Wide Open Spaces
A first timer’s guide to the Flinders Ranges, with what could be the best four-wheel drive club in the country.
While this particular trip started with a cup of coffee in a car park somewhere in Adelaide, it didn’t really begin until we had arrived in the sleepy town of Jamestown and stopped at the bakery for a bacon and egg pie. Top pies too, by the way! We were headed towards the Flinders Ranges, a destination that I was immensely looking forward to exploring. That is probably because this wasn’t your average trip; we had been invited to tag along with over 20 vehicles from the Isuzu I-Venture club to see what the club was about and what these vehicles could do. So my Nissan Patrol was parked at home, and I was now on pie number two while looking at a shiny new Isuzu MU-X. This is the cleanest the vehicle is ever going to look… and deep down inside we know that is the reality.
Welcome to the Flinders Ranges.
DAY ONE… It begins
You have to love good radio banter; I now know what a Stobie Pole is, as well as the gruesome past of Snowtown – the eerily quiet town not far from Adelaide. I now know the best ways to use the traction control system fitted to the Isuzu MU-X, and to pull the handbrake up slightly if the suspension gets crossed up and we run out of traction. This is the benefit of travelling with an enthusiast group such as the Isuzu I-Venture Club; if you listen you learn. Having said that, I was introduced to a new experience by our photographer Scott Mason who loves listening to crime podcasts while mowing down the kays. Ah yes, good one!
From Jamestown, we were heading to Wilpena via RM Williams Way. The landscape changed rapidly, from the lush wineries of Clare Valley to the stark isolation felt when stopping for lunch in the town of Hawker. Here we had also the first briefing for the trip, as it was nearly time to air-down the tyres and lock the vehicles into four-wheel drive. This was also where I purchased my first-ever fly net… trust me, you should get one too.
The first off-road drive of the trip was an unforgettable one, as we climbed the Chace Range at Arkapena Scenic Adventure. The track itself wasn’t technically too challenging (that track was coming later); however it was solidly entertaining with countless switchbacks and incredibly steep climbs. The views at the top were stunning. They woke something inside me… I couldn’t help but smile as I cheekily quipped to my travelling companion, “Gee, all this wide open space is making me feel claustrophobic, wonder what’s happening back at the office?”
DAY TWO… Yiewwww
We’d made it to Wilpena Pound the afternoon before, and it must be said this place is akin to an oasis in the desert. There is a swimming pool, bar and restaurant as well as some authentically iconic desert campsites to park your camper trailer, caravan or swag. The store is well stocked, selling everything from beer to fuel and stuffed emu toys… I purchased all three actually. After a solid buffet breakfast, and a refill for the MU-X, it was time to hit the road.
The first official stop of the day was the stunning Chambers Gorge for a bushwalk into the Adnyamathanha Gallery. This natural amphitheatre is littered with Indigenous artwork dating back over 40,000 years. ‘Humbling’ is the only way to describe this spot – please make sure you put it on your bucket list. There is a basic campground here too, and it would make for an excellent spot to pull up for a few days. We had other plans however, and made a beeline for the next stop – the historic mining town of Blinman – via the Wirrealpa Road.
A mines tour had been arranged for anyone keen enough to further explore the copper history of the region. There was also a delicious bakery and an all-too-inviting pub for those keen to rest their weary bones and stay hydrated.
The drive back to Wilpena Pound on tar was looking too boring, so we decided to detour on the dirt through the Flinders Ranges National Park. This spot is as scenic as you could possibly hope for. The contrast of dry dusty roads, immense ancient ranges and the sheer amount of space highlighted why people visit this area… you just have to experience it for yourself. Just watch out for wildlife, we lost count of how many emus we spotted. Talking about spotting, we were sure to mark any stunning campsites spotted along the way (of which there were many). By now it was time to head back to the comfort of Wilpena Pound and get ready for a barbeque under the stars. It was genuinely entertaining getting to know some of the punters who’d made the journey from all around the country. Life is good.
DAY THREE… Yes please
As we said farewell to Wilpena Pound, there was an air of excitement; not sorrow. Today we were going to tackle one of the most challenging and rewarding off-road tracks in the Flinders. The towns of Hawker, Craddock and Carrieton flew by as over 20 Isuzus (it was quite a sight) made good ground towards the Bendleby Ranges. We quickly unloaded and dropped tyre pressures to 18psi in readiness for Billy Goats Ridge. I have driven technical terrain before – ranging from man-made competition tracks to the best of the Victorian High Country – but I’ll never forget Billy Goats Ridge. The track is steep, rocky, slippery and challenging. There are three stages to the track, and it actually gets tougher as it climbs. If you were in a modified vehicle, you would still be pulling your fingernails out of the steering wheel. When you are in a stock vehicle that belongs to somebody else and you are asked to go first so others can follow your lines… ‘nervous’ is an understatement. But we made it, and the feeling at the top was electric. Some did need a bit of assistance; but considering most participants on this trip had never driven terrain this severe, everyone did amazingly well.
If you want a challenge in the Flinders Ranges, this track should be at the top of your list.
The trip back to Bendleby was one filled with elation. We had conquered one of the hardest tracks in the Flinders and all had lived to tell the tale. More importantly, our hosts had organised one of the biggest campfire meals I’ve ever seen; as well as a local musician to sing a few songs and spin a few yarns. We were keen to kick back. Once fed, the remainder of the evening was spent under millions of stars with full bellies enjoying great conversation. This is what off-road touring is all about.
DAY FOUR… All good things end
Yes, we did the Flinders in just four days. Would I recommend that? No way… You need a few weeks to really get into the swing of things here. After a hearty breakfast, it was time to air-up back to road pressures, and head back to Adelaide. We buzzed through the towns of Hawker, Craddock and Jamestown again (not enough time for pie number three, sadly) and decided to stop in at one of the wineries of the Clare Valley. After a few delicious wood-fired pizzas, the weather turned to grey drizzle and it was well and truly time to head for home. This trip was a real buzz. We saw so much, we met so many people and it further fuelled my love for exploring. Get out there folks, we live in an amazing place.
THE GEAR YOU NEED
A FLY NET: The flies… arrrghhh the flies! The fly net cost less than $10 from a service station, and it was a solid investment.
GOOD ALL-TERRAIN TYRES: We had two punctures on this trip, both of them were on Passenger tyres (not Light Truck). A set of all-terrains should be considered mandatory.
QUALITY SUSPENSION: The corrugations really take their toll on shock absorbers; the vehicles with aftermarket suspension complained less.
AIR COMPRESSOR: You will need to play with tyre pressures in the Flinders. Roads turn to dirt quickly, so you will need to adapt to the terrain.
A TYRE DEFLATOR: What goes up must come down. A fast and reliable tyre deflator will get used… lots.
BARWORK: Once the sun begins to dip, animals are everywhere. I’ve never seen so many emus in my life and wouldn’t be terribly keen on driving these roads without a bullbar.