The long road to Hawker…

After a look around Orroroo, some photos and a visit to the local Visitor Information Centre come garage we were soon on our way, this time taking the signposted road to Wilmington through the Southern Flinders Ranges.

Wilmington is nestled in a lovely part of the ranges and is surrounded by quite productive rural properties.

This was another town with an eye catching main street where trees stood between the road and the buildings creating a beautiful natural division.

This sleepy little town had a general store that served as a tourist stop, a post office, a hotel, a take-away, a butcher, a cafe, 2 service stations and an op shop and also offered some fine examples of 19-century architecture including coaching stables and police station, both built in 1880, and the two-story butter factory, which is now a private residence and dates back to 1848.

The first European settlers arrived here in the1850s and were so impressed with the richness of the region and its beauty that they named the district ‘Beautiful Valley’.

The first sign of a township occurred in 1860-61 when Robert Blinman built an inn at the foot of Horrocks Pass, which he named the ‘Roundwood Hotel’. By 1864 his inn had become a regular stopping point for the Cobb & Co coach and a few years later the ‘Globe Hotel’ was built nearby, which is now known as the ‘Wilmington Hotel’.

In 1876  the town was officially named Wilmington by Governor Musgrave but not without protest from the locals … they liked the name ‘Beautiful Valley’ and saw no reason why it should change.  

However, even after living with the name for a number of years, their protests were overruled by one local who insisted that ‘Beautiful Valley’ was the name of a farming station nearby… and so the town became known as ‘Wilmington’.

Leaving Wilmington behind we headed along the road to Port Augusta with only the passenger able to take in the glorious views as we crossed the magnificent Flinders Ranges over Horrocks Pass… the driver catching fleeting glimpses as we negotiated the windy road!

Peak after peak rose up beyond each twist and turn in the road and we drove on in silence, mesmerised by the unfolding grandeur of the scenery.

This trip was our first introduction to the magnificent Flinders Ranges and we had already marked on our ‘bucket list’, another visit to come back and spend more time exploring.

Located 11-kilometres from Wilmington at the top of Horrocks Pass we came to an historic cairn that was erected in memory of John Horrocks who the pass was named after.

John Horrocks and his party travelled through this area in 1846 with their sights set on exploration of the land north of the Spencer Gulf.

When he set off his party included artist S.T. Gill to record their travels on canvas, H. Theakstone as a driver for their carts and drays, a tent keeper and an Aboriginal named Jimmy Moorehouse.

They  took with them 6- horses, 12- goats and a camel named Harry that was the first-ever camel used for an expedition.

The party hauled their carts and drays through creeks, into bush that often had to be hacked down, up hills and into valleys and in September of that year, 6-days north of the upper reaches of Spencer Gulf, they came upon a broad lake that Horrocks named after the artist ‘Gill’.

Sighting a large bird in scrub, Horrocks decided to shoot it, about the same time as someone called for Harry the camel to sit so they could access another shot-belt… but when Harry sat he lurched to one side and part of the saddle struck the hammers of Horrocks’ shotgun. His middle finger was blown off and several pellets smashed into his face, wounding him badly.

The driver, Kilroy, set out for a station over 100-kilometres away to ask for help to summon a doctor from Penwortham.

Meanwhile, with Horrocks alternating between signs of improvement and deterioration the remainder of the party decided to head back to Penwortham, remarkably covering up to 40-kilometres a day.

They arrived 3-weeks later but John Horrocks, just 28 years of age, died at his home on September 23 1846 and was buried on his property.

Despite now being so easily accessed by road, these mountains are seriously wild and I should imagine not to be taken lightly.

This area was home to the Nukunu Aboriginal people and in many of their stories they tell of the mountains as being really dangerous… and it was easy to see why as we stared up at the rocky cliff faces of impenetrable mystery.

Further on we came across a tourist sign that pointed to ‘Hancock’s Lookout’, which was just 7-kilometres along a bumpy track in the ‘Mount Remarkable National Park’.

This lookout boasted amazing panoramic views over the Flinders Ranges, Port Augusta and the Eyre Peninsula but to us the views from the pass were just as incredible as we descended the ranges to Flinders Ranges Way where we turned off onto a one lane, sealed, but very narrow road that would take us to Stirling North on the outskirts of Port Augusta.

In preference to continuing south to Port Pirie then travelling back up to Port Augusta we followed this very lonely back road where we were surrounded by beautiful wildflowers.

Wedge-tailed eagles rode the thermals high above us and it was just as well there was no one coming the other way, as we seemed to manage only a few kilometres at a time before pulling over time and time again to take photos of the wildflowers on the side of the road or the track that stretched ahead.

The town of ‘Stirling North’ was surveyed in 1859 and named after Edward Stirling Snr, MLC.

It seems that back in the heyday the hierarchy were quite keen to change the names of these little towns to suit themselves, so in 1916 Stirling North was renamed ‘Catninga’ after a nearby creek. However, this decision was overturned and the name was reverted back to ‘Stirling North’ soon after.

This town exists mainly to service the railroads with Leigh Creek coal freighted down to Port Augusta for use in the power station.

One of the only tourist attractions in this town was the historic Pichi Richi Railway that runs through Stirling North between Port Augusta and Quorn and a prison that was established in 1871 near the town and still exists today… not so much an attraction for tourist, more an attraction for for those more colourful, characters it attracts I guess!

The Southern Flinders Ranges region takes in the town of Port Augusta also.

Arriving at Port Augusta our first impression of the area was a lot of industry but don’t be misled, there was lots to do as well.

We familarised ourselves with the Wadlata Outback Centre that took us back in time to learn of the areas geological, Aboriginal, European and environmental history. Max the giant Ripper Lizard also resides here and represents a journey back to when the dinosaurs first roamed this land…

… and although there was no greenery in the surrounding countryside there were certainly some beautiful gardens to stroll through and enjoy.

The Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden stretches for 200 hectares and is made up of arid vegetation, and there were some stunning native flowers, including the beautiful ‘Sturt’s Desert Pea’.

Port Augusta is situated on the Spencer Gulf around  322-kilometres north of Adelaide and is a major town as it is the junction for the seaport and the railway.

The port was called Augusta in 1852 after the wife Sir Henry Young – Augusta Sophia and, because of its location at the head of the Gulf quickly grew in its early days into a major service centre.

By the mid 1800s the first wool was shipped through the port and in 1866 the first consignment of camels arrived from India.

The Greenbush jail was completed 3-years later and then in 1872 the ‘Overland Telegraph Line’ linking South Australia with Port Darwin and the rest of the world was opened.

For the next century Port Augusta was primarily a shipping port for wool and wheat from the surrounding area and from the early 1900s the railways occupied the most prime waterfront land of Port Augusta… as a result the town turned its back on its natural asset, on the quiet waterways of the Spencer Gulf.

We booked into the ‘Port Augusta Big 4 Holiday Park’ and set up camp on a non-powered site at the back of the park that was meant to be a grassy site… it was in fact a rough surface of red dust. So much for our soft grassy floor…but whose complaining, all we wanted was to lay our heads on a pillow after a long day on the road.

It was a nice caravan park with great amenities and camp kitchen but on the down side we definitely wouldn’t request a non-powered site by the fence again.

The locals on the other side of the park kept us awake all night shouting abuse at each other and banging on the fence so we made a mental note that on our return later in the year we would certainly be requesting a powered site well away from the fence.

Port Augusta is also on the edge of the South Australian ‘Outback’ and is traditionally known as the ‘Crossroads’ of Australia with travellers and freight trucks using the town as a stopover and refuel location to travel to Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges. One highway follows the coast of South Australia into Western Australia and the other, the Stuart Highway, goes right through the ‘Red Centre’… from bottom to top!

Our last journey from Port Augusta took us along the Stuart Highway, north through the Red Centre to Marla where the Oonadatta Track starts, to Coober Pedy, Uluru-Katqa Tjuta, Kings Canyon, Alice Springs and the surrounding ranges, Katherine, Kakadu and on to Darwin.

Click this link to read our ‘Red Centre’ story…

For this trip we head from Port Augusta to Hawker… and the beginning  of our adventure in the ‘Central Flinders Ranges’.

It is only a short distance to Hawker from Port Augusta along the Flinders Ranges Way, 105.7- kilometres to be exact, and it was a 40-kilometre drive to Quorn through very pretty scenery on a windy road up the ranges. 

You don’t have to travel far to see the beauty of these ancient ranges and Quorn is one of those places.

We crossed over the Pichi Richi rail line quite a few times and finally arrived at Quorn, a quaint old town which was first settled in 1878 and still looks very much like it would have looked back then with an amazingly wide main street which once saw bullock drays bringing supplies to the town and is worth exploring and the surrounding area tells the harsh story of trying to farm on the edge of the desert.

The first inhabitants in this area were the indigenous Adnyamathanha people.

When the railway reached Quorn in 1879 it soon became the centre of the developing pastoral and agricultural region and still supports pastoralists plus tourism even today.

Its old style charm has seen this little town screen as the setting for historic scenes in movies as diverse as Wolf Creek, Gallipoli, The Shiralee, The Sundowners, The Lighthorsemen, Sunday Too Far Away, The Last Ride and Robbery Under Arms.

Turning off the road further on we came to a parking area  for ‘Death Rock Waterhole’, and following a track we passed old lime burning pits (used in the construction of the buildings), before coming to a 6-metre rock resting on a creek bank above a large waterhole.

The name of the rock came from the homestead of Kanyaka just a bit further along the road and is significant to the local Aborigianal people who would bring those near to death to lie in its shadow until they passed away.

About a kilometre further on we came to the Kanyaka Ruins.

Kanyaka Homestead and outbuildings are all that remain of what was once one of the most extensive pastoral properities in the north of South Australia.

A stone wall was built along the western ridges, behind the homestead, extending as far as Yappala Range west of Hawker.

The name Kanyaks, is pronounced  kani-ka, and was taken from a native word ‘Udenyaka’ meaning ‘the place of the stone’.

Interpretivie signs tell the story of the homestead and outbuildings being erected in 1851-60 on land granted to Hugh Proby. Poor Hugh didn’t get to see any rewards from his land as he drowned during a flood in1852 whilst trying to cross Wallochra Creek to muster stock.

Across the creek is a small cemetery in which the earliest grave is that of Martha Phillips who passed away in 1857 aged 46.

It was only a short distance of 25-kilometres to Hawker but there were still another couple of sights to check out along the way.

The ruins of  Wilson are located 15-kilometres south of Hawker. Wilson was once a bustling town with shops, a hotel and a school but with continual bouts of drought and the arrival of the motorcar its demise soon came about.

Take a look around at what was once a thriving little settlement with the best maintained building on the main road, which was once home to the railway stationmaster from 1880.

Youranbulla Caves are just a few kilometres off the main road. The hike to the first cave  takes 15 minutes with a steeper climb at the end via some stairs and is worth the effort to see the beautiful paintings and the views.

Due to the heat, the entourage of flies accompany us and the lack of water we didn’t continue on to the other caves so be sure to bring water if you plan on doing this walk!

Hawker was our next destination and the start of the ‘Central Flinders Ranges’ adventure for us.

It was named in 1880 after George Charles Hawker, the Commissioner of Public Works at the time and is home to the Banggarla Aboriginal people.

Hawker is a town with a rich history as a transport hub having grown from the needs of settlers to the Flinders Rangers.

When the north-south railway line reached Hawker in 1881 the town became the hub for wheat farming in the area carrying passengers, wheat, wool, stock and supplies to and from Hawker until 1970. 

During World War II this line also became a vital link between Adelaide and Darwin with 18,000 servicemen plus hundreds of thousands of tonnes of military stores and equipment passing through on route to Darwin. 

Today Hawker is the hub of the Flinders Ranges as it is at the junction of roads from Port Augusta, Orroroo, Wilpena Pound and further north to Blinman and Maree.

The story of the Hawker district embraces the little towns of Craddock, Wilson, Hookina and Wonoka and not to be missed are the 3 main lookouts on the edge of town – Camel’s Hump, Police Hill and Castle Rock. All give great views of Hawker and the surrounding district.

The local information centre is not to be missed either. It is housed in the local garage and amongst its dusty shelves it displays quite a bit of memorabilia on the district.

After picking up some brochures and maps, purchasing a South Australian Parks Pass so we could access the National Park, and filling up with fuel we were on the road again… this time heading for Rawnsley Station 30-kilometres north of Hawker.

There are plenty of camping choices in the Central Flinders Ranges… Rawnsley Park Station is a working sheep station; Wilpena Pound is set amongst pine trees and tall gum trees with easy walking access to the Pound, and there is also Willow Springs for those who like remote camping on a sheep station with room to spread out and explore 4WD tracks.

From the small towns of the Southern Flinders Ranges, the way to the Central Flinders Ranges was the start of another outback adventure for us and the beginning of some of the most magnificent mountains and ranges we have ever seen.

Come and enjoy the wonders of this land with us as we journey into the Central Flinders Ranges.

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