Flinders to the Eyre – 22nd to 28th March

Arkaroola – Sun 22nd & Mon 23rd March

Its worth saying a little about Arkaroola (more at their website http://www.arkaroola.com.au).  Originally a sheep station, it was purchased in 1967 by Dr Reg Sprigg and his wife Griselda.  Since then it has been run as an ecotourism resort.  Covering 610 square km adjacent to the Vulkathanha-Gammon NP it has become a haven for native wildlife.  It also covers a key geological area of Australia.  Dr Sprigg was first a geologist, training under Henry Mawson.

Surprisingly, given how long it has been since it saw sheep, it is also a haven for flies; so much so I was forced to buy a fly net.  The girls soldiered on without.  All well and good, it keeps the flies off, but also makes it impossible to drink a beer – some design rethinking is required…

As well as a wildlife haven, its also a great place for off road driving.  Unfortunately the ridge top drive is off limits (unless of course you pay the $140 to be driven round like Miss Daisy..) but there are plenty of other tracks.  If you have a 2WD a note of caution, Arkaroola’s idea of 2WD is somewhat loose.

First up was the Bollabollana smelters, set up by some Cornish miners.  Not much remains aside from a few ruins.  En route the track passes an interesting set of formations named the Pinnacles and also the Bollabollana spring.

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Next was the track to the Arkaroola Waterhole.  Whilst the waterhole was not special this drive affords a chance to see the rare yellow footed rock wallaby.  What the wallabies make of the high season crowds who knows, presumably “blow this, lets hide somewhere quiet”; being the only vehicle on the track they put on a show for us.

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Wilpena Pound – Tue 24th & Wed 25th March

Heading out from Arkaroola we came across this little chap, sunbathing on the road

15-03-24 Arkaroola Road

Wilpena Pound is the White Fella name.  Ikara is the name belonging to the Adnyamathanha people.  Whilst a ceremony was taking place two big Akurra (Dreaming serpents), surrounded the ceremonial group, with their encircled bodies forming the sides of Wilpena Pound.  Geologically speaking it’s like a dish, surrounded by escarpments aside from a single entrance

Sadly the campsite is outside of the Pound, however there are various hiking options either through the Pound or up to the Escarpment, from where there are great views of the Pound.  The girls did fantastically well, completing their first serious bush walk to the summit of Mt Ohlssen Bagge – in places this was a scramble on all fours, with Bonnie taking great delight in being a mountain goat.  The views from the top are spectacular, whilst looking from the bottom the girls were amazed at what they had climbed

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At the start of the walk the trail runs alongside a dry river valley.  An incredible feature of this is the gum trees split into two by fire / flood.

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Also at the campsite are the “wild” wallabies.  First visit, which delighted the girls, was from one very curious as to what we had in our camp, until the idiot next door thought dried pasta to be natural wallaby food.

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I’d love to claim I stalked for hours to get an elusive shot of Mum feeding baby, in reality this was next to the walk to the toilets with Mum looking over as if to say “nothing to see, move along”.

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Brachilna Gorge – Thu 26th March

Leaving Wilpena and heading north takes you past the Cazneaux Tree.  I must admit I’d never heard of Harold Cazneaux, although it seems he was the Australian equivalent of Ansel Adams (despite being a Kiwi).  In this case he photographed a lone red gum, titling it “Spirit of Endurance”, which as become one of his most famous images.  The tree still stands, alone on the plain.

Taking the scenic drive through the centre of the Flinders the road alternates between smooth and irritatingly corrugated, neither consistent enough to fall into a rythym.  Some fantastic views though.

15-03-26 Flinders

Brachilna Gorge, it has to be said, is impressive, with the road following the riverbed in many places.  At the west end is a campsite called Teamsters, and it is tempting to imagine, in the days of horses, that this was their rest before attempting the run of the gorge heading west.  Also evident is that beneath the dry crust there is moisture, in this case seemingly forced to the surface by rock steps.

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Camp for the night was Brachilna Gorge East.  A site of two parts the 4WD area entails crossing the river.  Whilst not a difficult drive, and at this time of year entirely dry, it was interesting to read the comments on Wikicamps about having to spend a few more days there when it rained and the river flowed.

Its fair to say this was our first truly isolated bush camp.  Its also funny how the brain works, instead of thinking “there’s no-one for miles’’, it jumps to “we’re so isolated, what if there’s an axe murderer out here”.  A ridiculous train of thought and the stars were fantastic.

Morning brought confirmation the noises we heard overnight were indeed dingoes, with a pair heading across the river.  No photos unfortunately as they were frightened off by the squeals of the girls as they threw themselves into the car and slammed the door.

15-03-27 Brachina Gorge East

Whyalla – Fri 27th & Sat 28th March

Time to leave the Flinders, so an early start.  Hitting the road by 8.30 was an eye opener, the number of kangaroos and emus feeding along the road was incredible.  Also the eagles dealing with the road toll.

Stopping in Hawker for a break confirmed that you meet people when you least expect.  Grabbing a snack at the garage we bumped into Kate from Mt Little Station, where we stayed on the way North.

Aside from that it was an uneventful journey.  I’m sure Port Augusta has its positives but stopping to replace the tyre we killed on the way to Arkaroola, they weren’t apparent.

Heading south into Whyalla the town hardly presents its best side.  First you run through the steel factories in all their industrial glory.  However after that it is quite a pleasant place.  The site itself had a lovely seafront position, affording some great sunrises; and in the local harbour there was a pod of dolphin which follow the recreational fishing boats in.  The girls loved getting so close to them.

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Adelaide to Arkaroola – 15th to 21st March

Adelaide – Sun 15th March

An early start today, time to see the city.  Jumping on the train at Marino its unnerving to see the carriage looks identical to the London commuter trains we gave up 10yrs ago, with the exception the seats are 2:2 to squeeze more standing passengers on.  Alighting at the main Adelaide station is like a timewarp, lots of grandeur and too few windows, giving it a sepia feel like a Chicago gangster film

Our destination. St Peters, takes us under the [Festival Building]; on top it has shades of the Opera House, underneath it’s all concrete brutality.  St Peters however is a delightful building, with an intricate reardos.  It also has a wonderful combined boys / girls choir, rare to see a strong choral service in Aus.

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Time for tourist mode.  Jumping the tram to Glen Elg its interesting to see the suburbs roll by; but what a disappointment at the end the line, all overpriced tat and bad food.

Later in the day its great to catch with a friend from years ago in the UK, and get a local view, before catching a great sunset over the water

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Clare Valley (via Barossa) – Mon 16th & Tue 17th March

Now we’re talking, a couple of the great wine regions of Australia.  Sadly its just a flying visit, you could spend days in each place, but best bring a driver.

The Barossa is not as easy to navigate as Coonawarra, the wineries are scattered all around the place.  Sadly this meant Henschke missed the cut, too far off the beaten path.  Happily Turkey Flat was close by, with some great wines.  Chatting away it appears the current harvest is the earliest on record, with a very short period to boot, courtesy of a cooler Jan which allowed the vines to continue to work rather than shutting down in the heat.

15-03-16 Barossa, Turkey Flat

With a short detour to see the historical buildings at Jacobs Creek it was time to head for the Clare Valley, and a change of focus from red to white.  Along the way the road passes through Kapunda, the oldest copper mining town in Australia, athough its not the oldest copper mine; thats Noarlunga

The Clare Valley is hillier than the Barossa, and has the vineyards either side of the road running north / south.  By happy coincidence our camp, in Leasingham, is next door to O’Leary Walker.  I’ll go out on a limb and say to my mind their Rieslings are as good as Grosset, but without the hype, and at half price are great value.

Mount Remarkable NP – Wed 18th March

At the northern end of the valley, Clare is the main town of the region.  It also has a Parks SA office, which allows us to buy a 2mth parks pass including camping, at $80 this should pay itself back many times over the next month.

For navigation, as well as a paper atlas, we are using a HEMA HN7.  This is a great device but, as we found in the Otways, can choose some interesting routes.  Based on its advice we elected to travel inland to the east of the park, rather than along the coast; someone somewhere at HEMA must be watching and laughing, the camp was on the east side.  On the plus side the change in landscape heading to the coast is astounding, from arable country to barren plain dotted with saltbush.

Mambray Creek is a pleasant campsite with all the facilities within a bush setting. It does come with a local emu though, much to the girl’s excitement

15-03-18 Mambray Creek

Mount Little Station – Thu 19th March

With a forecast 38c day plus strong winds this was a driving day, a retreat to the air con of the car.  Passing through the gap at Pichi Richi the landscape continues to get bleaker, with the distant ranges just visible above the heat haze.

15-03-19 North to Flinders

Stopping in Quorn reveals the old Ghan used to run this way, which may explain why a town that size has 3 large hotels alongside each other.

Midway to Hawker there are the ruins of Kanyaka station, a fascinating look at how the homestead was laid out and an interesting place to stop for lunch.  Given how dry the place is, the original owner was rather unlucky to drown during a rainstorm.

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Mount Little Station is a working cattle farm covering c.28,000 acres just under the Elder Range at the base of the Flinders NP.

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Sunrise over the Elder Range

According to the owners the farm relies on winter rain, but also summer thunder storms for water.  However with the storms not coming this year the whole area is parched, so much so there was no water at the camp – instead they put us up at the old homestead, which was wonderful of them.

The farm also has its own gorge, which after a short drive has several water holes; perfect for a birthday suit swim to cool off.

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Copley – Fri 20th March

Our original plan was to have a couple of days in the Flinders then go north to Arkaroola.  However a total park closure means Arkaroola comes first.  The Parks SA website delicately calls it a “pest management exercise”, or as the ranger at Mambray Creek bluntly put it ‘’shooting goats’’.

It’s a bit far for a single run, with Copley about half way.  The upside is a chance to see Parachilna Gorge, with lunch at the Prairie Hotel, home of the famed feral mixed grill.

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Beating us to lunch were the local Wedge Tail Eagles, seems road kill emu is just right for them

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Not much to say about the site at Copley, pleasant enough but a bit rich at $40.  Strangely a group of horses wandered through just after a lovely sunset.

15-03-20 Copley

Arkaroola – Sat 21st March

Heading out of Copley its straight onto the dirt and into Vulkathunha-Gammon NP.  This is beautiful country in a hot, arid, dusty way.  The road itself is not too bad, but crossed continually by floodways with masses of loose stones in their base.

Now talk over dinner in Copley was tyre pressures.  Go on a 4WD course and its “lower pressure”.  There was some debate over whether, given the stones, that exposes the sidewalls – however once the bumps started I lowered a couple of psi, not as much as I would normally.  More on this in a bit

Passing through the Italowie Gap it is startling just how green it is, courtesy of rains in January.  Especially striking is Lake Frome in the distance, a glistening white salt pan over the green.

15-03-21 Vulka-Gammon NP

About 10km 30km from Arkaroola is Balcanoona, a great place for lunch and a look around the old shearing shed to show the girls how it worked.

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Now back to tyres.  Pulling into Arkaroola we were greeted with a fast deflating tyre on the trailer.  A very dusty tyre swap later and it was clear a stone had punched through the sidewall.  Seems lower pressure may not be the best approach after all

More on Arkaroola, and its yellow footed rock wallabies next post

Into SA to Adelaide – 8th to 14th March

Prince Margaret Rose Caves – Sun 8th / Mon 9th March

Who the caves are named for is pretty obvious, although the republicans might be upset.  The caves themselves were discovered by the farmer who owned the land in the 1930’s.  He got bored of pitching sticks into the hole in his land and through he would take a look, so his mate lowered him down 17m with a candle and a box of matches.  The river hollowed out a fault in the rock, before dropping to a lower level about 500,000 years ago; since then water percolating from above has created a wonderful display.

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Its great being able to cook dinner over the fire, although basic fare its kind of 2 fingers up at sous-vide and molecular gastronomy;  good wholesome food with no pretensions.

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Southend – Mon 9th / Tue 10th March

Time to move on, and to bid farewell to the black centipedes which appeared at the first sign of a fire.  Although apparently harmless it was unnerving to find them crawling up a trouser leg.  They also liked the shower, curling up along the grout.

Also time to cross over from Victoria to South Australia.

15-03-09 SA Border

Heading north, Mount Gambier not only provided supplies but also an interesting look at water supply.  The whole town relies on a crater lake, filled from the local water table with about 36,000m litres in it.  It also, during summer, has a deep blue shade to it.

15-03-09 Mt Gambier Blue Lake

From Mount Gambier you can take the (boring) bitumen, or head to Carpenters Rocks and Canunda National Park.  Airing down to 17psi, looking at the narrow track ahead, I must admit to some nerves.  All I can say is there are some soft climbs, and between these it is like being on a constant roller coaster;  the volume of vehicles has turned the track into a kind of humpback trail.  They have also ripped up the base of the climbs, making it hard to carry any momentum without getting airborne.

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The original idea was to camp halfway, but the site was (a) infested with horseflies and (b) the long drop was getting close to capacity, so we pressed on, the landscape looking rather Mad Max post apocalyptic.  The lookout for Lake Bonney was well worth a visit, a great view of the windfarms on one side and the sea on the other (shame about the tracks left on the supposedly out of bounds dunes by the idiot brigade).

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Southend is a sleepy little town, with a small fleet of crayfish boats and a delightful little caravan park.  Originally a 7th Day Adventist Hall it has a great camp kitchen, hot showers and a stroll to the beach, plus Julie as a wonderful host.  Time to pause and get some schoolwork done

Kingston – Wed 11th March

Hands up, I’ll admit I enjoy a glass of red.  Especially a glass from Coonawarra, that narrow stretch of clay over limestone.  Heading out of Southend the question comes to mind – what are the sheep farmers going to do for shade once the few large shade trees die, doesn’t seem to be much planning going on.

Into Penola and the vines appear.  Stopping at every vineyard is tempting but risks an unhappy family, so its time to pick a few.  Balnaves is resplendent amongst the roses, Bowen has a wonderfully simple list of wines, Wynns is sadly over commercialised.  All of them have some great wines.

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Bowen
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Wynns

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From Coonawarra to Kingston the landscape is not something for the tourist brochures, spearing between dry brown paddocks and flocks of scrawny sheep, the road disappears into the haze.

Kingston is our first foray into free sites, not too bad, flush toilet and a row of grey nomads already enjoying the view.

Goolwa – Thu 12th / Fri 13th March

Aside from a free site, Kingston also has the Big Lobster.  Planning this trip we’d thought it would be fun to see all the “big” things, until we realised how many there were and that idea was scrapped; so good to tick one off at least.

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From there the road follows the Coorong NP.  An inland waterway between the mainland and a long sand spit, it’s one of those places that is beautiful but annoyingly difficult to photograph as it is so expansive.

The camp at Goolwa was more farmstay than campsite.  Set amongst the farmyard buildings Michael and Vicky have created a wonderful place to relax, with the girls loving the chance to feed the sheep, pigs and cows.  They own the Heritage bakery in Goolwa & Middleton, great bread and pies (remember those animals…).  Michael also has a man cave to be envious of.

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The beach driving at Goolwa, heading to the Murray mouth is also pretty good.

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Close by Goolwa is Victor Harbour.  Originally a whaling port it is now known for Granite Island, a refuge for penguins and other sea life.  A highlight is the horse drawn tram to / from the island.

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Adelaide – Sat 14th March

Crossing the Fluerieu peninsular it is easy to believe Vicky’s comment that Feb rainfall as been 3mm.  All that changes is that it gets bumpier, and irrigated fields get more obvious amongst the brown.

 

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Spot the irrigation

 

It is picturesque nonetheless.  A shame the same can’t be said of the southern outskirts of Adelaide, shades of Los Angeles type sprawl, thankfully replaced with more pleasant surroundings by the time we reached Brighton Holiday Park.  A very nice site but boy they charge for it – $78 a night, and you don’t even get wi-fi.

 

Mornington Peninsular / Great Ocean Road – 1st to 7th March

Sorrento – 1st / 2nd March

Waking up after the storm it seemed we had faired better than some, there was an old Jayco pop up collapsed and held down with a ratchet strap, beds still sticking out each end.  All we had was a few drips and some chairs to put away.  The wind was the strange thing;  when it came up there were no gusts, it was just a steady increase in strength until the pine trees above us were dropping cones like little bombs.

So farewell to Cape Paterson, onward to Sorrento.  We weren’t sure what to expect of the Mornington Peninsular; sure it has great vineyards but its also prime territory for the Melbourne weekender.  In reality there are 2 sides to it, along Port Phillip down to Rye its the built up resort we’d rather avoid, on the other side its rather pleasant.

But first lunch, and then the great strawberry rip off.

Lunch was at T’Gallant winery; great pizza, live music, pretty outlook over the vines and a thoroughly lovely spot.  Shame we couldn’t say the same about Sunny Ridge strawberry farm; being from England pick your own fruit was a common sight back there, but this was the first time we’d seen it over here.  So we thought give the girls a new experience, and pick a kilo for tea.  Turns out it doesn’t work like that, everyone must have a box and pay for it – so for $26 we would have 5 boxes that in total would hold no more than 500g.  The lesson turned into how to recognise a rip-off rather than how lovely picking fruit can be.  It was amazing how many people were paying, one born every minute and all that.

At the recommendation of the camping office, we ditched Rye and stayed on the foreshore just outside Sorrento.  A wonderful little spot looking north over the bay and steps to the beach.  The girls highly recommend Mubble, the ice cream shop

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Looking south to Sorrento

Blanket Bay – 3rd / 4th March

An early start to get the ferry across to Queenscliffe.  What a very pleasant way to travel, much easier than slogging through Melbourne on the freeway.  Driving through Queenscliffe on the other side it seems a little like the channel ports of the UK, the glory days are gone but memories of them remain in the architecture.

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Heading into Queenscliffe

 

The Great Ocean Road seems to be on everyone’s bucket list.  Certainly with the backpackers given the number of signs saying “Drive on the left in Australia”; although if you haven’t worked that out since leaving Melbourne you’re lucky to be alive.

Around Torquay its obvious to see why this is the (self proclaimed) home of Australian surfing, long sand beaches, clear water, waves rolling in just right.  Sadly we weren’t stopping; but it made for a lovely backdrop to lunch.  Heading south the beaches disappear into cliffs and the road twists its way along before opening back out approaching Appollo Bay.  Turn right here and its into Cape Otway, our destination, despite the best efforts of the Hema to send us down closed forest tracks on the way to Blanket Bay.

Blanket Bay sits at the end of Cape Otway, some 10km east of the lighthouse.  This is also Koala central; on the drive into the park one adventurous fellow was showing off for the audience.

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Set in the bush the sites are secluded, but the facilities limited – long drop, no water and take your rubbish home.  Part of the pleasure of camping is the people you meet, with several hours around the (communal) camp fire chatting with some local chaps down for some fishing. Another part is the unexpected; hats off to the ranger (also the sculptor, below) who, whilst waiting for a school group to come through, gave Charlotte and I an impromptu lesson on local native plants (and not so native, with juice from the dandelion root apparently a natural Stop-Itch)

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The lighthouse is worth a visit, a steep narrow climb to the top where it is amazing how small the motor is that turns the light around.  There is also the telegraph station for the first line to Tasmania, history relating to dinosaur fossils in the area, an extensive area on local aboriginal culture and some great sculptures by one of the rangers, like the southern right whale the girls are sat on below.

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Warrnambool – 5th March

The countryside leaving Cape Otway is picturesque, in a slightly bleak, hilly, windswept kind of way.  As you approach Port Campbell this gives way to scrubby heath, rolling into the distance with no indication of the rock formations a few hundred yards to the left.  Along this stretch of road is where the famous landmarks are found

The Twelve Apostles, actually rather fewer now, are very impressive.  It helped the surf was up and the sun was shining, this would be a terrible coast in the driving rain.

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London Bridge, although diminished by the collapse of the connecting arch, remains spectacular.  Apparently 2 people were trapped on the seaward side when the collapse occurred, can’t have been much fun.

15-03-05 London Bridge 1, Gt Ocean Rd

The Arch is a short hike to get to, and is not on the same scale as the others

15-03-05 The Arch, Gt Ocean Rd

The Grotto is also a hike, but worth the effort.  Its also worth climbing down to the base as looking through gives the best view.  With the surf up the waves throw spray up into the grotto itself

15-03-05 The Grotto, Gt Ocean Rd

One more attraction after these is not so well signposted, the Bay of Martyrs.  Just west of Peterborough this is a series of rock stacks within the bay; although not as high as the Apostles these are almost more impressive.  No photos unfortunately, by the time we saw them we had missed the parking.

As for Warrnambool, OK looking place and the Discovery Holiday Park was a welcome return to hot showers.  Other than that I can’t say, howling gales and rain don’t encourage sightseeing. The tent stood up to the wind much better than us, not a very restful night.

Princess Margaret Rose Caves – 6th / 7th March

With a long weekend upon us it was 3 day minimum time (will cover the 8th next post) and most places booked out in Discovery Bay National Park.  One site was clear, next to the Dune buggies’ zone, I can see why.  Looking further found this site in the Lower Glen Elg NP, north of Nelson, the added bonus of some caves to explore.

A bit of a twisty route for this one, turning north before Portland then east at Dartmoor to wind through the park / associated pine plantations.  Nothing too adventurous but getting off the tarmac had its reward – 2 emus, and a wedge tail eagle disturbed in its meal of road kill roo; flying down the road ahead of us its wings looked like they stretched verge to verge.

The campsite itself was a delight – quiet with secluded sites, firepits, hot showers and flush toilets.

Photos next time.