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Day 20



   Tuesday  24th April 2007

   After nearly three weeks of clear skies, it is full overcast this morning and looking quite "ominous". The camping area here at Wilpena is vast. There are lots of huge trees with ill defined tracks weaving in and out of them with caravan sites well spaced in between. There all sorts of vehicles from covered in utes to super long caravans. Some are looking very permanent with annexes and "temporary" clothes lines while others, like myself, are just a tent. Mind you, I don't see any other tents without vehicles alongside. And some of the tents are bigger than most of the caravans. You can tell this is a favourite destination for a week or two's holiday for the family. Although it is very early, around 6.30, there are quite a few kids running around but being pretty quiet about it. I guess they have been told.

   I cleaned up the sausages left over from last nights Bar-B-Q in a cold sandwich (well, ok, a few) with lashings of BBQ sauce and finished off with two glasses of banana milk. I chatted with a couple of early walkers and accepted an invitation for a cuppa "just over there". I could see the black 4WD and van they pointed to. It was half a kilometer away. This was a  big park. I let the walkers go while I finished packing up and said I would be over soon. This fitted in well as I wanted to see if the office computers could log into the Bureau of Meteorology Internet site so I could check out the weather and they would not be open till 8 o'clock.

   Over at the cuppa, they told me that they have been coming here every year, sometimes for a week and sometimes two. They had done so for the last 11 years and still looked forward to it every time. They had seen the park change during that time from "just another park" to the park/resort that it is now. They enjoyed "just sitting around" in the bush setting but also have done most of the flying, four wheel driving and walking tours offered up by the park. They have "done" the flight over The Pound several times and recommend it to everyone as "the best".

   They reckon that if you are only going to do two tourist flights in your lifetime, "do Wilpena Pound twice".

   While I was waiting for the queue to clear a bit at the office, I saw that they take the weather seriously here and there is a special notice board for "TODAY'S ROAD AND WEATHER INFORMATION". There were isometric charts (the ones with the map of Australia  showing lines of pressure and "cold fronts" like you see on TV) which is my favourite. I have had enough interest in the science of weather to be able to "read" several days forecast into this map. Well, with at least a better success rate than just looking out the window. This chart was from late yesterday so I would still ask at the counter. Another posting on the board was the "ROAD CLOSURES REPORT". Aha. Now I could see the reason for the interest in the weather. Being the end of the bitumen, and the fact that the biggest percentage of visitors here would have little or no experience on dirt roads in any weather, this was the ideal location to post warnings about driving on dirt roads. There were plenty of 4WDs scattered around but I bet the closest most of them ever got to driving in torrents of water was going through the car wash each week.

   There had been no rain for months so all the roads were open. In particular, I checked the road to Blinman which was my next stop and just over 60km up the dirt road. This would mean 2 nights camping beside the road instead of the luxury of a caravan park with shower, laundry and (gulp) toilets. But I was happy to be on the go again.

   Now, I am a "bushie" but the main thing I miss when out of the "big smoke" is a flush toilet. Even a "long drop" will not do the trick, although I consider it sanitary enough from a purely practical point of view. When I moved onto Russell's cattle property outside Beaudesert and established my caravan in a most picturesque spot, the first thing I did was to build a septic system for a flush toilet. Russell had dug the long drop hole with his "Bobcat", with post hole digging attachment, and put a "seat" over it. For modesty a tin cubicle, with a door that didn't quite close properly, surrounded it on non-existent foundations. This "did the job" for his occasional weekend visits. Oh, and I'll add that there was an old cast iron bathtub supported at both ends with masonry bricks to make it high enough off the ground to shovel some hot coals from the fire. This provided a bath for the hot, dusty, weary bodies after a hard day "on the land". It was open to the elements and you had to be careful wandering round at night with your torch (I did once venture too near while Russell and his lady friend were enjoying a glass of wine under the stars).

   But I digress. There was a guy behind the counter at the office doing the "early morning" shift on his own and I had to wait 15 minutes or so till I felt I could interrupt, seeing I was just wanting a favour. Actually, he was quite pleased with my request for a weather prediction, as he had been on the 'Net earlier waiting for the latest reports and would be going after them again now. Although the radar images showed extensive cloud cover and some rain, there was nothing predicted specifically for this area. The isometric chart did show every indication for conditions building to rain sometime in the near future. To confirm this, I did the "look out the window" trick. I went out of the office and down the ramp into the clear (of trees) area of the car park and checked the full 360 degrees of sky. It didn't look good.

   "Hoy!" in a loud voice came from a fair way behind me, back near the start to the office ramp. It was Lorraine that I had the stir fry with  in Rawnsley Park several nights back, but I did not recognise her immediately. As I walked over, Neil joined us. I'm glad he did because I had a look of "do I know you?" and Neil's is a face not easily forgotten. He is tall and well built but his outstanding feature is the shaved head.

   "G'day Neil" and "Hi" as I turned to face Lorraine.

   "Lorraine," I was reminded.

   "Thanks," I replied with a bit of embarrassment. I had not only failed to recognise her but had forgotten her name and she knew it. 

   We filled each other in on what we had been doing over the last few days and when we talked about the weather it was not just "making conversation". We took some photos and exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. Being practical, we didn't see much chance of meeting again but at least we had the means of a future contact.
   
  I went back up onto the verandah and to the far end where Athol was manning the tourist booth where the bookings were taken for the guided walks. Athol, the rostered volunteer, with his much whiter and much more splendid beard than mine, explained that I should take the walking trail that led from here to the old Wilpena homestead 4 kilometers away. The homestead has been somewhat restored as an historic tourist attraction and is also the headquarters for the Flinders Ranges National Park staff. Athol put in his two bobs worth about the weather as well and as I headed for the start of the walking trail I wondered if I would be coming back to Wilpena for yet another "vacation".  So far I had "walked" for only nine days out of a total of nineteen days. Stopping to smell the roses is one thing, but at this rate, I would not complete my journey before the start of the wet season at the top end of the walk.

   The trail out of the caravan park area was very well defined. It is part of the Heysen trail that I have mentioned several times and also, here within Wilpena, it is part of the many "local" walks. In some sections it is as wide as a city footpath, scattered with wood chips underfoot and bordered with timber. But only an occasional sign. After one and a half kilometers I was well clear of the park area and it had settled into a clearly defined trail and I followed at a leisurely pace till I came to a fence with a closed vehicle gate and a "NO TRESPASSING" sign. The walking trail made a definite turn to the left to follow the fence and not going through the gate. The "road" on the other side of the gate was just two wheel marks well overgrown with grass and small shrubs. I could see no indication of National Park Headquarters ahead through the gate or along the walking trail.

   You may have guessed it from my description of the decision point at the gate. I took the left turn and followed the walking trail. Over the next kilometer or so, it continued to turn left until I felt uneasy about now heading distinctly NW instead of NE according to my map. Also I felt that I should have sighted something by now. Like a windmill or radio mast in the distance. I pushed on following what was still a very well defined path through pretty countryside, crossing dry creek beds, cresting small hills but continually rising, and even passing two walkers heading in the opposite direction. We exchanged "hellos" and opinions about the cloud cover and another kilometer on I eventually sat down and got out the map and GPS. When I pinpointed my position by reading the latitude and longitude from the GPS and finding that spot on the map, I could see that I was on the Heysen trail and several kilometers off the straight line from the caravan park to the old Wilpena homestead. Although I knew where I was and exactly what I needed to do to fix my mistake, I would have to say, that, technically, I had got "lost". Or at least I had lost my way.

   I took another look at the sky and loaded up again and headed back. After only a few hundred yards I emerged into a relatively clear area on quite a high hill and I could see, way in the distance to the left of the track, a tall radio mast and figured it was the communications tower for the rangers' headquarters. I would not have seen this on the way up as I would not have been looking back over my shoulder for my destination. When I got back to the gate, there were a couple of young fellers taking a break and looking at their map. I was able to tell them that the Wilpena resort was "just up ahead", pointing to where I had come from this morning, and they  gratefully thanked me for my confident knowledge of the area.

   When they were out of sight, I went through the gate and was at the old homestead site within fifteen minutes. I had to cross Wilpena Creek which was dry, but was 10 metres wide and had banks that were two metres high, steep and fairly loose. I had to walk 50 metres along it to find a place where cattle had worn enough of the bank away for me to cross without having to slide down on my bum or crawl down backwards. Even without the backpack, it would have been tricky. This is the main outlet for all the water that falls into "The Pound" which is 17km long and 8km wide. I'd love to see it in full flow. And if I didn't get a move on, I just might. The sky was definitely looking worse.

   This "old homestead area" is an excellent example of a tourist attraction that gives the impression of not being one. There is a car park, not sealed, for 30 cars but it is well away from the buildings. There is a single path from the car park and good signage here to tell of the history of the place. A circular path automatically takes you past each of the buildings and, at the same time, gently stops you from wandering aimlessly about. A nice design. The buildings are well restored but not modernised in any way and there are just a few "bits" of old farming machinery around. There are plenty of well kept, well illustrated information boards placed outside the entrance to each of the buildings.

   And tucked in the back of all  this "history" is the unobtrusive rangers headquarters. I specifically went looking for it, but aside from one room of the homestead given over to a modern look with wall posters and a rack of pamphlets relating to the National Park,  there was little to give away the industry that was going on here to maintain the immediate area and supervise the immense 95,000ha (950 sq km) area. I came across two blokes, in working clothes, one fossicking in a tidy storage shed and the other raking some leaves. I nodded hello to the "gardener" went up the rugged looking young feller and introduced myself.

   Keeping my pack on, I said "Just wanted to congratulate you guys for this place. It is the best I have seen. I particularly like the way it is presented 'as it was' back in the 1800s."

   "Thanks. Yeah. We like it here too. I'm Tom."

   "Hi. My names Jeff. Athol, from the info tent on the verandah directed me this way as a short cut." I didn't tell him about getting lost. "I'm considering hanging around here till the sky makes a decision one way or the other."

   "Which way are you heading? Are you walking the Heysen?"

   Oops. Well, I wasn't but I did, for a bit. Better come clean. I told Tom about the wrong decision at the gate and the unplanned trip up the Heysen trail.

   "Hmmm. You're not the first. We'd better have a chat to Athol and maybe put a sign at the gate. We don't like too many signs around here."

   "Well, I'll be off. Is the boss ranger around? I'd like to let him know that I am just hanging around to see if its going to rain."

    I followed his gaze to the "gardener" who had stopped raking and was listening to our conversation. He started to grin and introduced himself. The "gardener" was the boss man looking after this massive national park and doing a terrific job. He invited me to take off my pack, sit down and tell them "my story", where was I walking to, where from, why, etc. etc. I told them next stop was Blinman about 65km up the road and from there to Wirrealpa and Arkaroola.

   Tom told me that he lived at Gum Creek station with his wife Lisa and his parents who ran the property. I was to drop in there and say hello. And when I got to Blinman I was to introduce myself to Lisa who ran the general store. All in all a very pleasant stoppage and as well as meeting two more great blokes, another half an hour had passed helping me to make a decision about the weather.

   I loaded up and headed off in the general direction of the bitumen road, 1km away, that led out of Wilpena Resort and joined up with the Blinman road 3km on. I was just clear of the homestead area when I came across an "out" building where there was a closed in, 4WD, small truck with lots of gear stacked in and on it. Out "the back" there was a picnic table and a bar-b-q so I decided to wait here and watch the weather. The general consensus was that the rain would come to this area at about 2 o'clock and it was now still only midday.
   
   I got out of the pack and went to the back door and knocked to let them know what I was up to and ask if it was OK to sit for a while and shelter under the verandah if it did start to rain. It was quite bright outside and the inside of the house (many roomed hut) was unlit inside and I did not see the face clearly that greeted my knock with obvious recognition.

   "G'day." He says "We meet again." But I did recognise the voice and confirmed it as my eyes adjusted to the light. It was Athol. We chatted at the door and he told me that he was only at the tourist info stand till mid morning to book in the day's walkers and then he was off roster. He lived out here in this place where the volunteers were allocated a room each. We discovered several joint interests one being astronomy and he took me out to his truck and pulled out his telescope. It was a beauty. And just inside his truck where it was handy and obviously used often. It was kept in a purpose made storage case along with all its attachments.

   Another of our joint interests was electronics and he delighted in showing me his multi-meter, an obvious personal treasure, and put my el-cheapo to shame. He also pulled out a soldering iron to allow me to once again repair the frayed wires where the bullet connectors were fitted to the ends of the solar panel wires.

   We discussed the stars, electronics, the economy, politics and solved a few of the worlds most pressing problems. And there was a flush toilet and it didn't rain. In fact, the sky hardly changed from when I was at the office first thing that morning till now, when it was expected to bucket down. And I was under my last cover, other than my tent, for the next couple of days.

   Decisions. Decisions.

   I finally decided to press on. I said my 3rd (or was it 4th) goodbye for the day and hit the road. I got to the "tee" intersection of the resort road where it joined the main road north. This is where I turned in just 24 hours ago. It seems more like a week.

    Only 100 metres up the road towards Blinman and the bitumen turned to dust. I wonder how many tourists crossed this boundary, travelled some distance and then headed back. This was not only a dirt (gravel) road but was winding in and around hills and gullies and quite narrow. The road surface made little difference to me. In fact, I thought "At last, one more sign of 'civilisation' left behind."

   With a definite bounce in my step, I covered the next 10 kilometers to the Brachina Gorge turnoff in no time at all. This road is  part of a "must take" round trip for those tourist that survive the transition from bitumen to dirt. The Brachina Gorge area, topped by Heysen Hill, is one of the sites that I would like to have gone to, but was 30km away and not possible (this time). Heysen Hill, like the Heysen Trail, was named after Hans Heysen, who arrived in South Australia with his German immigrant parents at the age of 6. He was to become a leading Australian artist and his favourite subject was the Flinders.

   "Heysen had more than thirty major exhibitions and won the prestigious Wynne Prize for landscape painting nine times between 1904 and 1932. Heysen was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1945 and knighted in 1959" (Flinders Ranges Research)


   I ruminated at the turnoff  for a ten minute break and then went a further kilometer and a half to the old Upalinna outstation, where a significant corrugated iron clad building stood alongside the well kept cattle yards. The water tanks held plenty of cool water and this place was obviously still in regular use.

      Last view of Wilpena Pound (with kangaroo)        Blinman is on the way, 60km North       Magnificent Red River Gum colours

   I set up camp for the night, once again very happy with myself. I had only covered 12 km today but much delayed waiting and worried about being caught in rain. I was not only "doing it" but this is by far the best thing I have done in, what has been, an "interesting" life.

       
   Tomorrow, some rain but pressing on