Day 2. Backtrack to Nirvana (aka Wilpena)

22 August 2021. Word by Andy Le Roy. Images by Creolumen

A warm and friendly reception, and a room that looks directly into bushland. Here’s the serenity we’ve been anticipating.

The drive back through from Woomera to Port Augusta was just as scenic, in reverse. For obvious reasons. The value of heading back via what was in your rear view mirror is seeing the plains and ranges from the opposite perspective. The descent at certain points is breathtaking.

In today’s photo series, Scenery At 110, there were fields of native grasses, salt pans and the occasional sheep, camouflaged by the red dust in their wooly coats, adorned by the landscape they inhabit.

I missed the emus. They were a hundred metres back by the time the driver said “Look! Emus!” The shutter speed on my eyes is somewhat slower than the one on my camera, it seems.

The wide open plains are the best tonic for a crowded mind. Wide, sweeping views of dusty red ranges when barrelling along give way to minute details of native grasses, wild flowers and grainy earth when you take time to stop and breathe in the silence of one of the continent's major highways. I can see why the sheep like it, and the well-fed crows who take advantage of distracted fauna like them, unlucky enough to meet their fate crossing the deceptively quiet thoroughfare.

Other highlights of the drive included a random lady dressed in black wandering across the road. She gave us a smile and a wave hello as we passed. There was no car to be seen and she wasn’t in distress. One of the friendly locals, I assume. Like the guy on his push bike between Port Augusta and Pimba yesterday. He looked like he was in for the long haul, though, whereas she looked like she was headed over to Betty’s for a cuppa.

Port Augusta was still there, and we drove through it a bit less quickly than yesterday to get some food. We had only had a doughnut and coffee from Spuds, just outside of Woomera, so it was time for a decent meal. Despite this, we had something from Maccas and continued on our way, not before Chris enjoyed the musical strains of the Exeloo orchestra as the parkside privvy counted down his allotted ten minutes. How many stress-induced evacuations can Exeloo lay claim to? There must be a stat somewhere.

The drive to Hawker is stunning. The fields turn green again as you approach the ranges, winding gently upwards through speckled hills, the Pitchie Ritchi rail line our companion to Quorn. Trees became more abundant in the landscape and as we got closer to Hawker, the mountains rose more clearly into view. Lots of photo opportunities, including an appearance from the selfie stick, to capture the alluring blue coloured mountain ranges from a distance, and more colourful outcrops nearby.

As we entered Hawker, we looked for the signs to the resort and realised we had another fifty k’s to go. We could see Wilpena Pound in the distance which is, in fact, where we’re staying. A lookout on the way gave more rocky escarpment views and a second lookout had what can only be described as a shoe tree. It’s a dead tree on which travellers appear to have taken to foisting their runners, loafers and assorted sandals. Heading to a formal? The shoe tree is bound to see you right. Forgot your favourite walking shoes? Shoe tree. Straya.

The room at Wilpena Resort is palatial compared to last night’s digs, and we didn’t have to pretend we were ‘two mates on a road trip’, which was nice, and really not too much to ask. We spent some time watching parrots feed on the lawn outside the resort reception complex. The one near us, with dark turquoise plumage on its back blending into shades of green under its belly and a yellow ring around its neck, busied itself with the underground smorgasboard. There’s also a group of them feeding over by the pool, like they paid for their all-inclusive accommodation and intend to get the most out of the all-you-can-eat buffet. Luckily I don’t like bugs and worms.

It’s warm here. Hard to imagine coming from the cold of Adelaide’s winter, which I also love. The dark clouds above have sent some light droplets our way, but they passed quickly.

We set out on a short photographic walk. Shortened further by Chris’s depleted camera battery. Lichen-kissed stones and boulders, animal tracks and large, majestic trees speak of the ancient significance of where we are staying. Small gullies and winding tracks reveal a close-up view of what we had been viewing on our approach from Port Augusta. Red rock faces, dotted with trees and behind us a striation of red and green in the mountain face at the opposite end.

Back at our room, a friendly and hopeful magpie lunges towards us seeing us nibble on some food, but we’ve read the signs, sorry buddy. The crow obviously didn’t get the memo visitors aren’t to feed them either. He scuttled away after we failed to take the hint as well.

Welcome to Country is usually held every evening here, but won’t be held tonight due to the passing of someone in the local community. Tomorrow is another day, and it won’t involve a lengthy drive.

Emu and salt bush pie for dinner (Chris went with the beer battered barra) and time for some star gazing from some of the darkest skies in the country.

Serenity now.

Day 3.

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