Tuesday October 4th, we left early heading north to the Flinders Range to see the natural amphitheater at Wilpena Pound. Our plan was to travel one of the early Outback Tracks (dirt road) through the Flinder’s Range, on to Eyre Lake then to Coober Pedy. It has been unseasonably wet this year which has allowed Eyre Lake to fill for the first time in 36 years and Peter thought the bird viewing would be good.
The area had large sheep stations in the mid 1800’s but declined due to over grazing and repeated droughts as well as floods. It is said that Australia was built on the back of sheep. We stopped at the ruins of the large Kanyaka station which had well over 200,000 head of sheep. These early pastoralist leased the land and the banks determined and maximized the sheep production without understanding the effects of overgrazing and how fragile the land was. Eventually this era ended but the land is still recovering.
Rain was misting or lightly falling all day as we headed north. We pulled over at Rawnsley Park, a sheep station turned dude ranch. It was a short drive off the main road on a dirt track. It really started to rain that night, dropping 2 cm of rain (not much by our standards). The next morning we learned the road north of Flinder’s Range Park was not a “bitriment” surface (asphalt) and would be closed. They warned us that if you get stuck it’s a $1000 fine per wheel to get pulled out. They pleaded their case saying that there wasn’t enough money to repair the dirt tracks of the deep ruts that happen when people drive on them wet and the roads become treacherous. After driving the short dirt track back out to the main bitriment road, we were believers. Our four wheel drive slid around as if we were on sheet ice and easily sunk in 2+ inches as we drove. We were grateful to be back on pavement and lost all illusions that the dirt tracks “weren’t really all that bad as they say”. We decided to visit the park and then make a tactical retreat to Port Augusta to continue to Cooper Pedy on the Stuart Highway.
We enjoyed our walk to the amphitheater though with the low clouds little was visible of the massive rock landscaping.
The amphitheater was used as a large sheep station for a short time till Mother Nature had her way with drought followed by flood.
Another legacy of early land use, the park is currently trying to contend with the large populations of feral goats, rabbits and foxes through extermination. 100,000 goats so far and still more to go.
We enjoyed the smaller things not obscured by the clouds like the dramatic gum trees, emus and kangaroos.