Bendleby Ranges has been on my radar for a while now. I suppose you could call it part of the Southern Flinders Ranges, but I wouldn’t really class it as that. It’s just another working sheep station that has opened up its land to be explored by the 4x4 enthusiast. That me be.
Once again, I was trying to squeeze my adventure into a weekend. So the plan was to drive up Friday night, it’s about three and a half hours from Adelaide. Then spend Saturday exploring the property and lolling around the campsite. Drive back Sunday.
I picked N up directly from work on Friday night, to expedite our escape from the city. I love driving the expedition ready Land Cruiser through the CBD at rush hour. It just reinforces the idea that we are leaving this all behind. Like, as the traffic swarms around you you think ‘I hope you all have a good weekend normal people, I am certainly looking forward to mine!’ Something about the contrast and the incongruity of it all.
Anyway, quick stop at Costco for fuel and a quick feed. Then time to punch north. This property was about 50km north of Orroroo, which I stopped at while out this way last year. I took a slightly different way up this time, rather than up through the Clare Valley, I took the Barrier Highway through the small towns of Riverton and Saddleworth, and onto to Burra. I’ve been to Burra many times before but haven’t given it a really close look for several years, as we peeled through that night I decided we would retrace our steps on the return and stop through here on the way home.
There are many small, barely hanging on towns, up here in the mid-north of our state. Almost all with a pub. So it was heartening to see a group of (mostly 70 series Land Cruisers) vehicles lined up outside most of them on this Friday night. I said to N that I feel the country cops must turn a blind eye to drink driving up here, as long as someone isn’t paralytic, no one out here is going to walk to the pub. They would be important social centres for the farm workers. That sounds like a very city thing to write now I’ve written it...
It was properly dark by the time we got to Orroroo. From here it was 50km on a fast dirt road to get the the property, suicidal Kangaroos were everywhere. The new BFG KO2 tyres providing a surefooted patch of grip for the high speed braking and swerving to avoid having Skippy reshaping the ARB bar on the front of the 105.
We rolled into the property at about 10.30pm. I had already communicated we would be late and not to worry about meeting us. The office light was on as planned with some maps and specific instructions as to where our campsite was.
I read the note and took the paperwork and jumped back in the Cruiser. Just about to set off, when we got a friendly “Oi!” I hopped out again and greeted Warren the property owner. “You got here ok then?” “Yeah mate, no worries” he gave us a quick heads up as to where to find the campsite they had allocated us and we set off.
We did a quick ‘headlight’ tour of the campsite to try and pick the best spot in the dark. N picked out a good flat area with a tree for a bit of shade. So we pulled up the Land Cruiser, shut it down and went to work in the headlights (since fitting this Optima battery, plus having two back up starting options, battery anxiety is significantly decreased).
We put down the foam mats for under the tent and then unfolded the OzTent. I jumped inside, raised the roof, clicked in one side panel, went to click in the other side and... Pop! The bolt that holds those spars together sheared clean off. I got N to come a support the tent while I dived into the toolbox for some tape. Spars re-attached and taped firmly on the ‘up’ position, we smashed out the rest of the basic set up.
[to be fare this is probably this tent’s roughly 10th year of regular usage. It got packed away really wet once (here I think, when we ended up sleeping the Rangie and the tent went outside...) and that whole side is quite corroded. I actually went through all the bolts recently re-tightening them and the nut on this bolt wouldn’t turn. Like a fool I ignored this and so it has come back to bite me. Luckily it was just the start of a two night trip, not a two week trip... don’t ignore the signs friends. It annoys me that I have a history of buying good gear and getting lazy when it lets you know it has an issue (and nothing lasts for ever...).
All set up, N hit the sack while I stayed up nursing a few glasses of wine. Unwinding from the intensity of the night drive to get here. After a while I said “babe, come and look at this” she stumbled out of the tent to find me looking up at the stars. With no light pollution they were amazing. Crystal and perfectly clear all the way down to the horizon, this is the bit the city lights rob you of. Here you could see the ‘milky’ of the Milky Way very distinctly. It is a sight I will never grow tired of. No wonder it was so fascinating to the ancient people of this planet.
I stayed up a little longer, we talked a bit through the canvas of the tent. I could literally feel my petty day to day worries floating away, as I looked up at those stars. Nearly midnight, late for me. Time for bed.
We purposefully took it easy the next morning, no rushing. There were a few tracks I wanted to do but they shouldn’t take more than maybe 4 or 5 hours. So coffee, bacon and eggs, just enjoy a morning in the bush. These vaguely prehistoric birds would visit us for a short time each morning.
We stopped by the office to check in. I had already looked at the (very good) mud maps supplied and picked some of the tracks that were labelled more challenging and scenic. We were met by Jane, Warren’s wife? and Rex, a very adorable black and tan Kelpie. He was most fascinated by our pups, but was a bit big too play with them.
Jane and I went into the office so I could show her where I intended to go. I could see she was concerned. She asked me what was my previous experience, I told her I had done 4wding in many parts of the country, cut my teeth in Queensland and listed a few of the places I had been to in this region. She asked if I had done the Victorian High Country. I haven’t, but that is a big area. It’s like asking if you have done the Kimberley, some trails you can get down in a soft roader, a few would definitely be too much for me. [So, I had the same thing when I went to Warraweena. Stony wandered over to our camp on the first morning and checked out the rig and politely interrogated me as to my experience level. I totally get it, no one wants for people to get into trouble out here. Also this property is easily accessible from Adelaide, so would get a lot more variety of visitors than Warraweena] She said they normally get people to do a different loop first, it takes 2-3 hours, see how you find that.
I didn’t really want to waste a few hours on some Mickey Mouse trails, but I appreciated she didn’t know me anymore than the next Joe, and so played the game.
With hindsight, these were good trails. However I didn’t loiter or take many photos, I was keen to get this done and get to where I had intended to go from the outset.
The problem for Jane and for me, is that just about every property that has opened itself up to 4x4 exploration, lists its trails as ‘challenging’ 4wd-ing. The reality is that South Australia is so dry, sees little rain and the ground is so hard, that even if you have a steep trail (and there are plenty) it is generally a good and even surface. None of the big holes and wash-outs found in other parts of the country.
After completing our ‘qualifying’ tracks we returned to the office. An older lady came out this time “all ok?” “yeah, no worries” “good” and with that she disappeared inside. I was expecting Jane to come out and see how we went on the trails she had sent us on. Nothing. I played with Rex for a bit, still nothing. In the end I rang the bell, the older lady came out again “I was hoping to go and do the other tracks now” “oh that’s fine just sign out on the board and sign back in when you get back, so we know not to come and get you”.
N and the old lady talked a bit, about their ‘husbands’ taking them outside of their comfort zone. She said we would have fun and with that we were off. “Well that was a completely different interaction” I said.
I didn’t look at the map properly and we actually drove the wrong way, up to Hidden Valley. This area was pretty country, and they have walking trails here, that will be worth coming back for. So it wasn’t totally wasted effort.
Once I actually looked at the map properly we headed out to the Hungry Ranges.
The country on the way out was flat, and to be honest from here the hills looked pretty unassuming.
We started to wind up the first trail called Ridgetop. Again more walking trails come off this one. A quick stop at this viewpoint. Unlike the Mt Gill track at Warraweena, you can clearly see farmland from up here. At Warraweena you are considerably higher and all you can see for miles and miles is remote, uninhabited mountain/bush/desert. However, as I said that’s a bigger undertaking in time anyway, just to get there. So no complaints here.
There was the odd little step down and a few steep sections, but the surface was good so we just burbled up and down them in low range.
This is looking down into the gorge where the walking trails go I think. I must come back for them.
Again, this was a steep descent. Just a metre or so at a time.
The loose rocks meant the truck would slide down a bit with everything locked, but never very far at once. Like a lot of these trails, there is the potential for danger, you can’t be an idiot. However, they are not what I would consider technically challenging from a driving perspective. You don’t need to do much apart from know the basics and stay in control. Little did I know though, the technical challenge was yet to come...
All the trails are marked on the mud maps are in different colours to denote the degree of difficulty. We stopped by a creek bed for lunch.
After lunch we followed the East Fence Track along the back of the property, till we got to Billy Goat Ridge track.
This was the one that was rated by the 4x4 driving instructors that use it as ‘Advanced’ (it is actually marked on the mud map in a darker red to the other red tracks, denoting more difficult, can’t say I noticed till after. A totally different colour would have been better, the hardest tracks in MTB or Skiing are normally marked black, right?). Like most of us, I am entirely self taught. I don’t mean that to sound second-rate, because I do think a lot about my driving and actively work on skills and techniques. However I would like to do some actual training at some point. However the only 4x4 instructor I have met in person is, well, a bit of a dick...
Interesting colours in the rocks at the start.
We came to the first rise, ok, this was a bit more interesting.
That’s Billy Goat ahead. Of course the photo flattens it out, but even at the time, from here, I thought it doesn’t look that bad.
Then the start of the climb proper. I got out and walked this section, the big rock ledge to the left near the top was the issue.
There was a loose and soft line to the right seemed the obvious choice. However looking back from the top you could see the ledge would then tilt the truck further towards the edge of the ridge. So I tool the left line, more side angle, but when the truck crested the ledge, it tipped the truck level.
With a place to stop before the next section, time to evaluate what was to come. Now it was getting very steep and loose, I walked this section too. I saw a branch protruding up in the middle of the track, and thought to myself ‘first thing I’ll do is get rid of that bloody branch’ when I got to it I saw it had been wedged in place, no doubt some sort of marker for the instructors. Without said instructor here I wasn’t going to try and interpret it, but I left it in place. This time the safest line required again taking the far left of the trail, letting the front wheels up over the rock ledge at the crest and having walked it knowing there was enough room for them to them keep going straight, to give the rear wheels best chance of making it too. Then turn before driving over the edge, which you know is there but you can’t see, because all you can see is sky through the windscreen for an achingly long time.
Afterwards, I think I worked out what the branch was about. You may have heard of ‘driving the back axle’ in 4wd terminology, which means you have to consider the path you rear wheels will take, as it is different to the path the front wheels will take once you turn them. I think the branch was a marker to show people you shouldn’t turn your front wheels till the rear wheels are clear of the branch. So to avoid them having to travel over the large angular rocky patch at the bottom left of this photo.
Up this hill without lockers you really had to be ‘driving every wheel’ though. Get one wheel placement wrong and your progress would be halted.
So with the hill so steep, the surface so loose and some of the rocks properly large. It was critical to be picking the correct line. Speed was slow and hitting a large rock with not enough momentum or losing traction would mean you would be stuck on a very steep slope and having to face reversing down till you could get enough traction to have another go. I’ve had to back down some big hills before, it is to be avoided at all costs in my book.
So I had nutted out this section and executed it well. However, I foolishly hadn’t looked at what was to come. I was obviously expecting there to be another point we could stop and then work out the next tricky bit. As we came round the next corner I realised there was no let up now, till pretty much the top.
Sorry no photos, as well, I was kinda busy at this point...
We were committed having come this far and so I was having to make all those line decisions on the fly. Not just what we had coming up next but where does that line put you for the next 5-10 foot after that? Are you avoiding a big rock just to put yourself in a bad loose section?
My concentration was absolute now. Forcibly pushing consequential thoughts from my mind and just focusing on maintaining positive forward controlled motion. I was calling on every bit of experience and skill I had to process what needed to be done and the actually getting my body to execute it. There was a surprising amount of large steering inputs required and then very small precise inputs to the throttle, balancing the grip level vs actually making it up and over things was key. Too much loss of traction or wheel spin, with an open differential up front and a completely worn out rear limited slip version, would mean an abrupt ceasing of forward motion.
Bang! Big hit on the rear as we maxed out the rear departure angle. No time to worry about that now, truck was still moving forwards (the fact that is was such an almighty bang actually was good, that meant it was almost certainly the rear bar, bolted directly to the chassis, as opposed to the softer noise of an axle housing or either fuel tank, still both with 90 litres in...)
Eventually the top was in sight. However there was one big rock shelf left to do. I could feel myself starting to rush, not in actual vehicle speed, but my thought process. I was also concerned that we might not quite have the approach angle to take this hop up straight on.
Just before we got there I realised I can become too focused on the rock and not what was after it. Where we were was very steep but the surface was good, I stopped at the last minute “what’s going on?” N said. “I have to pick the line” I replied simply. I was going to tackle the rock shelf at its shallowest point, but now I realised that would lead me onto another protruding rock facing back towards us.
That could be enough to halt the truck, as there was no powering up this section. I quickly decided to tackle the rock face at a steeper point. If we didn’t have the approach angle we would know about it straight away and have this section to inch back on, this was better than getting stuck halfway over. The 105 climbed up and over, more windscreen with nothing but blue sky, then a rocky but clear run to the summit.
“That was good” I said to N at the top. I meant it. You need a challenge and to push yourself from time to time, that’s how you get experience and your skills improve. I thanked her for not saying anything stupid halfway up and breaking my concentration. The look on her face told me she had grasped the consequences of not getting up in one bite.
The 105 was mighty up there. I’m not religious, but I said a quick prayer to a God for having the new BFG’s on. It is very doubtful we would have made it with the old tyres, almost certainly not in one go. To be honest I would probably want lockers to be comfortable doing it again, at least the you have options if you lose traction.
I had to concede that the property owners were right to get you do some other trails before this. Even so, it’s a big step up from doing them to this track. A mate of mine had stayed here a few years ago. When I got back I asked him if he had done Billy Goat? “Nope, they closed it when I was there, someone had rolled their truck down it...”.
So, on reflection, what could I have done better?
Well, walked the trail properly. It’s the advice I always give and I didn’t follow it. Most trails in my experience tend to just have rough sections, with easier sections you can stop on in between, in my head I obviously just assumed this would be the same, and what is assumption the mother of...? The latter half of the hill was basically one long tough section, ok we made it up, but I would have been better prepared if I had walked it first.
I would have preferred to do this one by myself first, somehow N always seems to be with me for most of the challenges, maybe that’s just how it’s supposed to be, anyway she did great.
Maybe another 2 psi out of the tyres might have given a tad more grip, but then we got up on 22 psi, no sidewall damage, so maybe not.
With a relatively easy descent we were soon back on the flat farmland, leaving gates as we found them, soon back at the property.
We signed back in.
One for Bloody and the Rover lads, very cool.
Beer’o’clock fo sho!
N said she was ready for a nanna nap, the tent was fairly hot, so I got our new friend Kevin from the truck, Kevin the Kooler!
We bought this portable evaporative air conditioner after a recent power out. Anyway must have worked well as she was off with the fairies by the time I got back from having a shower.
I bummed around the campsite, practiced splitting wood with the Parang and took a few photos.
By then N had surfaced, was snacking on chips and cheese. So I thought I might crack on with dinner. Tonight we were having tri-tip steak Korean style. Tri-tip isn’t a common cut over here, but I think you US guys get it more regularly. I had seen it at Costco and wondered what you do with it. I found this recipe which I have cooked a few times now and thought it would make a good camping dish.
Marinate the steak in soy sauce (or soy sauces if you have more than one variety), ginger, garlic, sugar and lemon/vinegar/lime juice (not all 3 just something for the acid element) to taste.
In an ideal world after overnight in the marinade, you slice the steak thinly and thread it onto a pre-soaked skewer (tri-tip is heavily marbled with fat but a bit chewy, hence the thin slicing) then cook the skewers over charcoal, the slicing then also gives you lots of great surfaces to char up. Due to the high marbling you don’t need to get too worried about over-cooking it, I just cook it till it looks tasty on the outside. Previous experimenting here.
Even for me that’s a bit too much faffing around for camping, so I just cooked these like a steak in a pan, and then sliced them. I serve them in lettuce leaves with vermicelli noodles, sesame seeds and sliced kimchi. The dressing is mayonnaise, soy, black vinegar, sweet chilli sauce and finely sliced
cilantro coriander stem. It’s basically all prepped beforehand and then just cook the noddles and the steak and put is all together.
There is a fire pit in every campsite and we planned to have a fire that night.
We sat and talked through the day’s events. I explained the decision making processes going up the hill, and we talked about risk and stuff. She’s been around me enough now to trust my judgement, and that these sorts of experiences are all part and parcel of it. Sometimes thing goes right, sometimes not so much, but as long as you learn from such things you will be better equipped next time. Once the sun set and a few drinks in, the tiredness from the day’s activities hit me. I thought by the time I get that fire going I’m gonna fall asleep next to it (done that before!). Bed then, some k’s to do tomorrow.
I slept through till just as it was getting light. We were heading home today, but not too far to go, so no need for mad rushing. Soft morning light is good.
We said our goodbyes to Warren, Jane and their dogs and headed out. Good to be in the light on this fast road out this time, as there were still plenty of animals to avoid.
Luckily these were behind a fence. Although we did also see young Bulls at the side of the road, one of those you do not want to hit...
About halfway back we stopped in Burra as planned.
We ambled around, got another coffee, had a look in the tourist information. I like to blend a bit of normal tourist stuff with the more ‘outback’ stuff. I saw a place called Worlds End Gorge if we went a different way home. So we did that (I actually think we went there when we very first had the Range Rover, driving from Adelaide to Brisbane, but the memory is vague).
Always good to journey a different way. This took us to the outskirts of the mostly German settled Barossa Valley, as indicated by this Lutheran Church we passed.
All weekend I was making notes. Things that we had forgotten (pillow - me - stuff sac special...), and things we should be adding to the kit. Mostly just small details.
I’ll need to contact OzTent about replacing the broken bolt, may as well do all the bolts while I am at it.
The truck stays packed. Thanks for reading along. More adventures to come...