The Gawler Ranges adventure that has so much to offer 4WDers
I woke to watch the sunrise from the comfort of my swag, a truly rewarding experience. The campsite was silent, except for the crunch, crunch, crunch as someone walked by, loud enough to wake the dead. I was camped at the Iron Knob Community Site. Good facilities but noisy. No wonder I prefer to bush camp in solitude.
Nonning Road travels through station country, the saltbush a favourite of the sheep. Take care though as they hang around the waterholes early in the day, as do the kangaroos. Mulga trees dot the landscape, twisted and gnarled, the sheep stained by the red dust. The road was impressive with no bulldust, no corrugations, nice and smooth, though this can change quickly when the rain hits.
With the wind blowing a gale, I reached the entrance to Mt Ive Station. It is hard to miss with a replica PMB51 submarine half buried in the red sand. The water traps were occupied with both goats and sheep as I drove slowly down the driveway. I was looking forward to this place as they not only have easy access to their own volcanic Organ Pipes, they have a range of 4WD tracks, plus the bonus of Lake Gairdner frontage.
Mt. Ive has a range of accommodation offerings, including powered and non-powered sites, bush camping, shearers quarters and a self-contained stone hut. The only thing they don’t allow is camping at Lake Gairdner, which is only permitted during the annual Dry Lakes Racers Australia Speed Week.
The amenities are clean and the water is warmed by a donkey – no, not the Equus genus, the burns firewood type. This donkey provides wonderful hot water, although I preferred it colder once the mercury climbed above 30°C.
An added benefit of staying in a room is having use of the shearers quarters kitchen and dining room. As you can imagine, you could feed an army with the array of crockery, cutlery and cooking equipment. The aroma from my garlic mash pervaded the room and matched with lamb chops was a real winner – for me. As the wind buffeted the campers and caravaners, I was glad I had opted for a room at the inn … my swag was thankful too.
Next morning, I paid my $30 and received a key. This key was good for one trip out to Lake Gairdner, but that is not all. Throw in a diversion to a great Organ Pipe display and you could be feeling great, but also throw in a short drive out to The Embankment’ and you will certainly know you’re getting your money’s worth.
The tip is to get to the Kath’s Castle Organ Pipes early in the day so that the light displays them in their ancient glory. Created by volcanic activity in the Gawler Ranges some 150 million years ago, the exposed rhyolite stone looks like organ pipes.
As I drove into the carpark for the Embankment, a gathering of emus and goats dispersed in all directions – except for one kid. I tried to capture the perfect shot of the dam wall built in 1892 and still standing solidly, a tribute to the pastoralists of old. I sent the drone up and as I was scoping the wall I watched as this whining kid moved agilely down the rocks towards me.
After striking a pose, the kid came closer. “No, I’m not your father!” to which the kid nicked off, bleating louder. As I packed up and drove off, I watched the kid run around where I had been, crying with sadness. It is a tough life being a parent.
Upon arriving at Lake Gairdner, I was blown away by the spectacular white expanse that stretched beyond the horizon. Walking across the hard salt created some interesting sounds, as there was a little surface water in places. It was so white!
One week every year in March, this place teems with rev heads who race their cars along the hardened salt. It would be a bumpy ride as the salt lake isn’t smooth like I thought it would be. I did enjoy the absolute peace, quiet and solitude as I stood alone on the white lakebed. It is a surreal experience.
After discussing the property’s 4X4 track offerings with Kerry in the office, I chose to tackle the ‘Flight Path’. Five hours of off-road driving the hills and vales of the property was inspiring. Low range was required in many places, in fact my centre diff was locked for most of the trip. It allowed me to drive slowly and enjoy the rocky trails, the views, the colours and the ranges. At times I was going so slow, even the kangaroos didn’t bother moving. I highly recommend detouring to the lookout as it offers spectacular views across the property and Peterlumbo Hill in the distance.
Another side trip is to the pillars, where a magnificent display of Organ Pipes is an easy walk from the carpark. You are encouraged to spend some time exploring this section on foot, and I felt like a goat as I rock hopped my way among the ancient rhyolite.
The Black Oaks picnic area is a great spot to enjoy some lunch in the shade or at the lookout a little further along the track. The colours are amazing and the landscape so photogenic. Now while I only spent a couple of days at Mt Ive, it could’ve stretched to a couple more. Why? The 4X4 tracks and amazing scenery, and if you time it right (unlike me) you may get to watch the goats mustered, sheep crotched or sheep shorn.
I was spewing that I’d left my sticks at home – the ‘Dirty Greens’ golf course was one challenge I would’ve loved to tackle.
If you want to spend a few days exploring some epic outback tracks with some stunning scenery, look no further than Mt Ive Station in South Australia’s Gawler Ranges.
Region: Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
Nearest town: Port Augusta is located 196km west of Mt Ive Station.
When to go: The cooler months from April to September are the best times, but access may close after rain.
Accommodation: Mt Ive Station provides powered, unpowered sites and bush camping sites, shearers quarters (BYO bedding), stone rooms and a self-contained stone hut.
What to take: Compressor and tyre gauge, tyre repair kit, first aid kit, firewood, food and water.
Difficulty: The self-drive tracks require high clearance, 4WD and reduced tyre pressures. The road out to Mt Ive and the track onto Lake Gairdner is suitable for all vehicles.