According to geologists, the area encompassing the Flinders Ranges was once an inland sea depositing different rocks into the area. Over time, these rocks were compressed and uplifted, forming a mountain chain.
Geology lessons aside, during September 2012 the Flinders Ranges weren’t looking so good. The wild spring weather had cooked up the mother of all dust storms, screening much of the magnificent orange, blue and green hues of the Heysen Range. Even our favourite camp at East Brachina along the Geological Trail was copping a battering. Still, the Flinders always manages to take you to another spiritual place to marvel at its origins and despite the bellowing wind we were soon admiring views of the Wilpena ramparts from a unique vantage point.
We bunkered down at Merna Mora Station, 40km north of Hawker, in a bush camp overlooking the Moralana Creek. The station is run by the 6 and 7th generation Fels family, specialising in cattle and sheep. One of the station’s biggest attractions is the 4×4 station tracks offering a bit of everything. The Bunbinyunna Track starts along the picturesque Moralana Scenic Drive before climbing steeply into the high country, enjoying some of the best views in the area. The ascents and descents were quite gnarly, so Victorians should feel right at home. The Lake Torrens scenic drive takes in sand dunes and floodplains; a historic track along the old Ghan railway line and explores bullock wagon tracks into the Elder Ranges; and the Wowee Track is so named for the superlatives you’ll utter from the panoramic hilltops.
The bush campground has an ensuite with flushing toilet, an instant hot water shower, a couple of pit toilets and rain water is available from the homestead. Otherwise powered sites are available adjacent to the Shearers Quarters accommodation or you can opt for a self-contained unit. There’s a grassed area for the kids to play on and a covered bbq area with tables and chairs.
The Fels family are known for their friendly hospitality. Every Saturday night they light the campfires, back to back and sit around with the guests for a chat and a drink. During our visit Rodney Hunt from R ‘n’ R, performed a couple of sets of country and folk songs accompanied by his acoustic guitar. The highlight was a song he’d recently written for his mate Donald Fels, a true story about the extraction of roo late one evening that had wedged itself between the bull bar and the headlight. Donald was wearing his new RM Williams boots with shiny soles at the time, so was enduring quite a struggle to extract the wriggling roo from its predicament. It was funny seeing Donald’s face as he listened to the song for the first time, much to the amusement of his family and friends.
After leaving Merna Mora, we spent a couple of nights at the East Brachina camp in the national park. Like many of the camping areas, emus wander through the campground at various times of the day when the activity level is low, with the father bird looking after the chicks.
In windy conditions, Wilpena Pound is a little more protected and the caravan park there has the usual facilities including powered and unpowered sites, shared facilities, kiosk, grog shop and a national parks office. The area is popular for bushwalkers who can hike into the pound or enjoy many other walks in the natural surroundings. And there’s Telstra Next G service for emails and Facebook.
ARKAROOLA WILDERNESS SANCTUARY
Our next Station Stay was at the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the Northern Flinders Ranges. We had been here before entering via Copley, popular for the bakery and its Quandong Pies, but this time around opted to enter via Blinman. The landscape was particularly inviting with smooth, green rolling countryside, a stark contrast to the rugged Flinders Ranges.
If you’ve seen media from the recent re-enactment of the Nissan Simpson Crossing with Doug and Marg Sprigg, Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is where they hail from. Their father, Dr Reg Sprigg was a passionate geologist and conservationist and purchased Arkaroola sheep station in 1967 with wife Griselda, to develop into a private wilderness sanctuary specialising in native flora and fauna.
Kudos to the Sprigg family for doing so, as it’s an amazing destination in a unique location, surrounded by semi-arid desert country. Backtrack to Balcanoona to meander out to Lake Frome (salt lake) or head further north to Innamincka via the Strzelecki or any of the other desert tracks.
We spent time catching up with Marg and Doug fresh from their Simpson trip. Both have inherited their father’s passion for conservation and geology which is evident as they speak. Doug chatted openly about the Simpson trip and the tractable nature of the G60 engine and its ease tackling Big Red and the other dunes of the trip; and Marg educated us about the amazing geology of the area relative to the Flinders Ranges National Park further south.
As the name indicates, Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is all about appreciating the wilderness through bushwalking, 4×4, geology or nature studies. The Echo Back trail is 4X4 GOLD and a must-do for anyone with a high clearance 4×4. The trail takes about 6 hours if you opt for all the optional tracks such as the run out to Paralana Hot Springs. But be warned, the latter in particular is a rough and bumpy passage, especially after an already long day. The scenery, landscape and panoramas are simply sublime, leaving you with a renewed appreciation for the area.
There are plenty of other activities from bushwalks, swimming holes, lookouts or other self-funded activities such as the astronomy observatory, helicopter flights, photographic workshops, guided walks/drives and much more.
The main campground has powered and unpowered sites and the usual facilities. In addition there is a large bush camping area where you can use a generator if needed. There are some basic flush toilets but the showers are located at the main camp ground. Don’t be tempted to use a porta potti during your stay as there is no dump point and use of the toilets for such purpose is prohibited. Mobile coverage hasn’t yet made it to Arkaroola, although there is an internet kiosk in the front office although performance is reported to not be the best.
Arkaroola offers fuel, accommodation, meals, a bar and some basic general store items. If you need fuel, make sure you fill up in the evening when most people are back at camp slugging back a few coldies or preparing dinner as it can be a little chaotic at other times, particularly in the morning.
As we were leaving, we bumped into Anthony ‘Macca’ McDonald from Red Desert Catering, heading back from the Nissan Simpson gig with his Tvan in tow.
Well folks, that’s it for this round. Catch up with us next time as we explore the Corner Country, chat to Fenn and Cheryl at the Cameron Corner pub and explore the Sturt National Park.
Merna Mora Station, 08 86484 717, mernamora.com.au
Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, 08 8648 4848, arkaroola.com.au
Flinders Ranges National park, 08 8648 0048, www.environment.sa.gov.au