8-11 May: Heading to the red dust

Author: Mrs A

Location: Pildappa Rock & Mt Ive Station, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

With Venus Bay in the rear view mirror we turned north, heading to the drier interior of the Eyre Peninsula, the South Australian outback. We were aiming for the outskirts of the Gawler Ranges National Park.

Within an hour we were pulling up at Pildappa Rock just outside Minnipa. Jutting up out of the flat landscape like a miniature Uluru, this pink granite monolith was a central point for the Kukatha Aboriginal communities, who used its surface pools for drinking water. Locals liken this rock to the more famous ‘Wave Rock’ in Western Australia, said to look like breaking surf in its erosion.

Geologists have found that this rock was originally formed about 7km below the earth’s surface (1500 million years ago!). The surrounding soil has weathered much faster than the rock, hence it now towers over the surrounding area. It is estimated it erodes about 50cm every million years.

On our visit, all the pools were dry, the lack of rainfall evident in the dusty surround, our climb up revealing stunning views of the landscape around us.

The First People traditional owners, the Kukatha community, cared for and tended to these lands, and we thank and acknowledge this. Being the only source of surface water for some distance, the people protected this rock and recognised it as a special and sacred place. When European settlers first arrived in the area seeking water, the Aboriginal community introduced them to this rock and shared their precious water, only to have it then taken over by the new settlers who built dams and drains to secure the water for themselves, restricting their access. Yes, yet another sad story of cruelty and selfishness from our ancestors.

Today much of the surrounding land is used for growing wheat, being autumn all harvested now. It is hard to imagine how anything grows in these dry, dusty conditions, Willie willies (mini dust tornadoes) are frequently seen racing across the huge fields, spinning up what is left of the topsoil.

This hole is known as a gnamma. When it was full of rain water, the Aboriginal people would cover it with a rock to prevent evaporation and use by animals. Other water holes would be left open for exclusive use by birds and animals, sometimes laid with traps to catch a lizard for dinner..
More gnammas and fine views
Mr A walking below me
A rock slowly being sculpted by the elements
Hello Tassie (she is asleep on the bed in the sunshine!)

We continued our journey, next stopping for lunch at a nearby camping area by some more sculpture-like granite rocks at Wattle Grove.

Miss Tassie enjoyed some interesting smells on her exploration

Once we left here, we joined a long red sand and gravel road heading further north towards a remote sheep station, Mount Ive. We let the tyres down a little to smooth out the corrugations and enjoyed the journey. The scenery was magical. The sun was just starting to dip in the sky and in doing so lit up millions of raindrops hanging in the trees, spinifex, blue bush and saltbush either side of the road. It was quite surreal, following a red-sand road surrounded by sparkling diamonds. 

Flat and dry, this is sheep country

With the sun starting to set we decided to find ourselves a wild-camp just off the road for the night rather than press on.

Where were we? Somewhere near Mount Ive, just past Pinkawillinie Conservation Park

A space for the night secured, we had an explore, bewitched by the beautiful sunset and incredible light cast on the red hills and scenery around us.

Our evening view
A landscape dotted with hardy shrubs, and not all trees have won the survival battle
Our camp for the night
Beautiful colours cast by the setting sun
The dusty road ahead
Home sweet home
Sun set

It was a beautifully dark night, a good opportunity to have a practice at some night photography. This shot of the Milky Way was my best first attempt. 

A few clouds still around, but the stars are visible in a patch of clear sky

The following morning we had a walk around, in awe of the silence. You could hear your ears ringing and the cogs in your brain whirring! Every sound seemed incredibly loud. The flocks of birds seemed to think so too, most too nervous to hang around for a photo or even to be identified through binoculars. They clearly are not used to humans out here.

A Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater finally sits still long enough for me to capture it with my camera
Getting ready to head off

We drove the final 45 minutes to Mt Ive Station, arriving mid morning and set up on the dusty dry paddock they had assigned to campers. It was a bit disappointing really. After some of the wonderful station stays in Western Australia (especially Hambleton and  Woolleen) it felt like there had been no effort made here. We had so many questions for the owners, but they were not present and the managers were fellow travellers and only had been working there for a couple of days.

A rather orange looking car and caravan – the dust gets everywhere

Visitors are attracted to the area because of its proximity to Lake Gairdner National Park. We paid for a mud map of a track and a key to a locked gate giving us access to the lake. Lake Gairdner is a huge salt lake, famous for land speed record attempts during Speed Week each March.

After setting up camp we took a drive out to the lake. No driving is allowed on the lake outside of the allocated event.

Our first view of Lake Gairdner takes our breath away

The lake is considered to be the third biggest salt lake in Australia. It is 160 kilometres long, and 48 km across, so the area we visited was all but a tiny corner.

Looks like snowfields

Stepping onto the lake it is hard to convince your brain it is not snow. It crunches like snow, but is not at all slippery, with little give when you step on it. In some places this salt is more than a metre deep.

We enjoyed our experience so much we went back the following day – the grey skies changing the whole scene, and being wrapped up in our winter gear it felt even more like a snowfield.

Mysterious skies change the scene
Crunchy salt surface
Mr A on the race course
The sun breaks through the clouds, and the salt lights up

The Mt Ive Station property also has a volcanic geological area known as the Organ Pipes. We hiked up a dry creek to explore.

Beautiful views down the valley
Up at the tocks
The Organ Pipes – they face east, so get only the early morning sun. They are covered in green lichen.
You can almost imagine yourself being in a grand cathedral
More magnificent views and colours from higher up
On the western side of the valley rocks are covered in orange lichen
Our lonely car in big country

The station is mostly set up to encourage four wheel driving, with visitors given the option to buy another mud map with further routes to explore. Rather than spend more time in the car, we decided to try some more walking, picking our way up through the rock and prickly spinifex plants to the top of one of the hills surrounding the property.

Mt Ive Station
Prickly spinifex is home to many little critters, including marsupial mice and lizards
An old cart on the property

We had a good couple of nights here, but especially enjoyed our time wild-camping. We hope to do more of that in the coming months. For now, however, we had to head back to the coast and Whyalla – I had a plane to catch…

Wedge Tailed Eagle, Submarine and heading out….