My Visual Diary 2021: Flinders Ranges Roadtrip

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Kristian Coulthard, the owner of Wadnayura Gallery just west of Blinman, is an Adnyamathanha man who makes hand carved timber musical instruments and objects such as boomerangs in the Aboriginal tradition. He told us it's a skill which has been passed down through his family. It was great to hear him speak about his culture and the local area, also touching on Australia's very dark history of massacres and systematic degradation, which decimated the first nation's population.

The day we visited, he was working on a set of "tapping sticks", a percussion instrument, and showed us how he made specific marks, representing animal tracks. This is the terrific view, looking towards town from his work bench:

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Heading towards Chambers Gorge, northeast of Blinman, where all roads are gravel at best, we stopped for a shot of the painted hills of Wirrealpa:

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Further along, in a dry creek crossing, this magnificent red gum tree base beckoned to me, and I was intrigued by the "faces" I found amongst the root ball:

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The road into Chambers Gorge features this nicely-designed and fabricated sculpture, which appears to be carved from rock; upon closer inspection, and a light tap on the side, we realised it was hollow.

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Once we got into the gorge, the road turned into a gravelly track with many creek crossings; the creek was dry, so water wasn't our problem, but road tyres and sharply-pointed rocks didn't mix, and we had to stop to fix a flat at the next spot:

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At least there was a view and some signage!

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Home for the night, above the dry Chambers Creek:

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speedy

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That's a fantastic record of your trip. Very much like. I had no idea that the Flinders ranges were as steep, tall and rugged as the photo in your original post. Always thought they were more gentle & rolling. I must try and get over that way myself & have a look around. Great photos, & you've captured the feel & atmosphere brilliantly. Even though I've never been there. I look forward to reading about the rest of your trip 👍👍👍
 
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That's a fantastic record of your trip. Very much like. I had no idea that the Flinders ranges were as steep, tall and rugged as the photo in your original post. Always thought they were more gentle & rolling. I must try and get over that way myself & have a look around. Great photos, & you've captured the feel & atmosphere brilliantly. Even though I've never been there. I look forward to reading about the rest of your trip 👍👍👍
Thanks @speedy! The ranges are hundreds of millions of years old, and what we see now is what remains after being eroded down from a height similar to the Himalayas, which I hadn't realised or thought about before this trip. It accounts for their rocky, rugged nature, and for our very thin soils.
 

John King

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Thanks @speedy! The ranges are hundreds of millions of years old, and what we see now is what remains after being eroded down from a height similar to the Himalayas, which I hadn't realised or thought about before this trip. It accounts for their rocky, rugged nature, and for our very thin soils.
Yeah, Melanie, the MacDonnell Ranges were the highest mountain range we know to have existed, and look at them now - barely 1,000 feet high!

The Flinders Ranges are well over a billion years old ...

Just loving your trip photos.
 

Vermont3133

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Great stuff Melanie!!!
Brings back a lot of memories of the trip, from Melbourne, my wife and I took a couple of years ago.
We, obviously, took a somewhat different route going via Mildura, Burra, Rawnsley Park, Parachilna, Hawker and then home via Tanunda and Meningie.
My only regret was that we didn't have boofy 4WD [rather than s softish AWD SUV.] which would have enabled us to do some of the more adventurous tracks.
 
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Agree Melanie, these are beautifully illustrated and documented stories.
Those ancient gums, battered and bruised, are really delightful.
You've photographed some very nice shots of them.
Harsh country, rugged survival.
One can't not be touched by that reality looking at these photos.

Looks like you had some murky skies.
Did you get any of that beautiful light that drifts across the landscape bringing out more of its beauty?
You were there at different time to us so no doubt light would be different.

Thanks again for sharing and rekindling memories :)
 
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Great stuff Melanie!!!
Brings back a lot of memories of the trip, from Melbourne, my wife and I took a couple of years ago.
We, obviously, took a somewhat different route going via Mildura, Burra, Rawnsley Park, Parachilna, Hawker and then home via Tanunda and Meningie.
My only regret was that we didn't have boofy 4WD [rather than s softish AWD SUV.] which would have enabled us to do some of the more adventurous tracks.
@Vermont3133 I've been to the same places you've mentioned, at different times (lived near Tanunda for a while, the architecture in the Barossa is superb). Visiting the Flinders as a kid in the 1980s, we only ever had 2WD vehicles, and there was a lot less bitumen then, but I noticed on this trip that access has not really improved (despite the bitumen), and that we really could have done with a 4WD to get access to places I remembered being able to visit back then in humbler cars.
Agree Melanie, these are beautifully illustrated and documented stories.
Those ancient gums, battered and bruised, are really delightful.
You've photographed some very nice shots of them.
Harsh country, rugged survival.
One can't not be touched by that reality looking at these photos.

Looks like you had some murky skies.
Did you get any of that beautiful light that drifts across the landscape bringing out more of its beauty?
You were there at different time to us so no doubt light would be different.

Thanks again for sharing and rekindling memories :)
Quite a different landscape from Tassie! We may not have been travelling during the more atmospheric times, only a few times late afternoon, and certainly never early morning, the point being to have a relaxing holiday! Night always seemed to close in early as soon as the sun sank behind the range, and we prioritised setting up camp and fire. Despite my good intentions, I don't often plan holiday shooting for specific conditions, so take whatever I get.
 
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We spent two nights camped at Chambers Gorge. My first gleeful discovery was a Sturt Desert Pea growing in the creek near our campsite - these are one of my favourite native wildflowers, which I've only seen a scant handful of times. In the background is the cap of Mount Chambers (which was also visible behind the signpost in my previous post).

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On the first day, we followed the glowing recommendation of the 20-year old guidebook I was using, and set out to walk an unspecified distance through the gorge to its conclusion, where we were promised fabulous views to Lake Frome.

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Well...we walked for five kilometres through the dry, rocky creek bed, which was fun for the first hour, until I decided that really I'd gone a few steps too far, knowing the return journey would be made in the day's full heat, and slightly uphill. While our experienced-hiker friends continued along the unpromising route, we ate lunch and rested, then began trudging back towards camp.

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About half a kilometre from camp, weary and feeling a bit desperate to be there already, we found our second Sturt Desert Pea in glorious bloom.

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Back at camp, I put myself straight to bed with a novel to recover and await our friends' return. They arrived in due course to tell us that the next 3.5 kilometres were much of the same, terminating in a wildly underwhelming view of the plain to the east. So they had walked over 15 kilometres to our 10, for no added benefit. Even though I had wanted to go the distance, I was relieved I listened to my unfit body's protestations.

Our friend, who is a hiking nut (she claims she requires daily walking, preferably in mountains), was astonished that I recovered without any hiking hangovers, and told me that due to the terrain it would be classed as a difficult walk. So I felt a little pleased about achieving that, as I hadn't walked so far since our trip to Tasmania in January 2020.
 
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Vermont3133

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Melanie I think we need to be a bit wary of travel guides enthusiastic description of track and walks.
I'm thinking of a recent trip to Wilsons Prom where we walked 6 or 7k on track lauded as a *Bird Lover's Paradise*. The best we saw was the tail feathers of a Black Cockatoo and some Pelicans bobbing in the distance, far from the shore.
 
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Melanie I think we need to be a bit wary of travel guides enthusiastic description of track and walks.
I'm thinking of a recent trip to Wilsons Prom where walked 6 or 7k on track lauded as a *Bird Lover's Paradise*. The best we saw was the tail feathers of a Black Cockatoo and some Pelicans bobbing in the distance, far from the shore.
Damn straight @Vermont3133 - I'm never listening to such nonsense again, most travel guides are just propaganda! Even the 5.6km walk we did later in the trip, while very nice and easy enough for novices as promised, was too much to keep my interest - admittedly it was up and down a small mountain, and I'm not keen on the up or down bits 😂
 
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On our second morning at Chambers Gorge, we walked a short distance to a far more rewarding sight: the petroglyphs, ancient rock carvings made by the Aboriginal people inhabiting and visiting this place. This is the main attraction to tourists coming to the gorge. Brace yourself for quite a lot of photos!

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Prior to the trip, I decided I urgently required a suitable backpack to hold all my gear. I settled on a used Vanguard Biin 59 backpack on EBay, which didn't actually arrive in the mail in time; however, our travel buddies left a few days later than us, so were able to collect and bring it!

It worked out really well: it held two bodies, seven lenses, with a little room to spare (more, once I took out a kit or two), and my shining knight happily carried it so that it was easy for me to access the gear I wanted. He said it was very comfortable and hardly noticed it. Don't worry, I was carrying another (smaller) backpack with food and water, although at one point he insisted on carrying both, when I was struggling near the end of the 10km hike - a strong outdoors type I am not.

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It wasn't particularly wildflower time during our visit, with the notable exception of the glorious Sturt Desert Peas, which were making the best of some recent rain. I was particularly charmed by the rock daisy, growing from the most improbable crevices. Here's a small selection, including a ptilotus, a rock daisy, a solanum, and a couple of extras I don't know.

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Speaking of the SDP, are these not a glorious concoction?

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A caravanner pulled up alongside one of these plants, and was telling us of a program he worked on for the Japanese market: they were much desired as house plants, but the black centre was too "eye like", so they had them engineered to have a reddish centre instead.

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It's really amazing, the people one engages with - it helped that one of our travelling party often got talking to strangers, and I was able to bounce off of that.

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At Balcanoona Park Headquarters, we got talking to travellers from the opposite end of our "wide brown land", and mentioned getting a flat tyre at Chambers Gorge; before we could protest, the gentleman had retrieved his tyre repair kit and was plugging away at it.

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As soon as we were in a place where such Good Things were available, we purchased one of our very own.
 
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Our next camp was at Arkaroola Village, where we chose a more private bush camp, away from the rabble - we had a toilet just down the road, and access to the park facilities further away - it was a pleasure to have a shower after several days without. This Willie Wagtail was scavenging around our campsite.

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On our first day, we spent the morning relaxing and catching up on laundry, then headed out to Stubbs Waterhole; this was the first time we felt much disadvantaged by not having a serious four wheel drive vehicle, as most of Arkaroola's tracks are marked 4x4 only. Fortunately, the Holden Adventra handled the rough track well, and the only hitch was in my quaking spirit as we churned along.

Our first stop was at the ochre wall, which was a rainbow of coloured, soft strata along a dry creek bed. Ochre was a valuable commodity for the Aboriginal people, often being traded far from its place of origin.

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Into Welcome Pound:

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Stubbs Waterhole did have water in it, but I found the textures in the rocks and trees more interesting.

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On our way back to the village, we took a minor detour on a track over a small hill marked 4x4 only, and the car managed just fine.

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