Speak to almost any Australian traveller and you will quickly find that the Flinders Ranges in South Australia is often found very highly on their bucket list. Previously, the Flinders had been renowned for its vast landscapes, tough tracks and cracking campsites. Nowadays, many of these iconic tracks have been graded, allowing the standard family sedan and even tour buses to negotiate the terrain. Fortunately for us with 4WDs, there are still places we can lock the hubs and get our fix.
The property within the Bendleby Ranges is a working sheep station located in the southern part of the Flinders Ranges, spreading across both the Bendleby and Hungry Ranges. From Adelaide, a short three-hour stint on the blacktop finds you at Orroroo, which is the last stop for food, fuel and mechanical supplies before entering the property. From Orroroo, you follow the R.M Williams Way north for around a kilometre, then turn right onto the dirt at a well sign-posted turn-off. From here, it is around 50km on the dirt before you reach the homestead.
Once we arrived at homestead, were greeted by the lovely property owner Jane, who helped organize our accommodation and passed on maps of the property. The station has been set up to accommodate all walks of life, with several cottages available, as well powered campsites and of course bush camping. Being the only visitors at the property during the time of travel, we had our choice of sites, and settled on one of the most northern campsites as our base camp for the weekend. Unfortunately, the hot temperatures and prevailing winds meant that a fire ban was in place.
The ‘River Gum’ campsite is nestled within a valley, with the surrounding mountains providing protection from the elements. Drop toilets are located near the site. By the time we had unloaded the rigs and set up camp, it was late afternoon, so we decided on exploring some of the hills by foot, rather than take the trucks out. Once we scaled the mountains, we were blessed with a spectacular view of the surrounding ranges and the vast plains. The sunset was surreal to say the least. Once back down the hill, a solid dinner and plenty of beers prepped us for the following day. After the sets, the sky puts on an absolute show with thousands of stars coming out, making it almost difficult to fall asleep with the swag open.
The next day saw a religious serving of bacon and eggs to fuel the big day ahead. We began by exploring the tracks within the Bendleby Ranges as recommended by the owners. These tracks offer a large variety of different terrains to be tackled, varying from crawling through dry creek beds to scrambling for traction up the ranges. All tracks are clearly marked with their difficulty on the provided map, making this part of the property suitable for all types of vehicles and experience levels. Our pick of the bunch were the Link Track and the Kokoda Trail, which both sported exhilarating driving and breathtaking views.
After tackling all of the tracks of interest in the Bendleby Ranges and refueling our bellies for lunch, we proceeded back to the homestead where we were briefed about the tracks in the Hungry Ranges. Jane explained to us that the tracks in the Bendleby Ranges were used as a warm up before sending travelers up the most difficult tracks in the property.
With the sun slowly setting, we were instructed to drive what the owners called the ‘classic route’. This involved first taking the Ridge Top up and over the ranges before the descending down the back end. The track begins quite slow, making you question the difficulty rating and precautions by the owners, however before you know it, you find yourself negotiating large ruts, and scrambling for traction on shoal climbs. Picking the right gear and line is all so vital here. More often then not, you find yourself looking only at sky due to the steepness of the track but once you reach the ridgeline, it all becomes worth it. The terrain flattens significantly and you are provided with some of the best views you will ever find in the Flinders.
The descent down is just as sketchy as the way up, with it being even steeper. Your seatbelt will be the only thing holding you back in your seat. The way down sports the same loose rocks and ruts, meaning first gear low range is the only way to get down safely. Again some care needs to be taken to avoid panel damage. Once we reached the bottom we followed the track to the right towards Billy Goat Ridge, which has been deemed the most difficult track on the property.
Before arriving at Billy Goat Ridge, we were teased by the track in. We all knew that the track went back over the ranges, and several clearings at the base of the ranges got our hopes up for the climb. Everyone was nervous, but also excited, and once we finally reaching the bottom of the hill, we knew exactly what we were in for. Seeing a track, only a few metres wide veering up the side of a mountain with drops both sides is enough to send butterflies through anyone’s stomach.
Once we began the climb, it quickly became apparent why the track had gained such a wrap. Tyre-puncturing and diff-smashing rocks are found from start to finish, meaning high clearance and high levels of experience are required to attempt this track. Sudden drop offs are found only centimetres off the main track, putting everyone on edge. Majority of the track has a single line that has to be taken to avoid sliding off the edge. Around halfway up you are presented with the greatest challenge of the track, where diagonal rock steps are found across the track. A few different lines can be taken, but all of them require a heap of care to avoid falling off the edge of the world, and getting a spotter out is very highly recommended. Just when you think you’vepast all the difficult rock steps and ruts, you are faced with one final metre high but awkwardly angled rock step that will definitely get the juices flowing, and that LSD or lockers really working. The angles and the height add to the difficulty of this track and will satisfy the hunger of any experienced wheeler.The way down feels like a piece of cake compared to what you’ve experienced on the way up. Again it’s just a matter of selecting first gear low and letting engine braking do its thing. Once we returned were back on level ground and stopped by the homestead, we found ourselves back at camp cooking up a storm and kicking back for the night to prepare us to head home in the morning.
Although the Bendleby Ranges sports some of the toughest tracks within the Flinders Ranges, the easier tracks make this property ideal for many different types of trucks, but also many different experience levels. Being located only a few hours from Adelaide, this station is perfect for a weekender. The scenic driving and excellent camping will definitely give you the fix you’ve been searching for.
For more information about the property at the Bendleby Ranges visit www.bendlebyranges.com.au or call (08) 8658 9064
Article & images by Dion Katemis