Flinders Ranges and the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

Kanyaka Station Ruins on Kanyaka Creek

In the South Flinders Ranges about 25 kms south west of Hawker in late 1851, Hugh Proby, the well-educated and wealthy young son of an Irish Earl secured land for a cattle run. He was the first to take up and stock Kanyaka station. Proby had arrived in Australia in May 1851. In early 1852 he secured further runs. He expanded his holdings and cattle numbers quickly and decided to build huts for his workers near an existing hut on the banks of the Kanyaka Creek, close to a permanent water hole. Tragically he died in August 1852 when a thunderstorm caused cattle to stampede, and Proby and an aboriginal stockman rode out to see if they could hold the mob. While crossing the flooded and fast flowing waters of Willochra Creek, Proby was swept from his horse and drowned. Those who took over Kanyaka after Proby changed from running cattle to sheep and built a substantial number of buildings of which only the ruins shown below remain. In 1864 (the best season ever on Kanyaka) 40,000 sheep were shorn and the place employed scores of musterers, shearers, wool classers, packers and teamsters. I acknowledge the Flinders Ranges Research website as the source of this historical information: https://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/kanyaka.htm

Kanyaka Creek bed

Kanyaka ruins

Puncture-proof transport

Eyre Peninsula

With a couple of days up our sleeve before we were due in Pt Lincoln, we headed without delay from the Flinders Ranges across the top of the two gulfs then across the top of the Eyre Peninsula to Streaky Bay for a night. The following day we ambled down the west coast towards Pt Lincoln taking as many turnoffs to wild beaches and cliff vantage points as time and road conditions permitted.

Cape Bauer, north of Streaky Bay. Cold front approaching which delivered very heavy showers about ten minutes after this photo was taken. .

Big swell and rough seas associated with the passage of the cold front combined with strong onshore winds pushed huge amounts of ocean water into the caves and their associated labyrinth of cavities and holes, some of which were connected to the surface of the cliff tops. Hence the water spouts shown. There was also a loud rising and falling sound of air being forced out these narrow apertures each time a large set of waves hit the cliffs below. They are called the whistling rocks.

Granites surf break south of Streaky Bay on the Westall scenic loop. Even in these heavy seas and strong wind conditions the deep channel between the areas of breaking waves is obvious. The rip in this channel is probably used by surfers to paddle out to the surfable waves in the right conditions.

Strong onshore conditions and sizeable swell on the bay at Sheringa Beach. This is another popular surfing location. The extensive areas of white water indicate that the bay is littered with reefs making it hazardous for boats. I subsequently spoke to a professional fisherman from Pt Lincoln who had set cray pots in the area over the years. He said the bay was full of cray because many preferred to set their pots elsewhere to avoid the hazardous reefs in this bay.

Sheringa beach is around 4kms long and these active sand dunes extend 1 to 2kms inland from the foredunes on the beach.

An eastern osprey flying in very windy conditions in lift off the cliffs on the points surrounding the bay at Sheringa.

The osprey is a strong and confident flyer. This raptor is a hawk which frequents coastal areas and large bodies of water. The osprey can be found right around the Australian coast, but is scarce in certain southern areas. It feeds mostly on fish which it catches by first soaring or hovering to locate its prey, then diving on a shallow trajectory hitting the water feet first to take the fish in its powerful talons. It does not dive underwater for fish like a cormorant or Australasian gannet. The osprey is smaller than the white-bellied sea-eagle, with some similarities but also notable differences (such as the speckled brown on its breast, and its marked dark brown eye-stripe).

Pizzey and Knight in the ninth edition of ‘The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia’ (published in 2012) state (at p.150): “…now rare or absent far s. NSW, Vic, Tas, Bass Strait and far se SE, though breeds Yorke and Eyre Pens and Kangaroo Is (SA)….” (emphasis added). Ospreys are classified as uncommon and endangered in South Australia. There are only 40-50 surviving osprey breeding pairs in South Australia.

Emus on Eyre Peninsula. We drove past this paddock, spotted the mob of emus and pulled up to take a photo. I have had previous encounters with emus. Unlike my usual method of stalking birds to take a photo, which involves moving slowly and using cover of bushes etc where possible, I walked strraight up to the fence and started waving my arms. Prior to doing this the emus were heading away from me. But as I have previously experienced, a few curious birds saw me waving and turned around and started walking towards me, with the rest soon following. Their curiosity can be relied upon. When I stopped waving to take a few photos they slowed down, then lost interest.

Wedge-tailed Eagles in the Flinders Ranges

Adult wedge-tailed eagle between Quorn and Hawker in the South Flinders Ranges.

The call of the wild. This photo and the following three shots (of the same bird) were taken between Hawker and Wilpena in the Flinders Ranges. What a powerful, majestic and beautiful bird.

Those talons! A large wedge-tailed eagle can carry a small wallaby or roo in flight.

This late afternoon shot was taken with the 600mm telephoto lens at full stretch of a bird I stopped to photograph, which flew off before I could get a closer shot.

Hawker to Blinman in the North Flinders Ranges

All these photos were taken on a road trip from Apollo Bay to Port Lincoln and back, with a deviation to the Flinders Ranges on the way there and again on the way back. This shows the South Flinders Ranges in fine weather on the first visit, not far north of Quorn.

When we visited the Flinders Ranges again on our return from Pt Lincoln, we woke in Hawker to rain and dark clouds. These ominous skies brought thunder and lightning and heavy localised rain. Our plan to take the Moralana scenic drive (a dirt road) was abandoned on the advice of experienced locals. There had been enough rain overnight to turn such clay roads into quagmires with mud that can pack wheel arches. So we headed north on the bitumen to Blinman, with a plan to drive on the dirt through the Parachilna Gorge if there had been less rain in that area (which turned out to be the case).

A perfect backdrop to highlight the vivid colours of the North Flinders Ranges.

Rain falling over Wilpena Pound.

As we drove further north past Wilpena, the cloud lightened but the cloud to the south (behind the car in this photo) remained very dark.

The rain showers became fewer and further apart, but were still heavy enough in places to reduce visibility. .

As we commenced the climb out of the valley to the higher ground as we approached Blinman (the town with the highest elevation in South Australia) the skies began to clear.

On driving in to Blinman this local wasn’t in a hurry to get out of our way.

Parachilna Gorge – Blinman to Parachilna

This is the east-west dirt road just out of Blinman which winds down through the Parachilna Gorge (with many creek crossings on the way down) to the flat country west of the North Flinders Ranges where it connects with the north-south Outback Highway south of Leigh Creek. This dirt road is impassable after heavy rain due to the deep and fast flowing water over the many creek crossings.

This rain was pushing up from the south, but had yet to reach the Gorge. The road including the creek crossings had obviously been recently graded, and was in better condition than I have ever seen it.

As on previous rides down the Parachilna Gorge, there were quite a few very healthy looking wild goats who seem to thrive in this this rough and steep country. This colourful female goat was well aware of my presence, and didn’t break into anything faster than a slow walk. Her kid, who looked old enough to be feeding from sources other than its mother, kept stopping her by roughly head-butting her udder then hooking up for the easiest and best food around.

The rain from the south eventually found us before we got to the bitumen west of Parachilna Gorge and the Flinders Ranges. But it was not heavy enough to cause any problems.

Yet another picturesque dry creek bed. The light coloured stones around the solitary gum tree mark the creek bed.

Given that creek flooding occurs every year, how do the seed and sapling of a tree such as this ever get a secure toehold on the loose soil and tumbling rocks and debris in the creek bed for a long enough period to grow to full size?

With every 100m down the Gorge, the creek bed crossings become wider. On the far right the edge of the graded road can be seen. Of significance is the green tinge in the creek bed. There was substantial rain in the area a week or more before this photo was taken. I have never seen grass shoots between the rocks in these dry creek beds before.

The rain got heavier, and the road got wetter. The GPS in the car provided misleading information as to the condition of this recently graded and excellent dirt road.

Once on the flat country west of the ranges it remained cloudy, but the hills remained under thick and low cloud cover.

Gaps such as this gap in the hills showing a narrow area of lower terrain beneath the uniform cloud base, is sometimes referred to by pilots of light aircraft as a ‘sucker gap’. It might seem to offer a way through the mountains, but the reality is that as soon as you flew through the gap you would be facing in rapid succession rising terrain then cloud with probably insufficient room to do a 180° turn back to the flat country and good visibility. Disaster is the most probable outcome of this scenario.

South Flinders Ranges with thick cloud lying over the ridges and peaks. On the far right you can see to the south where the cloud is clearing and the skies are clearer.

Mid-north around Burra, South Australia

This was the result of yet another stop to photograph eagles, where they got airborne and headed off before I could get the cover off the lens. As often happens, they flew off at low level. And as I have seen on more than one occasion their chosen altitude and route can take them (probably inadvertently) through territory claimed by lesser birds. Imprudently the territory protector often puts on a very energetic performance to let the eagles know they are not welcome. I think the eagles get the message but just don’t care. The small bird in the photo (a corvid of some description, possibly a crow) was squawking loudly and engaging in wild aerobatics at close quarters to the higher of the two eagles. When you are an adult wedge-tailed eagle, with a wingspan anything up to 2.8m and you weigh up to 4.5kgs, you can afford to treat such defensive attacks as below your threshold of concern. That is exactly what these eagles did.

Broadly speaking we were following a trough across the SA/Vic border as we drove back towards Apollo Bay. This is the trough which brought the rain and thunderstorms to the Flinders Ranges when we were there. There was still a lot of very unstable air associated with the trough as indicated by the extent of development of this massive cumulus cloud, well on its way to becoming a cumulonimbus cloud. A great spectacle from a distance where the whole cloud can be seen.

As we got closer to the trough and its clouds, the setting sun found a small gap in the clouds through which to fleetingly bathe this stubble paddock in gold. The hills beneath the dark cloud were receiving very heavy rain.

We spent our last night of this road trip at Swan Hill after dropping in at Wentworth NSW to say hello to our friends Caroline and Tim who are paddling a kayak from Lake Hume to the mouth of the Murray river. When we saw them they had about 1500kms under the belt and 850kms to go. They were in great shape. An epic paddle.

Photos taken by Tim and Caroline of overnight stops earlier in the trip.

A blog post on the Thistle Island part of this road trip will be published soon.

4 thoughts on “Flinders Ranges and the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

  1. Fantastic John, this area is unbelievably beautiful and I’m only sorry that it took us so long to discover it. Unlike you we had “duststorms” not rain storms but that only added another dimension.
    love reading your travel tales. Thanks Sue.

    Like

    1. Delighted to hear you and Tom have discovered the wonders of the Flinders Ranges Sue. I was there on the motorbike in April and back there again in the Mazda with Liz in May! My diary for June has a couple of gaps….
      Still a lot to explore in that area. Thanks for your comments. Pleased you enjoyed my holiday snaps. Cheers, John

      Like

  2. Pleased to hear you enjoyed this blog post Mike.
    Let me know as soon as you have seven or eight days to spare and the Triumph Tiger fuelled and ready to go! There are plenty of roads and locations I’ve yet to explore in the Flinders Ranges.
    My diary’s pretty clear for the next 28 years (and perfectly clear thereafter).

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s