Rugged red ranges, spectacular off-road adventures, Outback skies and SA’s gnarly Billy Goat Ridge. Will you take on the goat?
In the stunning southern Flinders Ranges our family drove over a goat – and loved it. But don’t go reporting us to the RSPCA just yet. The Bendleby Ranges ROCK; and admit it, your 4WD is hanging out for a ROLL. Read on to discover why this place deserves to be your next off-road adventure.
The escarpments creep up slowly out of the surrounding pastoral plains, distant blue-grey vistas with the promise of adventure and a beauty so contagious you’ll forever have the Flinders Ranges ‘bug’. The essence of this ancient land leaves an indelible mark on every four-wheel driver’s memory. If you have been here before, you’ll know all about the need to have another ‘fix’. And if you are a Flinders Ranges virgin, prepare to be hooked… line and sinker.
Adelaideans are spoilt to have the Bendleby Ranges Station located just a five-hour drive away, and what a spectacular experience awaits those that head towards Orroroo.
Bendleby Ranges is a private undertaking set on over 15,000ha and run by the ‘Aussie-as’ hosts Jane and Warren Luckcraft. The property is bordered by its namesake to the north-west, and the Hungry Ranges to the south-east. This natural ‘sandwich’ is a 4WDer’s smorgasbord, although the outer ranges are the 4X4 temptations… so maybe ‘chocolate-coated Tim Tam’ is the better analogy. Featuring tracks to suit all 4WD tastes, and delightful camp spots, you will be soaking in the fresh air and drinking in the views.
Knowing we have a remote campsite waiting for us, adorned with a healthy supply of pre-cut firewood, and a long-drop loo to boot (space, privacy and no neighbours) is divine, and it’s worth every penny.
The place to warm up both 4WD and pilot is at the training track located opposite the homestead camping area. What a fun place this is. Warren has been busy with his big toys, making a series of mounds, ditches, and steep river bank climbs – and this play pen gives a great introduction to what is to come.
All tracks are graded, and range from low to high difficulty. Even a soft off-roader can enjoy some amazing driving scenery here. My advice is even if you have plenty of off-road experience and capability, build up to the higher levels by exploring the low and medium tracks first. Driving in the Flinders Ranges can be tough on you and your vehicle – especially your tyres (and your towbar – if you have a ‘does my bum look big in this’ Triton like us).
Our introductory drive climbs along the North South Ridge Track, followed by a bouncy test down the aptly named Kokoda Trail. Along the way, we find ‘Bendleby Bill’, the station mascot gnome, who loves hitch-hiking around with 4WDers. The afternoon’s tempting trek makes it hard to wipe the smiles from our dials that night, and has us chatting excitedly about what is to come under a glorious ink-blue sky bejewelled with stars.
After whetting our appetites the day before, we are now hungry – hungry for the Hungry Ranges. Drivers need to book their convoy in for a jaunt to the other side, and they do so by popping their details on the whiteboard outside the homestead office. Jane designs a suitable trek that will have us out for most of the day, and advises which UHF channel to use in case we need to contact the homestead. The station even has a few radios that they can lend out if needed.
We travel down into Quartz Gorge, a rocky descent with a decent rock step at the bottom to keep us on our toes. There are parts of this gorge where you can literally see the sheets of slate like stone, layer upon layer – some horizontal, others angled, and some that appear almost vertical. Imagining the forces that created these incredible rock formations is just mind-blowing, only matched by the stunning assortment of colours in this rocky kaleidoscope.
A very rocky and steep climb sees us crown Yuruga Hill. Our trip companions, Adrian and Leanne, earned its naming rights a few years back… in the first tourist vehicle to ascend the new track Warren had somehow managed to bulldoze. Yuruga means ‘extensive view’ in Aboriginal. And the views are to die for. The Ridge Top Track follows along, and down, a spectacular ridge. At times you find yourself looking along your bonnet and searching for the track. The climb down is intense, and does have us wondering if we dare face what’s ahead – the notorious Billy Goat Ridge. Don’t panic though, if the seatbelt-hanging down the Ridge Top has had you (or your passengers) looking for a clean pair of daks, there is an escape track on this side of the range.
The thing about Billy Goat Ridge Track is that, once you are committed, you need to keep going. There’s no turning around or backwards gear here. This would be the fourth ascent for our 4X4 friends, but at its completion even they commented that it was the most ‘difficult’ condition they had seen it in. And there is the clincher. As with all four-wheel driving, you need to get out of the driver’s seat and have a good look (and do a few track repairs) because conditions change. It is not so much that any one element is horrendous; it’s that there are so many elements, one after the other, on a very steep hill.
Adrenaline pumping and heart racing, this track is a challenge for driver and vehicle (and co-pilot, if they haven’t escaped under the guise of taking some video). Rock ledges, stone steps, holes after holes, and a decent climb. I can honestly say it was one of the hardest tracks I’ve ever done.
We loved hiking deep into the gorge of the stunning Hidden Valley, and Bendleby is also a mountain biker’s dream. There’s abundant wildlife and birdwatching. A highlight for me was rock hopping up the steep Link Track. On getting out at the top, we found ourselves staring almost eye to eye at a wedgetail eagle that happened to be soaring on a thermal at this height. Only fleetingly, and no time to get the camera… but a magical encounter. You must see Bendleby. But remember, the Flinders Ranges is addictive. One taste and you’ll be yearning for more… or searching goat videos!
Bendleby Ranges is a working station located 320km north of Adelaide in the southern Flinders Ranges. A perfect destination for a long weekend, or a week of awe-inspiring rugged brilliance interspersed with adrenaline pumping four-wheel driving and campsite bliss.
All 4WD levels from low to high difficulty – a great place to cut your teeth initially and build up your skills and confidence to tackle some full-on off-road challenges. Lower your tyre pressures and have a go on the training track.
When to visit
Autumn through to spring will see you avoiding the ferocious summer heat. Be prepared for potential icy nights under the crystal-clear skies. Check local road conditions before departing. Occasional rain may see the creeks running, resulting in fun water crossings.
Fuel and supplies
Orroroo is 50km away and has diesel and unleaded fuel during weekday business hours. There is a well stocked general store, a butcher, several cafes and a country pub. Bendleby Ranger’s office has ice, long-life milk and frozen bread (and even some wines, ‘Bendelbee’ honey and kangaroo mettwurst – yum).
Where to stay
You’re spoilt for choice at Bendleby Ranges – from homestead and shearers’ quarters accommodation or powered campsites with showers, through to (our recommendation) remote campsites supplied with cut firewood and a long-drop loo. Camping fees (from $20/adult and $5/child per night) and vehicle fees ($85 for length of stay) apply. Bookings are required.