Part 2 - Exploring The Flinders Ranges
It's time to get out and explore the Flinders Ranges on foot and by 4WD
One of the benefits of travelling to the Flinders Ranges in the middle of winter is the complete lack of flies or mozzies or any other bugs that we’ve encountered so far.
It’s also unlikely that we’ll see any snakes as they are at their least active in the colder weather.
Hiking is also better in the colder weather because you quickly warm up once you get moving whereas staying cool on a hot day is tougher.
But the downside is that it is cold . . . very cold . . . and rain is an ever present reality.
Both of which we’re equipped to deal with but I have to confess that when night falls and the temperature follows I find myself feeling empathy for the reptiles that choose to hibernate their way through the winter months.
Crawling into the swag at 9:00pm to warm up and nod off to sleep seems pretty normal and a contrast from my usual bedtime at home closer to midnight most nights.
So on our second day at Wilpena we woke to a cold dry morning but overcast skies and having put in an 8km walk yesterday we decided to give the legs a rest and head out in the Landcruiser and explore the National Park.
My hope was that we would get some great footage of the spectacular ridges, rock faces, gorges and river beds that the Flinders Ranges are renown for but while the sun broke through a couple of times, for the most part the day was very grey and the light not ideal.
We were however lucky enough to spot a couple of Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies and managed to get some great footage. While kangaroos are very common in the Flinders Ranges, spotting a Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby is rare so it was definitely a highlight for us.
Hanging our hopes on a decent sunset for some good landscape shots, we headed back towards Wilpena and as luck would have it the sun shone through for the last 30 or so minutes of the day and we captured a gorgeous sunset across the plains near Wilpena campground, complete with kangaroos in the foreground, while we enjoyed a tailgate picnic which soon became dinner.
That night it rained pretty solidly all night and really put the girls new swags to the test which passed with flying colours.
Next morning we were ready to put the hiking boots back on and stretch the legs again and debated whether to walk the more challenging 6.4km Mount Ohlssen-Bagge summit track or the longer but easy 18.8km Bridle Gap Hike which crosses the middle of Wilpena Pound.
Savanna was keen to tackle the longer walk while Sara & Sienna were more keen on the shorter but more challenging Mount Ohlssen-Bagge, but in the end it was the clock that made the decision for us.
By the time we were ready to hit the tracks it was late morning and I didn’t fancy starting an 18.8km hike, no matter how easy, with only 6 hours of daylight.
So we headed on up Mount Ohlssen-Bagge which involves about 3km of steady uphill hiking on some pretty rough tracks. After so much rain the night before and a freezing cold morning it was nice to get out of the shadow of the trees and into the sun and really warm up.
In fact after not too long we were looking for the sunscreen!
Roughly 2 1/2 hours after we started we made it to the summit and were rewarded with spectacular views across Wilpena Pound on one side of the ridge line and north across the campground on the other side.
It was windy and cool but we were all excited to have made it to the top and glad we’d pushed ourselves to get there.
After the obligatory photos and video we started the long walk back down which in some ways is just as challenging as the climb - easier on the lungs but tougher on the legs and feet.
Sienna managed to twist her knee on the way up which caused her some grief going down but she pushed though and next morning it was better, not worse, which was a relief!
One of the trips that I’ve been wanting to do ever since I first heard about it many years ago is the Skytrek track on Willow Springs Station.
I hadn’t made any firm plans to do it on this trip because it’s very much dependent on the weather - when it’s wet they close the track as it’s too dangerous.
So before we headed out on our Mount Ohlssen-Bagge hike I checked the forecast which showed no rain in sight for the next couple of days and I figured this was the opportunity I’d been waiting for.
A quick call to Carmel at Willow Springs confirmed it was going to be open the next day and we booked ourselves in.
So waking to clear skies and with sore feet from yesterdays hike we drove up to Willlow Springs and met with Carmel, Brendan and Michelle who gave us the run down of what to expect on the track.
The key points being the features to lookout for, where the toilet stops were, a good lunch spot and the fact that we needed to allow around 2 hours for the last 12km because it was the toughest part of track - first gear . . . low range . . . steep hills . . . excellent ?
The map that Michelle gave us has 50 points of interest to check out along the way and we were good to go.
I let the tyres down to 30psi to soften the ride and zeroed the trip meter and we were on our way little before 10:00am.
The track starts fairly easy winding it’s way through a beautiful gorge and we stopped regularly to check out some very old Aboriginal engravings, a giant boulder that recently fell into the gorge next to the road and various aspects of the working sheep station.
We stopped for morning tea at Old Moxan’s Hut which is over 100 years old and occupied by station employees up until the 1960’s. The hut was restored by the Nissan Patrol Club in 1993 and is a great insight into the history of station life.
Continuing on for another 15 km and we entered the Bunkers Reserve which is an area set aside to help rebuild the population of Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies though a program called ‘Bounceback’. Feral goats have been culled and native vegetation is preserved to create a sanctuary for the wallabies which are few and far between.
While we didn’t see any ourselves on the day we certainly saw plenty of kangaroos and and emus . . . and no feral goats!
The Bunkers scenery is spectacular and we couldn’t help but keep stopping to take it all in.
This is also where the track starts to get serious and the first time for the day that I used low range.
The girls called it a rollercoaster ride with one small hill after another and the track is rough and strewn with rocks and washouts requiring lots of sharp turns of the wheel to dodge the larger rocks and potholes.
Lunch was on the tailgate and consisted of wraps with coleslaw, cheese and cold chicken but as much as we wanted to hang around, we needed to keep moving.
We’d already spent too much time soaking up the scenery and the day was getting away from us.
We started on the track at around 10:00am but in hindsight we should have started earlier - it is open from 8:00am and that extra 2 hours would make all the difference.
So for the next hour or so we drove at a pretty steady pace, stopping only a couple of times so we could get to the start of the last 12 km which is marked by a locked gate.
Our goal was to get to the end of the track before sunset at about 5:15pm which we planned to watch from Stokes Hill Lookout just near the entrance to Willow Springs and the end of the Skytrek Track.
So as we went through the locked gate at around 3:30 pm we knew we had some work ahead of us.
By this time the cloud cover had cleared and the sun was low in the western sky which it turns out is pretty much right in front of us as we we were climbing some of the most serious rocky hill climbs I’ve experienced.
Absolute low range first gear stuff and hills you wouldn’t want to stop on and have to reverse back down!
All in all loads of fun and the 80 Series took it in its stride as always and rewarded us with some truly spectacular views and ‘gripping the steering wheel’ moments.
As I mentioned before, if you are planning to drive Skytrek, I highly recommend you start as close to 8:00am as possible so you can give yourself a good 3 hours for the last 12 km to be able to take it at a leisurely pace and really enjoy the ride and the views.
Coming out the other end a little after 5:00 pm we legged it to Stokes Hill Lookout dodging kangaroos along the way and managed to get there with about 10 minutes to spare - just enough to capture the sunset and a few nice photos like the one at the top of this post.
Arriving back at the Willow Springs office we were all smiles as we handed back the key to Michelle and thanked her for the day.