The last few kilometres were heavy going as I trudged back to camp. The bright daylight faded into twilight as the sun sank below the eroded peaks surrounding the amazing Wilpena Pound valley, centrepiece of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges National Park.
The evening coolness rose as we entered the campground.
While taking an 18.8 kilometre (11.7 mile) hike might not have been the smartest move for the world’s slowest hiker, the end was in sight. And the Wilpena Pound Resort campground was everything a campground should be. Beautiful setting. Excellent amenities. Quiet.
But the evening coolness wasn’t the only thing rising.
Jangling through the campground from an antique sound system on maximum distortion blared the not immediately recognisable English World War 1 favourite ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ (google it for a truly scary experience) accompanying a happy hour for two in full swing.
Was I hallucinating?
Sadly, no. Just as incongruous as the ‘music’ in this arid and remote South Australian Outback park was the table complete with lacy cloth, vase of flowers and two wine glasses which, judging by the quavering vocal accompaniment, had been filled and emptied several times over.
It was going to be a LOOOOOONG evening.
Several hours before, we’d packed our lunch for the 6+ hour return hike to the Bridle – or ‘Bridal’ as it was spelled by the less informed – Gap lookout on the other side of Wilpena Pound. We’d seen the Pound – a valley 7 km (4.3 miles) and 14 km long completely surrounded by an ancient mountain range – from the outside where the jagged peaks formed an impressive and many-layered wall.
But the Bridle Gap Wilpena Pound track crossed through the great bowl of the Pound itself, our best chance to see the whole formation from the inside. And get away from the crowds stampeding towards the area’s best known and most popular hike – the climb to St Mary’s Peak.
After a short-ish evening stroll of only 7.2 km (return) a couple of days previously, we’d looked across the pound from Wangara lookout, a short distance above the Hills Homestead where early pastoralists lived while using the Pound as a natural corral for cropping and grazing stock.
BUT … droughts and floods saw to that and now Wilpena Pound, named for an Aboriginal word meaning ‘Place of Bent Fingers’ or ‘Cupped Hand’, is now part of the Flinders Ranges National Park.
Leaving the homestead, the protected oasis of the Pound full of native pines and river red-gums, with glimpses of the Wilpena Range from the clearings was a world away from the late spring arid landscape beyond.
No surprise that the local Adnyamathanha people know it as Ikara – or meeting place, and no surprise the area was declared a National Pleasure Resort with organised tours and places to stay in 1945!
Once on the Bridle Gap track, the only other person we saw almost got an eyeful as I emerged from behind a tree after a squat.
After that excitement and with only a kilometre or so to go, we reached the other side and climbed the now-rocky track up the range towards what we hoped would be a vantage point for lunch.
Part of the legendary Heysen Trail that takes dedicated hikers through 1200 km of South Australia’s best scenery, the Bridle Gap Wilpena Pound track stopped conveniently at a rocky outcrop on the edge of the plain below.
Beyond awesome, even by the almost impossibly high Flinders Ranges standards, the staggering view stretched out in a 180º panorama over the wildly magnificent Bunbinyunna, Elder and RED Ranges – their superb scenery on display for us, and us alone.
The 9.4 km return trip across the pound to the homestead, then down along Wilpena Creek to the campground isn’t so arduous if you’re walking on air!
So, from the sublime, we descended into the onslaught of ‘Mother Brown’, and as the soundtrack switched to the ‘Siegfried Line’ (google it – actually, NO – don’t bother), the Grey Nomad couple, loudly and proudly from Western Australia, spontaneously burst into a tipsy song and dance routine.
As a strategy to scare up some happy hour drinking buddies, it didn’t seem to be working. And they seemed to be taking the occasional applause from our quieter neighbours around their campfires as encouragement to continue rather than as a reason to quit while they were ahead …
As the stars came out and the last vestiges of our pure and natural mountaintop experience slowly evaporated, the happy hour veterans soft-shoed to the maudlin ‘… we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when …’.
We were at least agreed on one thing. That the sunny day to come would bring a new adventure.
- Check out some flights and get to South Australia!