The Boxing Day test

Published: December 28th 2009
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Day 244 - Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges

Merry Christmas! Oh sorry, that was yesterday. Happy Boxing Day! It will be such a shame when all the tinsel has to come down from the caravan, it looks all sparkly and lovely at the moment - we love the Christmas look.

With rucksacks on backs and hiking boots on feet we set off early this morning to tackle the 21.4km hike to St Mary Peak and Wilpena Pound. By 6.45am we signed ourselves in at the walking trail head and then set off.

It was a beautifully clear morning, the sky was already blue and you could just tell it was going to be a glorious day. As many Victorians head into the MCG to watch the Boxing Day test match we begin a Boxing Day test of a different kind.

We made good time on the initial part of the hike, the flattest part funnily enough and we soon have another couple in our sights. We were the first to sign into the walking book this morning so this other couple haven’t chosen to have the back up of somebody knowing to look for you if you don’t return in a reasonable time. We don’t carry a satellite phone or flares when we’re out walking, however the professionals do so perhaps they have their own form of precaution but with us it’s the simple ‘let somebody know where you’re going’ method!

There’s the general chit chat and passing the time of day as we all hike in the same direction but we soon start to break away and we’re back on our own again as the terrain goes upwards and gets less steady underfoot.

Hiking up Tanderra Saddle is the first real exertion of the morning, it’s steep, stony and exposed to the elements but fortunately the sun isn’t too strong and there’s no wind to worry us. The views are stunning and we use them as our rest stop excuses on numerous occasions!

Ever had the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere? Take a look at the photos and you might not see much sign of ‘civilisation’ around us, isn’t it fabulous.

Wilpena Pound is often described as the jewel in the Flinders Ranges, one of South Australia’s most recognised landmarks. In all honestly it wasn’t on our radar and had it not been for friends Jane and Tony whom we met atop Uluru we might not have ventured here at all. Luckily they saw to it that we did! Wilpena Pound itself is 17km in length and 8km wide and is a crater-like formation of the weathered remains from a mountain range once as high as the Himalayas. Eroded over millions of years the ‘pound’ was so called because of its use as an enclosure for animals by the early pastoralists, many of them English.

Like everywhere in Australia, the original occupiers of the area with the aboriginal people, the Adnyamathanha and their word for Wilpena is Ikara meaning meeting place. Had we fully read the documentation about this walk we would have been faced with a decision of conscience this morning as St Mary Peak is regarded as central to the creation story for the Adnyamathanha people and they do prefer visitors not to climb to the peak summit. The section is described as difficult and potentially dangerous but presumably the real reason for the request is one of respect and spiritualism as the peak is also regarded as a male area. Well luckily I didn’t realise any of this until we returned from the walk so I did the whole thing in blissful ignorance.

The walk markers are great, they literally count down the km’s to the base of St Mary Peak so that when you get to the top of Tanderra Saddle and you’re already totally knackered you at least know you only have another 1.6km to go, it’s just a shame they’re nearly vertical! Ok, that’s a slightly minor exaggeration but it is steep and involves a bit of rock climbing from time to time.

We actually found the St Mary Peak section easier and more enjoyable than the Tanderra Saddle climb and also thought it was a lot safer. That’s assuming you don’t stand right on the edge of the rock at the top of the peak of course, then it’s a bit risky due to the height as it’s 1170 metres above sea level.

We sat up there all alone just gazing out over the 360 degree view that we had worked so hard to get. We ate our lunch with the lizards who all came to visit, small and large. They seemed to enjoy dropped (not deliberately) pieces of bread and avocado the best although the cheese crisps did eventually get snuffled up too.

Our long relaxing lunch allowed us time to take some photographs from on high and then as soon as we started to hear voices approaching we packed up and readied ourselves for the next section of the hike.

We return down to earth from our birds eye view on the peak and follow the path back along the 1.6km until we find a small arrow sign that seems to suggest a right turn into the pound. It looks like a walking track but there are no proper walking markers like the ones we have been used to and we remember a ‘lost and found’ story about this hike. Jane told us all about the time she completed this walk as part of a largish group that included several children. At some point on the hike they took a wrong turn and it extended their day by several km’s and of course hours. With that in mind we return to the main track and continue onward where after a short distance we do indeed find the marker and the real pathway through the pound. I must remember to ask Jane if that was the point where they went ‘off piste’!

The markers at this point are a bit sadistic, as they gleefully inform us of the 12.4km we have left to go. We weren’t deterred though, it should all be down hill from here but that didn’t make it any less of a challenge. Walking downhill is one thing but when you’re following such a rocky path, you can’t take your eye of the ball for a minute.

Mr Howells was leading the way and because he is much steadier on his feet than me there was the odd occasion where a shout out check was required because I started to lag behind. I had to stop taking photos after that, we had a long way yet to walk and time was ticking on.

The scenery walking through the pound was beautiful, clear views of St Mary Peak and lots of twists and turns following what we assume was a small creek bed. When we happened upon a sign quite deep into the walk that said the journey can be dangerous underfoot, slippery and not suitable for young children I just laughed out loud. Having got this far, potentially with young children, I wondered how many families had actually turned around and walked back the way they came. Not many I’ll doubt!

In time we came to the Cooinda bush camp, I guess had we carried our little tent with us we could have spent the night out here which would have been exciting. It’s been so still and calm today, the only sounds are the rustling of wildlife in the scrub, the baying of the feral goats and the occasional shimmer from the taller trees as a breeze comes through. It would be spooky at night but what fun.

All of a sudden up behind me I heard and felt the presence of another creature, a human. I jumped a bit as this young fit lad zoomed past practically running. How rude, now Darryl would definitely know it was possible to walk quicker than I was! Darn!

About 15 minutes later another young lad came up alongside us, I’d caught up with Darryl by this point and the other chap wasn’t walking quite so fast but he overtook us quickly and easily. We both noticed that the 2nd lad wasn’t carrying any water so had to assume that the other had the supplies and hopefully he would wait for his mate on occasion. Nobody could be that stupid to come on a hike like this, on a day like today without carrying water.

Our assumption was correct and as we left the rocky path through the pound behind us we reached the wooded area where we could see the two lads together enjoying a drink in the shade. I giggled a bit as we walked passed because the runner of the two was already doing cool down exercises and we still had 8 kms to go! I know it’s a good idea it just made me chuckle.

We had a chat to the boys, it didn’t take them long to catch us, they’re from France and touring / working their way through sections of the country but haven’t been West / North or Central yet so they’ve still got a lot of the good stuff to come. On our return the first place we intend to go is the swimming pool in the resort which is the other end to the campground (obviously!) but the lads were under the impression it was only open to the resort guests. Not the case, so we put them right and suspect we’ll see them when we get back!

Once you get through the Pound itself you find the occasional resting seat on the track but each one we found had been sited in a direct sunlight position whilst a further 20 metres away was always a huge tree giving off lots of shade! Talk me through your thought process on that one then. We just didn’t understand it at all!

We kept going until we got to the Hills Homestead, the same homestead at the base of the Wangarra Lookouts. What a shame we’d already been up there to check out the view, we could have done it today instead. Not!! Luckily the picnic bench here was totally in the shade so we sat down to eat our final supplies, an apple and a banana! What a good walk. We’d also got down to our last bottle of water and with another 3km to go I wondered if the water in the tanks here was drinkable. As if by magic a Ranger appeared to get something from the homestead and he confirmed that the water is indeed drinkable. That was good news, now we had plenty of water for the last leg of the journey. It seems they use the homestead as a bit of a store room these days. The Ranger left the door open so I had a quick look inside and find it’s been beautifully renovated with lovely flooring and two open fireplaces. What a shame it’s not being used as a little ice cream café for people at the end of the long walks, it’s in a beautiful setting and just perfect for a bit of mindless profiteering from tourists! We’d run it!

With our walk nearly over we wandered back through the final stages and reached the trail head to sign out from the walk at 15:25 so within the anticipated 9 hours which given the lengthy lunch stop and the afternoon rest we thought was quite respectable - sort of!

We dragged ourselves back to the caravan and plonked on our chairs outside with our feet up. We have a new next door neighbour who introduced himself as Clint, quite a lively older chap who has been travelling for a number of years and in the short space of time that he talked at, sorry, to us it seems he’s pretty much been everywhere. He went off to sort something in his camper and we escaped to the swimming pool … in the car! Ha ha, we really did drive too, how funny is that. Obviously it was all in the name of ‘We’re leaving tomorrow and haven’t run the car for a couple of days so best to check everything’s ok!’ What a cop out!

The pool was great and the French walkers had indeed found they were more than entitled to relax in the cooling waters. After a quick cool down and stretch of the muscles we grabbed an ice cream then headed back to camp. Clint invited us out on the sunset tour over Wilpena but instead we relax after dinner and catch up with the blogs whilst watching good old Snatch! What a film that is, Brad Pitt as a boxing, half naked Pikey - yeah, I'm happy that we’ll get to watch another sunset another day!

Dar and Sar

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