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A Trip to Gawler Ranges

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The trip's itinerary.The trip's itinerary.

After I finished my last journey, I realised that I want more, and that I need to go somewhere else. This time the travel bug took me to the nearby Gawler Ranges. Two reasons for the choice of place:

No reason to delay the trip once the decision is made, and as soon as the weekend is here, I take off. The new journey is cut short very soon, though. Only an hour's drive away from the city a sizeable rock flies from under a truck and into my windshield.

Here we are, then.Here we are, then.

The trip is thereby postponed for two weeks. Not only there's a new windshield for me, though, but the vehicle itself: I sold the previous Tucson and bought a proper 4x4 instead: a diesel Prado 120. This trip is going to be its maiden journey, then.

And so it comes to pass that one sunny November morning me and my Prado are taking off again. As usual, there are numerous farmlands all around us. I've seen them a number of times before, but now I'm lucky: I spot a few camels just outside the road. They aren't exactly a rare commodity in SA, and in NT there's even more of them, but I've never seen them so close to Adelaide before.

Enter the camels!Enter the camels!

Soon the highway takes me to Lochiel, which is as quiet and small as half a year ago.

A local shop with a decoration.A local shop with a decoration.

Ecclesiastical levity.Ecclesiastical levity.

Wind farms and some weeds nearby.Wind farms and some weeds nearby.

On the right side of the highway I see a lake glistening under the morning sun. It's noticeably pink: either due to extreme salinity, or karotine-producing bacteria. Who knows. It is very saline, though, and its banks are glistening even brighter under the sun, as if covered with ice.

No Photoshop here. I swear.No Photoshop here. I swear.

I feel like making a snowman here.I feel like making a snowman here.

Or engage in some skiing.Or engage in some skiing.

Once my time with the peculiar pink lake is over, I resume my journey. The vehicle is steady and the windshield is quite secure, although every time I see a truck in front of me I gulp uncontrollably. And there's quite a few of them here: the highway is busy, all kinds of cargo travels here nothwards, towards Alice Springs, and westwards, towards Perth.

Takes a certain effort to overtake this thing on the road.Takes a certain effort to overtake this thing on the road.

There's also a railroad next to the highway, and behind it I can see a not-too-distant ridge: these are the first signs of the Flinders Ranges. A train is rolling down the railroad parallel to me; we keep overtaking each other, and we'll part our ways for good only in Port Augusta.

Railway crossing.Railway crossing.

Can get straight to Sydney from here, if sleepy Adelaide isn't your jam.Can get straight to Sydney from here, if sleepy Adelaide isn't your jam.

That's one very long train.That's one very long train.

Both the highway and the railway cross the numerous wheat fields. Harvesting time now! The spring was exceptionally rainy this year, leading to the record level of crops being harvested.

No rest for the farmers.No rest for the farmers.

Wheat and windmills: a typical look of the area.Wheat and windmills: a typical look of the area.

There's also a long water pipe that runs parallel to the highway. It transports drinking water to Port Augusta and even further, for the whole Eyre Peninsula: they don't have any of their own, which made things quite hard for the 19th century explorers.

The life-giving pipe.The life-giving pipe.

And here's Port Augusta at last. A prominent place, indeed: it is the exact halfway point of my journey, and it is also a major crossroads where you can go either all the way up north, to Darwin, or all the way up west, to Perth. Spencer Gulf cuts the land in two here: on one side, there's Adelaide and everything else, and on the other, there's the Eyre Peninsula.

The view of the gulf.The view of the gulf.

The water is very blue, very shallow, and very salty.The water is very blue, very shallow, and very salty.

Mangroves in the front and Flinders Ranges in the back.Mangroves in the front and Flinders Ranges in the back.

And this is what you see if you look up north; the Gulf ends there.And this is what you see if you look up north; the Gulf ends there.

The local mangroves are actually the southernmost in Australia: usually they prefer to live further north, where it's warmer and wetter. However, they feel quite at home here (where Matthew Flinders's ship had run aground once), extracting nutrients from seaweed carried here by the gulf, and giving home to quite a few species of aquatic life.

I learn all this from the info stands nearby, because very close to where I stand is a place called Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden. They may have quite a repertoire here, because the whole Australia is practically arid throughout, so I decide to take a stroll around the Garden's lanes.

Looks arid, all right.Looks arid, all right.

Patches of green are still there, though.Patches of green are still there, though.

The place looks like a proper botanic garden: quiet lanes, all sorts of plants around, signs and plaques here and there. No entry fee, but you can throw a coin or two into the donation box, if you like. Still, the joint doesn't look too popular: during an hour of walking I only see three or four people on my way.

Cute trees and info plaques.Cute trees and info plaques.

The porcupine grass.The porcupine grass.

A nice-looking, but a very parasitic plant.A nice-looking, but a very parasitic plant.

Many parts of the garden are carefully constructed to recreate different parts of the continent: the north, the west, and so on. You can actually see the difference if you look closer. Walking there, I think about all these inhospitable lands, and whether my travel bug (that I have obviously contracted) will take me there one day.

Looks very desert-y indeed.Looks very desert-y indeed.

I'm on a bit of a schedule though, so I have to move on. Just outside Port Augusta though, right on the very same intersection where roads north, west and south meet, I encounter a road block. It hasn't been here an hour ago! I can't go westwards now, but that is exactly where I need to go. A policeman explains something to every driver in the queue. When my turn is up:

“Where are you heading?”
“Um, Ceduna.” Not true, of course, but the direction is the same.
“Follow them.” The cop points at the cars in front of me and walks away to the next driver.

Three vehicles in front of me. Two of them turn right, the third goes straight. And who exactly am I supposed to follow? I pull over and quickly have a look at the phone map, then find a detour route. Five minutes later I'm finally on the Eyre Highway and continue my journey west. Still no idea what happened on the road behind me and why they had to block it like this.

Eyre Peninsula is all around me now, and its arid plains look noticeably different. The same water pipe that I've seen earlier runs here as well, reminding me how hostile these lands may actually be. Not too many towns in this area. Soon, however, I enter Kimba, and its Big Galah greets me again. It's kind of a thing here: every Aussie town in the outback wants to manufacture something big and attract as many tourists as possible with it.

That's one big galah, all right.That's one big galah, all right.

I don't make any stops at the roadside eateries, keeping myself fed with an occasional sandwich or fruit. I use wet wipes after them, and their scent brings back the memories of the previous journey very vividly. They really play a major part in our lives, these smells; even for a fairly smell-insensitive guy such as myself.

Here I realise that I've forgotten to take my atlas and the map of the park with me. I can live without the atlas, of course—I've been here before, after all—but I still could use a map in the park. I stop to refuel in Kyancutta, and lucky for me, they have plenty of maps in the store, and they're totally free. The lady at the counter is cordial and talkative, and she tells me all about the local roads and sights. I'm certanly not getting lost now!

And here is my turn off the highway at last, and the bitumen ends shortly after. It's a 40 kilometre ride on dirt tracks straight to the park.

At first the road is great…At first the road is great…

…but slowly takes a turn for the worse.…but slowly takes a turn for the worse.

You have to pay $10 to enter the park, and another $12 to camp there. I put my money in the envelope and write my details on it, then tear one part off and take it with me, because the envelope goes into a giant metal honesty box.

It's 4 p.m., but the sun is still high, so I decide to begin my sightseeing experience right now and turn left, to the first destination of my trip. It is called the Organ Pipes, and the road that takes me there is quite rough indeed. If the main road is quite passable for a regular car, you certainly have to have some high clearance here.

A few gates to open and close on the way.A few gates to open and close on the way.

The road isn't too good, but could be worse I guess.The road isn't too good, but could be worse I guess.

The road soon ends, and I leave the car: it's a short walk now for about a 300 metres. Hot and quiet around. Only wind is howling in the scrub, and flies are dancing around my face, and an occasional bird is chirping somewhere.

A short walk.A short walk.

And here are the Pipes themselves. They look memorable indeed. About one and a half billion years ago, when all life on Earth was just a handful of bacteria, monstrous volcanoes were raging here. Lava was bursting outside, but once out it cooled down instantly and under its own weight it moulded itself into these stony pipes. It's been so long ago that the very volcanoes disappeared, but their traces are still here to this day, and will stay here for quite a while, too.

The Pipes.The Pipes.

Looking closer.Looking closer.

Here is one of the few remaining places on the planet where you can actually see, touch and feel the Ancient Earth. Most of the Earth's crust is long ago underwater or became replaced with newer parts, but some pieces (called cratons) are still left intact—just like this one.

The scenery around is quite okay, too.The scenery around is quite okay, too.

Life is clinging to these hot, dry places as much as it can. I've already mentioned birds and flies, but there's someone bigger around as well. As I sit on the rock, eating my sandwitch and soaking up the views, I spot a kangaroo rummaging in the scrub nearby, looking at me warily.

Very modest fella.Very modest fella.

Once I'm satisfied with the Pipes and the atmosphere of the Ancient Earth, I return to my vehicle and get back on the road. The campground is not too far away. It it situated in a small valley surrounded by hills: no mobile signal, obviously. The campsites are level and spacious; and, as I expected, there's barely any other people around: only a couple of other cars that I can hardly even see. I unpack and pitch the tent.

Today's camp.Today's camp.

The sun is still relatively high, so I decide to take a small walk around. The surrounding hills are quite scenic on their own.

Cool-looking rocks.Cool-looking rocks.

Subjected to elements, volcanic pipes slowly but surely crumble apart.Subjected to elements, volcanic pipes slowly but surely crumble apart.

Finally the sun begins to set, and a few more pics later I come back to my camp to make myself some dinner.

The day is ending.The day is ending.

Where there are flies, there are spiders.Where there are flies, there are spiders.

I find out very soon that the campground is also occupied with wild bees. They instantly locate my water jug and fly all over it, and also at the spot where I washed my hands and feet. Understandably so: bees need water, and there's barely any of it here in these arid lands. I can't say I'm too pleased with these unexpected neighbours, but as soon as sun goes down, the bees disappear as well.

A waterhole for bees.A waterhole for bees.

Time for me to hit the sack too: there's a long day for me tomorrow.

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