We first visited the Gawler Ranges in 2010, camping in the national park not far from the Paney Homestead. The camp grounds were dry and dusty, as was the surrounding bushland and the Organ Pipes or red rhyolite rocks that exist in the gullies didn’t quite match that of the tourist brochures. Still, the blend of historical pastoral artifacts, the beauty of the ranges and the remarkable lack of tourists gave the area an element of tranquility rarely found, prompting us for a return visit.
Come 2012, the plan was to explore a little wider, particularly the 4×4 accessible campgrounds and check out Mt Ive Station, a working sheep station in the Gawler Ranges, east of the national park offering camping, 4×4 station tracks and access to Lake Gairdner, one of Australia’s largest salt lakes.
We entered the national park through Wudinna on the Eyre Highway on a well-maintained unsealed road that passes through pastoral properties before reaching the Pinkawillinie Conservation Park where the track gets a little sandy. The gravelled surface completes the final run into the national park over a roller coaster ride of sand hills.
Conventional vehicle access and camping grounds dominate the southern end of the park, particularly around the site of the Paney Homestead, which is now renovated accommodation. There are a number points of interest in the general area including the Old Paney Homestead, Policeman’s Point, the Organ Pipes and a few camping areas. Further north, the 4×4 accessible campgrounds can be found. The tracks aren’t really hard core 4×4, but they’re not maintained, so you may need to endure the conditions of past water damage and rocky ground to get to your destination of choice. In contrast, access to the camp grounds along the Old Paney Scenic route is much easier due to road grading.
The viewing aspect of the ranges is much better from the 4×4 campgrounds with green grassy plains (Sep) and a more expansive view of the red rhyolite ranges which glow orange in the afternoon sun. We camped at Chillunie campground which was nothing more than a clearing amongst trees. Further north, Kolay Hut is the pick, with a pit toilet and two huts, one made of corrugated iron and the other a newer besser block structure.
MT IVE STATION
The red rhyolite rock is much more impressive in the northern Gawler Ranges, particularly at Mt Ive Station. In addition to camping fees, $45 buys you access to the station’s 4×4 tracks including the shores of Lake Gairdner, one of the most pristine, brilliant-white salt lakes we have ever seen. The site of Pete’s Pillars is the most spectacular for the rhyolite fingers whereas Kath’s Castle illustrates a more column-like structure.
The best access to the station is at Iron Knob on the Eyre Highway but access is also available from Kimba, the Gawler Ranges NP or from the north via Kingoonya. Check with the national park before planning to access Mt Ive Station through the park, as some maps show private roads or restricted access routes that can’t be used, causing an unnecessary detour.
Mt Ive Station ticks all the boxes for a suitable accommodation venue. It is well laid out with a homely feel, a few well-placed trees and the managers are friendly and helpful, having done extensive travelling themselves, with a keen understanding of a traveller’s needs. The campground offers powered and unpowered sites, a shaded gazebo bbq and seating area, rec room, fuel, licensed kiosk and accommodation. And then there’s the bush golf course called ‘Dirty Greens’.
We drove a number of their 4×4 station tracks and can confirm there is plenty to do. A repeater tower on the top of Mt Ive helps with communications – if you strike any trouble around the station tracks just hit the duplex button on your UHF radio and the station can be reached on Channel 7. You can also get Telstra mobile reception from the summit of Mt Ive which makes it a great place to watch the sunset and make a few calls. Be warned, the mountain is crafted of rhyolite rock and presents an extremely bumpy climb!
If petrol runs through your veins, make sure you get along to Mt Ive Station for ‘Speed Week’ each February, an event hosted for the Dry Lake Racers Association who attempt to break the land speed record. A special campground is opened at the lake which draws around 3000 spectators over the course of the week. The dates for 2013 are 18-22 Feb.
On our day of departure we had an encounter with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)! The Station Manager had informed us the night before of their expected visit the next morning, so we hung around to meet the team. Just before the plane lands, a station hand scoots out onto the air strip to clear the livestock to avoid a messy confrontation. We were lucky enough to meet the crew, tour the plane and chat to the pilot. We hope that’s the closest we’ll ever get to the inside of an RFDS plane!!
Well, that’s it for this update. Check back again soon as we scope out more outback stations, find the best bush camp sites and visit a high security Uranium mine in the Northern Flinders Ranges.