Flinders Ranges II – The Wilder North

Our time in the northern half of the Flinders Ranges was unfortunately not nearly as interesting or exciting as we had originally planned because two days into our stay in Arkaroola we had our first travel mishap of the trip with the catastrophic failure of our roof racks and associated damage to the gutters of the van but I’ll get back to that later, I’m just giving you all a heads up that we didn’t end up seeing all that much so if you’re looking for a travel guide for the north this isn’t it.

After departing from Willow Springs we found ourselves on the road without much of an idea where we were going but with the general intention of heading north. This vagueness inadvertently resulted in our arrival at the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna where we both opted for a South Australian pint of the local ale. Because it was 11.30am, we were drinking on an empty stomachs, and I am a total light weight, I was feeling very merry after finishing my glass much to Matt’s annoyance. Poor Matt, the more exasperated he got the funnier I found the whole situation so it turned into a possitive feedback loop of giggles. We pulled up and had lunch in Parachilna Gorge and by the time we’d finished I was back to normal. Having no idea where we’d be staying the night we continued onwards to Glass Gorge, another geological feature that had been recommended by fellow travellers and as usual it took us the entire afternoon to get there. We decided to be a bit cheeky and free camped in the gorge car park that night.

The next morning we drove into the nearby town of Blinman and had a look around the local mine. There are official tours on offer which can be booked from the information centre or you can walk around the site for free which we did. It wasn’t as impressive as some of the others we have been to as most of the buildings and equipment were gone but the slag pile was interesting and the information boards were really well written. Back in town we stopped at The Miners Crib (shop/cafe) to grab some fresh bread and couldn’t help but buy two of the pies for morning tea. I had steak and mushroom and it was delicious! On the way towards Arkaroola we only ended up making one stop at Mount Chambers Gorge. You’ve probably realised by now that there are a lot of gorges in the Flinders Ranges but if you visit you won’t get sick of them because they are all so unique. Chambers Gorge is special because of the Aboriginal rock engravings placed on the rock walls that line the dry river bank. The engravings were produced by the Adnyamathanha people of the Flinders Ranges by using a sharp object to create a series of inter-connecting pits or by rubbing the surface of the rock to form a groove. The further we walked in the more engravings appeared until the walls were completely covered. The final leg of the journey to Arkaroola was our first proper taste of corrugated dirt roads but the van seemed to handle it well. We set up camp in the valley below the main powered camping area at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

The next morning we decided to have our first “rest afternoon”, I was starting to feel a bit fatigued which sounds so stupid because we are on holiday and sleeping 10 hours a night but the constant action had worn me out. So that we were still making the most of our time in Arkaroola we took the shuttle bus up the road and walked back on the Acacia Ridge walk. It was only 7km but there was a significant climb which made it a nice challenge and the views! Well I think the pictures speak for themselves. Back at camp we spent the rest of the day doing, not much at all. I did some cross stitch and read, Matt did some work.

After our rest day we both felt ready to tackle some of the roads through the sanctuary. Armed with our hand drawn map of the roads and tracks we bounced along with the ultimate goal of reaching the only hot spring powered by radioactivity in the world. If you ever find yourself in Arkaroola my one piece of advice is do not trust the map that you’re given. Anything on there marked 2WD is 4WD and anything marked 4WD is undrivable. The journey out to the springs was stunning with more of the Flinders geology, various historic mine sites, wildlife, and finally the spring. I’m glad that the receptionist had clued us up that it wasn’t much to look at because we would have been disappointed otherwise but the gulley the trickle of warm green water was situated in was stunning. We spent some time sitting there and enjoying the bird life before heading back to camp.

The drive back was uneventful until we hit the ruts on the main road going back towards the station. I started to hear a weird tapping noise and asked Matt to get out and look. It turned out to be the wire for the solar panel tapping on the roof because the roof rack cross beam had moved and sheared the wire in half. We decided to keep going but not even 50m down the road I looked in the rear view mirror and noticed the rack was swinging from side to side. Matt got out with the intention of tightening the cross bar to fix it but happened to look at one of the joining legs and noticed a crack. He looked at the rest of the mounts and sure enough 3/4 of them had completely failed. It was a total disaster and a hair raising drive back along the road to our campsite at 5km/h praying the rack didn’t fall off onto the roof.

Sitting in the campsite, spending hours looking at the huge problem that was our roof racks was getting us nowhere and we decided to take the advice of the Arkaroola owner and pop up to see the Yellow-footed rock-wallabies be fed as he says ” if I’m having a bad day I come up here in the afternoon and feed the wallabies which makes everything better”. After spending half an hour watching those beautiful animals including a mum and baby eat their kangaroo pellets we concluded that we couldn’t agree more.

The next day was spent sitting around in our camp calling RACQ and trying to work out a solution as we couldn’t continue to drive with the rack. We ended up being put in contact with a mechanic in Copley (130km away) that was an affiliated member with RACQ. The most frustrating thing was that nobody we spoke to was in any hurry to do anything and the mechanic was particularly unhelpful suggesting that we “place some bits of wood under the rack to give it support and then drive it to Copley”. I think the only thing more dangerous than driving on the corrugated roads and washouts that originally broke the rack is doing it with a heap of loose wood on top of the van. After an entire day of negotiations and Matt using his angry voice we managed to negotiate to get the rack picked up the next day, around lunch time, if Matt and I had taken everything off it and removed it from the roof. Far out.

On Thursday morning we took everything off the top of the van, gave our firewood away to some nearby campers, and with the help of some kind locals disassembled the roof rack system and put it on the ground for the worlds most relaxed mechanic to pick up. In the process of removing the roof racks we also made the very grim discovery that the damage had gone through to the van and the guttering at the attachment points was also cracked. It was weird leaving Arkaroola with no roof rack and no real plan but we were both feeling pretty positive that we’d find a solution and get back on the road soon.

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