I wrote this piece last week in Arkaroola – I’m currently marooned in Marree after some heavy rain closed off the Oodnadatta Track. The extremes of nature continue!
I can normally sleep through anything. Trees crashing, thunderstorms and terrible snoring… you name it.
This morning was an exception, the desert is full of them. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, I awoke to a real death rattle. My tent was shaking at a million miles an hour as the wind took over. Every attempt I made to get back to sleep failed woefully as my ‘room’ for the past six nights took the form of the Mad Max ride at Luna Park.
An evening in the wind tunnel was a stark reminder of how being in the wild pushes your senses to the edge.
Today is my last day in Arkaroola, at the northern edge of the Flinders Range, it’s one of the most incredible landscapes imaginable. Driving the 120km across dirt road, it’s impossible not to be amazed by the terrain. What stands out about the Flinders Ranges (or specifically the Gammon Ranges, where you will find Arkaroola) is the collision of shape, life and colour in the middle of an incredibly dry patch of Earth.
Right now, I’ve retreated to air-conditioning and I’m back in the café looking at the same gale force winds making life a challenge for everyone involved. As I walked the kilometre from my tent, I noticed that both my mouth and the sky were full of dust.
I can still hear those winds from inside the concrete and glass of the café.
These aren’t the sort of winds I expected to find in the middle of Australia. They’re far more like the gusts that you will have by the ocean or the bay. And with these winds, they bring a heavy dose of sand, salt and grit from Western New South Wales across Lake Frome. It’s not very enjoyable doing much outside.
This has been a very different turn of events from the last couple of days. In the second half of the week, there was a piercing heat that slowed down but chilled everyone out. There wasn’t much of an incentive to do much but it was still possible to do something. Early mornings were the key, and my favourite was walking the Oppaminda-Nudlamutana Trail. That was one of the best hikes that I’ve done.
Starting at the outer edges of Arkaroola Station, and early to beat the sun, the walk goes through the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park and climbs up to Mt Warren. The view from the top is spectacular, that’s nearly always so when you have elevation in the middle of the desert but this was a unique outlook. The Gammon Ranges take the form of curvy domes and are characterised by the unique brown/orange and purple tri-colours that are almost raked through the hilltops
As you reach the top of Mt Warren those domes become more and more carved to the eye and the green of the desert also becomes more visible. Amongst the harshness of the track, light green shrubs and tea tree plants intermingle amongst the dead branches and brown terrain.
Even more surprising are the wildflowers that pop-up when you least expect them. Shooting hopefully from the tough path.
The summit is an absolute treat, to the East there is Lake Frome, one of the salt lakes that are such a significant part of the South Australian landscape. To the West there are the valleys of the Gammon Ranges with stunning desert sculpture-like escarpments and straight ahead there are the colliding hills which swallow the horizon.
Spending a week in Arkaroola has been a real special treat. No sense of rushing, or packing everything into a short visit. I’ve been lucky, and responded to what each day throws up.
Whether it’s being tent bound due to heavy rain, adopting a kangaroo-like bio-rhythm due to the heat and being able to enjoy warm tingling evenings when they come, Arkaroola at the beginning of October challenges you to reject everything about city and coastal living and just roll with the elements. In a year that has been as topsy-turvy as 2020, the chaos of nature has been a welcome substitute for everything that this year has left in its wake.
I feel happily gritty but I suspect that after a week it might be time for a shower!