we returned to the start point in the bed of Alligator Gorge at the foot of the steps, and turned left to follow the dry creek into the now gloomy depths of a 100 feet deep canyon (Map of Alligator Gorge). This must have been formed originally by a tectonic fissure in the sandstone which over aeons had been deepened by erosion by the creek to create this now mighty canyon. In times of heavy rain, the flooded creek would be impassable; but today, the rocky floor was almost dry and we were able to pick our way over the boulders of the creek bed (see right). Here we found a Cherry Ballart tree (Exocarpos cupressiformis) with its unusual, edible red fruits or 'cherries', the swollen stem above the nut. Along this main course of the gorge, there were more folk about, and the over-loud noise of human voices echoing within the gorge walls was an irritating intrusion into the imposing silence of the canyon. The walls of the meandering canyon, now towering 100 feet above us (Photo 63: Canyon walls) (see right and below left), narrowed as we wound our way along the boulder-strewn gorge bed; here we reached a spectacular narrowing gullet where the force of water at times of flood had deposited huge pieces of tree debris, trapped against the twisted trunks of dead trees (Photo 64: Tree debris), almost blocking the throat of the gorge. The lower walls at the foot of the side-cliffs within the gullet were hollowed out, undercut by storm water swirling like a maelstrom below the high canyon walls, and eroding the sandstone side-walls into a rounded passageway (Photo 65: Gorge narrows) (see below right). Once through the gullet, the side-walls of the gorge lowered and widened, and the pathway advanced along a delightfully verdant section of woodland valley, before rising up the hillside to an informal camping and picnic area at Blue Gum Flat high on the slopes above. A narrow track descended steeply from here then rose steadily for a 30 minute climb through woodland, returning us to the parking area.
We set off again back over the undulating single-track lane across the shoulder of Mount Remarkable, passing a clearing where we spotted a small Grey Kangaroo. We stopped and walked back, expecting him to have disappeared. But almost oblivious to our presence, he stood hopping around with the peculiar kangaroo rocking gait (see below left) (Photo 66 - Grey Kangaroo), until finally bouncing off into the woodland. Although almost too distant for photographs, we had a clear sighting of our first Kangaroo, a grey around 3 feet high and remarkably tolerant of human presence.
The outback town of Melrose: we drove back down from Mount Remarkable towards the main road, and close by Wilmington cemetery, had the spectacular sight of a huge flock of White Cockatoos swarming around gum trees and roosting in ranks along the branches (see below right) (Photo 67 - White Cockatoos). Back at the main road, we turned south into the next small outback town of Melrose, which was set against the impressive outline of 950m high Mount Remarkable. In origin an 1840s copper mining boom town, today Melrose was a sleepy, twee place, the main street lined with over-restored buildings clearly aimed at tourism. We paused for a 'nice cuppa tea' (complete with 'nice' tea cups and tea-strainer) at an over-twee, 'nice old black-smithy tea room', and a welcome sit under the shade of the veranda in the hot afternoon sunshine. The library van parked nearby was doing a lively trade with the elderly ladies of the town.
Clare Valley wine-growing area: setting off again at 4-00pm, we continued south for the 130kms drive through a series of little one-street country towns such as Laura, Gladstone, and Yacka, until finally we reached tonight's goal, the wine-growing area of Clare Valley. As we advanced south beyond the Willochra Plain and Melrose, the wide open prairie landscape became much more familiarly agricultural with fenced pastureland and open arable countryside with recently harvested crop stubble burnt off. As we approached Clare however, the terrain changed again to rolling hills, and we passed the first vines. We had during our time in Australia begun to get accustomed to the inverted seasons, but suddenly it occurred to us to wonder: when in the southern hemisphere was the grape vendange? Some of the vines were now down to bare twigs, others were still in full leaf, and we assumed that March~April was the time of the grape harvest here, as opposed to September~October in the northern hemisphere that we had been accustomed to.
Clare Hotel/pub, our accommodation for Clare Valley: Clare was a larger town, clearly the region's main centre, with evident commercial industry supporting local viticulture. We rolled into town, and along the main street found tonight's accommodation, the Clare Hotel, the middle of the town's 3 pubs (see below left). As we entered, first impressions were of a rather seedy sports bar with a side room stuffed full of flashing, whirring 'pokies' (fruit machines), and as always the inevitable resident saddies. Our room was reasonable, but the noisy urban environment seemed a million alien miles from the glorious outback silence of Wonoka. We settled in and while Paul worked on today's log with a pint of Coopers in the bar, Sheila and Lucy went for an exploratory walk along Clare's main street to reconnoitre food options. We in fact enjoyed a huge if expensive supper of seafood platter or barramundi with sweet potatoes and spinach in the pub's dining room, and shared a bottle of the local Clare Valley Jim Barrie Riesling. It had been another excellent day: we had enjoyed a thrilling walk in Alligator Gorge on Mount Remarkable, seen our first Kangaroo, and travelled a good distance south. But tonight our thoughts were still in the memorable outback solitude and silence of Wonoka.
South to the former copper mining town of Burra: it had rained heavily during the night, and the noise of heavy trucks passing through the town main street directly under our hotel room window was disturbing. After a minimal breakfast of muesli bars and coffee, we were away by 8-30am to drive over to visit the former copper mining town of Burra. The route passed over rolling hills of open arable land, running alongside water pipelines and the now closed Adelaide~Burra railway line. We parked at Burra at 9-00am outside the town's TIC in order to get some understanding as to what we could see of the town's copper mining heritage (see right and below left), which in its day had contributed much to support the early colony's ailing economy (Copper mines remains at Burra).
History of copper mining at Burra: the blue-green ore indicating veins of copper was reputably discovered by a shepherd, William Streair, in 1845 alongside Burra Creek. Speculators moved in sensing the fortunes to made from copper exploitation, and the first company-owned mining township in Australia, Kooringa rapidly developed to become the country's largest inland town by 1851. Speculative investment in the mine was led by John Morphett, one of South Australia's pioneer English colonists who made his fortune from mining speculation and other commercial trading ventures, to become one of the colony's leading landowners and politicians, and 7 times state premier. The Burra Mine, known also as the Monster Mine, was the largest metal producing mine in Australia by 1860, attracting 1000s of miners from Cornwall, South Wales and Scotland, at a time when falling world prices were forcing the closure of formerly flourishing Cornish mines. Employment prospects in SA also attracted carpenters, engineers, masons and other trades. The Burra mine developed on company-owned land, and the townships of Redruth, Aberdeen and Llwchwr grew up further north. The first mines of the 1840~60s were deep shaft pits, and the mine became a labyrinth of underground galleries. But as these veins became exhausted, from 1870 open-cast working with lower cost mechanical extraction took over (see right). All in all the mines at Burra produced around 50,000 tonnes of copper between 1845 and 1877 when the SA Mining Association's operations ceased. During its heyday, the Burra mines, along with the mines at Kapunda (see below), have been credited with saving the economy of the struggling new colony of South Australia, producing 89% of South Australia's and 5% of the world's copper. When the mine was exhausted and closed, Burra's population shrank dramatically, and the townships' economy relied mainly on agriculture. Today Burra continues as a centre for the surrounding farming industry and for tourism, and is one of the best-preserved Victorian era towns in Australia.
Arrival at Burra: from the rapidly speaking elderly gent at the TIC, we learned of the options available to help understand more of Burra's mining history and to see something of the conserved remains: we could either spend $25 each on tickets for a guided tour of every item of the town's local trivia, including the town hall, 2 churches, and Miss Mable's cottage (flippantly re-labelled by us as Good Golly Miss Molly; those under the age of 70 simply wouldn't understand!), or walk around the site of the former mine and the 1870s huge, flooded open-cast mining pit and restored engine-house museum for a $5 entry fee. It was a simple choice, and quite naturally we chose the latter. Contrary to our expectations, the modern day Burra was a classic South Australian country town. Although relying economically to a degree on tourism, this had not caused degeneration into a twee museum-piece place. It was a largely functional town with an every-day feel, albeit keeping its traditional air with admirably preserved stone-built, colonial era shops and cottages (Photo 68: Colonial era building), and a hardware store where you could buy anything from a wrench to a cement mixer. We sat at a very down-to-earth bakery-cum-coffee shop where, over a late breakfast of meat pie and sauce, (or rock cakes with Earl Grey tea for the more refined of us), we studied the material garnered from the TIC and drew up a programme for our morning around Burra.
Our visit to the remains of Burra copper mines: guided by the TIC Heritage Trail booklet, we followed a dirt track out to the site of Burra's former copper mining activity, passing the town's corporation rubbish tip (about the one and only local feature not detailed in the booklet!). Although not having paid the $25 fee for the Burra Passport ticket, we managed somehow to gate-crash the mining powder magazine tour, courtesy of a couple of gullible tourists who had parted with cash! The stone building with its blast-proof containment wall, had a beautiful arched stone roof. From here we drove around to the restored Morphett's Pumping Engine House (Photo 69: Burra copper mine museum), where we paid our $4 seniors' reduction for entry to the museum site (see above right). The attendant gave an impressively instructive commentary on the working of the huge beam pumping-engine, fed by its wood-fired Cornish boilers, which pumped aquifer water from the 600 feet deep old workings. The 40 psi beam-engine and Cornish boilers had been shipped out from England and operated by Cornish engineers. The magnificent Morphett's Engine House, named after John Morphett the mine's principal director, had been restored in 1986 as a 150 year SA jubilee project (see right) (Photo 70: Morphetts Engine House). The cantilevered third storey balconies, where the beam had formerly been balanced, gave astonishing views over the huge flooded pit of the 1870s open-cast workings (Photo 71: Flooded open-cast mine) (see above left). Information panels inside the restored pumping house gave fascinating details of the engine's working, and the history of the Cornish miners at Burra mines.
The mine workings had covered a huge area although there was little else remaining to be seen now. We walked around the other areas of the mining site, seeing one of the recovered Cornish boilers and the shaft where the pumping mechanism extracted water from the pit (Photo 72: Mine pumping shaft). Further round we found the gravestone of Henry Roach, one of the mine captains, and another pumping house building standing at the edge of the flooded pit of the 1870s open-cast workings. The mid-19th century deep mining had produced much richer ore than all the mechanically excavated open-cast mining of the later period. The open-cast workings with its tiered sides (see left) had left an extensive, turquoise-blue flooded pit (Photo 73: Flooded workings); we explored all round the excavated workings, clambering down the tiered chalky sides (see right) (Photo 74: Open-cast workings tiered sides), but could find no sign of spoil heaps of waste from either the earlier deep mining or later open-cast mining. Around the far side, we peered into an adit which was part of the extracting tunnel for water pumped from the deep pit, and continued around to a lookout with magnificent views over the flooded open-cast workings. The vegetation of the former Burra mining area included Agave (Century plant) (see below left) and Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia) (Photo 75 - Prickly Pear Cactus); both native to America, they were introduced to Australia in the 19th century where, although attractive, they have now become naturalised as widespread invasive weeds.
A brief visit to the town of Burra: entry to the mining site had proved good value, giving us far more than we might have expected on the mining history. We had partitioned our time today to give us the morning to see Burra and to learn as much as we could about its copper mining heritage, leaving this afternoon to sample some of the Clare Valley wine producers. It was now 12;00 noon, and we returned to the town to see a little of Burra itself and to get a swift pub lunch. On the drive back around the dirt track, Lucy abruptly screeched to a halt. There in the road was a large lizard: a Shingleback, the bulkiest of Australian blue-tongued skinks (Tiliqua rugosa), known also as a Sleepy, a Pine Cone, Stumpey, or Two-headed Lizard, with a tail resembling its head, part of its defence mechanism (Photo 76 - Shingleback Lizard) (see right); although disturbed by us, we were able to photograph the lizard before it eventually scuttled off onto the scrub.
Driving back through the town, we rapidly ticked off the lesser attractions, including the town hall (see left), and made our way around to Burra's former railway station. Despite the line's closure in 1998, the station building still stood and a preservation society was attempting to restore it. The history of their progress (or rather lack of it!) was recorded on a panel, showing little more than 5 years' worth of committee meetings. It was a truly magnificent example of an Australian country railway station, with a beautiful curved, corrugated iron platform canopy (Photo 77 - Burra railway station). The tracks were still in situ despite badly rotted wooden sleepers, and hopefully one day the preservation society might be able to restore steam working to Burra. Such a lovely station deserved it. We paused for a pub lunch at the rather sordid Burra Hotel, where the offensively surly landlady was ironically re-christened Hail Mary Full of Grace. Over a suitable Burra lunch of Cornish pasty on the pub's shady veranda (see right), we considered Lucy's suggested schedule for an afternoon of wine-tasting around some of the producers of the Clare Valley.
Wine tasting and buying in Clare Valley: driving back along Burra's classic country town main street, we headed back towards Clare. This first part of the route ran along the Barrier Highway, an inter-state road which crosses the Darling River and eventually extends all the way to NSW and Sydney, passing Broken Hill, the former mining town just into NSW, through Lithgow and past Katoomba. After our earlier trip into the NSW Blue Mountains, we were now seeing this highway at its South Australian end. Approaching Clare, we turned off onto an unsealed dirt road across the rolling hills of broad agricultural countryside and the first vines. Not only were the seasons reversed for grape harvesting in the southern hemisphere, but with the sun taking a more northerly passage across the sky, it was the northern slopes that were favoured for ripening the grapes rather than the south-facing slopes we were accustomed to in Europe.
Pikes Wines: we turned down Pike's Hill passing the autumnal grapes, and pulled into Pikes' Vineyard (see left and right). We were received hospitably at this medium sized establishment, and considered their tasting list. Prices were generally more expensive than we had previously experienced, and we confined our attention to those wines around $20 for tasting. The man who served us introduced the wines and answered our questions about assemblage and southern hemisphere viticultural techniques. Their 2010 Pikes' Traditionale Riesling at $23/bottle was crisply dry; this was an archetypal Clare Valley cépage. We next tasted their 2008 Pikes' Dogwalk, an attractive blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon/25% Cabernet Franc: this was a richly full-bodied wine at $18, with the distinctive bite of Cabernet Sauvignon. We then tried what for us was a new grape, their 2009 Pikes' Luccio 100% Sangiovese, a light bodied red with a luscious cherry taste; the Sangiovese was a grape favoured in the wine growing region of Tuscany. All the wines had a prominent bouquet which we fully appreciated. Having explained we were from England, the man was quite understanding about our limited carrying capacity. We took a bottle each of the Riesling and Sangiovese, and thanking the man for his hospitality, we took photos outside standing alongside their vines framed by Eucalyptus as typically Australian (Photo 78: Pikes' Wines)
Paullets Wines: just down the lane at Polish Hill River, a region named after the Polish settlers of the mid-19th century, we pulled into a smaller establishment, Paullets Wines, where again we received a hospitable and informative welcome. Again their tasting notes were helpful. It made a pleasant change to be able to converse readily in English without struggling for wine terminology in French. The girl explained more about Australian vine-growing: it was not simply that in the southern hemisphere, the vines were grown on north-facing slopes; that would expose the vines to too harsh a sun, particularly in the afternoon. The NE~E slopes were preferred for the gentler morning sun, and presence of water was a more important consideration. Also the full canopy of leaf was encouraged to grow down to shelter the grapes from direct harsh sun and for fuller photosynthesis. We also asked about the threat of phylloxera: despite the presence of the aphid threat in the Victoria and NSW wine-growing areas, precautions had kept SA phylloxera-free so far. We tasted their 2010 Polish Hill River Riesling, slightly sweeter than at Pikes' but certainly a refreshing wine, at $20. Although not a wine we should take, the young lady suggested we try their NV Trillians Sparkling Red, what she described as a 'Christmas morning wine' (though she of course meant a southern hemisphere hot summer's Christmas morning!); it was a smoothly luscious mousseaux, though not really to our taste. We finally tasted their 2006 Stone Cutting Red Blend (84% Shiraz, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot), an uncomplicated, ready drinking wine, with rich bouquet and just enough bite to give it interest, at $16. This had been a lovely visit to a welcoming winery (Photo 79: Paullets Wines) (see right), and we took one bottle of their Riesling and one of their Red Blend.
Jeanneret Wines: as we stood tasting at Paullets, another couple came in. We could hear them speaking in French, and it turned out he was half-American and she was from Brittany; we had noticed a Breton flag in their vehicle. Down to the main Clare Valley road, we turned up a minor road on the western side of the valley, where the countryside had almost the look of rolling English parkland, except for the vines on the hill-side and presence of gum trees. We again paused for further photos among the Clare Valley vines (Photo 80: Clare Valley vines) (see above left), before taking another side turn to reach the larger establishment of Skillogalee. One look at their inflated prices was enough to alert us, but the snooty indifference of the woman serving confirmed this place as a definite No-No. We turned and left!
Further along the narrowing lane however up through the vines, we found the very antithesis: Jeanneret Wines, a small and unassumingly straightforward producer, but outstandingly hospitable and their web site says it all (see left) (Photo 81: Jeannerets Wines). We were welcomed by the very pleasant lady owner and her cats, and tasted her 2010 Big Fat Girl Riesling, but this was too sweet for our taste. She suggested we try her 2010 Watervale Riesling; this was drier, but at $25 a bottle it was too expensive for us. We next tried her 2006 Grace and Favour Grenache (70%) and Shiraz (30%) blend; this was a luscious, full-bodied wine with a rich bouquet and bite, and we took 2 bottles of this. She told us a little more about their small vineyard: most of their grapes were home produced, but they brought in some from other selected growers to give a wider variety.
Spring Gully Conservation Park: we drove on and turned up another side lane leading to the Spring Gully Conservation Park, set on the crest of the ridge of hills lining the western side of Clare Valley (see right). From a grove of ancient gum trees at a lookout, extensive views gave a panoramic vista across the wide western plains towards the coast (Photo 82: Spring Gully lookout), all lit by the golden light with the long shadows of a late afternoon (Photo 83: Western plains). We peered up into the trees searching for Koalas since it was by now 4‑15pm and the sun was dipping towards the horizon. There were unfortunately no Koalas, but we did see 2 beautiful Galahs perching in the high branches of the gum trees (Photo 84: Galah Cockatoos) (see below right).
Eldredge Wines: along Spring Gully Road, we pulled into our fourth producer this afternoon, Eldredge Wines. Here we were received by a delightful man, presumably Mr Eldredge himself, and conversed with him, comparing European and southern hemisphere wine methods and traditions. He had bought the land in the early 1990s, and had laid out the vineyards himself, planting his new vines. This was an admirable achievement, and clearly one which had entailed expensive bank loans until the wines were producing any income. And when it came to tasting, his wines were indeed excellent (Photo 85: Eldridge Wines). We first tasted his Semillon (60%) Sauvignon (40%) blend, unexpectedly rather bland with the over-dominant Semillon and none of the expected fruitiness of the Sauvignon. He next offered us a tasting of his sparkling Riesling Cleanskin at $10; this was an interesting experience but not a wine for serious drinking. We next tried his 2009 Sangiovese Rosé, pleasantly strawberry tasting but slightly sweet wine which he assured us was due wholly to the grape's fruitiness rather than any residual sugar; the must was fermented on the skins for no more than an hour to obtain the required rosé colour and flavour, the juice then cold fermented in stainless steel. He next offered us a tasting of his 2006 Red Cleanskin blend. This was a concept rather like the Alsace Edelzwicker, where the vintner used the last remnants of his grapes in an undesignated blend to make a cheaper wine; in this case it was a 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Shiraz blend, producing a full-bodied wine with a good edge, at $10 which he offered to us at $8/bottle. We took a bottle each of the Sangiovese Rosé and the Red Cleanskin blend. The term Cleanskin is used for Australian wines whose bottle label does not indicate the wine or winemaker's name, only the grape variety and year of bottling; these wines are sold at lower prices. The designation, originally from the term for unbranded cattle, was introduced for wines in the early 2000s as a way for wine producers to clear their surplus wines.
Return to Clare: this had been the most interesting of a wonderful afternoon of visits, and we hugely admired Mr Eldredge's achievement in creating an entirely new vineyard producing such quality wines. He wished us well in our travels, and advised us to watch out for Kangaroos on the drive back to Clare in the gathering dusk. We took the drive steadily along the dirt road, but unfortunately (perhaps fortunately from a driving point of view!) there were no more sightings of Kangaroos. Back into the town of Clare, we filled the car with fuel and returned to the pub-hotel, to write up today's fulsome log down in the bar with a pint of Coopers. At 7-30pm we walked along the main street for supper at a Thai restaurant spotted last evening, and enjoyed a very tasty Thai meal. This had been another splendid day of experiences and learning; it would be strange returning the city tomorrow.
South to former copper mining town of Kapunda: we were up early again to complete yesterday's log, and after packing our kit and settling the hotel bill, we walked across Clare's main street for breakfast at a café. We continued south down the length of the Clare Valley, passing a number of producers. Vines lined both sides of the road, their residual canopies of leaf now in autumn colours. Down the main road past attractive properties, we passed through the small wine-growing town of Auburn, and turned off at Tarlee to the former copper mining town of Kapunda. We drove into the quiet town and parked in the main street for information from the TIC about the remains of the Kapunda mining industry and local heritage trail.
History of copper mining at Kapunda: the first evidence of copper ore deposits at Kapunda were discovered by chance by 2 local shepherds, Francis Dutton and Charles Bagot in 1842. They purchased a parcel of land and began digging at the surface lode in 1843, after promising assay results. The Kapunda high grade copper ore was found as veins of quartz with various copper minerals, between 15cms to 1m in thickness. The first blue-green copper ore was raised from surface deposits, and mining activity developed from there, again attracting Cornish miners. The underground working became deeper and more difficult, reaching the water-table in 1845, and initially water was extracted by horse-turned whim-gin; this was replaced in 1847 by a Cornish steam-driven pumping engine as the shafts were driven deeper and the volume of water to be extracted increased. Initially ore was shipped from Port Adelaide to Swansea in South Wales for smelting, but in 1849 the first smelter was installed at Kapunda operated by Welsh smeltermen. By the mid-1850s, the town was a prosperous mining centre contributing to the SA colony's economic recovery. As the richer underground lodes were exhausted, open-cast extraction of lower grade ore followed in the 1860s. The copper was recovered using the Henderson process by hydrochloric acid treatment of the crushed ore and precipitation of the copper onto scrap iron. The process became an economic failure with the low grade ore containing insufficient copper; as world prices of copper fell in the late 1870s, the Kapunda mines closed in 1879.
Our visit to the Kapunda copper mining remains: although none of the Kapunda mine buildings survived for restoration as at Burra, the site of the former mine with the gouged out remains of its open-cast workings was still accessible, and we drove around to investigate. Parking by a modern agricultural produce area of silos, we followed the Mine Trail. Info panels gave frustratingly brief interpretation of the remains, and from a hill, there was a full overview across all former the open-cast workings (Photo 86: Kapunda copper mines). A Buhl pumping engine, manufactured by Harvey and Co of Hayle in Cornwall, was installed in 1851, raising 340,000 gallons of water per day from the deep shaft mine and allowing mine working down to the 360 feet level; it had continued working until the Kapunda mine's closure in 1878. All that survived of the former engine-house today was a section of stone masonry (see above right) (Photo 87: Pumping house remains) which had supported the cylinder, and the nearby boiler chimney (Photo 88: Pumping engine chimney). We followed the pathway round, descending into one of the open pits to find tiny traces of the green-blue copper-bearing minerals (see left) (Photo 89: Copper-bearing minerals), malachite and azurite, with Lucy and Sheila trying to figure out the chemistry of the copper compounds. The path led around the rim of the deeper, later workings which showed the soft, chalky rock in which the copper carbonate compounds were found, and which were evidently visible today giving the pools of accumulated water and spoil heaps a turquoise colouring (see above and below right) (Photo 90: Turquoise copper compounds). Harder intrusions of an attractive maroon rock showed in the softer chalk. The trail wound around the partly flooded workings (Photo 91: Open-cast mine workings) (see above left and right), but it was impossible today to interpret much of the detail of the former mining activity other than the surviving pits and spoil heaps. The path led back round to the car park past the site of the former smelting works and acid treatment plant, but nothing of these remained. Despite the overcast sky today, we took a number of photos, and returned to the town to follow the sign-posted Heritage Trail.
The Kapunda Heritage Trail: there was no disputing that Kapunda was doing its best to display its past to visitors, but 'low key' would be the kindest description for the Heritage Trail. We passed the former railway station, now a B&B, followed by the Cricket Oval, duck pond, a closed Catholic nunnery, several churches, and the Masonic Hall; and that was about it! Local-Boy-Made-Good and Cattle King, Sir Sidney Kidman, who sounded an utterly unsavoury, ruthlessly exploitational but paternalistic 19th century land owner, had contributed his former home as the town's high school, but Kapunda's well-meaning attempts to show its history was all rather ... well, low key and un-inspirational; it was just an ordinary little town, doing its bit to extract the tourists' dollars. Leaving the doubtless equally low key museum, we sought lunch of meat pies at the local bakers. The 2 pubs in the main street were simply too sordid to bother with, and we returned to the vehicle for the 1½ hour, 80 kms drive back to Adelaide, pausing for further photos by a kangaroo warning road sign (see left) (Photo 92: Kangaroo warning sign).
Return to Adelaide: joining the Sturt Highway, which links Adelaide to Sydney and Canberra, a new stretch of bypass road around Gawler had the sat-nav totally bewildered: its mapping appeared to show us driving across road-less open country; the unfortunate device was stunned into stammering silence until we re-joined the old road closer to the city. The sky now blackened and we drove through a rain-storm in desperately heavy traffic on this multi-lane highway through the outer suburbs. Paul's nervousness about next week's driving in road conditions like this increased further. We passed around the north of Adelaide, re-filled the vehicle with fuel, and drove back to Lucy's apartment to unload all our kit.
Lucy took the vehicle to a car-wash to remove all the smeared evidence of our trip to the Flinders and encaked insects on the bonnet. In the meantime we unpacked our kit and transcribed the 1000s of photos from memory cards. To our concern, the laptop's hard drive was filling fast and we were only just halfway through the trip. Lucy returned home and we walked around to the General Havelock for supper. The pub however was packed, throbbing and flashing like a disco; this was certainly not a place for a peaceful supper for three weary travellers newly returned from the solitude of the outback, and we therefore found a more peaceful pub in Pulteney Street for our supper. It seemed so strange to be back in an urbanised environment again, but we felt so grateful to Lucy for planning and arranging such a well thought-out and varied trip to the Flinders; it had given us the opportunity for so many new experiences and so much learning in such a short time.
Next time we are back in Adelaide city for further exploration, including a visit to the famous cricket ground of Adelaide Oval, site of many a Test Match, and a visit to Cooper's Adelaide Brewery. We also drive down to Encounter Bay on the south coast to cross at dusk to Granite Island to see the colony of Little (or Fairy) Penguins; we also visit the Barossa wine-growing area, and Cleland Wildlife Park in the Adelaide Hills to see the wonderful collection of unique Australian fauna. We are also in Adelaide on Anzac Day, 25 April, the anniversary of the 1915 landings at Gallipoli by Australian and New Zealand forces (ANZACs), traditionally commemorated throughout Australia to honour the war dead in all conflicts since. We were privileged to share with South Australians the moving dawn service on Anzac Day 2011 at the Adelaide war memorial. Join us again shortly for further reports and photos from Australia 2011.
Next edition from Adelaide South Australia to be published quite soon