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Flinders Ranges National Park

(Reprint from News: March 5, 2002)

March 4, 2002

 

I left Adelaide on Saturday afternoon and drove up into the Barossa Valley, a beautiful area near Adelaide, which has lots of vineyards and wineries, something like the Napa Valley in California.  Unfortunately though, it doesn't have many places to stay, so I drove on into the city of Gawler, which, according to my Australian AAA Accommodations Guide, had a motel with 104 rooms.  Saturday afternoon is usually the toughest time during the week to find a place to stay, but I was hoping that Prasad's Gawler Motel had at least one vacant room left.

 

Yep -- in fact, they had 104 vacant rooms left.  Mr. Prasad's eyes lit up with anticipation when I walked into the lobby, then he gave me a funny look when I asked if he had any rooms available (after eyeing the empty parking lot, I was just being polite).  After checking in to my choice of 104 rooms, I realized that it was a bit creepy to look outside and see a virtual ghost town of empty motel rooms stretching off into the horizon.  "Jeez, what's wrong with this place?," I kept asking myself with visions of the Bates Motel dancing in my head.  I felt a little better, and better for Mr. Prasad, when another car finally pulled in around 9 p.m.

 

As I pored over my maps that night in the empty Gawler Motel, I noticed a place a few hours north of town called Flinders Ranges National Park which confused me at first, because I'd run across the Flinders name several times during the previous week.  Let's see, there was Flinders Island near Tasmania, Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island south of Adelaide, Flinders Street in Adelaide, and a Flinders River in some town that I'd passed through a while back.  Whoever Flinders was, he must have been one important dude (or she must have been one important dudette).

 

The photos of Flinders Ranges National Park in my Lonely Planet guidebook looked intriguing, so I decided to head up there Sunday morning for an hour to check it out -- and I'm really glad I did.  In fact, I was so glad that I ended up camping there for two nights.  As I discovered, Flinders Ranges National Park is a beautiful place on the edge of the Outback with lots of red rocks, kangaroos and, amazingly enough, native pine trees -- one of the few places in Australia where there are native pines. 

 

This was still during the summer so the park was mostly empty, which was rather nice.  When I walked into the quiet Visitor Center, the two attractive, young women standing behind the desk perked up.  However, I attributed their enthusiasm not to my exotic American accent, my dashing good looks, nor even to my incredibly suave demeanor, but rather to the boredom and isolation that they’d endured during the previous few months.  They eagerly showed me a map of the park, and when I told them that I was looking for solitude, they suggested the Aroona Campground, about 20 miles north and in one of the most remote parts of the park.  

 

I thanked the ladies for their time, hopped in my Camry, and headed up to Aroona Campground, which I found an hour later after driving on miles of dirt roads and after crossing several creeks with trickles of briny water.  Sure enough, the campground was empty, so I set up my tent and ate dinner watching the sun set over the meadow, while kangaroos and emus wandered about -- the Australian equivalent to where "the deer and the antelope play," I'm sure.  It was a very warm, quiet, and pleasant evening.

 

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Above left:  Heading north through the Clare Valley on Sunday morning.

Above center:  Quorn, a small town in the Outback, featured in the Mel Gibson film "Gallipoli."

Above right:  A deserted house along the old Ghan Railway, central Australia's lifeline until it was abandoned in the 1950s.

 

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Above left:  The Visitor Center at Flinders Ranges National Park.  There weren't too many visitors this time of year -- it's too darn hot, I guess. 

Above center:  The roads through the Flinders Ranges are a bit primitive.  Please don't show Hertz this picture.

Above right:  Despite the bushflies, the Aroona campground was the nicest place I've camped at since leaving the U.S.  This is one of the few places in Australia that has pine trees, so I felt right at home.

 

The next morning I decided to go for a hike, so I packed my Eagle Creek daypack with a few bagels, my two cameras (one digital and one film), and a couple quarts of water.  After I’d hiked for eight miles across the very hot and very dry Outback, I realized that the two quarts of water weren’t nearly enough, especially since I’d gotten … ahem… a bit lost.  Of course I don't admit that very easily, having spent six years studying geography and mapping in college and another six years working in the Rocky Mountains as a wilderness ranger.  To be honest, it wasn’t my fault because the map wasn’t very good, which reminds me of Traveler’s Rule #17:  Whenever possible, blame the map.  I staggered back to the campground late that afternoon, very hot, dusty and thirsty.  A quick bucket of water over my head and two ice-cold Diet Pepsi's later, though, and I was a new man.

 

I saw lots of kookaburras at Flinders Ranges.  Here's Lazy Harry singing about them.

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I hadn’t seen anyone in the quiet campground since I'd arrived the previous afternoon, so I was surprised when a lanky guy carrying a large backpack approached me, with my hair still dripping, and greeted me with a smile.  “I was just wondering if you were driving out tomorrow,” he asked in an Aussie accent.  When I told him that I was, he asked me for a ride back to his car, which was parked about eight miles away.  He told me that he'd gone backpacking for a few days and that he didn’t want to hike all the way back to his car.  I told him that I’d be happy to give him a lift to his car the next morning.  With a warm handshake, he told me that his name was Jeff and said that he'd be back in the morning, then sauntered off to a campsite on the far side of the campground.

 

Sure enough, the next morning Jeff dropped by my campsite again, so I threw his backpack in the back seat of my Camry and we headed out.  During our slow drive on bumpy, dusty roads, we had a pleasant conversation.  Jeff said that he’d just finished college near Brisbane and was exploring the Outback for the first time -- rather bravely, I thought to myself, after he told me that he’d just bought his car second-hand for $300.  Jeff was eventually heading north to Darwin, where he’d landed a job with the National Park service.  He was a quintessential Aussie – very cheerful, inquisitive, and thoughtful.  When I dropped Jeff off at his weather-beaten car with bald tires, he thanked me profusely and I gave him one of my travel cards and told him to keep in touch.  It was a pleasant start to a pleasant day.

 

Before I leave Flinders Ranges National Park, I want to describe a creature that I was introduced to here -- the fabled Australian bushfly.  Bushflies don't bite, but they are very aggressive, especially around any source of moisture, such as your eyes, lips, ears, and nose.  They're especially bothersome during the hot summer months (i.e., now), which is when they're most active.  Bushflies are like the Hare Krishnas of the fly world, because they won't take "no" for an answer.  They're a little smaller than American houseflies, but they're a whole lot more troublesome and are like a different breed.  Indeed, comparing an American housefly to an Australian bushfly is like comparing a poodle to a wolf.  Despite the pesky bushflies, though, I enjoyed my peaceful stay at the Flinders Ranges.

 

And as for the name Flinders?  I learned that all these places were named for Matthew Flinders who, in 1802, was the first person to sail completely around Australia.  Good thing his name wasn't Magillicuddy.

 

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Above left:  I hiked for five hours through the desert one hot afternoon and saw a few kangaroos and a lot of huge spiders with huge spider webs.  This is a view of the Flinders Ranges... before I got lost.

Above center:  The Aroona Valley, where I camped for two nights.  

Above right:  With all the pine trees and red rocks, this area reminded me of Zion National Park in southern Utah.

 

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Above left:  I've seen a lot more emus than kangaroos on this trip so far, including a flock of six in the Flinders Ranges.

Above center:  Jeff and his $300 car.  

Above right:  Don't show Hertz this picture, either.  I crossed this creek several times and it got a lot worse than this.  I only scraped bottom twice, though.

 

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