Travelling Australia - Journal 2009
8-13 May 2009 - Flinders Ranges (Rawnsley Park)
We stayed at Rawnsley Park from 8 to 13 May with the intention of learning something about the Flinders Ranges. The Ranges extend for hundreds of kilometres in a north-south direction and conditions differ widely in different parts. The part we stayed at is best described as the vicinity of Wilpena Pound.

Rawnsley Park is a working sheep station sharing a boundary with Flinders National Park (covering Wilpena Pound) and which has wholeheartedly adopted tourism establishing tourist cabins and a caravan park with 60 powered sites distributed informally along the side of a hill. Sites are gravelled, flat enough, and comfortably sized. Amenities are good; fuel is available, at a reasonable price, from the park office.

Television reception at Rawnsley Park is limited to two satellite channels received at a central site in the park and re-transmitted for park occupants. These channels were the ABC from Adelaide and Southern Cross TV (mixture of channels 7 and 10) from Brisbane. Sound and picture quality were excellent. Mobile phone coverage didn't reach the caravan park but mobile phones worked on the surrounding hills. After a few days I noticed the computer had detected a WiFi local wireless network and I followed that up to get limited Internet access - enough for e-mail but updating the blog was too much for the WiFi server which refused to pass update files onto the blog service provider.

The Flinders Ranges is a complex of mountain ranges running north-south into semi-arid South Australia in the north and merging in the south into the Mount Lofty Ranges. The geological background of the ranges, reaching back for more than 600 million years, has been well documented and has become a tourist attraction in its own right.
Rock cliffs Weathered rock outcrops at the edge of the rock bowl forming Wilpena Pound.

Wilpena Pound, probably the best known feature of the Ranges, is a distinctive feature - basically a large shallow rocky bowl with edges reaching up to 1000 metres elevation, 15 kilometres long and 7 kilometres wide. But there is far more to the Flinders Ranges than Wilpena Pound with some quite separate, spectacular, mountain ranges.

National parks cover part of the Flinders Ranges but the majority is privately held land, occupied mostly by sheep stations. A handful of pastoral properties, such as Rawnsley Park where we stayed, occupy a position between national park, tourist facility and sheep station. These pastoral properties have embraced tourism, they provide accommodation and a full range of outdoor activities for visitors. But they still graze sheep which, with rabbits, can cause considerable destruction to plants; damage which would not be tolerated in a national park.

Access to the Wilpena Pound area is via a good bitumen road through the townships of Quorn and Hawker; the sealed road is currently being extended into the northern parts of the ranges. Other roads are gravel and reasonable for a four-wheel drive vehicle. Gravel roads have a limestone surface which breaks down into a fine dust kicked into a trail of white dust by passing tyres. Limestone is good for roads with light traffic but becomes badly corrugated under heavy traffic and some gravel roads in the national park have deteriorated after heavy use.

We had particularly good weather for our stay. Cool nights (down to 6 degrees was the lowest we observed at 7:30 a.m.) with days usually sunny and bright with blue sky and a cool breeze. Daytime temperatures were in the range 22 to 25 °C. Often we would sit in the sun for an hour or two after lunch chatting and enjoying the silence (or the crows calling) and the sunshine.

Spectacular cliffs and rock faces are a major feature inside and outside the national parks, but the sun has to be shining on the rock face at the best angle to get the best views; some cliffs are dull and not very interesting in the morning shade, but become spectacles with the afternoon sun on them. Often it required two visits to a scenic attraction to get the best. The first visit to work out the orientation, the second to take photographs at the best time of day.

There are so many lookouts and things for tourists to see that it is difficult to decide what to look at. Part of the problem is that five or six lookouts will be shown on maps offering views of the same feature. Some lookouts will be excellent and some ordinary but they all are shown on the maps to tempt (or more often confuse) the traveller. Rawnsley Park provided some suggested half and full day car tours with trip notes pointing out things to stop at; these were quite useful. For the more energetic a series of walking tracks and bicycle tracks have been developed. Many walking tracks suffer from the defect best expressed by an occupant of a neighbouring caravan who said she had walked for three hours and the scenery was the same.

Vegetation varies widely over that part of the Flinders Ranges we saw. Flat lower areas, used for grazing on pastoral leases, were dotted with a two metre high wattle with vicious thorns (Acacia victoria) ironically known as the Elegant Wattle. Thorns grow on either side of each leaf and when leaves die pairs of thorns remain dotted along the branches.

One striking feature was the absence of large areas of gum trees. River red gums lined watercourses on the lower slopes of the ridges but the land between streams was covered by white cypress stretching for tens of kilometres at a time; cypress does not tolerate other plants beneath it so there were no understory plants, just plenty of rocks and stones. White cypress also clothed the lower slopes of mountain ranges, sometimes extending up very steep rock faces.

Yet other areas, mainly slopes on pastoral properties, are entirely covered in spinifex clumps extending for kilometres with no other plant in sight.

Vegetation types are heavily influenced by rainfall and water, sometimes in unexpected ways. One day I climbed a tourist track to the top of Rawnsley Bluff forming the southern boundary of Wilpena Pound at an elevation above 900 metres. Vegetation on top of the bluff was surprisingly thick. I had expected mainly bare rock with stunted growth at that height and did not expect to be making my way through thick, head high scrub. I was later told that the top of the bluff is high enough to be in cloud when lower parts are dry and moisture condenses from the cloud directly onto the plants.

Three species of kangaroo (Red, Grey and the Euro/Wallaroo) are present in their respective preferred habitats, sometimes in large numbers, especially in mid to late afternoon when they come out to browse. Emus are common in the national park and show little concern at people unless they get very close.
Emu Emus are often seen in the Flinders Ranges, more often near less-travelled roads with lighter traffic.

One afternoon I drove to the Geological Trail in the National Park. This is a very well devised tour through rocks dated more than 600 million years old. The process of uplift and erosion in this region has, quite by chance, left a normally vertical sequence of rock stretched out along the ground and the 20 kilometres long Geological Trail moves across that sequence with stops and explanatory text. I was particularly intrigued to see signs of fossil stromatolites in 630 million year old limestone while stromatolites still grow along parts of the Western Australian coast.

Towards the end of our stay we went to the Woolshed Restaurant within Rawnsley Park for an excellent meal and returned next day for a light lunch. The Woolshed Restaurant has been built to a high standard in part of a former Shearing Shed taking up about two-thirds of the building leaving a minimal shearing shed with two stands and a wool classing table. During the school holidays the Park puts on shearing demonstrations for visiting children.

A week at Rawnsley Park was insufficient to see all there was to see of interest in this part of the Flinders Ranges but did allow us to understand the layout of the area and to better interprete the copious publicity material generated. We expect to return to see other parts.