Pop quiz; who knows where the Flinders Ranges are? If you answered 450 clicks north of Adelaide on the eastern side of South Australia, you’d be spot on.
How about the Vulkathunha – Gammon Ranges? …Uh oh, we sense a hesitation. Not quite sure? That’s alright; you wouldn’t be the only one. That’s because the Gammon Ranges has been overshadowed by the more popular Flinders for years, largely because of a huge boom in tourism.
Thing is, in terms of 4WD adventure, it’s chalk and cheese. The Gammon Ranges is the supercharged V8 trophy truck of 4WDing in South Australia, and the Flinders is well, the air-conditioned tour bus. Great if you’re into that sort of thing, but if you’re looking to lock the hubs in – the Gammon Ranges is where it’s at.
ARE THE FLINDERS GOING DOWN THE GURGLER?
Here’s the thing. These days there are bugger-all proper low-range 4WD tracks left in the Flinders Ranges. Alright, we’ll say it. It’s a bit of a yawn if you’re looking to give the stubby stick a real workout, that is, unless you want to pay for the privilege.
You see, because the Flinders is only a few clicks out from Adelaide, what were once goat tracks are now super highways paved for the hoards of city slickers that explode from tour bus after tour bus wanting to get a look at South Australia’s tallest mountain range.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s great for tourism. It’s awesome for the economy. And it’s the best thing for the small towns in the region. But, it’s at the expense of traditional 4WDing and camping.
We no longer have the ability to experience this spectacular part of the country in its natural glory. Anything worth seeing is bollarded or locked behind gates, and the 4WD tracks that are left are slapped with hefty tariffs or overtaken by tour companies. And that’s what makes the Gammon Ranges so good by comparison.
There are over 100km of the most scenic 4WD tracks in and around the Gammon Ranges, most of them absolutely free, making it 100 times more of a 4WD adventure than the Flinders. The Gammon Ranges have got all the same unique flora and fauna, plus it’s home to seventh largest lake in Australia, Lake Frome, as well as the traditional hunting grounds of the Adnyamathanha people.
WHAT’S WORTH CHECKING OUT
If you’ve arrived early enough to fit in a bit of 4WDing before dinner, it’s definitely worth checking out the Mt Jacob Back Track. This short 13km track is slow going and will see you negotiating river beds, wash outs, steep hill climbs and more gorges than you can poke a tailshaft at.
The Mt Jacob Back Track balances technical challenges without discriminating against those with relatively standard vehicles. It’s an awesome photo opportunity and lets you appreciate the rugged landscape of the surrounding Gammon Ranges. What’s better is it’s not too far from the Arkaroola camp grounds which means you can sneak off and warm up the transfer case and still be back in time to watch the sun set over the gorge.
If you want to turn the 4WD dial up a few notches, Echo Back Camp Track is a must see. Access to this track requires a high-clearance, low-range and a quick set of hands behind the wheel. You’ll need to leave a $50 deposit for the key to the gate as this one runs through private property. As soon as you head through the main gate it is straight into low-range to climb up a steep ridge before plunging straight back down into a dry creek bed. While it is only a few kilometres long, the track is slow going and takes a solid 3-4 hours to get through.
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”It’s 100 times more of a 4WD adventure than the flinders”[/blockquote]
Alternatively, not far from the Idninha Ruins you join the Idninha Track that heads towards Mainwater Well camping area and Gammon Yards. A little further along is the Gammon Yards which marks the start of the one-way Wortupa Loop Track. This 80km goat track winds its way through the heart of the Gammon Ranges, takes about six hours to complete and is guaranteed to test every 4WD bone in your body. It’s not quite as rocky as some, but it’s steep and loaded with lookouts which are perfect for keeping the kids entertained along the way.
Oh and before we forget, don’t leave without checking out Lake Frome. This 100km long, 40km wide salt like lies below sea level and only rarely fills with brackish water during heavy wet season down-pours. Following the only track in, you’ll drive along the Balcanoona Creek, cross the dingo fence and pass over low sand dunes before arriving at the western side of the lake. What’s unique about this area is that it’s declared a Cultural Use zone, which means it’s off limits to the public between 3pm and 5am because the local Adnyamathanha indigenous people still use this area for hunting.
TRACK CONDITIONS IN THE GAMMON RANGES
The difficulty of the Gammon Ranges is on par with the Victorian High Country. Yeah okay, it’s reasonably easy by comparison to places like Coffs Harbour or the Glass House Mountains, but it’s on par with the most scenic 4WD touring you’ll find anywhere in the country and there’s definitely enough action to give that 4WD itch a good scratch.
To start with, you’ll need to cover a few hundred clicks of dirt roads to get out here which of course means you’ll be hitting a few corrugations. The tracks out here are mostly rocky, steep in parts and drop down into plenty of mostly dry stony creek beds. Come out here at the right time of year and it’ll be one of the most eye-opening experiences you’ll ever have with your 4WD.
We’re talking about the outback folks, so when you pack you can safely assume you won’t be doing much winching and you won’t be needing 10 inches of lift. Instead, focus on things like water and fuel storage, having the right tyres and keeping them at the right pressures as the terrain changes.
These towns run on bore water which is generally not safe for drinking. That leaves rain water which can be in limited supply if it’s been dry in the months leading up to your trip. It’s best to work on carrying 5L/person per day of travel and research where you can refill the tanks before you leave home. Oh, and don’t expect to attach a hose to fill up large water tanks. Most are limited to a jerry or two.
In terms of reliable, the best thing you can do to prepare your 4WD for a trip like this is make sure you’ve got quality LT (light truck) off-road tyres fitted. Whether they’re all-terrains or muddies doesn’t matter, just make sure they’ve got a strong sidewall because staking your tyres is your biggest threat out here. A tyre repair kit is also worth throwing in the back for the same reason.
Of course, the trick to reducing the risk of a puncture is to get your tyre pressures right. We’d recommend dropping tyre pressures to around 28psi for the majority of dirt road driving, and then down to about 18psi once you pull off and start to tackle the low-range tracks. This’ll allow your tyres to mould around sharp rocks and sticks instead of sustaining damage.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
When you sit down to work out your fuel, food and water sums remember that you are going into the outback. It’s best to work off 5L of water per person, per day of travel and be aware that most towns only have rain water tanks to supply drinking water. Driving our 4.2L turbo diesel Patrol, we used an average of 15.8L/100km. You can fuel up and buy basic food at Arkaroola, Angorichina, Hawker, Leigh Creek and Yunta.
Arkaroola Village is a crackin’ spot to set up base camp for a couple of days of exploring. Arkaroola’s got fuel, basic supplies, mechanical and tyre repairs, camp grounds and even private 4WDing trails. There is bush camping along a 5km stretch of a creek bed for those who enjoy the isolation of being the only camp in sight. If being closer to some amenities is more your idea of ‘roughing it’ there are unpowered and powered sites in the main camp ground, located on a hill with a great view of the surrounding mountain ranges.
MAKE ANY EXCUSE TO GET OUT HERE!
Seriously, we shouldn’t need to twist your arm with this one. What we’ve covered in these few pages barely scratches the surface of the rugged adventure that’s waiting for you out here. Even if you’ve been to the outback before, this truly is something different and you need to make any excuse to get out here to see it for yourself.
The Gammon Ranges is located 689km north of Adelaide or 134km east of Leigh Creek in South Australia.
From Adelaide take the National Hwy to Port Augusta, then on to Hawker. From Hawker either head north-east via Wilpena Pound and the Flinders Ranges to Blinman, or go north to Copley and take the Arkaroola Rd.
From Melbourne, head up the Calder Hwy towards Mildura then on to Renmark, Peterborough and Hawker. And from NSW take the Barrier Hwy towards Broken Hill and on to Yunta in SA, then head north up through Waukaringa.
Arkaroola: Full amenities including showers and toilets; powered and non powered sites available.
Mainwater Well: Basic bush camping, no facilities.
Arcoona Campground:Basic bush camping, no facilities.
Gringells Hut: Basic facilities only including toilets.
Weetootla Campground: Basic facilities only including toilets.
Italowie Campground: Basic bush camping, no facilities.
You are required to pay a camping fee if staying within the Gammon Ranges National Park which costs $11 per vehicle (up to 8 people). Camping at Arkaroola Village is priced from $14 for a single adult and vehicle, or $22 for a couple and one vehicle.
WHAT TO TAKE:
Ensure you have quality off-road tyres fitted, bring a puncture repair kit and lower pressures according to the terrain. Water storage is paramount as drinking water is limited, and the same applies with fuel. Do your sums before you leave home and carry a spare jerry just in case. Of course, a sat phone and a first aid kit should be considered mandatory for a remote trip like this.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
FUEL & SUPPLIES:
Depending on the direction you’re coming from, Yunta and Hawker will be the last towns with mainstream supermarkets and service stations. As you get closer to the Gammon Ranges, you can restock on basic food and fuel at Angorichina Village and the Arkaroola Village.
This trip is rated D, with A meaning only suited to vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modification and E meaning perfectly suited to all types of 4WD vehicles. Invest in two things before coming out here; adequate water storage and quality off-road tyres.
TRIP TIME OF YEAR
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
Dogs are not permitted in the national park, however, they are allowed at the Arkaroola Village. Fire bans are generally in place from the 1st of November until the 31st of March.
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