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Published: November 13th 2006
Meeting the challenge
Dan, atop of Saint Mary Peak, in the Flinders Ranges. To view as a slide show, click on the image and use the >> (Next button) to scroll through the pictures.
On the last week in October we indulged in a self-made long weekend in the Flinders Ranges. We took Friday and Monday off and headed to Wilpena Pound.
We were based at the Wilpena Resort and had a nice room, albeit short of a few essentials, which were quickly replaced. From here we made several trips - the first BIG day - a walk to Saint Mary Peak, the highest point in the Flinder’s Ranges, and on the second BIG day - a scenic flight around Wilpena pound, a 1-2 hour walk to Arkaroo rock, and short walks through Sacred Canyon and the solar power station at Wilpena.
How to get there
The trip was around 1000km - a 4-5 hour drive each way. The route map (top left hand corner) will guide you on the roads to take.
Saint Mary Peak
This was a great family holiday that had been long talked about - we had been sharing our horror stories of climbing to the summit of Saint Mary for a year now. The last time Peter and I had climbed the Peak was with Karen from Holland - ten years ago - when I swore
To start the Saint Mary Peak walk, you go along the river bed at Wilpena - and this impressive red gum. Dan is sitting at the bottom.
I would never climb it again!
The trailhead for the walk, heading North, started between our room and the Wilpena General Store. We had selected to do the outside trail - which takes you on the steep Eastern side as although steeper it is shorter. We were on the way by 8.30am.
The trees are mainly cypress pine at the base of the pound - and the land was very dry. There were waterways that you needed to cross but no rain means no water.
There was one bonus of having the lack of rain - no flies (or moths or bugs at night). Wilpena flies are known for their stickiness - but we had none of that on this walk.
Scaling the Eastern face was hot. Blue reflective markers are used to show the preferred walking path. The surface was mostly loose rock - ancient rock. We were going well, well we thought we were going well, that was until a German couple, who were about 60 years old, overtook us at great speed. We then realized that we had to up our pace a bit.
We worked our way up to the saddle and
The map of walks
In the Wilpena Pound
enjoyed the spectacular views into the Pound and out East and North. We had a sandwich break under a tree - it was so good to get out of the hot sun - and were visited by large skinks who thought that the bits falling out of our sandwich were irresistible. They didn’t seem to mind that they were so close to us.
From the saddle you enter the Pound and approach the peak from the Western side. The higher you went the rockier it got. Dan had to be lifted in places to scale some of the rocks. The rocks did look very impressive - shadow creating strong contrast against the orange rock and the blue sky. We saw a snake and plenty of lizards. I often thought that I caught glimpses of people but it turned out to be tall yacca bushes (or black boys).
Reaching the summit was a great feeling and Dan revelled in the achievement. No matter what other people thought and said - he knew he could climb Saint Mary’s Peak, and, in his own words, that meant that he was a somebody. The views were breathtaking and the serenity level
Sussing out the challenge
The highest peak in the Flinders, Saint Mary Peak, looms onimously.
was peaking out.
There were others climbing - we saw about 15, mostly men. While we were having food at the summit, a Swiss man appeared from the opposite direction, having made his own pathway up. He pulled a green apple out of his pocket, ate it and took off again. To him it was nothing as he said that he had grown up in the mountains. At times when we were walking however, the sense of isolation became quite apparent and you wondered how often people got lost or loose light on this walk and get stuck.
We took the same path back - steep down climbing is hard work. You do have to be careful as it is harder to pick the markers on the way down. If the path thins and there are no more markers, you need to turn around and head back the way you came until you see a marker and then look to see where the right way to go actually was.
All in all, the walk took us about 8 hours - the kangaroos were out grazing by the time we had worked our way back around to where
we started. It was times like these I was very grateful that we weren’t camping - and had access to our own shower/bath to help in our return to normal.
A huge effort.
The next day it was a lovely sunny Sunday morning - we put our $300 down at the Visitor information centre at Wilpena at 10.45 am and by 11.00 we were climbing into a 4 seat plane for a 30 minute flight around Wilpena Pound with Todd. Dan scored the front seat and made the most of it - chatting, through the microphone, with Todd as we soared with the wedge tail eagles high above the Pound. The ranges do take on a different perspective from the air - I was very impressed with the adjacent Elder Ranges. I hadn’t realized that they were so stunning - there aren’t any main roads around it, so I had never seen the eastern slopes until we were in the air.
The geology at Wilpena is old. Todd said that the original height of the peaks was estimated to be approximately 5 times their current height when they were first formed - with eons of
Saint Mary Peak - up climb
erosion wearing them down.
There was a bit of turbulence during the flight which made it necessary for us to have a bit of a lie down afterwards.
Arkaroo Rock paintings
After lunch we spent 2 hours checking out the Arkaroo rock paintings in the southern part of the Pound.
To get there, exit Wilpena and turn right, heading south for about 12 km. You will pass a few turn offs for scenic lookouts, but look carefully for the blue sign showing where to turn right to go to the Arkaroo car park.
It was only an hour walk, but we were quite impressed when we arrived at the rock that we stayed awhile.
The walk starts with a slow climb through very arid bush - but the size and depth of the dry watercourses that you pass certainly demonstrate how torrents of water must force it’s way down the southern slopes of the Pound. Despite the dryness, there must still be some water- there were plenty of kangaroos hanging around a “dry” waterhole, formed where two creeks meet, about halfway up the Eastern track. The water is just below the surface and by digging
Tough life for trees
in the creek bed, small pools of water can be found.
Arkaroo rock itself is a significant boulder - about 6 metres tall and nestled in the shadow of a large hill. The rock is shaped into a hollow wave form - from a distance it looked a little like the head of an eagle. Inside the hollow is where many ochre paintings can be found. We felt compelled to sit and take it in. It was certainly easy to understand how, for the nomadic Aboriginal people, how Arkaroo rock could be a significant place in their journeys.
Sacred Canyon rock engravings
Our third adventure for Sunday was to visit Sacred Canyon. This is an amazing site - we had not taken the opportunity to visit there before.
To see the rock engravings with best clarity it is recommended that you visit early morning or late afternoon. We visited in the late afternoon, straight after the Arkaroo Rock walk.
The turn off for Sacred Canyon is a km or two north of the Wilpena turnoff. It is a dirt road about 12 km, and we saw many kangaroos and emus grazing in what was left of
the dry bush. You reach a gate across the road (the canyon is on private property not part of the Flinders) which is as rickety as you can imagine. On the ‘shut the gate’ sign are etched the words ‘fix the bloody gate’. You then reach a fork in the road, tend right and then follow the road around the hills for another km or two. You will then see some impressive gums in a creek bed and a car park with a sign about the Canyon. The walk is a short one, from the car park turn right and head along the creek bed.
The creek becomes surrounded by rock walls to form a chasm that have been molded smooth by the rushing water from past days. Tough old trees live in this rock - in places you can see their exposed roots gripping on to rocks. The place felt ancient - and you could understand why the Aborigines of this area would congregate at this spot. Although it was dry at the time, with the rocks you could imagine some forming significant rock pools that would be great to be around.
The geology was impressive and
improbable - a canyon out here - really? There were several examples of vertical sedimentary rock and even the deep purple hard rock that we have seen at Hallett cove (Adelaide coast). The force of the water must have been immense coming down from the ranges, cutting it’s way through this enormous rock.
Up and down the canyon are the engravings, telling of waterholes, people and animals. In the afternoon sun, you could look up to the high ledges and see the engravings in the rock walls - giving the impression of being steeped in history. Profound serenity.
The drive back to Wilpena felt a little like a rally drive. It certainly was kangaroo country and we also saw a large flock of emu. Although the land was dry there were signs that the bush was regenerating, with baby native cypress pine evident.
Our final Sunday adventure was a visit to the solar power station on the outskirts of Wilpena, which was first opened in 1998. It was a 10 minute walk through country that was heavily populated with kangaroos. There was a small information bay and viewing platform erected. The solar panels themselves were
A sandwich break and who would appear but big fat skinks - scavenging on the bits that fell out.
not movable, but faced in a few different directions to get the sun at different times of the year. A diesel backup was used for cloudy days.
We had a good time at Wilpena resort. Saint Mary's Peak sure was a breeze - and I thought it was going to be hard-as. I did get very scared at the top. If you jumped or fell off you would get instant death. Mum laid down on a rock at the top - and it freaked me out as I was worried that she would roll over and fall down.
And now for my favourite part of this holiday -FOOD!!! On the walk to Saint Mary's Peak Mum packed a block of fruit and nut chocolate (mmmm...yummy). When we got back we had a barbeque with home-made hash browns. Then on the last night of our stay we went to the restaurant and I had the Wilpena Pounder Burger (that was about 10 cm tall) and we shared some quondong crumble pie and wild berry cheesecake for dessert.
The scenic flight was great - Todd was a nice guy! He was a pilot of the plane. It was so beautiful - and do you know what was so cool about it? My Dad, who always tells me off for feeling sick in the back seat of the car when he was driving on a winding road - well he had the back seat in the plane- and it was his turn to feel like hurling!
At Arkaroo rock we looked at the paintings and I felt like I was falling into a trance seeing the story painted on the rocks. At Sacred canyon I had the feeling that someone was watching us, but when I looked there was no one there. Maybe it was the Dreaming time spirits?
And now for a joke ...
Q: When do kangaroos celebrate their birthdays?
A: During leap year.
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