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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Australia: Flinders Ranges

The road to the Flinders Ranges
The road to the Flinders Ranges, home to the eerie winds of the willie-willie

It was a shame to leave World's End behind, but I had plans for some serious bushwalking in the Flinders Ranges to the north, after some hearty recommendations from Dave and Karen. After a quick bath in the creek and porridge for brekkie cooked on the fire, I headed north up the dirt road, aiming for Burra.

Driving down dirt tracks is an art, and one you learn quickly if you know what's good for you. There are plenty of hazards, like the massive dips that indicate floodwater channels, potholes where anything could have happened and corners with loose shingle (which are pretty challenging in a rear-wheel drive like Oz). It's no picnic. An added thrill is that of the dust trail; if you look behind you when you're driving along you can't see a thing because you're chucking up a huge dust cloud behind you. That's no problem – it's behind you after all – but when you pass someone coming the other way, you're both totally blinded for a while, and that's rather entertaining if it happens to be on a corner. It's also quite a sight if you stop and look at the still, barren landscape around you, and see a dust trail on a distant road; it looks like a fire, but it's moving along, so it can't be.

Another amazing thing about the outback is the strange localised weather phenomenon called the willie-willie1. Imagine mini-whirlwinds that reach up into the sky, but are only about 20 feet across; they're a bit like little tornados, I suppose. They occur quite frequently in the dusty outback, and once I came over a hill to find about five of these things whirling away over the fields. They're quite amazing, but they don't half create havoc if you drive right past one; there's a lot of energy kicking around inside a whirlwind. It made the journey to Burra that little bit more interesting, anyway.

Burra is a pretty little spot; at least, the town is. I had a traditional Aussie meat pie there, something I've grown to love (if it's possible to love food with all the goodness taken out... which, of course, it is), and went off to see the mines that, according to the local blurb, had saved South Australia from bankruptcy. They're no longer mined, but they're quite a sight; the mining was opencast, and all that's left are huge craters that are half full of water, with old buildings dotted around in a kind of mining ghost-town pose. It was interesting, and a good stop on the way to the Flinders Ranges.

Wilpena Pound

The sloping sides of Wilpena Pound
Looking west from Bridle Gap towards the sloping sides of Wilpena Pound

I drove down more dirt roads and eventually reached Wilpena, 300km north of my last campsite. It was getting late, so I cooked up, lit my lamp and settled in for a read. Or that's what the plan was, anyway.

Wilpena must be the most bug-infested place in the world (note that I say bug-infested, because the most fly-infested place is the Nullarbor). I sat there with my lamp, and these little bugs kept falling on me from the trees, moths kept flying round the lamp and straight into me and I got eaten by mozzies, again. I was writing a letter at the time, and I was so moved I caught a mozzie and sellotaped it onto the page. I don't know whether the recipient appreciated it.

It was worth all the hardship, though. Wilpena is at the only entrance to Wilpena Pound, an amazing natural structure that defies description. Imagine an oval of mountains, 8km wide and 17km long. The inside of the oval gently slopes in a bowl shape, but the outside of the mountains is sheer cliff, so you can only get into the Pound via a pass carved by Wilpena Creek on the eastern edge of the oval. I spent a whole day walking right across the middle of the Pound to Bridle Gap on the other side, a return journey of some 15.5km, and the views were astounding. When I reached Bridle's Gap, near a mountain suspiciously called Dick Nob on the west side of the Pound, I could see a huge range of mountains to the east – the Elder Range – with a massive tableland of scrub in between. It was a good job the sun was out for the photos, as on my return the heavens opened, cooling me down and making the arid interior of the Pound smell like a wet blazer.

That can of beer I bought on my return was one of the most heavenly treats in the world...

1 At least, that's what they're called in Western Australia. Many thanks to Ian Belford, who emailed me with the name plus a warning that he nearly saw someone decapitated by a willie-willie; a bit of corrugated iron that was trapped inside the whirlwind narrowly missed a cyclist's head. Be careful out there!

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