Flinders Ranges National Park
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.
-- 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.
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).
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.
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.
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,"
It was a very warm, quiet, and pleasant evening.
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.
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.
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
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
RealPlayer. If problems, see
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.
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.
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.
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.
Above left: I've seen a lot more
emus than kangaroos on this trip so far, including a flock of six in the
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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Flinders Ranges National Park