Of course the day we packed up to leave Melrose meant the sun came out in force. Our last day in Melrose had been 22 C and wet, today and tomorrow would be 33 C and cloudless. Whilst visiting the eclectic and rather dust filled toy museum in Wilmington a few days previously, the odd father and son team there had rather enthusiastically suggested we visit the Toy and Model Train Show in Clare. It was only a 130 km detour, so down we drove, closing to within 50 km of our mid February route up the Spencer Gulf. The drive to and from Clare was vastly different to anything we have seen so far, rolling hills of wheat stretch to the horizon, with only a few small vineyards of famed Clare Valley grapes visible close to town.


Whilst the collection of toys, model trains and remote control everythings was impressive, I was quickly reminded of the types of adults that spend their time making and collecting and building bespoke models and radio controlled toys, let’s just say it was a curious assortment. Usually slightly tubby dads in thongs and mismatched clothes followed by equally ill-dressed bored looking kids. The elderly gents who make the ride-on steam trains and tractors are a different lot altogether, very passionate and clearly reliving a steam filled youth. Highlights were Sam getting to drive a miniature steam tractor, seeing a huge submarine in the lake, complete with real life submariner, an obligatory steam train ride for the boys and spotting a rare and very original 1948 FX Holden.


We set up in Peterborough’s only caravan park and were there to visit the town’s main attraction, the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre. This is where the ungainly policy decisions of late 19th century rail met, with three rail gauges converging at the world’s only remaining triple gauge turntable. In the morning we were shown around the rail museum, which is relatively ‘hands on’, and comprises an excellent collection of yesteryear diesels, steam trains and carriages. Including a gorgeous first class ‘Transcontinental’ carriage from the 20’s, complete with piano. A bygone era when rail conductor resumes included piano playing to various degrees. The day time tours run continuously, meaning the tour guides get progressively duller as the day drags on. At least we got to see the Indian Pacific go past, which the tour guide assured us that in her four years here, “It’s been early once and on time once, but it’s normally late”.



One of the best town entry signs we’ve seen. There are three more.


The working triple gauge turntable – the last of its kind anywhere.


James bashing out Beethoven’s Ninth on the out of tune ivory.


That afternoon, on Kris’s insistence, we drove to Magnetic Hill, an AMAZING phenomenon whereby ‘you put the car in neutral, and the unusual magnetic field pulls it up the hill’. The car does indeed roll, but after a quick check with a spirit level, I confirmed that most things should roll downhill! The intersection of the gently sloping downhill road and the adjacent uphill sloping wheat fields causes an optical illusion. Myth Busted!

Magnetic hill

The middle pic suggests you’d roll forward, you don’t, it’s an optical illusion.

Back at the van park, we had a swim in the pool before dinner. After that it was getting ready for the rail museum’s much anticipated ‘Light and Sound Show’. This expensive add-on to the day time tour was sold in the brochures as ‘spectacular’ and ‘not to be missed’. You sit in an old train carriage on the now stationary turntable and they project a documentary of local rail history onto a roller door. At the start and end of the ‘show’, coloured lights come on around a few of the old engines and carriages, oh and there’s a smoke machine. The sound quality was very poor and we all agreed that whilst the doco was interesting, the ‘show’ was very underwhelming. I hope Wiki Camps or Trip Adviser comments soon sort them out.


After a short drive we stopped in at Wilmington to look for a Puppet museum (apparently the only one in Australia) whose pamphlet I picked up in Quorn. We found it only after stumbling on a toy museum first. The boys loved both of them, though I think they found the fellow running the puppet museum a little creepy.

Wilmington toy museum – 40 years of collecting by dad (still going strong), now begrudgingly co-run by his son.

Wilmington puppet museum – ‘the only museum of its kind in Australia’ – weird!

We found our way to Melrose showground, a budget campground at the foot of Mount Remarkable. We set up ahead of forecast rain, which we were quite excited about as we hadn’t seen rain since the Pilbara way back in May. It was a novelty after so much dust (at least for the first hour or so). What we got was 24 hours of storms. Lightning, thunder, winds, forecasted large hail stones (luckily these didn’t arrive), horizontal rain and power outages. Then constant drizzle for the next two days till it finally cleared.

Melrose rain

With walks in the NP postponed I set the boys up in one of the showground sheds with their Lego to see out the rain whilst Julian set himself up in the van to catch up on blog posts.  We managed to wander into to Melrose and found a quaint little town complete with giant trees and hand-painted Stobie poles.


A drive into the north end of Mt Remarkable NP got us to Alligator Gorge where we attempted the loop walk.  It was a gorge very reminiscent of Karijini in WA but with taller gums lining the waterway. Unfortunately the recent rain meant rising river levels, which forced us to turn back. James added some excitement by falling in, twice.


We had planned to climb the summit of Mt Remarkable on our last day, but low cloud made the attempt a bit pointless, so we pottered around the camp site, with the boys playing in the local creek.


The boys added their ‘dead’ pairs of shoes to a shoe tree. James was upset because his crocs had ‘taken him to so many places’.


With legs weary from the day’s climb to St Marys Peak, we headed down the road to Quorn for the night – and the closest thing we had seen to a supermarket in weeks. Quorn is a quant little colonialesque styled town centred around the historic train station, built in 1879 to service the shiny new Ghan railway line. It seems to be frozen in the era it was built, with many of the original sandstone buildings still in use. After a quick restock the next morning, we were on our way.


The main street. I was obviously enchanted with the place – this is a stock image.


At least the caravan park was quiet. Just what we needed to recover from the walk.

Wilpena Pound – Flinders Ranges

We had planned a third night at Aroona Ruins, but decided to head back to Wilpena for a crack at St Mary’s Peak. This decision was based on the weather forecast, which predicted a 10 degree drop in temperature. One minor hiccup was two near flat batteries in the truck, reasons unknown. I lugged the gel battery out of the caravan to dump enough charge into the car for a start when a friendly visitor came along. They were summarily flagged down and jumper leads attached.  We were soon away and enjoying hot showers at Wilpena.


All smiles – at the start of the walk.

Next morning was cool and cloudy. Perfect for a walk. There is excellent signage and appropriate advice for walkers here, a better approach I think than the overly protective ‘mothering’ we saw at Uluru and Kata Tjuta.


Views of the Pound from the saddle.


Weary but still smiling.

The walk starts off gently, but as you ascend the outer pound wall, it quickly gets steep and requires good balance, especially for me as I ended up with three backpacks. The view from the summit of St Marys peak is a magnificent 360 degree panorama that takes in Wilpena Pound, the ABC ranges to the north and lets you see almost to the Spencer Gulf to the west. From the summit, we watched a monster storm engulf the northern ranges, so we ate a quick lunch and took our wobbly legs back down. Well worth the effort.  K – despite Sam’s predictions that the return walk would be “utterly miserable” in the rain, we managed to scamper back in front of the rain, only ever putting up with a light sprinkle – very pleasant indeed.

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Vital statistics from the walk.

Aroona Ruins – Flinders Ranges

After one final farewell coffee with Eric, we packed up and drove to Wilpena.  The original plan of climbing St Mary’s peak had been delayed because of Eric’s sprained ankle but today it was Kris who pulled the plug by declaring that it would be beyond her to walk 16 km up 600 odd metres in 36 degrees so we had to settle for a quick 8 km walk to Wangara Lookout. This follows a river bed lined by magnificent towering gums into the pound before climbing a lesser peak inside the pound for decent panoramic views.



View of Wilpena Pound from Wangara Lookout.

After some deliberation we decided to move on to the Northern Flinders at Aroona Ruins (National Park campsite), the site of a failed sheep station from the early nineteenth century and also the site of inspiration for Hans Heysen, the brilliant German watercolour artist. We stayed here for two peaceful nights. A few cars visited during the day, but we were alone both nights. Given the heat, still 36+ we thought we would have a couple of rest days.  This gave the boys a chance to relax and play (spent mostly building card houses), whilst I used the last of my dwindling stock of steel wool for some more ‘fire twirling’ pictures in the river bed.


   Campfire dinner on the last night before a total fire ban is enforced in SA.


Sam hanging out near Aroona Ruins natural spring.

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On our second morning, I walked an 8 km section of the 1200 kilometre long Heysen Trail. This takes you to an excellent vantage point looking out over the ABC ranges. This was apparently the inspiration for many of Heysen’s paintings.  Given the annoyance of flies by day (they were prolific again) and insects by night we decided to bail at lunch and head back to Wilpena Pound ready to tackle St Mary’s peak the next morning.


Views of the ABC Ranges from Heysen’s lookout. Curiously his paintings show these hills almost completely devoid of trees.