This was the final Primetime Jazz show broadcast “live-to-air” from the North Terrace, Adelaide studios. Radio Adelaide moves to new studios over the next month. It has been a pleasure to work with such knowledgeable and talented jazz presenters at Radio Adelaide – I wish everyone well. So for my final show I picked tracks that have become my favorites over the years with a special Dave Brubeck track for my father who celebrated his birthday. I ended on a mellow, reflective piece of music from a Freddie Hubbard LP featuring the vocals of Al Jarreau.
Its our last day on the bike and the shortest. We have a leisurely coffee and write a few postcards, stretching out the moment, but all too soon, we have to say good bye to our new friends.
Its slightly déjà vu time as we bike down the road, for the second time on this trip, but today we turn right onto the Telegraph Track, rather than left to the Cazneauz tree.
The Solar farm is on our way and we discover that it’s the largest off grid solar electricity system in Australia, contributing 40 % of Wilpena Pounds power annually. This is what we need at home.
The telegraph track is a station 4wd, and easy going with many abrupt watercourse dips. Fun to blast though with a bit of speed. The trail takes us around the the many small peaks that make up the pound and I want to sit and sketch them, but discover that what looks like grass is actually very sharp and prickly.
The bike trail then hits the main road for 6 k, with a limited shoulder and cars buffeting us at 100 k plus. Not much fun, but it is downhill. We keep a look out for the turn-off to the Arkaroo cave paintings, it’s only a short ride and then a walk up to the caves.
The FRBB turn off from the main bitumen road is hard to notice, and we almost miss it. The trail heads up a gentle but demanding rocky gradient. It’s rough going, skirting the famous Rawnsley bluff, with many more watercourses and stony patches. By now we are expert at picking a line and rattling through dry bouldery riverbeds.
I keep wondering what it would be like with water flowing though, except for Sacred Canyon’s waterhole and Wilpena Pound’s spring, we have seen no water at all in any creek or riverbed, the last five days.
Rawnsley Park feels like a homecoming, we can see the campsite stretched out down the wide valley. The wonderful staff at Rawnsley Park retrieve our car and camper and we hand back the UHF, thankfully not used.
As the sun sets on Rawnsley’s famous Bluff, we celebrate with a bottle of wine and a non-dehydrated dinner.
It feels rewarding to have completed the track without mishap but the experience of spending the entire five days, immersed in the landscape with all its smells, dust and rocks, weather torments and limitless photo opportunities is one that will stay with us.
Have we come to any conclusions about the allure of the outback? I don’t think so, but I do think that we have embedded this ancient landscape into our psyche even further.
220km of track ridden, 15km of unintended detours. Not one puncture. No breakdowns. No snake or spider bites, no sunburn.
Would we do it again.?
Yes. In a heartbeat.
Things you might need to think about…
If you’re doing this outback epic like us, by yourselves, there is a bit of paperwork to do before you arrive and fees to be paid, as the Flinders Ranges By Bike trail is maintained by an association of the Station Owners with the cooperation of the Department of Environment and Heritage.
We decided to bike as lightly as possible and had two bags with – sleeping bags/tent/cooker/food/ transferred from camp to camp for a fee, rather than have full panniers. For the unsupported – it’s wonderful.
We stretched our legs in the cool of the morning, surprised to find, no sore muscles after yesterday’s hard slog. Our stomachs were full of porridge, the water bottles full and bike packed, it was time to ride. We left our bags in the woolshed, crossing our fingers that they’ll get to Wilpena Pound. Would we?
The smell of sheep, grass and earth permeated the stillness and we hoped like hell, that yesterday’s blistering headwind, would not come back to torment us.
The easy going and well maintained station tracks meant we could relax on the bikes, and take in the scenery without focusing on ruts, drops and other nasties. We were heading into Hans Heysen landscape country, Heysen called the Flinders “the bones of nature laid bare” and I was keen to see for myself the inspiration for much of his landscape painting.
The ABC range rose in front of us, leading the eye into the far distance. In this morning’s light, the undulating red cliffs were simply stunning. Up close, even more impressive and mysterious with numerous gullies and ragged escarpments, that begged to be explored.
Just before Red Hill lookout, we said goodbye to Gum Greek Station pastoral land and crossed into the National Park. Its here that we join onto the Mawson Trail, which has skirted Gum Creek station from Blinman in the north and the track, becomes wider and well marked.
Sir Douglas Mawson, Australia’s famous Antarctic explorer and geologist, studied these ranges in 1910 and this red, flinty and fine packed trail has been named in his honour. We expect to see walkers or other bike riders, but so far we have it all to ourselves. The absence of any sign – both visible and audible of other humans, adds to our sense of isolation, and makes the beauty all the more powerful.
Brachina River, is a welcome stop. I break out the sketch book and Mark, explores. The many ancient and gnarled river gums invite a closer but cautious look. We’ve been warned that gums can drop their hefty limbs at any time, and as the gums offer shade its a big dilemma.
Gentle rolling land brings us to the Bunyeroo Valley Lookout, and after a climb we take in the views back to Wilpena and west across to Willow Springs in the far distance. The bike path joins the road, here, winding down to the Gorge. We wait for a few cars trailing dust clouds to disappear before making Razorback ridge ours. The steep descent is a curvy high speed, high adrenaline ride. Mark is in his element and soon disappears from my view.
The gorge itself is bouldery and slow going, red fractured rock rises on both sides of this narrow gorge, giving us some welcome shade for lunch.
There is a geological walk here, with sign posts telling a story so ancient that we feel very insignificant, and reflect on our own tiny timeline in the Anthropocene age.
We are now on the other side of the ABC range and in a valley with the Heysen Range on our left, there’s also no wind here and it’s much hotter. Our water supplies are doing better than yesterday though and we don’t need to ration.
The red cliffs of the Heysen range make a fantastic backdrop to the greenery of the native cypress ( Callitris columellaris) and Sheoak and its hard not to stop and take photos every five minutes. We met a group of hikers – our first meeting with any other track users.
The valley broadens out a little and we start a descent on a stone hard, water rutted dirt track. With a few k’s to go to Wilpena Pound, there’s more sign of use here, and its not long before we met day walkers.
As the setting sun turns the rocky cliffs a stunning orangey red, we go for a short walk into the pound to stretch out our legs. The Pound is about 18 k long by 8 k’s wide and was an important Aboriginal ceremonial site until it was taken over by europeans for grazing stock. A homestead built by the Hill family, and now restored, lies at the end of the gorge, where it opens to the pound.
We treat ourselves to a beer and a meal cooked by someone else at the Resort Bistro. The end of our trip is in sight and its disappointing that tomorrow will be a short day. We are now into the groove of spending the whole day biking in this stunning landscape. Its such a fantastic way to absorb what the country offers on many levels.