Join Ron and Viv Moon on an exclusive tour of the Flinders Ranges and beyond.
It was a spontaneous decision. We were cruising north along the dirt road that skirted the eastern flank of the Flinders Ranges north of Wirrealpa Homestead. Suddenly, I saw the signposted turn-off to Chambers Gorge on my right. I dabbed the brakes and spun the wheel, and woke my travelling companion from his early afternoon slumber as I took the track across the plains.
While this track into the gorge was dusty and crossed Chambers Creek several times before it reached the designated camping spots, it’s generally no trouble for a 4WD to tackle. Among the trees, close to the gorge, the appearance of a few offroad vans were a testament to this.
In the early, pleasant spring, birdlife enjoyed balmy conditions in what can often be a harsh environment. It looked like an inviting spot to throw down the swags overnight – but not before we wandered down the main channel of Chambers Creek. Here, a short distance away and into a more hemmed-in side creek was some of the Flinders Ranges’ best Aboriginal rock art.
Our latest trip through the Flinders had begun a few days earlier when a mate and I headed north from Adelaide to Willow Springs Station – home of the famous Skytrek 4WD track. Skytrek has changed considerably in the last 18 months. However, it is still extremely enjoyable, whether you’re undertaking it for the first time or returning.
The long-time owners of Willow Springs Brendan and Carmel Reynolds and their daughter Michelle have worked hard to set up camping areas in — and surrounding — the homestead, as well as bush camps further afield.
Along with the homestead’s wide range of accommodation and idyllic walking, attractions such as horse riding and mountain-bike tracks have made the property a great destination in its own right.
The camp kitchen, which is in the small camp area close to the homestead, is one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to use — commercial campground and caravan parks should take note.
Initially, the Skytrek track travelled along Reedy Creek and crossed the normally dry, gravelly creek bed several times. Then, it left the confines of the creek and passed along the south-eastern edge of the Bunker Range. Moxan’s Hut — one of the property’s accommodation choices — was close to the foothills, while a short distance away on the flatter plains was Old Moxan’s Hut.
Built at the turn of the 20th century, this pine-and-daub building was used permanently up until the 1960s. In 1997, the SA Nissan Patrol Club restored it.
ON THE ROAD
North of Moxan’s Hut, the track passed between Bunker and Little Bunker ranges. Less than 30km from the homestead, the route veered right and passed Pinnacle Bore before cutting through a narrow valley in Little Bunker Range. There were scenic views here and plentiful wildlife in the form of hill wallaroos (a small species of kangaroo) emus and smaller birds and reptiles.
South of Reedy Creek’s flood channels — where the water exited the hills and spread out onto the plains — the track began to climb into the ranges to Nathans Knob. A little further on was a cliff-lined creek where the ‘real’ Willow Springs was. Near here, the more challenging climb to the top of the range began.
Stopped at the crest of Prominent Hill, we experienced expansive views to the south and east of the Druid and Chace ranges stretched away to vast, distant horizons. To the west, jutting above nearby hills were the peaks of Wilpena Pound, including St Mary Peak, the highest mountain in the Flinders.
After we tore ourselves away from Willow Springs — something we always find hard to do — we headed north on the blacktop to Blinman. As well as enjoying a coffee in the revitalised general store, we embarked on an underground tour of the nearby historic mine.
From Blinman, we headed east through the picturesque, gum-tree-lined Eregunda Valley and met the huge, sprawling plains near Wirrealpa Homestead. After this, we travelled north to our overnight stop at Chambers Gorge.
We wandered through Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges NP and, two days later, turned onto a little-used track in the park’s west, north of Arcoona camping area. About 8km further on the track — in the shallow hollow of a gravelly creek bed — began to pass obvious signs of mining, such as a tailing dump which crowded the edge of a creek.
Nearby was a bore and a few old mineshafts, while a short distance away was the chimney of the old Mt Rose smelter. Erected in 1903, the smelter was short-lived, but the quality of its stonemasonry remained superb.
From the smelter site, the track east became very faint and the route entered quite remote country — most of the tracks were not even marked on maps or GPS equipment. It goes without saying that you need to be self-sufficient and have good navigation skills to wander through here.
The indistinct track continued to wind through low, rugged hills before it reached the secluded Frome River’s rocky crossing. Slightly upstream from the crossing point was a near-permanent waterhole lined by low cliffs; this pleasant spot made for good camping. Rather surprisingly, there were quite a few cormorants nesting here — the waterhole obviously provided enough fish for their voracious appetites.
The route then crossed the flat and dusty Weedna Plains before it struck north-west to Weedna Well, which was, again, not a bad spot to camp. We saw countless feral goats here on the surrounding hillsides. The occasional kangaroo also slumbered under a shady bush.
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
A little further on, among a tumble of small rocky hills pot-marked with mine shafts, disjointed creek beds, steep-sided washaways, thick scrub and old fence lines, we became temporarily ‘geographically embarrassed’. Sure, the GPS told us exactly where we were, but the tricky part was getting out of there.
Fortunately, we managed to find our way out eventually and headed south, then west to Paul North Extended mine site. This mining area once had some of the best old mining machinery in situ. However, due to vandalism and pilfering, most of it has been moved to Mt Lyndhurst Homestead for safekeeping. Still, the mineshaft-dotted hillside is worth exploring — carefully.
From here, we headed south to the ruins of Burr Well outstation; most maps have this marked as a scout camp but it has been a long time since it was used for that purpose.
A windmill marked the beginning of a more defined track which headed south, passing the workings of the Mt Coffin copper mine. These workings stretched along a hillside and before we met with the main Copley road about 12km east of this small township.
After a cold beer in the Copley Pub — officially the Leigh Creek Hotel despite the town of Leigh Creek being 5km south — it was time to turn the Patrol south and head for home. But we’ll be back.