My Visual Diary 2021: Flinders Ranges Roadtrip

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One of my favourite moments of the trip was stopping to talk to this interesting character, hanging out with his ducklings in the front yard. He had plans for them which involved a red gum smoker, so he wasn't overly sentimental about them!

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This ruined shepherd's cottage stands a few kilometres north of Burra on the main road, and is one of Australia's best-known ruins, as it featured on rock band Midnight Oil's album, Diesel and Dust. In recent years it has been added as a designated tourist attraction, and has a car park off the road for photographers.

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North of Jamestown is the tiny settlement of Mannanarie, with barely more than a town hall and abandoned church, where I was intrigued by the mysterious windmill shape through the window.

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Although the district was dry, dry, dry, a short while after this the heavens opened briefly, and we passed by a couple of paddocks which were actually under water.
 
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Heading further north towards Orroroo, you have to take a dirt road to get a look at Black Rock's best side: the old railway master's cottage, and the hotel (now an art gallery, closed that day). According to the sign, this is kalamazoo country - I wonder what that's about. EDIT: I leaned that the inaugural Kalamazoo Race was held in 2010, was very successful, but has not been run since.

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It's around now that the views start to become epic, hinting at the stunning scenery to come.

Looking east from the lookout over Orroroo:

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West of the road to Johnburgh, northeast of Orroroo:

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The practically-deserted hamlet of Johnburgh took us on a dirt road detour, but I was glad we did - unlike many ruins close to main roads, it hadn't been as ruthlessly vandalised as is often seen.

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Thanks to the internet, we knew we could get a good feed at the restored Cradock pub, on the bitumen road from Orroroo to Hawker. The young bloke at the bar squeezed in our lunch order a few minutes after 2pm cutoff, and told us that the pub had been a huge success; as a local farmer, he wanted to ensure there would be a pub for him to go to after a hard day, so he bought this one and has set about turning it into a local icon, serving 70-100 meals per day. There are no other services in town.

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Across the road from the pub is a giant hat on a tank stand:

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After lunch, I stopped for this handsome former Catholic church:

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And now folks, after all this preliminary waffle, we're getting to the point: the Ikara-Flinders Ranges, as seen from the west approaching the Moralana Scenic Drive. Throughout much of the region, stock grids (the dark space on the road between the black and white striped signs) mark the fences to keep stock in, and motorists need to keep an eye out for domestic animals - mainly sheep and cattle.

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This was, to my eye, the most scenic part, and concludes the day's shooting.

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You may be relieved to know that from here, I switched to using micro four thirds gear! 😉
 
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Driving into Bunyeroo Gorge, north of Wilpena Pound, brings some of the most recognisable views of the Flinders Ranges.

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One of the places we most enjoyed spending time at was the Aroona Ruins near Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorges. In the 1850s, during good seasons, enthusiastic settlers took up pastoral runs further into the range away from reliable land. In the following decade, the climate proved itself fickle, and many lost their stock and homes to drought.

At Aroona, a vast mulberry tree - a species often surviving in such harsh conditions - still grows near the original vegetable garden plot.

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Below the stone ruins, further down the Aroona Valley floor, is a pug and pine hut, constructed simply from the local native pine, which can also be seen in the fence posts above.

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One of my favourite parts of the ranges to visit is Brachina Gorge, but travellers are required to pay to enter, as it's in the national park.

The creek seldom flows, but when it does it flows "in anger": there was evidence all around of recent flooding (we later heard that on 25 January the area received around 100mm of rain in 24 hours, the most at once since 1989), with huge logs piled up against bigger red gum trunks. Even rocks are sent bowling through the valley, some catching permanently in the trunks.

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As we came round a bend in the stony track, another vehicle had pulled up ahead and both occupants were out and looking towards the bushes on the opposite creek bank, so we grabbed our cameras and got out, too. There was a scuffling in the undergrowth, then two diminutive yellow footed rock wallabies tumbled out in a ball of limbs and tails, then bounced about for a while with their paws up in sparring-stance.

It was my first sighting of them in the wild, and though my photo isn't great, the moment truly was. After decades of becoming severely threatened, this gorgeous species is recovering now, and I had the pleasure of seeing more later in the trip.

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After the nonchalant wallabies moved on, we continued to the western end of the gorge, where it spills out into the plains.

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One of the nice things about travelling in May (late autumn meant cool nights, 0-10°C) was being able to have fires at all our campsites, as the fire danger season had just ended. We took our own wood, since we had plenty of room in the trailer (under the camper).

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Glass Gorge is accessed via a graded dirt road curving northwards from near the western end of Parachilna Gorge, before curving south again to Blinman village - from recollection it gets pretty boggy after wet weather, but it was dry for our visit (another benefit of travelling in autumn!).

We were enchanted by the range of geological forms, from rock walls stacked like lumber, to soft shapes mimicking topographic maps and faces.

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Blinman is a quaint Flinders mining village, with the distinction of being South Australia's highest-altitude surveyed town, at 610 metres. When I was a dreamy teenager, I fantasised about living there, but I can't imagine it now. These days it almost exclusively serves as a tourist destination, with barely more than a pub, bakery, art gallery, part time post office and mine tours to provide services.

We visited the bakery twice: the miners' pasties, featuring a few bites of apple pie filling at the end, were worth returning for!

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The village, seen from the northern end, looking back towards the main street:

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