Saturday, September 6, 2014

We're Bound For South Australia

In South Australia round Cape Horn
We're bound for South Australia..

After 3.5 months in the Northern Territory among flat savannah eucalpyt forest, dry grasses, and blood red quartzite gorges driving south to the ocean at the head of Spencer Gulf was like entering another country. We had travelled south along the Stuart Highway through the dry desert lands of northern South Australia (the most arid state in an arid country) where we had slept each night under a huge desert sky with the wind blowing diurnally through salt bush and mulga. The highway weaves between huge salt lakes, some completely dry, others with a thin layer of water from recent rains. The white salt under the brilliant desert sun was almost blinding and walking across the salt plains was eerily like floating on thin skin of ice. About 50 km north of Port Augusta, which lies at the northern end of the long Spencer Gulf, we pulled over at a road side rest area overlooking the northern Flinders Ranges, the first hills we had seen in days, and saw green vegetation laying thinly over the distant ranges. 

Sunset over Island Lagoon, one of SA dry salt lakes

Port Augusta is the jumping off point for the Gawler and Flinders Ranges and Wilpena Pound. The 1200 km long Heysen Track begins at Parachilna Gorge in the South Flinders Ranges and runs all the way to Cape Jervis on the south coast. Moonarie, South Australia's premier crag, is situated high on the rim of Wilpena Pound in this distant part of the country and must be one of the remotest "crags" in Australia. Spring is a good time to visit these northern ranges, as summer temperatures climb into the 40's (Celsius), but, completely against our own normal custom, we continued past the road to the northern ranges and drove south into the lush hinterland of the Willochra Plains. At some point in the last few months our motivation to get to Australia's iconic climbing crag, Arapilies, had reached a high enough level to cause us to drive past places we would like to visit. I knew that, were we to drive north again, back into the ranges, we'd end up staying a month or two, by which time Arapilies would be baking under a summer sun. 

 Blinding white salt on Lake Hart

Driving out of Port Augusta, we took the Main North Road, a narrow, dippy, bumpy road - typical of country Australia - up a winding valley lined with huge river red gums and indescribably green grass to Horrocks Pass. There was something strangely soothing about being around verdant vegetation again. In the small town of Wilmington, we parked for an hour and hiked up Mount Maria. Kookaburras were laughing in the trees, the open grasslands were rich with wild-flowers, ring necked parrots chattered in the tall gum trees and galahs shrieked raucously overhead. It was the quintessential Australian bush experience. We camped that night by Goyder's Line - a rainfall boundary line purported to demarcate the area suitable for cropping from that suitable for grazing - among thick green clover and enormous river red gums. The evening air smelled moist, lush and loamy. Mount Remarkable, is just 20 km south of Mount Maria, and we took a decadent day off driving to walk the long sweeping track up to the forested summit. There are views of the productive Willochra Plain, and, between gaps in the vegetation you can glimpse Spencer Gulf to the west. 

Mount Remarkable from Mount Maria

It is almost two years to the day since we arrived in Australia, we've driven from the south of the country to the north and back to the south again, and now, we are traveling east, in full expectation of getting spanked, schooled and sand-bagged on the steep walls of Arapilies.

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