Monday, June 1, 2009

A lonely isolated road

A lonely isolated road lead northwards away from the Old Wonoka ruins. Past the long forgotten graves with ornate cast iron fencing and a stone crypt. The road lay beside the former Great Northern Railway, which had once swept out to the north west to reach the plains. However, the road continued into the valley, that was covered in loose, red rocks, almost lunar-like.

Melrose to Quorn to Kanyaka to Mt Little Station
204km: 3 days

Beyond lay the Elder Range with it's great spine snaking in a giant animal-like curve before us. To our left lay a rock survey cairn, dry stacked stones carefully selected to rise several metres, constructed in the 1850s on a small hill strategically seen from an identical cairn on Rawnsley Bluff, on the edge of the distant Wilpena Pound.

Here, in this seemingly empty valley, lay fresh 4WD tracks in the mud before us. It was tough riding, dodging the numerous rocks that lay on the track and the washaways. The sound of a 4WD coming over a crest before us took us by surprise, apparently returning along it's freshly laid tracks. We chatted with the driver, discovering that having just moved to Hawker a few weeks ago, he was exploring the route this track took him. He warned us of the steep descent that was to come. We had eyed off the elevation profile for several days, knowing it would bring an end to our three day ride, a quick steep descent back to our car. We were of course, wrong. A steep descent, indeed, but quick, certainly not. Covered in the same loose rock, it was very slow going, indeed, too slow. We had to contend with the bob trailer pushing the rear wheel out as it passed over large rocks, forcing us to jump off or fall off the bike.

This was the third day of our ride. The previous night we had camped beside Kanyaka Creek, where there were large pools of water filled with recent rains, a perfect surface to reflect the deep pink and orange hues in the sky from the setting sun. After setting up camp and washing, we collected firewood so we could cook and eat fireside, as the moon rose behind us. The only thing to disturb the wonder of our sanctuary was the intermittent passing of a car or truck as it crossed the cattle grid on the nearby highway.

Early on the ride, when we first crossed this creek, we were witness to the enormity of the flood waters here on a day long past. Across the vast creek bed lay a huge, intact, steel girder from the adjacent bridge from the former Great Northern Railway. One of the three pillars had succumbed to the flooding of January, 2007, pulling down with it two of the massive girders. Only one of the girders could be seen, the other presumably carried further downstream. With a campsite a mere kilometre away, we were too tired to set off exploring for it.

Friday night we had rendezvoused at Quorn before following each other north to Hawker. On a hill overlooking Hawker we selected a roadside camping spot close to where we could finish our ride three days later. The campsite was battered by a constant cold wind, but the following morning we were rewarded with views of the imposing Elder Range nearby, with Wilpena Pound stretching across the horizon beyond it. We drove the short distance to Mt Little station to drop off a car at our ride's end point, to which we would return in three days, before heading south back to Melrose, from where we would begin our three day ride.

The ride from Melrose to Wilmington was uneventful, the straight flat roads quickly passing the kilometres. Sitting on the verandah of the general store at Wilmington, we ate the last two pies from the pie warmer. Beef & mushroom - I think - and a plain meat one. We had done the which-of-the-identical-paper-bags-does-this-pie-contain trick, and Nick had the fancy one. We marveled at how one small town could contain not one, but three, museums: a toy museum, puppet museum and a somewhat derelict military museum.

Perhaps the toughest part of the day, Richman Gap, lay in wait for us. It was a steep rocky 4WD track that wound its way through a pass, but beyond it was a six kilometre downhill run into Quorn. The 70 kilometre ride had been long, foreshadowing the long days that were to follow.

In Quorn, we set up camp beside Pinkerton Creek, albeit behind a two metre high security fence, in the Quorn Caravan Park. We received our eco-footprint discount, our camping fees amounting to a mere seven dollars fifty each. It should be noted though, the two of us had driven two cars up to the Flinders Ranges, leaving one at each end of our three day riding trek - it could hardly be counted as eco friendly.
After a hot shower, the cool of the evening prompted us to seek out the front bar of the Austral, one of Quorn's four pubs. Don't be mistaken though, the number of pubs doesn't so much indicate the population, but more so the long history of multiple pubs in this once busy railway town. Nick enjoyed a healthy serving of surf and turf, whilst I dug into chicken breast with chips and salad. No problem with finishing off the bread rolls or garlic bread either, clearly we had worked up quite an appetite.

Sunday we rode 66 kilometres to our Kanyaka Creek campsite, passing through Yarrah Vale Gorge Gap. From our vantage point on this winding road, we wondered upon the names of the hills that lay around us. Clearly though on the distant horizon lay Dutchmans Stern and Mt Arden. From numerous vantage points along today's ride we could see as far south as Mt Remarkable, where we had started on Friday morning, and Mt Brown, which we had passed by in Richmans Pass.

Eating lunch at Simmonston, touted as the Town That Never Was, surveyed with over 600 lots in early 1880s, along one of the nine possible routes for the Great Northern Railway. The railway was laid further east, via Hawker, dooming development of the town. All that remains today are a few stone ruins of the hotel and general store. The comparison below from Google Maps, showing the surveyed allotments on the left, and the absence of any development, on the right.

We had a seemingly endless ride across the Willochra Plain, one section at 7.5 kilometres long, slightly uphill into a headwind. After 5 kilometres or so, we sat on the road to rest from the monotony. Once riding again into the headwind, we were surprised by the sound of a car's horn behind us - a car evidently having driven up behind us on this remote road unbeknownst to either of us.

The final day was 67 kilometres, all three days were perhaps a little too far for us. Although each day had involved only some 6 hours on the road, each had left us quite exhausted, and me with increasingly sore knees. Alas, a worthwhile weekend out in the bush. I am just two to three days ride from the end of the Mawson Trail, but Graham coud not join us as this weekend as he was ill, so we will return to this area again later. I hope to spend a week out camping to complete the Mawson Trail later this year.


Mawson Trail
Friday Saturday Sunday
29/05/2009 30/05/2009 31/05/2009
Melrose to Quorn Quorn to Kanyaka Kanyaka to Mt Little Station
Distance 71.0km 64.9km 67.7km
Start Time 10.30am 9.02am 8.08am
End Time 4.17pm 4.02pm 2.16pm
Moving Duration 4h25m 4h38m 4h38m
Stationary Duration 1h21m 2h18m 1h26m
Moving Average 16.0km/h 13.9km/h 14.6km/h
Overall Average 12.3km/h 9.3km/h 11.1km/h
Oodometer 71.0km 135.8km 204.6km