This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2007 Travels May 15

TUESDAY 15 MAY   ARKAROOLA TO COPLEY   130kms

After last night’s grand finale, it was time to depart Arkaroola!

With only 130kms to go, we could afford a leisurely pack up. There was quite a lot of wet stuff – our awning, but especially M’s living tent.

At the office, I handed in the Visitor Survey form that we had been asked to complete. I thought that, after eleven nights here, we could give a more accurate assessment than many campers! I was critical of the quality of the Reception staff who, a lot of the time, seemed totally disinterested in what they were doing and in us and our tourist experience there.  In tourism operations, front-line staff are so important….

The Road Conditions board just outside Arkaroola indicated that the Strzelecki Track was closed. Good thing we were not planning on going to Innamincka.

The many little floodways/dips between Arkaroola and Balcanoona – some of which we hadn’t even noticed in our previous drives – had received a water flow during the night, evidenced by debris on the road. Even small rocks and bushes had been moved! Some still had a little water in. The amount of run-off there had been surprised us. Maybe it shouldn’t have, given how much run off ran through our camp!

Balcanoona Creek was still flowing – good to see. The ‘roos appeared to think so, too, judging by the numbers we saw.

After Balcanoona, the way was much drier, and the road surface was pretty good.

It was a scenic run, for much of the way.

Balcanoona-Copley road

We booked into the Copley Caravan Park for two nights. Our powered site cost $22.50.

After setting up and having lunch at the van, we drove to nearby Leigh Creek, to shop for food.

Copley Caravan Park

Copley was really just a small village, with a very pleasant caravan park. There was a hotel and bakery, and a bit of a general store, but we needed to do a serious re-stock. Leigh Creek, 12kms away, was one of those soul-less purpose built mining townships, containing the supermarket we needed.

Even though the fresh produce, we found, was not due in until tomorrow, I still managed to spend $256 at the supermarket! Well, it was nearly two weeks since the last re-supply, and should be at least a week before the next. We would have to go back tomorrow for bread, fruit and vegetables.

Visited the Information Centre and picked up some brochures and maps. They were selling locally stencilled T-shirts – remainders, I thought. $5 each – can’t go too wrong at that price. They had a sort of stylized serpent on the front. I bought us one each – a nice dark green and a navy – good for not showing the dirt, which was a pre-requisite of travel clothing for us.

There was a group of indigines staying at the caravan park – led by the well-known Geoff Clarke, who came over to chat to us whilst M was setting up her camp. He was not as tall or big as he appeared in the media. He was taking a group of youths/young men from down Yambuk way to become acquainted with “outback” aboriginals. He did not really explain what this was supposed to achieve.

Late in the day, John was working on his laptop, in the van, with the door open. He was visited by a black cat. It just strolled in as if it was totally entitled and proceeded to make itself at home. Was this some sort of omen?

Do we want a caravan cat?

Through the evening, we could see flashes of lightning away to the south east.

Leigh Creek coal mine visible on this satellite photo


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2007 Travels May 14

MONDAY 14 MAY     ARKAROOLA

It was a lovely, sunny morning.

In keeping with our alternating days policy, we decided to walk to Arkaroola Waterhole, about 5kms each way from the Resort.

This route, broadly, followed the Wywhyana Creek, to its junction with Arkaroola Creek, then went upstream along the latter to the waterhole.

The first section from the Resort, was along the same road track we’d driven yesterday, on the way to the Echo Camp track. So we had driven it, but knew it would be a pleasant, scenic, walk.

Attractive country for a walk

Yes, the walk was varied, and all on gravel roads. There was quite a bit of up and down work, parts of it quite strenuous. Funny how you don’t notice that from a vehicle!

We left camp at 10.10am, and got back at 1.40pm. Not bad. John found the last couple of kms tough, which rather surprised me, after the other, longer walks he had recently done.

Caught-up flood debris showed the extent to which Arkaroola Creek could flood….

There was still a little water in the Arkaroola Waterhole. We saw ten feral goats around it. They had made stringent efforts, here, to get rid of these pests, because of their drastically bad effect on native vegetation, and had succeeded in really reducing the numbers. But, obviously, some had still survived. They were very people shy and ran off as soon as they saw us.

Arkaroola Waterhole
Today’s “arty” photot…..

There had been a cloud build up through the morning and there were a few spits of rain, just as we got back to camp. Then the heavens opened and there was a real deluge, complete with thunder and lightning. This continued through the rest of the afternoon, and made the camp area pretty sloppy.

Threatening skies over the campground. The shining dome was one of the observatories

M had a stream running through her camp.

There were, at times, some very spectacular skies.

The lightning continued, in the distance, after dark.

No campfire tonight – for obvious reasons……

We watched the ABC News on TV – hadn’t done that for a while.

Retired for the night, wondering if the road would be open for us to leave tomorrow, as planned?

Found out later that there was 16mm of rain here through Monday afternoon and evening. It had felt like a lot more.


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2007 Travels May 13

SUNDAY 13 MAY    ARKAROOLA

Today, as the weather seemed favourable (dry!), and we were running out of time, we set out to do the Echo Camp Backtrack drive. John and I had done this on a previous visit, in the old Hilux and it was certainly at the limits of vehicle, novice 4WD driver and nervous passenger at that time.  I was curious to see if it seemed as hard, this time round, with the vastly greater experience we’d had since – and with the much more capable Defender.

For M, it would be good practice at driving this type of terrain.

Mt Oliphant

Went to the Office to pay the $40 per vehicle fee to drive this locked off and private track. Signed the required indemnity form and collected the key. The payment was fair enough, as the Resort had to upkeep the track.

The guiding brochure said that the track classification was “Extreme 4WD”, requiring Advanced Driver Experience! If drivers undertaking this route did not check back in at the Resort, within what they thought was a reasonable time, they started up a search and rescue operation, and said driver had to pay any costs!

We drove out past Mt Oliphant, the same road to the north that was the access way for the Ridge Top Tour. A little way after that turn off was the start of the one-way 11km Echo Camp Backtrack, which eventually met the Paralana Springs road, and a (comparatively) easier route back to camp.

The track started off by showing that it meant business! Once through the gate we had to unlock, there was a steep climb up Dinnertime Hill. It was evident that this bit – steep, twisting, loose surface – had caught plenty of drivers unprepared and they weren’t in low range when they should have been! I wondered if any had given up at this point, turned around and gone back?

Overall, the track was much worse than we expected, and certainly seemed much harder than when we did it years ago. Much of the track deterioration, and hence problem driving conditions, was due to poor driving skills – uphill sections cut up by drivers changing gears/spinning wheels part way up, instead of selecting the appropriate gear before starting the slope.

Appeared that a lot of drivers had issues on this section!

They might say it needs Advanced Driving Skills, but they’d certainly had plenty of drivers along the track with not much driving skill at all!

We needed low range (so-called) in the Defender – actually some kind of diff lock, I think. Whatever, it always worked well. M’s Troopy – in “proper” low range – gobbled up every difficult bit – great vehicle, nearly as good as Truck! Although, we occasionally had campfire “discussions” over which was the more capable vehicle.

There were more very steep downhill sections than I remembered, too. I wondered if they had altered the route, since the 90’s?

We crawled up the very steep, chopped up  section  at the start of the track , just after the gate. Parked at the Dinnertime Hill turn out for a photo op. I walked part way back down the hill to take a photo.

Inspecting the track we had just come up…

A short way further on was the first of the very steep downhill sections. One of those where you come up the rise to the crest, with no idea of what is in front, then the vehicle kind of tips over the crest and starts down. I remembered when we first drove this track and I was changing the film in my camera at this point. I got so scared that I opened the back of the camera without rewinding the film first!

Via CB, we advised M to wait at the top, on the crest, and we would film her descending, from a point part way down.

Took a little side track, in to Echo Camp Waterhole, on Arkaroola Creek, which this route now followed for some way. We wandered about for a little while, looking at the creek and waterhole, and enjoying the bush.

Waterhole at Echo Camp – very drought depleted

A further 4kms on, over lots of ups and downs, and surrounded by brilliant scenery, we came to a track junction – the way out to the left, Barraranna Gorge straight on.

 A quick survey showed us that the start of this side track was pretty rough, so we decided to leave the vehicles and walk the 1km to the Gorge.

Track into Barraranna Gorge

That little expedition took us about an hour, by the time we explored the gorge a little bit. I was not sure it was worth the effort, but the walk was pleasant enough. It gave us a good chance to take in the scenery, something the two drivers did not get to do much, on tracks requiring real concentration.

M out in front, as usual….
Barraranna Gorge

There was still a little water in the rock pools in the gorge.

Where we parked the vehicles, to do the walk, was a set of old sheep yards – still standing because they were made of termite resistant mulga.

Old sheep yards
My fascination with the shapes of dead mulga was getting a workout, this trip

We continued on the one way track. This became somewhat easier after the gorge junction, but perhaps not quite as scenic.

M following along behind us…..

By the time we reached the junction with the Paralana Springs track, John and I were all gorged and 4WD-ed out! We opted to drive straight back to camp. This was a fair drive in itself – maybe 15kms, and was attractive, along through Claude’s Pass.

I had been trying to remember back and really didn’t think that the track of the 90’s came out so far from the Resort. I wondered whether it had used the route through Spotted Schist Pass, that was now washed out? But the memory can play tricks….

Route of Echo Camp Back Track. Circled are Echo Camp Waterhole & Barraranna Gorge

M was still feeling adventurous and went off on a different track to visit Tillite Gorge, which she reported later was not all that special.

We reported ourselves back in at the office. M reported when she came in.

Had our usual night time sit around the campfire.  M was really stoked about the type of driving we had done today, and how well both she and the Troopy managed it. Great boost to her confidence!

This slow, quiet socializing was a most enjoyable aspect of this trip, to date. John and I have long had a general policy of not travelling with other people – leaving us free to do exactly what we want. However, M is the one person we have made an exception for. Might have something to do with she and I knowing each other for over fifty years, and having trekked and hitch-hiked our way around parts of the country, in our adventurous late teens! A friendship forged in some interesting “adventures”…..


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2007 Travels May 12

SATURDAY 12 MAY     ARKAROOLA

It was a quiet camp day for John and me. John had done a lot of driving and walking since we had been here so it was time for a little rest. We tended to forget that it was only three months since shingles had really knocked him about and deprived him of any energy, for ages.

I now had a sore knee. Suspected it was from trying to favour the ankle with the sore Achilles, when walking.

It was a rather cool day, but with blue sky. Later in the day there were some interesting cumulus clouds building up.

M – ever energetic – was feeling like doing more walking. She decided to tackle the 15km Oppaminda-Nudlamutana Walk, which she thought looked interesting. It was not one that interested me, though, because the route went up and over Mt Warren Hastings – 590 metres asl. I try to avoid walks that go up and over mountains! Even up and over steep hills…..

The trail could be picked up from the campground, so she set off at 9am. She reported there were great views from the top of Mt Warren Hastings! Then the route passed Nudlamutana Hut, before arriving at the Balcanoona road, about 9kms south of the Resort.

As we’d arranged, at 12.30 I drove out the Balcanoona road, to where the end of the walk track met that road. I was expecting to have to wait for a while for M, and had taken a book to read. But she trudged up to Truck at 12.45pm. That woman can walk! She had done the walk in very good time, but was stuffed!

M’s walk

We all lazed about camp for the rest of the day.

The Road Conditions notice board on the way out of Arkaroola Village said that the Strzelecki Track was closed. Some of those dark clouds we had been seeing to the north must have dropped a heap of rain on it. From Balcanoona it was possible to get to the Strzelecki Track on a back route that went through stations like Moolawatana and met it near Mt Hopeless. On one of our school holiday trips in the early 90’s, we’d come that way after a camping trip to Innamincka, and found it quite a straight forward and pleasant drive.

Through today, there was more cloud building up in the distance.


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2007 Travels May 11

FRIDAY 11 MAY     ARKAROOLA

We seemed to have adopted a pattern of one walking day, one driving day. Today was another driving one, but John needed to refuel Truck first at the Resort’s garage – $1.50cpl.

We headed west from Arkaroola, with the two vehicles.

Track to BollaBollana

First stop was not far, only about 5kms out, at the Bolla Bollana ruins. There had, briefly, been a copper smelter here, in the late 1870’s.

Kiln

The most obvious remaining feature was a conical structure which was probably a kiln for making fire bricks for the smelter structures. It remained fairly intact. There were, in fact, lots of old bricks scattered about the ruins.

Slag heaps and scattered bricks at Bolla Bollana

A straight channel in the ground may have been some kind of underground flue, connecting the smelting furnace with the chimney that would have been there. We presumed it had collapsed in on itself.

Bolla Bollana was in a valley – at the moment  with a dry creek bed. There was a waterhole nearby. This presence of water, which was scarce near the actual copper mines further  north, plus  nearby timber, explained why the smelter location was here, rather than at the Daly and Yudnamutana mines.

Copper was mined throughout these parts, in the latter part of the 1800’s. It never ceases to amaze me that such deposits were even ever discovered in such remote and inhospitable parts, let alone mined. Mining companies were formed, came and went – often with little return and considerable loss to those who were shareholders. Places like Yudnamutana were such a huge investment, in terms of human effort and suffering, for – often – so little return.

We wandered around the smelter site for a while. Apart from the kiln and channel, there were a few piles of stones/bricks about. This was not all due to the ravages of time: parts of the structures were demolished to be used elsewhere.

The original intent was to smelt the copper from a number of small mines in the surrounding ranges  – the Freeling Heights. However, the smelter was not particularly successful, only managing to process a small quantity, and it was superseded by a new one built at Yudnamutana, after a process was developed that was not as reliant on timber (for charcoal) and water. Then the whole lot were superseded by the shutting of the mines!

The structures that remain are interesting. There would have been a small settlement, too, of workers and families, maybe some sort of store.

I found the scattered mallee type trees here, really interesting, with their upper coloured branches.

Next stop, another 12 or so kms further on, was at Wheal Turner – again, the remnants of a copper mining operation, this time on a hillside. There was an ore crushing plant here too. There were foundations of buildings evident.

Wheal Turner ruins

Then it was on again, seemingly further into the wilds, to the extensive ruins at Yudnamutana, at the edge of the Freeling Heights.

Freeling Heights
The mud map we were working from……

The drive in here was a really pretty one, the track winding through valleys, often fairly open ones, but then passing through narrow gaps where creeks had cut through ridges. Were we so inclined, and had there been the motivation of no vehicle access, this would be a great track to walk.

The remnants of what was a fairly intensive and spread out mining operation are spread out over several clusters here. But the main focus was the former settlement at Yudnamutana, centred around at least four old mines and a smelter.

Yudnamutana around 1900 (Wikipedia)
Yudnamutana now

A few kms further around there had been a number more mines, making the Yudnamutana smelter an obvious choice. The task of carting ore to Bolla Bollana – in the days of horse and cart, would have been really onerous.

Brick ruins and old Cornish boilers

At Yudnamutana were parts of buildings, old mine boilers, and a most interesting, forlorn cemetery, where there had been some restoration work done.

The most intact  head stone there was for a James Greenwood, who died in 1903, after he broke his leg whilst down a mine shaft. He could not get out of the shaft unassisted, and so died down there. His body was found some ten days later. Another marker was that of a woman shot by her husband.

We spent several hours wandering about here, and had lunch too.

The Yudnamutana copper field was mined from the 1860’s, but was rather stop-start, due to frought and water shortages, mining companies running out of money, and the general difficulty of the remote area. In 1910, a  smelter was built here, but some sources indicate that it was never actually fired up. Mining ceased in 1912.

We noticed signs of fresh pegging in places around Yudnamutana . Looking for uranium?

On the way back to camp, detoured a short way to visit NooldooNooldoona Waterhole. Try saying that three times!

Walking into NooldooNooldoona Waterhole

This waterhole was one of several that were, essentially, deeper places in the creek beds, that held water long after the creeks had dried up. As such, they are vital to the wild life of the area.

After decent rains, this would be part of the waterhole

There was very little water in this one. It would be worth a return visit after decent rains, whenever that might be.

Yellow footed rock wallabies hang out in the rocky surrounds. I was surprised how fat the ones we’d seen in the area to date, were.

One fat yellow footed rock wallaby
Nup, don’t want to know those people…..

Another campfire night. The skies were clearer than they had been for the past couple of nights – we could see a lot of stars. It was not as cold, either, surprisingly, given the clearer skies.


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2007 Travels May 10

THURSDAY 10 MAY     ARKAROOLA

It was another overcast day.

We had planned for this to be another Gammon Ranges NP day – getting in before the Park was closed.

The Italowie Gap walk beckoned. This stretched from Grindells Hut trail head, south through to Italowie Gap, on the Copley road. It passed McKinlay Springs and for some of the way followed the gorge of Italowie Creek.

Unfortunately, the logistics of this demanded a vehicle at each end of the nearly 16km long track. Walkers sure as hell do not want to turn around and walk back again!

Rather than use both our vehicles, which would involve initial shuttling back and forth, and have legal issues – in that M’s Troopy only has two seats and seatbelts – we decided to only use Truck. I would drop the other two off at the Grindells Hut end of the track, then drive Truck, with its seats and belts for three (in travel mode we leave the rest of the back seat at home to make room for more gear!) to the other end of the track. This would give me some time to doodle about on my own, indulge in taking photos, and – importantly – save my Achilles from another huge walk. It was still deciding whether to continue to sulk over the last one, or cheer up and forget it!

Along Mc Taggarts Track
McTaggart Track to Grindells Hut

After parking Truck at the Italowie Gap trail head I would walk north and meet the hikers coming the other way and return with them. I did not mind back tracking – things look different coming the other way…..

And thus it worked out. I really enjoyed being able to stop and take photos whenever the urge struck – that was a luxury.

Distant hills glowing in a patch of sunlight….
Weather undecided….

I eventually parked Truck and walked up the Gap track for about 4kms, before meeting up with them.

Start of the Italowie Gap track

Yet again, I could dawdle and take photos and just look about.

Native cypress pines. Track just to the right of the creek bed

I wasn’t focussed on making too much distance, knowing it would be doubled. Sat on a big rock and ate my packed lunch, enjoying the surrounds and solitude – totally only bush noises around me.

I wondered what had caused the hollowed out base of the old tree in the creek bed

The section I covered was a really attractive part of the walk, beside or along the dry creek bed, with red rock walls on either side and lots of vegetation.

At times it required fairly close attention to where I was putting my feet, especially on the rocky creek bed sections.

Advisable to stop walking before gazing at the scenery, on terrain like this….

The others  had made good time, including a lunch stop, so I was a little surprised to meet them as soon as I did. They had really enjoyed the walk, and the sense of meeting a challenge. They’d had some uphill and then downhill sections to do, whereas I got to walk the flat part!

Going back the way I’d come was not at all boring – it was a lovely part of the track, and it did look different! So, I did a fairly respectable walk of about 8 kms.

Through the day, the cloud cover occasionally broke up a bit and there were patches of blue sky, which brought out the colours in the gorge better, for photos. I was sorry that we’d not had a properly sunny day for this jaunt.

On the way back to camp did another firewood gathering stop.

It was quite chilly around tonight’s campfire. As usual, we rehashed our day. John was really pleased with his walk performance. I was happy that the Achilles did not seem to be worsening, despite the walking on uneven ground.  This mix of driving days and walking days seemed to be working out well.


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2007 Travels May 9

WEDNESDAY 9 MAY     ARKAROOLA

It rained through the night. That ominous grey sky, yesterday, was for real. Today turned into a grey, chilly, damp one. What is it about us? We should charge for rain making, I reckon. It happens to us all the time – usually when someone says “It doesn’t rain up here at this time of the year.”

We spent most of the day in the van and M in her living tent. There is little motivation in parts such as these – or in any parts for that matter – for going out and getting wet, just for the sake of doing something.

I passed the time reading and writing diary; John played computer games; M did crosswords and read.

M and I walked up to the office and extended our stay by four  nights.

After lunch, it began to clear up, though it was still overcast.

About 3pm we decided to go for a (relatively) short drive – to Paralana Hot Springs, to the NE of Arkaroola, some 30 kms by track.

Had to drive back down the “main” road for about 6kms, then took the 4WD Stubbs Waterhole track, which eventually became the track to the springs.

The track was much rougher than we expected, so the “short” drive took longer than we’d expected. High clearance was definitely needed on that track!

From the parking area, we had to walk a short way to reach the pools that are the springs. These were steaming slightly, in the cool air. I found them quite sinister looking, but this feeling may be due to knowledge of their origin and nature – suggestivity?

Springs a little way in there…..

Paralana Hot Springs are one of only three radioactive hot springs in the world. The granite rocks in these parts contain uranium, which is breaking down and giving off heat – true “hot rocks”. Ground water passing through cracks in the rocks gets heated up and emerges as springs at around 60 degrees celsius temperature. Too hot for most things that would normally live in a spring fed pool in these parts,  (disregarding the radioactivity!)

Paralana Hot Springs

The uranium decaying process also gives off very highly radio active radon gas. This is a heavy gas and in still air settles over the surface of the pools and surrounding areas. It gets blown away when there is any breeze – fortunately, because it is very bad for life forms such as us!

Apparently, there is some primitive slime – extremophiles – in these pools that may be a remnant of the original life form on Earth – when things were much hotter. These are of great interest to scientists. They postulate that similar life forms may be found on Mars. If this stuff was the original life form on Earth, that must mean it is a very distant relative of ours.  Looking at it. I am not enthralled with that thought…..

Extremophile slime

There really is so much that is interesting and unique about this lesser known outlier of the Flinders Ranges.

It was dusk by the time we bumped and ground our way back over the atrocious track to better going, and hence back to camp.

No campfire tonight, in the chill and damp. Just tea, and a retreat to our respective boltholes.


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2007 Travels May 8

TUESDAY 8 MAY     ARKAROOLA

Today was more overcast. I hoped that was not ominous.

We got up slightly later than usual, perhaps due to lower light levels, and didn’t get away from camp until 10-ish. Later than ideal on a day of planned walking.

We drove back south to the National Park, and took McTaggarts Track in as far as Grindells Hut.

This relic from the earlier pastoral period stands in a natural pound, surrounded by bare ranges and with a fabulous outlook. It actually has a rather grisly history, at odds with the beauty of its setting, involving the murder in the area of a local pastoralist, possibly at the hands of his father in law – Grindell.

Left Truck at Grindells Hut and set out to do a circuit walk – along Balcanoona Creek to the junction with Worturpa Creek (where we reached from the other direction the other afternoon). Then would follow that creek up past Weetootla Springs, to McTaggarts Track. This would be easy, but scenic walking, along some of the road we had driven in on, and take us back to the Hut and Truck.

Track alongside Balcanoona Creek

Yet again, the practice didn’t quite follow the theory!

The walk from the hut, along Balcanoona Creek, was really pretty, as was the way up Worturpa Creek to the Weetootla Springs. When it is so arid, such occurrences of water in the landscape are extra attractive.

Following Worturpa Creek

The Springs were like a set of rock gardens, with water features. Not for the first time in such a setting I had the thought that I’d love to be able to replicate them in the back yard! There was a lovely selection of plants growing around the little pools.

A rock and water feature like this would be great in the back yard!

We browsed about the Springs for a half hour or so before it was time to move on, with the bulk of the walk still ahead of us.

We were invaders in his territory – Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby

The very fit M was in the lead, and in possession of the map, and we followed her as she crossed the creek and set off.

After the Springs, the track soon went on to open, steep hillsides, and could be seen sidling across the steep slopes ahead, for quite a way. I’d thought, from my memory of the track map, that we would be following a shaded creek valley, not playing mountain goats on this sort of going. But the leader – and the map – was very quickly too far ahead to argue with!

Looking back at Weetootla Springs

Eventually M stopped to let the two of us catch up, and have a rest, and a consult. We realized that we had, in fact, taken the wrong track back at the Springs and were now well and truly along the Monarch Mine Track. At least, we knew where we were, even if it wasn’t where we had intended to be! There was not much choice now but to push on.

I do not like these tracks that are long climbs up ridges, on narrow trails, with big drops below. Don’t do uphill well and heights make me dizzy. So this section of the track was not very pleasant for me. In such terrain, one can’t take their eyes off the track to look around at the country – I am often prepared to take the risk of tripping over a rock, to gaze about, but not when the landing is likely to be a very long way down.

Track up on the hillside, disappearing into the distance. I did not sign up for this!

Eventually we reached the top of the ridges where we could look across to and down on the rugged and  dramatic ranges that surrounded the central pound.

The others well ahead of me – as usual…..

Found the mine remnants. This had been a copper mine – a very small operation that only went for a couple of years. The little ore they did find must have been taken out by horse, or donkey. There had never been a roadway up here!

Monarch Mine

The mine was yet another indicator of how far men were prepared to go and the hardships they would endure, to chase precious metals. It struck me that we’d experienced two ends of a spectrum, this year: the vast open cut iron ore mines of the Pilbara, compared to this little mine, probably operated by only one or two men. The contrast could not have been greater.

Ate our packed lunches up here.

Reptile near the Monarch Mine

From the Mine, the track descended on more gentle terrain back to Grindells Hut. Downhill, I like!

We must have walked about 11kms. John was very pleased with how he went on the tough terrain. My Achilles was not happy – I hoped I’d not fired it right up again. I reckoned our walking muscles were getting into shape – fast!

Last section – down in the pound….

Then, since we were here and there was still some of the afternoon left, we drove the “inner circuit” – along the one way Worturpa Loop Track to Gammon Yards and via the loop track back to the Lochness Well camp area. The scenery was interesting and there were some pleasant stands of cypress pine trees.

That entire loop is one way only – which should in itself be a give-away that it would be no picnic! It had some “interesting” 4WD sections. I definitely do not like places where you climb a steep hill towards what is obviously a vertical drop at the top – with no indication whether the track, at the top, turns right, left, or goes straight on! Until you are right on it! The long, block like nose of Truck did not help either. M was following us, in her Troopy, and did fine with the driving – but having us in front was a bit of a guide. To date, her 4WD experience had been on much more flat country, like Arnhem Land, not on roller coaster tracks. I reckoned we would fix that while we were here!

The Lochness camp area was by Balcanoona Creek, with some vegetation – mostly cypress pines – around it. No facilities, but a pleasant spot.

Then back out McTaggarts Track to the Arkaroola road. It was getting dark by the time we turned back onto the main road.  Made a quick stop to gather some more firewood, heaving it up onto the roof rack, where the mesh base of this would stop it falling through – the best sort of roof rack to have!

Had our usual campfire before bed – weary bodies sitting about it, dissecting the day’s experiences.

I was trying to work out how many years it had been since John and I had done a walk this long and demanding? Maybe 2002 – five years? No wonder we were feeling it!

We packed a lot into today, including a couple of notable wildlife encounters: a yellow footed rock wallaby at Weetootla Springs (no hairy nose!) and a most unusual reptile with patches of bright orange and black patterning, on the very dry hillside near the Monarch Mine.

Knowing that there was still so much of interest to do here, we decided to extend our stay – due to end on Friday – by another four days.


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2007 Travels May 7

MONDAY 7 MAY     ARKAROOLA

There was some light cloud about today.

We’d decided, around the fire last night, to have a driving day today, and explore an area to the west where we had not been before.

John went and fuelled up Truck – $1.50cpl here!

We took the “back” way to the west, towards Umberatana. The plan was to loop around the northern part of the National Park, then at Yankaninna ruins, take the 4WD Idninha Track back east, into the Park and cut through to the Arkaroola road that way, either to Bolla Bollana or further through the Park to the McTaggart Track. It could be a possible circuit of some 100kms.

Did not stop to look at features close to Arkaroola – saved those for another day.

An isolated and unexpected spinifex ring

The route was not as much used as we had anticipated. The distances shown on our map were way out, and the roads were not as “important” as the map made them look! They were supposed to be 2WD tracks, but I knew a lot of drivers of same who would freak out if faced with these. Signposting was not great, either, and there was one point somewhere around Umberatana where I was really unsure if we were going the right way.

One of the very few signposts

But it was attractive travelling, with the ranges in the distance and with lines of low scrub marking creek lines – dry now, of course. The road undulated, twisted and turned, so there was always a new vista.

Change of road surface on the flats

There were some gates to deal with too.

At Yankaninna, we had to invent Plan B, because the track into the National Park was closed. Found out later that the landowner on the western border of the Park did not want people accessing the Park across his property – so he just shut off the road! So, Plan B became to keep on going in a big circuit around the outside of the park – a very much longer drive than we had anticipated. It was either that or go back the way we came, which seemed a bit tame.

The intention was to find the track that passed through those hills….

Stopped for our lunch break at Arcoona Creek – a point where the road we were on brushed against the National Park, and where there was a campground. It would be a pleasant, if remote, place to camp; certainly unlikely to have many, if any, fellow campers. There was shade but no facilities.

Cypress pines at Arcoona Creek

We walked around the place a bit and climbed up a ridge to get a view over the campground, before setting off again.

Arcoona camp area down there

Passed Mt Serle Homestead, then joined the Copley-Balcanoona road, near Angapena and turned east.

Called in at the Iga Warta community store, having decided it would be desirable to have some marshmallows for our campfire. They had some in stock, too.

Both Iga Warta and the Nepabunna comunity appeared clean and well run.

Continuing east, the section of road through Italowie Gap was particularly scenic.

We called in at the National Park Headquarters at Balcanoona, mainly to find out about any other track closures that might be waiting to ambush us. There were none. Came across an echidna there – it was trying hard to pretend we were not there.

It was late afternoon when we got back to camp, having driven some 180kms. Just a little extra adventure, beyond what we had expected.

Our approximate route on today’s drive (Zoom)

Spent another evening around our campfire – sampling toasted marshmallows – followed by an early night. After today of sitting and driving, we decided upon a more active day tomorrow.


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2007 Travels May 6

SUNDAY 6 MAY     ARKAROOLA

We had an early start this morning, getting up at 6.45am, to get fed and ready for the Ridge Top Tour, which departed from the Village at 8am. We walked up there from camp.

The Ridge Top Tour, which cost us $99 each, is a special feature of Arkaroola and worth every cent. In my opinion, it was a must-do for every visitor to Arkaroola.

The resort’s special open backed 4WD vehicles traverse tracks across some of the most ancient landscape parts of the place. The open sides also facilitated tourists taking photos.

Apart from a short distance at the start, the route is not open to the public – the only way to travel it and see some truly spectacular country, is by this tour. Given the rather “hairy” nature of parts of the route, it is not surprising that they do not allow unsupervised travel on it. One puts a lot of faith in the track knowledge and driving competency of the tour guides!

John and I had done this tour before, on a previous visit, but this whole area was new for M, and we were more than happy to have the four and a half hour experience  again.

The whole journey was so unique and so breathtakingly spectacular. This was one experience that was made for superlatives.

The route climbed the tops of ridges, with vistas to Mt Gee and Mt Painter, then ultimately climbed steeply – and I mean steeply – with sheer drops each side – to Sillers Lookout.

Sillers Lookout. The vehicle goes up there and turns around!

Here were 360 degree views, back over the ridges we’d traversed, across the Freeling Heights and the deep Yudnamutana Gorge, and over the flat country to the east and Lake Frome.

Dry salt Lake Frome in distance; Yudnamutana Gorge in foreground

Here also was where our driver had to execute a multi-point turn around, without us on board, in a very restricted area.

Mt Painter was the site of the early uranium discovery and workings 1923-24, and then later 1940’s workings.

The track we had taken on the Tour was actually built by Exoil NL when they were exploring the area in 1970. Arkaroola were able to take it over and keep it as a very special experience.

We had morning tea provided at Sillers Lookout, where we spent about half an hour. Then retraced the route to the Village. This was not a track to be driven at any speed, incidentally! Crawling along definitely called for.

Morning tea at Sillers Lookout

On the tour, we learned that kangaroos have a hairy nose; euros and wallaroos have a partly hairy nose; wallabies have a dog like nose. Identification by this method does assume that one is close enough to the critter to inspect said nose!

There had been recent renewed prospecting for uranium in the region, which was of concern to the Arkaroola people. Marathon Mines was rumoured to have found good quality uranium under Mt Gee. But because of some Heritage listing, they would have to tunnel under, for about 8kms, to get at it. Even the prospecting and sampling was causing obvious damage – we saw signs of this in places along the track, as well as places where sample bags were stacked, awaiting transport. Some of the Ridge Top Tour route is outside the actual Arkaroola property. It was mining companies in the 50’s that first put in a number of the tracks around Arkaroola.

Angled rock beds evidence of a convoluted geological past

The whole area was very dry. The last really good rains had been in 1974! But that is within the normal climate parameters for this area. There was a small amount of rain a little while ago.

We arrived back at the Village at 12.30pm.

After a quick lunch at camp, we unloaded the stuff carried in Truck  on the back passenger seat and in the floor well – stored it all in M’s tent. Then the three of us were able to pile into Truck, drive back down the Balcanoona road, then drive the 13km track into Weetootla Gorge camp ground and trail head, in the Gammon Ranges National Park.

From the camping area, we walked along Balcanoona  Creek, criss crossing it a few times, then through the little, narrow gorge section that is called Hells Gate and on to the junction where Worturpa Creek came in on our right.

Walking track beside Balcanoona Creek

There was a small waterhole in the creek there – very pretty.

We retraced our route, back to Truck. It had been about a 5km walk, in total. The sun had been at a good angle to show the valley features.

More of that tilted rock strata

It was an attractive walk, and comfortable going. We were “wearing in” our walking muscles again.

On the drive back, we stopped and collected some firewood from the roadside. It was convenient just to be able to throw branches and small logs up on top of the roof rack – with its sides, the timber would stay there for the drive back.

Back at camp there was a brief flurry when M could not find her watch. After much hunting about, it was found at the back of the back seat in Truck – must have fallen out of her pocket while she was riding in the back seat.

Then more seriously, John could not find his wallet anywhere. This was a step up from the regular “Have you seen my glasses?” This caused a huge hunt and a degree of panic, especially as he couldn’t really remember when he last had it.

Eventually John walked up to Reception with the intent of posting up a notice. But the wallet was there! Some wonderfully honest person had found it lying by the side of the road out to the south, driven back to the Village and handed it in. John worked out that he must have left it on the shelf-like front mudguard of Truck and driven off. Eventually, after a few kms, it had vibrated off and fallen by the road side. That was a real scare!

After tea, we sat around the camp fire that John had lit in our fire pit, watching the moon rise, studying the stars, and dissecting the day that was. It had been a big day.

I was already into camp mode – yawing my head off by the campfire, going to bed between 8 and 9pm. Back home bed around midnight was my norm. It must be all the fresh air and exercise – plus not spending much time under artificial light – made me really tired, really early. Or just in synch with the natural world?