West, Centre and Flinders – Days 59 to 61 – Flinders Ranges and Rain – Part 3

The Quorn Railway Station serviced the Ghan and is now the end of the Pichi Richi line.

The Quorn Railway Station serviced the Ghan and is now the end of the Pichi Richi line.

We had decided overnight that we would go back to Quorn the next day, irrespective of weather conditions. The sun was shining between the clouds at Hawker but we encountered showers as we drove towards Quorn. We arrived in that town to a very wintry day, with cold south westerly winds and intermittent showers. We were sitting considering our options when I received a message that folk with whom we had earlier contact, who live in Quorn but had been away, had arrived home.

History in Quorn's main street

History in Quorn’s main street

Some of you know of my involvement with the www.exploroz.com web site. EcplorOz used to have a “birthday fairy” feature whereby on member’s birthdays a forum post would extend birthday greetings to all whose birthdays fell on that day. Members listed would usually wish each other a happy birthday. In that way I got to know Graham. When I learned that he lived in the Flinders Ranges I asked him questions about the area. It was always understood that when we visited that we would make contact. I had contacted Graham when we had arrived in Port Augusta, only to learn that he and his wife were in Western Australia. They travel around Australia more than we do.

Our meeeting place for coffee in Quorn, Emily's.

Our meeting place for coffee in Quorn, Emily’s.

We made contact that afternoon and agreed to meet for coffee the following morning. We met at an interesting bistro and coffee shop called Emily’s. This relatively new business venture has been established in what was previously a general store. Much of its charm is the result of many of the original fittings being left in place. The original grocery shelves occupy one wall and contain a display of grocery and other items from yesteryear. Some of the furnishings are of vintage, but solid, appearance and items such as mannequins, dressed for the period of the original store’s heyday, help to create the atmosphere.

Inside Emily's Bistro & Coffee Lounge. Note the old fixtures.

Inside Emily’s Bistro & Coffee Lounge. Note the old fixtures.

Refrigerators and display cases for food are new, with the normal paraphernalia of the modern coffee shop.  Behind the scenes is a very modern kitchen with bakery facilities. The output that we sampled, as we got to know Graham and Maxine, were excellent as was the coffee.

An empty cash transfer machine. A reminder of my youth.

An empty cash transfer machine. A reminder of my youth.

 

But the retained feature that caught my eye took me back over fifty years to my first job. The general store had used an elevated cash transfer system, known as a flying fox, that conveyed client payments to a central cashier, in small containers sent on their way by a rubber catapult arrangement.  I had used one of these contraptions all those years ago.

When I commented to the lady behind the counter on my experience with this old equipment, she asked if I would like to relive old times by pulling the handle to send a container whizzing along its wire. Of course I did! So I was taken into the original cashier’s enclosure and for a moment relived part of my youth.

Wild flowers against the background of the northern end of the Elder Range.

Wild flowers against the background of the northern end of the Elder Range.

During our discussion Graham suggested that we do a drive through Moralana Scenic Drive. The drive links the Hawker to Blinman Road with the Hawker to Parachilna Road by way of a gap in the ranges between the northern end of the Elder Range and the southern walls of Wilpena Pound. Having made that arrangement we parted until the next morning.

An elevated crossing of the road to Port Augusta by the Pichi Richi Railway. This was formerly the track of the famous Ghan rail to Alice Springs.

An elevated crossing of the road to Port Augusta by the Pichi Richi Railway. This was formerly the track of the famous Ghan railway to Alice Springs.

After a late lunch, we drove towards Port Augusta, through the Pichi Richi Pass, the gap in the mountains from which the Pichi Richi Railway tales its name. It is an attractive drive, crossing and passing under the railway line several times and with water washing over a normally dry causeway. As we reached the point where we intended to turn around we could see Port Augusta in the distance so we continued on to do some necessary shopping.

River Red Gums line the banks and stand in the beds of Flinders Ranges creeks.

River Red Gums line the banks and stand in the beds of many Flinders Ranges creeks.

At 10.30 the following morning, Friday, we set off on the 70 kilometre drive back to Hawker and the further 25 kilometres to the start of the Moralana Scenic Drive. The track had only reopened that morning but was not particularly wet, although the streams crossed were mostly running, but shallow. The track is, in reality, station tracks for Arkaba and Merna Mora Stations, through whose grazing land it passes.

Black Gap provides a hiking trail into Wilpena Pound.

Black Gap provides a hiking trail into Wilpena Pound.

The hills on each side were green with lush grass. Periodically, wild flowers decorated the road side, often running in a blanket of yellow or purple up a hill side or disappearing between the stands of native pines. The occasional kangaroo raised its head to look as us as we passed its feeding place.

A Bearded Dragon pauses to search the sky while drinking at a running stream - in the middle of the track.

A Bearded Dragon pauses to search the sky while drinking at a running stream – in the middle of the track.

 

There are two places of particular interest on this road, both near the half way mark. The first is a side track into Black Gap. The creek bed that forms part of the track was flowing with water from the recent rain and was fairly deep in one place. This part of the track was a bit interesting, as water obscured the rocky creek bed, hiding the small boulders over which we had to drive.

 

The hiking track into Wilpena Pound runs along the banks of this stream.

The hiking track into Wilpena Pound runs along the banks of this stream.

Black Gap is a hiker’s entrance into Wilpena Pound. The previously mentioned Heysen Trail passes through Black Gap. From the car park at the end of the track it is about a 12 kilometres walk across the floor of the Pound and through the main entrance, to reach the Wilpena Resort. The hills on either side of the track are lightly covered in native pines but were lush with grass. There should have been many happy kangaroos in those hills.

Rebuilt cueing yards are right beside the Meralana Scenic Drive.

Rebuilt cueing yards are right beside the Meralana Scenic Drive.

Back on the main track, we came to the second point of interest. During the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line native pine trees from the Flinders Ranges were used to support the wires where the line came through the adjoining area and further afield, where there were no suitable trees. The pine logs were pulled out of the mountains using teams of bullocks.

The information plaque at the rebuilt cueing yards

The information plaque at the rebuilt cueing yards

But the Flinders Ranges are mostly comprised of rock which badly damaged the bullocks’ feet. To protect the feet they were fitted with steel shoes, much the same as used with horses. But the bullock shoes were called cues and the process of shoeing was known as cueing. Yards that were used for the cueing process are beside the track by a stream. Merna Mora Station, on whose land the old yards were built and were falling into decay, have rebuilt them and provided a picnic table as well. We paused there for a late morning coffee.

The drive emerges from the ranges and leads over the Moralana Plain to its intersection with the Hawker to Parachilna Road. We completed the drive, through a few more creek beds to reach the sealed road and returned the 40 kilometres or so to Hawker, where we stopped at the Sightseer Café for lunch, before returning to Quorn.

Flood damaged bridge on the old Ghan railway.

Flood damaged bridge on the old Ghan railway.

On the way back to Quorn from Hawker we got the benefit of local knowledge. We turned from the main road onto a track that, after a couple of kilometres, brought us to a stream that had been bridged all those years ago to carry the line for the Ghan. But in 2011 the bridge that had stood for so long lost a pillar and two spans to the flood waters of that wet year. Stones used in construction of the fallen support pillar weighing at least two tones each, were tumbled down stream for hundreds of metres. One steel span was pushed onto the bank while the other was carried several hundred metres down stream as well.

Hugh Proby's grave is located near to the place where he lost his life.

Hugh Proby’s grave is located near to the place where he lost his life.

We then retraced our steps of about half a century ago, past areas where we had camped and visited. These included Warren Gorge and Proby’s grave. Hugh Proby, third son of an English lord, was drowned in Willochra Creek, north of Quorn, in 1858, after ignoring the advice from an Aboriginal stock man about crossing a flooded creek. The stock man and Proby’s horse survived and lived to see old age. The grave remains a tourist attraction because of the huge marble memorial stone that Proby’s family had shipped from England and transported to a sight near to the location at which he drowned. So the message is naw as it was then. “If its flooded, forget it!”

Not much fruit on this Quandong tree.

Not much fruit on this Quandong tree.

At one point we stopped beside a couple of Quandong trees to receive a lesson in botany from Graham. Quandong trees grow wild but can be cultivated. They are popular in the Quorn area and common in the gardens of residents. The berry is similar to a cherry but quite tart so apple and much sugar are often added to improve taste. Quandong berries are mainly used to make jam. Quandong jam can be bought almost anywhere in Quorn.

A view along a Quorn footpath.

A view along a Quorn footpath.

We said goodbye to our new friends over a cup of tea at their home. We then returned to the caravan park to prepare for departure the next day. We had decided to start making our way home. There was no sign of improvement in the weather. Rain fell again over night, with a minimum temperature of 4 degrees. The outlook for the next couple of weeks was more of the same.

The recent black out in South Australia occurred just two days after we crossed into New South Wales on our way home.

West, Centre & Flinders – Days 51 to 53 – Mt Ive Station & The Gawler Ranges

Sheep grazing country in the Gawler Ranges

Sheep grazing country in the Gawler Ranges

The fine weather did eventuate and with a forecast that suggested a few days of fine weather the decision was made to visit the Gawler Ranges. So we phoned Mt Ive Station to ensure that a powered site was available. Having received a satisfactory answer, we set off into a stiff head wind that stayed with us for the entire 200 kilometre journey.

A "retired" excavator against the background of mine overburden at Iron Knob

A “retired” excavator against the background of mine overburden at Iron Knob

The turn to Mt Ive Station is at Iron Knob, a distance of a little over 70 kilometres. We last visited Iron Knob over 50 years ago. At that time it was a thriving mining town. Now it is little more than a ghost town. The mine still appears to be in operation so it must have changed to a fly in fly out basis of staffing. A pity, but that’s progress, I suppose. We stopped for morning coffee and to air down the tyres in preparation for 125 kilometres of dirt and gravel.

We passed several flocks of sheep

We passed several flocks of sheep. Stations in the Gawler Ranges area are mostly involved in wool production.

The road was in quite good condition. Much of it has been recently graded and a grader was working on a section of road as we came through.  Although we were entering a range of mountains the road was mostly without hills, just a series of low ridges and shallow gullies. We were travelling through a long narrow gap in the range. Creek beds had all been stabilised so were not a hindrance to maintaining a reasonable speed. As always on these types of roads the cattle grids required careful negotiation.

Yellow daisies decorated the hillside

Yellow daisies decorated the hillside

There were wild flowers along the way but in unique areas. In between and interspersed with the flowers was thousands of hectares of a small silvery green leafed plant with small white flowers. It proliferated in the valleys and lower slopes of the ranges put did not reach the hill tops, at least not in quantity.

 

Some of the historic stone buildings

Some of the historic stone buildings

We reached the homestead in the early afternoon. Mt. Ive homestead is itself set in a valley between two prominent mountains, one of which is Mt. Ive. The station has been in continuous operation since 1864. Many of the buildings are original and are built of local stone. Much of the local stone naturally breaks into blocks, suitable to use as building material. Later structures are of more modern materials.

View towards the shearers quarters and part of the caravan park area. Mount Ive is in the background.

View towards the shearers quarters and part of the caravan park area. Mount Ive is in the background.

We have arrived here at a quiet time of the year and some potential visitors have probably been deterred by forecast rain. There was only one van and a camper trailer when we arrived but a couple of car loads arrived later to stay in some of the stone cottages. The area is popular as a long weekend destination from Adelaide and is busy during school holidays in the cooler months.

The clouds have dispersed to reveal a clear starry sky but the wind had continued so it was quite chilly. Thumbs up for the power supply and the heater!

The hot water system was not very efficient

The hot water system was not very efficient

Mt. Ive Station is popular for its many four wheel drive tracks. As we were only there for two nights we were limited in what we could do so we chose the premier drive, that to Lake Gairdner, which is reached via Mt. Ive station tracks but is enclosed within Lake Gairdner National Park. Lake Gairdner is a huge salt lake with a dry lake bed in the warmer months. It has been the site of several land speed attempts and annually is the location for salt lake car races. A club house for this event stands by the lake.

A clump of Sturts Desert Pea growing in a roadside drainage chanel

A clump of Sturts Desert Pea growing in a roadside drainage channel

The track is really a road and although corrugated was in quite good condition for a road of its type and location. Not so vehicle friendly was two side roads that lead to other points of interest. They were real four wheel drive tracks and required driver attention to negotiate them safely.

The organ pipes are at the top of a ravine

The organ pipes are at the top of a ravine

The first side road leads to an area known as The Organ Pipes. The Gawler Ranges contains areas of a stone named rhyolite, the main characteristic of which is to separate into columns. There are several other areas in Australia with similar formations with similar names. One of the best known is in the Mt. Kaputar National Park in New South Wales between Narrabri and Bingara.

A flowering bush beside the path to the organ pipes

A flowering bush beside the path to the organ pipes

After negotiating about three kilometres of loose stones and a steep gulley we arrived at the parking area. The rock formation was at the top of a second ravine. Younger legs than mine would have made short work of the stony climb. I satisfied myself with walking until I had a clear view and snapping some pictures. But I did find and photograph two new flowering trees that I had not previously seen.

This water storage was built in the 1880s

This water storage was built in the 1880s

The second side road leads to the site of a stone dam that was built of local stone in the 1860s. It still retains water and is an excellent illustration of rock wall construction. It spans the head of a charming ravine, the rocky sides of which are decorated with wild flowers that appear almost as a planted garden. Views down the valley to the hills opposite would have made this an excellent site for a dwelling, at least during a relatively wet winter. Summer would be quite different.

Nature's rock garden

Nature’s rock garden

Chunks of salt at the edge of the lake.

Chunks of salt at the edge of the lake.

A further ten kilometres from the second road brought us to the lake. Lake Gairdner is huge, with sweeping bays formed by hills that protrude into the lake in the form of promontories. About 200 mm of water currently covers the salt floor but lumps of salt rock are visible along the shoreline. The corrugated iron club house overlooks this magnificent view. Motor racing would be the last

The Wattle was in bloom by the lake

The Wattle was in bloom by the lake

thing that you would expect to see here. Aquatic sports seem more likely but such are the contradictions of remote Australia.

The loo against a view

The loo against a view

 

 

 

I am sure that the club house contains toilet facilities, but when not in use it is securely locked. So a single toilet has been provided for casual visitors. It sits on a point with its back to a magnificent view. It has a small glass panel in the door in lieu of a lock. Two stout ropes, secured on either side by steel pegs, go over the roof to ensure that it does not float away in a flood.

The Challenger parked next to the motor racing club

The Challenger parked next to the motor racing club

We enjoyed morning coffee at a picnic table at the front of the club house, drinking in, in addition to the coffee, all this natural wonder and beauty. The 400 kilometre return journey, 250 kilometre of which is unsealed, was very worthwhile.  Mt, Ive Station and Lake Gairdner are now ticked off the bucket list.

 

The light of the setting sun colours a bank of clouds in the eastern sky

The light of the setting sun colours a bank of clouds in the eastern sky

We had intended to spend a couple of nights in the Gawler Ranges National Park but it is far too cold at night at the moment to be 100 kilometres away from a power point.