Rocks of Ages - Gawler Ranges National Park
First a cliché. The Gawler Ranges National Park is a hidden gem, and if my recent visit is any indication, it may be too well concealed. I’ve just spent a few days in the ranges and saw only a handful of other travellers, and all but one of the seven campgrounds was deserted.
This seems strange because it’s still the middle of the outback touring season and, to be honest, the park really isn’t that well hidden. It’s only 40km from the Eyre Highway and is accessible in any off-road vehicle with decent ground clearance.
Proclaimed as a national park in 2002, it comprises the former Paney pastoral station, together with sections of Scrubby Peak and Pine Lodge stations. It covers a whopping 166,000 hectares.
Destocking the land has seen the return of native vegetation, like bluebush, that was once fodder for grazing animals. In some places this hardy shrub stretches to the horizon like a silvery-blue carpet.
Good winter rains has seen an explosion of colour. Fields of yellow everlasting daisies, great clumps of wattle blossom and the deep pink of crimson mallee have turned the ranges into a bush garden.
But the real stars of the Gawler Ranges are the volcanic rhyolite outcrops that date back 1500 million years. Fissures formed in the rock as the lava was cooling and subsequent erosion has created a landscape of rocky columns that seem almost too symmetrical to have occurred naturally.
You’ll find these outcrops throughout the ranges and the easiest place to access them is at Policeman’s Point, just off the main east-west road through the park. Take the short walk to the falls and you’ll be rewarded with great views back down the valley. This is also where you might find crimson mallee in blossom and, if you spot a flash of purple, it could be a tiny wild orchid.
More dramatic rocky outcrops can be seen at Yandinga Falls and Organ Pipes, both off the north-south Yardea Road, and at my favourite spot, Kolay Mirica Falls, in the northern section of the park. You’ll need a vehicle with good ground clearance to reach Yandinga Falls and a 4wd to access Organ Pipes and Kolay Mirica.
Kolay Mirica Falls
In fact there are several tracks in the northern section that are only accessible to high clearance off-road vehicles, and it’s here that you can really get away from it all. There are three bush campgrounds in this area – Kolay Hut, Chillunie and Mattera – and if you travel outside of school holidays and long weekends, it’s quite likely you’ll have no neighbours.
If you’re looking for more comfortable digs up north, then there’s Pondanna Outstation. The Friends of the Gawler Ranges National Park have done an incredible job restoring this 1860s farmhouse and the surrounding compound. It has four bedrooms, a lounge room, a kitchen, a bathroom and toilet, and a 166,000 hectare back yard.
Reservations can be made online, or if the house is unoccupied when you arrive, card payment and keypad entry can be organised through a satellite connection with Wudinna. You’ll need to supply your own linen and be prepared to hand pump water from the storage tank to the header tank for domestic supply. This is real country living.
To the west there are bush campgrounds at Kododo Hill, Scrubby Peak and Yandinga, and the easiest campground to access is Waganny, right on the main east-west road. (The park map shows Waganny being some distance from the main road but it has since been relocated to the roadside).
The park is a wildlife bonanza with a number of threatened species calling the Gawler Ranges home. The usual suspects – kangaroos and emus – are a common sight, but keep an eye out for the skittish yellow-footed rock wallaby whenever you’re in the rocky country.
Relatively speaking the Gawler Ranges National Park is a new kid on the block, and word of its charms is still spreading. But as more travellers are tipped off about the park’s dramatic beauty, the days of deserted campgrounds may soon be over.
Nuts and Bolts
- Although the Gawler Ranges National Park is only 40km from the Eyre Hwy, this is a remote area and travellers need to be fully self-sufficient.
- There are modern pit toilets at Kolay Hut campground (near the hut), at Old Paney Homestead, at Pondanna Outstation, and at the shearing shed, not far from the park office – see link to map in useful links section below.
- The office is not always attended, as staff are often working in the park.
- There are self-registration stations for park entry and camping fees.
- Small camp fires are permitted in designated areas except when fire bans apply. Wood fires are prohibited during the Fire Danger Season usually 1 November to 31 March. Check CFS hotline 1300 362 361. Visitors must not collect firewood from within the park. Chainsaws are prohibited.
- As indicated on the parks map (see useful links section below), some tracks are only suitable for high clearance 4wd vehicles. This is rocky terrain and the main issue is ground clearance. Watch out for deep wheel ruts following wet weather.
Gawler Ranges National Park
Gawler Ranges National Park guide and map