No bluffing, this is one heck of a walk

This October Walking SA celebrates #walktoberSA with a vision to encourage more people to be walking more often.

A key event will be Trails Less Travelled on Sunday 15 October – guided and self-guided hiking up Adelaide’s Mt Lofty from ten different directions, showcasing walking clubs and walking trails.

To whet your appetite for walking, we travel further afield for this post. The Flinders Ranges, 400+ kilometres north of Adelaide, has a plethora of spectacular walks for all skill levels. One of my favourites, which offers a fabulous view into Wilpena Pound (the iconic natural amphitheatre of mountains at the centre of the Flinders Ranges), is the Rawnsley Bluff Hike. Walking SA describes this hike as challenging with steep terrain, and the organisation estimates it will take 5 hours to traverse the 11.3 kilometre up and back route.

It’s a warm winter’s day and the clouds shrouding the Bluff that morning have dissipated. Walking from the carpark we wander through a picturesque field of native pines, Eucalypts, miniature Bottlebrushes and grass trees before moving into the cooler shadow of the Bluff and Ground Zero.

At 500 metres up, son Sebastian asks whether we have packed many tissues. Odd question, I think to myself. It’s a steep ascent, at times the path is just boulder after boulder. At the 600 metre mark Sebastian says he may have to “do a number 2”.

At the 1 kilometre mark we stop for a drink.  I reach for my bottle and discover it’s almost empty. I forgot to check it before starting out. There are a couple of other water bottles in our group of four, but we are now on rationing. I keep a lookout while Sebastian performs latrine gymnastics behind a large boulder off the track. We use some of the pressure water on ablutions.

#TravelTip – check water and tissues and other toilet necessities before setting out. And try to go to the loo before a large hike.

Our shirts and backpacks are soaking with sweat by the time we stop on a rocky outcrop near the 4km mark. In the winter shade on this southern boundary of Wilpena Pound it is cool (fortunately too cool for flies and other insects). A stunning panorama has opened up.  Our car is a fleck of white paint on the chocolate brown and green plateau. Halfway out to the southwestern horizon the jagged striations of the Elder Ranges erupt from the earth.

It’s 1.30pm so we decide to stop for lunch. Hardboiled eggs, tins of tuna and mandarins. I take a swig of water and glance up and then down towards the carpark. The shadow that the Bluff is casting is growing, and I’d rather not descend in the dark, unprepared as we are.

I’m nervous climbing over and under the enormous boulders, having looked through the interesting seismic data records at the Hawker Roadhouse before arriving here. The Flinders Ranges are still seismically very active, with a largish quake every few weeks in this region. I have visions of being buried under a rock slide, squished with the world-famous Ediacaran fossils found in this region.

To the Pound or the Bluff?

At the 5 km mark we come across a junction – one leads up to the Bluff, the other north to a view over Wilpena Pound. We take the 1.2km horizontal round trip detour through low-growing hakeas and Xanthorrhoea. Last night’s rain is pooled in rocks and flowing in and out of crevices and the moss is dark green and slimy. The view of the Pound is worth taking a detour, the incredible sunken basin is green at this time of the year. It looks like a huge asteroid has plummeted into the paddock, and the rocky ripple is still moving up in response (though glacially).

Hurdling rocks and navigating the headhigh maze with a bit more urgency we return to the junction and turn upwards. At the 5.5km mark I wait for the others to catch up, and suggest we beat a retreat before dark, arguing that the view from up there can’t be much better than right here. But my wife and kids vote to continue, not wanting to stop 500 metres short of the top. “What sort of story would that be?” I’m impressed by their resolve. The vegetation by now is really thinning out, giving way to much larger weathered boulders and rippled sandstone plates. Finally we see the large stone cairn that marks the top.

At the top of Rawnsley Bluff, Flinders Ranges, South Australia
At the top of Rawnsley Bluff, Flinders Ranges, South Australia

Celebratory photos, more boiled eggs, Nutrigrain and trail mix, mandarins and marshmallows (who packed them?), a bit more water. A Wedge-tailed Eagle hovers metres above us, taking a closer look before circling out and out. And then we are on our way back down.

It seems to be a little trickier moving down, but we reach the plain as the last rays of sunlight are casting gold on the sides of the Eucalypts. The local wallaroos (Euros) are out chewing grass, and look up as we pass. They scratch itches with dark paws and return to more important dreamings. We are dreaming of a hot shower and a recline before a hot dinner.

Heading back down on the steep and challenging Rawnsley Bluff Hike, Flinders Ranges, South Australia
Heading back down on the steep and challenging Rawnsley Bluff Hike, Flinders Ranges, South Australia

Next time: Overlooking the southern side of Wilpena Pound, Rawnsley Park Station provides the perfect base for exploring South Australia’s beautiful Flinders Ranges. It is just a few minutes from the Rawnsley Bluff Hike carpark, and has budget camping and luxury eco-villa accommodation.

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