Australia · Travel

South Australia Trip: Day 11 – Pichi Richi

On our second day in the Flinders Ranges, we packed up the Troopy and were ready to eat our breakfast when we noticed a problem. The fridge in the campervan had been set to -14 degrees Celsius, and all of our milk and yoghurt had frozen solid. So, without having breakfast, we turned off the fridge to let it warm up, and sat what we wanted to eat later on our laps to warm up as we drove. We headed north, although we would be driving a lot, we were now in the Southern Flinders Ranges and there would be plenty of things to see along the way. Our first stop was just outside of Melrose, a monument on the side of the road marking Goyder’s Line, where in 1865 the then surveyor-general of the colony of South Australia successfully predicted the demarcation between wheat and barley crops succeeding and failing. However, that year was a boom year in the region, and many farmers ignored Goyder’s advice and settled north of the line, only for their crops to fail a few years later. For us, Goyder’s Line signified the start of “The Outback”.

We continued on through Wilmington, a small town with its main street wide enough for an eight to ten lane road. In the past, this was so bullock trains could easily turn around, but now it looks almost comical. From there, we drove through Horrocks Pass, with its sweeping descent down through a ecualypt-lined gorge leading to the scrubland at the top of the Spencer Gulf. Next, was Stirling North, and back up through the famous Pichi Richi Pass, where the old railway line to the North of Australia was once built. These days, it only travels as far as Quorn, but still carries tourists up and down the line.

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We pulled over to the side of the road where the Heysen Trail crosses the pass, and stopped to finally eat our now-defrosted breakfast. There were still bits of ice-milk and ice-yoghurt floating around, but at least we had something now. Afterwards, we walked a short section of the Heysen Trail along Saltia Creek to an impressive railway bridge that spans the gorge. The walk was rough and the climb to the top of the bridge was steep, and Jacqueline wasn’t a fan.

Instead of driving all the way in to Quorn, at Mum’s recommendation we turned off and headed along the back roads behind the pass, We had left the bitumen roads behind and were now on the gravel. It took us on an increasingly narrow road, through a farm gate to a car park. This was the trail head of the Devil’s Peak Hike. Filled up with a bottle of water, and enjoying the relative warmth of the day, we set off to climb the Devil’s Peak. It was a short walk on the map, only about a mile up and a mile back, but it grew increasingly steep the closer it got to the summit, and devolved into a scramble in places. We passed quite a few other hikers on the way, but unfortunately saw no yellow-footed rock wallabies. The final few hundred metres required care and scrambling, up through a narrow chasm in the rock before finally opening up onto the flat, rocky, summit. We had views in all directions: down into the Pichi Richi Pass below us, out into the Spencer Gulf and the hills behind Port Augusta, and over onto the vast Willochra Plain. This was truly an outback mountain. We stayed and enjoyed the view for a while, before heading back down, slowly and carefully.

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We finally did drive into Quorn, to see the old railway town with its four pubs along the main street. We had near perfect timing; when we got there, the old heritage steam train was shunting its carriages ready to head up into the pass one last time for the day. We threw together our sandwiches for lunch and went out to see the train as it departed. Once it left, it grew quiet, so we wandered around the town for a bit, before fuelling up and heading out on our final leg of the day.

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We drove further north, the next town was over sixty kilometres away, and owing to the fading light, we didn’t have time to stop. We drove straight through Hawker and continued another sixty kilometres to the Flinders Ranges National Park. Here, Jacqueline noted the sheer amount of kangaroo road kill along the sides of the road, and was carefully spotting for live marsupials preparing to jump out at us. We made it through unscathed, and pulled into the Wilpena Pound Caravan Park for the night. We checked in at the visitor centre, and found a nice, quiet section in the unreserved part of the park. We had brought along some camp food and cooked it up on the stove on the back of the Troopy. The light fell very quickly, and so we climbed into bed before too long.

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