After a week of lazing in Quorn awaiting various packets from various places, avoiding the first decent heatwave of the nascent summer with temperatures in the high 40s (57 C just outside my tent), I planned a short ride to Warren Gorge to get back on the trail again.
It took me 72 minutes to ride the 21.5 km. Plenty easy.
It’s my first gorge of the season.
A river has gouged out the gorge along a fault line leaving towering jagged sides. There’s a trickle of water in the river, testament to the rains the areas had of late. The Australians in their infinite wisdom put the access track along this river for the designated campground is through the gorge and quite a ways beyond. Certainly if you are on a bike and have to ride the steep gravel track to get there. Given there’s plenty of space for a campsite before the gorge I’m not sure I understand why the river has to be chewed up and destroyed by being turned into a track. Had this not happened there would be natural pools with all the commensurate biodiversity to be enjoyed by the walkers who wander around the short hiking trail.
I join Tanya, a mid-30s solo traveller from Perth, for the walk. Very pleasant.
Tanya returns, by car, to Quorn for the penultimate ride on the Pichi Richi Railway and I bed down for the night.
I find out the water from the ‘DON’T DRINK WATER’ tap tastes great. I have enough from my needs but due enjoy a wash.
Warren Gorge, among many others in the Flinders Ranges is home to a colony of Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies. I don’t get a photo of them but I see them hoping over rocks, hightailing back to the rocks from the grassy lower slopes when I walk past and otherwise just looking cute.
My original plan had been to take three nights to reach Wilpena, 200-odd km along the Mawson from Quorn. Starting with the short ride to Warren Gorge then 60 km to Cradock, another 60 through Hawker to Watercress Creek and finishing with a 60 km to Wilpena.
I would arrive on Tuesday the 24th. One day before another mini-heatwave with temperatures above 40C is expected.
By and large the Mawson is not as bad, track-quality-wise, as the Munda Biddi. But it does have the same curious feature of meandering waaay off course for no particular reason and most often through country which is hardly aesthetically inspiring. I’ve thus chosen to cut these large redundant loops out and aim for kilometres.
In this way I ride the 60 km to Hawker by 1300.
In Hawker I meet Matt and Anna, two cyclists from Poland who have done the exact same trip I want to do, but from North to South. Great intel. I also have lunch. At 1500, when the heat of the day is beginning to let go, I continue to ride and do another 35 km ending up at Mount Little Station’s great and a completely unexpected bush camp.
There is a ‘but’ to this though.
The terrain profile of the Mawson Map Section 3 Map 2 Wilson Road – Black Gap shows a precipitous drop at about kilometre 133 from Quorn. Must be good views, thinks I. I’ll check out the camping opportunities. Fortunately, as I’m riding along the really good quality Wonoka Station Road, I notice a Mawson trail marker pointing up a goat track. Had I missed this I’d gone well out of my way and the back-track would have been painful. Particularly as there’s this nasty 300 m long 13-15% washed out section I had to get up.
I would have been most grumpy had I back-tracked up hill and then had to face this. However, being an expert at short impossible slopes I did my short bursts stopping for a break before redlining and bit by bit made my way up the goat track.
For the next eight kilometres I bounced and jarred and grunted and slipped my way along the track until I reached the Edge of the World.
Great view, no campsite. I choose therefore to head down the precipice and find a place to camp on the plain. Now, the Biddi definitely had worse bits where there simply wasn’t a track and I had to push Dreamer and Ziflex up a slope or in once case simply abandon the Biddi and ride a gravel road.
But this bit of the Mawson was undoubtedly in the top 5 awful bits of track I’ve had to ride.
A fucking steep – it is precipitous afterall – scree slope is probably the best way to describe it. Damned glad I chose to ride down it in the late afternoon sun rather than take it on in the early dawn.
I then jingled and jangled my way along the Mawson looking for a campsite only to stumble onto Mount Little Station’s great bush camp, with camp kitchen and toilets. Not that I made use of them coz by now it’s quite late, the howling gale is a pain, I’m damned tired and all I wanna do is crash.
There’s a tap. I try it. Water comes out. Bore water, a bit saline, but I really enjoy the wash.
There are tiny ants E V E R Y W H E R E. Finding a place to put the tent without running the risk of an ant invasion took quite a while. I hung my shorts on what was a tree branch devoid of ants only to find them covered in ants when I went to retrieve them after my wash.
Other than that, I was not troubled by ants or anything else. Not even the gale.
My little alarm clock did not wake me up. Battery’s gone. So I start the day 45 minutes later than planned. I’m moving by 0700.
This section of the Mawson is a dotted line on the maps. I know that a dotted line means a really basic track. Perhaps a single track, perhaps dual. But rarely smooth. I do not have smooth this particular morning. I bounce and jar my way along. I’ve 90 km to Wilpena where a pool awaits, good showers, a shop, and spectacular scenery in the Wilpena Pound and surrounding areas. If I make it today I’m a cool entire day ahead of schedule. I may even meet up with Tanya again and do some more hikes with her. The bad track and the resulting slow going are not encouraging. As it’s a working station there are frequent fences I must pass through.
There are cattle. Mostly cows, some with calves. Not particularly smart. They dot the pastures close to the track I’m on, rather than hundreds of meters deeper into the paddock. I’m not really sure about riding so close to large somewhat intimidating cattle but have no choice. The cattle themselves don’t seem to like me either so they run away from me by gravitating to the very track I’m on then running in front of me.
A large number gather around a water tank, having been herded there by me. They have chewed up the ground so much I don’t know where the trail is. I can see it on the other side of the herd. All I have to do I go straight through them. And the chewed up ground. And the prodigious amounts of cow-shit which lies everywhere.
Instead I opt to bash a path around them. Not easy. Dreamer slides out a couple of times in the dust and I’m swearing and cursing and grumbling but bit-by-bit I’m making my way. When I hear a rather odd ‘moo’ sound. Like a disgruntled ‘moo’ sound.
Turning I am confronted by a large cow complete with horns charging right at me!
Death by Cow is not on my Risk Assessment. Completely missed that one. Along with Death By Chocking On Fly, which is an almost daily risk.
I spring off Dreamer unsure what to do. There is nothing within hundreds of meters which could even remotely offer protection. Strange gurgling and grunting noises can be heard. I realise they are coming from me … “Ahhhooohh nooooooo!” Something like that.
It works. The cow backs off and I hastily continue and are very glad when I close the last gate and there are no more cows or cattle dotted along my horrible track.
For a short distance the Mawson follows asphalt. Unfortunately the howling southerly from last night has morphed into a howling east-north-easterly. At best a cross wind. At worst a head wind.
It’s not particularly hot but it is hot enough.
And today is all about inclines. Almost the entire day will be spent going up.
It’s going to be a long day and I wonder what criteria I’ll use to pull the plug and simply camp.
The Mawson crosses from The Outback Highway on the west side of the Flinders Ranges to the Flinders Ranges Way on the east side by following the Moralana Scenic Drive.
‘Scenic’ is jargon for windy, hilly, twisted, a bit sandy, a bit stony, a lot gravelly and undoubtedly full of very steep bits. It’s 28 km long. It takes three hours. Grunt and grind. Beautiful scenery of course, but damn it was tough.
Uphill along bad tracks into a strong headwind. Lovely.
Wilpena is 33 km from the junction, along asphalt going up hill into a headwind. Wilpena is 45 km from the junction along the Mawson’s rough tracks, going up hill into a headwind.
I chose the asphalt and simply found a gear I could go uphill in forever and tried to forget where I really am. Instead imagining rocking into Wilpena Pound Resort, checking into an airconditioned room before making my way downstairs for a beer by the pool.
Wilpena finally appears.
I rock up into reception, try to sound intelligible when asked the inevitable “Owarya?”, and ask for “The cheapest nastiest room you’ve got available”.
Mick stares blankly at me and says “Wot?”
I repeat “Emuch for your cheapest nastiest room?”
I then found out I’m in the visitors’ centre. The resort’s reception is another 200 m.
Mick makes a counter offer … A permanent tent suitable for 5 people (A tent for 5 people!?) for 80 AUD a night. “Saves ye about 120 bucks ona room”
“Wot?” My turn to not understand. Saves 120$?
“It’s a resort” Mick explains. He calls the resort on my behalf. “240 for a single person. Ok, thanks.” I hear Mick repeat the answer he’s heard over the phone.
The tent has electricity, is near the amenities and even has a fridge. For 80 bucks. Am too tired hot and bothered to care. “Ok, I’ll take it for a night”. I can at least still enjoy a beer by and use of the pool.
Mick then disappears for a moment. Upon his return he goes “I’ll do it for 40 a night”.
I think I’ve miss-heard him. He repeats it. Bona fide. I book in for four nights.
But … no airconditioned room. I’ll survive.
But, wait. There’s a note on the counter. “The swimming pool with be closed for refurbishment from the 23 November to approximately 13 December”.
My world just ended. No swimming pool. OMG!!!
Tough day. I made it non the less. Feels good.
I join Tanya for dinner and we plan the ‘morrow.
Tanya and I explore Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorges, including a long geo-hike up Bunyeroo Gorge. To get there we travel in her airconditioned automobile. Sublime luxury. The Mawson makes its way through these Gorges. It would take me like three days to ride and camp and explore the gorges by bike. Takes us an afternoon by car.
I also realise that at least the first 30 km of asphalt between Wilpena and Blinman is up. Steep up. Including a long, long section of 10% up.
Blinman is but 65 km from Wilpena. It’ll be tough but it won’t be a tough as if I follow the Mawson.
Today’s a rest day. It’s meant to be 40 C. Am quite sure it is. The nearest pool is in Hawker, 65 km south. It’s open between 1530 and 1700. Tanya’s picking me up in 20 minutes.
It was worth the hour in the car to splash around in the pool for an hour and half. Whilst the cool waters chilled us down it does not take long in the late afternoon sun to warm us up again. Even at 1700 it is still 38C.
Last day at Wilpena.
I’ll do a short hike, then psyche myself up for the tough haul to Blinman tomorrow. Since it’s only 65 km I’ll only carry food and water for the day to lessen my load. And it’ll be by asphalt.
The contrast between today and yesterday borders on the absurd. Yesterday, 40 C, strong dry winds brilliant sky and a fierce sun.
Today, in contrast, is overcast, off and on smattering of rain and 15 C.
I’ll need to do a walk just to warm up. It is clear I have become acclimatised. I am cold at a temperature I’d consider decent in Scandinavia!
Rugged up, wearing no less than three layers I take on the Wangara Lookout Hike into Wilpena Pound. Easy seven kilometres.
It warms up. I remove some layers.
The lizards start appearing with an enjoyable frequency. The more cagey skinks I don’t get close enough to photo. I didn’t need to catch the Goulds Sand Goanna but I couldn’t help it. It’s a kool 15 years at least since the last one. Beautiful animal, as are they all.
Wilpena Pound is a marvellous bit of geo-landscaping. Sadly, misguided agrarian intentions from the late 1860s saw it and its biodiversity significantly impacted. There’s a program of re-building the biodiversity including removal of feral animals. But the sheer number of goats and foxes that I’ve seen suggest they’ve a long way to go.
Now I need to prepare for tomorrow and all the tomorrows that come after it.
Wilpena Pound, 26 November 2015