Trip 45, post #5 – The Gawler Ranges

I’ll start by stating the Gawler Ranges aren’t what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful and spectacular, but I had another vision in my head of what to expect and the reality and my vision didn’t match.

In preparation for the vision in my head, I had already commenced drafting this blog post, using superlatives to rejoice in the grandeur that was the Gawler Ranges, but I’ve had to postpone that blog post introduction for another day and another location. So, with that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s kick into the post for leg #5 of our trip, the Gawler Ranges, South Australia.

As has become our new holiday routine, we had a short 180km journey, from Cowell through to a privately run campground at Wudinna Wattle Grove. The first stop of the day though, was Cleve a lovely little country town. There are murals and sculptures throughout town and the local radio station is played quietly over loudspeakers down the main street. In addition to taking photos in Cleve, we grabbed a coffee and sausage roll at the bakery before moving on.

Cleve building mural
Cleve steel sculpture
A now fading mural on an old building in Cleve
The old mechanics building

Mid-route we drove through the small town of Lock which is believed to be the only town in Australia to be named after a volunteer serviceman, Sergeant Albert Ernest Lock who hailed from the town and lost his life serving in World War One.

The mural of Albert Lock in the town of Lock

Our final town on the drive was Wudinna, a larger town that sold fantastic pies and the best snot blocks (Vanilla Slices) at the bakery, which were consumed for lunch. Then arriving at our destination for the night, Wudinna Wattle Grove, a privately run campground, looked after by the farmer couple on which the campground sits. It was a little strange at first, as you literally drive right up to their farmhouse, before encountering the self-registration booth, where you’re informed to pick any sight and then pay now, or on leaving, the amount you think the camping was worth. About 50m from the farmhouse is a large granite rock and outcrop, behind which, out of sight of the farmhouse, are the campsites with endless views across the farmlands to the Gawler Ranges on the horizon. A clean flushing dunny, donkey shower and firepits make this a lovely overnight spot.

A sculpture celebrating farmers in Wudinna
Our campsite with views to the horizon in Wudinna

The following day it was a short 90km drive up into the Gawler Ranges National Park, to our first campsite Yandinga, on the Western side of the ranges. The Yandinga Campground is nestled alongside a dry creek bed, in a gully between two ridge lines, running North/South’ish. This meant we were treated to early morning, or late afternoon golden sunlight, lighting up one side of the gully as the sun made its way overhead each day.

We had two nights at Yandinga and hiked and drove the Western side attractions, starting with the Organ Pipe rock formations that Gawler is famous for. Formed by a super volcano over 1500 million years ago, rapidly ejected super-heated 1000-degree lava, enough to fill the Sydney Harbour a million times over, thrust out of the ground and cooled as rhyolite pillars with a 4-, 5- or 6-sided prism shape. Continual weathering over the millennia has exposed the pillars of rhyolite and they make spectacular backdrops to many of the ridge lines and gorge walls. Hiking up the short track, there are Organ Pipe formations everywhere and with sufficient rainfall, some of these gullies would be spectacular with the temporary waterfalls that’d form. We’d also read that there were lots of Wombats here, so with the Roast Pork sizzling away in the Webber, we took a drive out along the tracks at sunset, trying to spot one. Alas no luck, but we did see lots of Kangaroos, Euros – which are a shorter, stouter and cuter Kangaroo looking animal, some stupid Emus and a couple of Echidnas, so the drive certainly wasn’t wasted.

Organ Pipes
Jules and BJ
More Organ Pipes
An Echidna going for a stroll
A Euro
A Euro

We also drove out to and hiked the five Yandinga Falls walks, with eagle-eyed Jules spotting our first Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby, a beautiful animal that is threatened by reducing habitat and predation. Following the hikes, we drove to the Pondanna Outstation, a restored early pastoralist cottage that you can now rent and stay in. Some of the views along the drive, in particular the Conical Hill lookout were very nice. And, as luck would have it, we spotted five Wombats chilling alongside their burrows on the drive back to camp.

Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby in Yandinga Falls
Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby in Yandinga Falls
Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby in Yandinga Falls
Who goes there? A Kangaroo looks down on us from atop the gorge along the Yandinga Falls hike
Jules admiring the serenity
Another wallaby
Beautifully coloured bark
Looking out, over the Rock Wallaby Falls which we’d hiked up
Sprays of yellow wattle are starting to blossom
Another great example of the Organ Pipes
The view from Conical Hill lookout
Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat – this guy (and the next pic) was large, probably 1 metre long and 60cm tall. And despite their very short legs, they can run fast so it’s best not to get too close.
Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat – there are an estimated 240,000 of these in the Gawler Ranges alone and they are South Australia’s fauna emblem
It’s a fucking goat” (Google it, there’s a little girl on a Facebook video calling it like it is). These guys, whilst cute, are feral and all throughout the Gawler Ranges. They are being culled, however, and we found 3 dead goats, including the old bullet casings, on one of our hikes.

Having spent two nights at Yandinga, we then drove the 60km Gawler Ranges Scenic Road, a rough’ish dirt road along the Southern side of the ranges to Koaly Hut Campground, our campsite for the next couple of nights. On route, we stopped at various points of interest along the way, before arriving to a campground that was heaving with people. Pulling into the campground, there were kids, cars, and caravans everywhere. Jules had to get out a couple of times to move discarded kids’ bicycles from the middle of the track. Now we, like everyone should have, had pre-booked and paid for our two campsites at Koaly Hut, but as we drove into the main loop it was immediately evident that there was a large friend group, made up of about 15 families, who’d already claimed the area and bulk of the campground. Unfortunately, once in the loop the only way out again is by following the full loop, including doing the slow drive of judgement around 40’odd campers, mostly in their 20’s to 30’s, sitting around an open firepit, already hydrating themselves with alcohol. To be fair it was lunchtime so no judgment from us on that point. However the lack of available campsites in the loop was a concern and our only option seemed to be an open area at the entry to the campground, of which we were informed on the way in by one of the little sprogs, that “This area is the kid’s firepit”. And there was plenty of kid evidence to prove his theory, with more bikes, jumpers hanging in trees, a little bench seat and half-burnt socks and toast still smouldering on the campfire. But this spot was our only option, so whilst the kids were temporarily distracted, we quickly parked and set up the vans, then relocated all the kid shit to the corner of the site, where it was eventually collected.

To the kid’s (aka Sproggo) defence, he and his mate did cycle around later that arvo to introduce themselves, announcing their full, first and last name, before asking our names, and then inviting us to join them and their families at their communal fireplace of mirth and music. We politely declined, but through our chat, we learnt that the group were all farmers from the local Wudinna area. They were having a great time, and from what we could hear – as they were pretty loud – they had arranged various team games etc to keep everyone entertained. FYI, Team #1 seemed the best bet for your money. They were also polite enough to turn the music down at 8ish and then again at 10 pm, meaning us old farts could get to sleep. There was a bit reprise when the remaining couple of boozers yelled something out at 1:30 am, but they must have been quickly shushed by someone in the group as all was silent by 2 am.

The following morning we and our neighbours were up pretty early. And we proceeded to hear the dunny door swinging shut non-stop for a couple of hours as the group availed themselves of the facilities, including one poor chap who seemed to be clearing his stomach of its contents. He must have eaten something bad for dinner…

Our new friends, Sproggo and his mate, turned up again that morning to see if we were up and all ok. They were really polite kids, just wanting a chat and were somewhat disappointed we hadn’t brought any other kids for them to play with.

Sproggo was a funny chap, and when he asked where we were from and where we were going, I advised from WA and going to Kimba next, a small country town about 100 km from where we are camping, to which he exclaimed “Crikey, you guys are going around the world!”. Obviously, distance and direction are relative when you’re 10 years old.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the East side of the ranges via car and foot. And, whilst all nice, it wasn’t that dissimilar to the West side. Then another evening was spent by the campfire, enjoying Jules’ yummy Sweet Potato Curry.

The stupidest bird alive, I give you….. the Emu
A little Wren posing for the camera
Shot of the range
Jules on one of the short hikes
A family of Mulga Parrots
A juvenile Mulga Parrot
Our cars on the track
Shot of the ranges
Another example of the Organ Pipes
A White Eared Honeyeater
A picture of a worn rock shelf, showing the prism shapes of the rhyolite lava formed pillars that are the Organ Pipes
Jules is onto something, not sure what though
Our cars on the track
A track winding back.
Another track
Dead tree in the paddock
Another track winding back
Shot of some trees with the range in the background, this picture was taken from our campsite.
The same trees as the last shot, but taken a few hours later in the amazing colours of the setting sun and afterglow
Clouds lit up in the setting sun
Best mates, a Red and Western Grey Kangaroo we saw hanging out together

To end our Gawler Ranges leg of the trip, we had intended to camp overnight at the Lake Gilles Conservation Reserve, a free camp about 140 km down the road. But perusing WikiCamps Jules noted there was a popular RV camp at… “Sorry, what’s that?”. Dear reader please excuse me for a second, I’ve got a message coming through in my earpiece. “Yes, I’m listening. Yep, ok, yep, are you sure? You are. OK, I’ll let them know”. Apologies again dear reader, but I’ve got an announcement to make. In light of extenuating circumstances, I have to retract the previously awarded “Best RV Town award for Cowell” as they’ve been outdone by Kimba (polite applause ensues).

Pulling into the Kimba free RV park, we noted its spacious and flat space, well-tended (the cleaner was in attendance), provided bins, free potable water, flushing dunnies and $1 per 2-minute hot showers. And it’s only a short walk to the town centre, inclusive of the pub and shops. We had intended to just do an overnighter between Gawler Ranges and our next leg, being the York Peninsula, but we’ve decided to spend a couple of nights in Kimba instead. It’s places like this that bring travellers and, more importantly, travellers’ dollars into the town.

The beautiful silo art in Kimba
And a not painted silo in Kimba
This shot just appealed to me. The VB and Motel signs grabbed my eyeballs.
Kimba steel sculpture representing Edward John Eyre and his aboriginal companions
The Big Galah (8m tall) in Kimba, which coincidentally is also (apparently) halfway, as the crow flies, between the Eastern and Westernmost points of mainland Australia
Some actual Galahs near Kimba
Sheep in a paddock
Sir Gwavin on a track

The next leg and subject of our travel blog is the Yorke Peninsula.

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