Off-roading in the Outback

4WD Training in Quorn

Near the Flinders Ranges, in the town of Quorn, we elected to stop for a few days and take a 4WD training course so we could do some off-roading and actually know what we’re doing. Quorn is a pretty tiny town (~1300 people) whose claim to fame is the Pichi Richi Railway, which is the last remaining segment of The Old Ghan Railroad. You can ride the original refurbished trains on the weekend. Quorn also has a number of cute cafes, though everything closes quite early. We stayed at the local caravan park, which while being right in the middle of town was still full of parrots, bunnies, and possums, which was pretty exciting.

The Pichi Richi Railway.
The Pichi Richi Railway.

The company that we decided to do our training with is called Pindan Tours and 4WD Training, which is run by Norman and Coralie Bee. Norman described himself as an “ex-farmer” but is also ex-chairman of the Driver Training Unit of 4WD South Australia, a driving instructor for learner drivers, and also has every driving license except for motorcycles and semis. They offer training for governmental departments and other organizations, but as it was just the two of us they invited us into their home. This was awesome because it meant we got to have a “cuppa” a lot, as well as homemade vegemite scrolls (our first vegemite experience, not bad!) and delicious wraps. The first day of our two day basic course was the theory part, which meant that I kinda zoned out a bunch (sorry!) but Chris asked lots of questions. There were the mandatory grainy videos and driving horror stories that all driver’s training seems to have, but Norman also demonstrated concepts with a little model car, which was a surprisingly effective teaching tool. I don’t remember everything about the drive train stuff but I do know now that the diff (short for differential) is the low-hanging bit that you don’t want to bang things in to. Since Norman and Coralie also lead 4WD tours, we got lots of advice about places to go on our trip round Oz. Norman also looked under the hood of our Pajero and promptly found some problems (auxiliary battery not even hooked up, battery cradle broken, fuse replaced with a bit of wire) so we knew we’d have to put a call into Travellers Autobarn.

On day two it was the practical stuff, which we were both pretty nervous about. We started with learning the proper techniques for changing a flat tire. The sweet thing was by using a shovel, you don’t need a lot of upper body strength to heft tires around, so I was actually better than Chris at getting everything all lined up.

Changing a tire!
Changing a tire!
How I remove a tire.
How I remove a tire.

We also went for a drive (with Chris and I switching) where we went to some pretty steep slopes. We were nervous, but with Norm’s help, we successfully completed a few key stop starts in case we started going up a hill and had to reverse back down. We got up to Hanglider Hill, where people used to jump off with gliders. After lunch, we went to some sand and had “a bit of a play” as Norman would say. Luckily we didn’t have our gear in the back or we would have been “bogged” for sure, until we lowered our tire pressures a bunch. We then got to have fun doing some loops in the sand with Norman yelling out “MORE POWER” a bunch. Then we did some snatch strap recoveries. Although we are travelling solo and so won’t have the benefit of someone in our convoy snatching us out, it was good to learn the right way in case we are good samaritans one day.

Side note: As we were walking around in the sand Norman came up to us and was like, “If you see a little thing wiggling in the sand don’t touch it, that is the tail of a Death Adder”. Never far from poisonous things here!

4WD drivin'.
4WD drivin’.

Lastly we did a bit of gravel road defensive driving, which was pretty fun as we got to purposely drive like “hoons” (Australian slang for delinquent reckless drivers) by swerving around to practice correcting the swerve without fishtailing everywhere. There was also an exciting and stressful game where Norman would randomly yell out “Roo!” and then we had to stop as fast as possible without locking up the brakes.

On top of Hang Glider Hill!
On top of Hang Glider Hill!

On day three (we got a bonus day!) Norman, who had become our Australian dad at this point, came with us down to Port Augusta (a larger town nearby Quorn) and made sure the mechanical issues that we had found with the car were sorted out properly. We had lunch at Macca’s and Chris and Norman basically compared Canada and Australia on everything. We learned tipping isn’t really a thing here, and also that tax is usually included (making for nice round numbers when paying for things). We also got some supplies for the vehicle (coolant, oil, etc.), washed it, and got the tires balanced. This is also when we learned that because we have larger rims on our car than standard, our speedometer is off, so we have been speeding a bit so far!

We then went back to Norman’s house, where he spent the next couple hours finding things wrong with our car and fixing them. I got bored but Chris got to have some male bonding time helping tighten belts and pull things apart and put them back together. Since Norman had gotten a bit carried away with the car, we got to stay for “tea” (dinner) and delicious ice cream. Norman and Coraline then pointed out pretty much every cool thing on the western side of Australia we could see on their giant wall map. We are super thankful that we met them because they took us under their wing and made sure that we started the next leg of our journey on the right foot.

Successfully completed 4WD training!
Successfully completed 4WD training!

Wilpena Pound

After Quorn, we headed up to the Flinder’s Ranges and went to a campsite/resort in Wilpena Pound. We went on a hike to Wangarra Lookout, where we learned that the reason it is called a pound is because it is a valley with no exit, a.k.a. perfect to stick a bunch of sheep in. Until they die of thirst, that is.

Views of Wilpena Pound.
Views of Wilpena Pound.

We also got to see a cute family of emus and this sweet lizard.

A mob of emus.
A mob of emus.
Goanna!
Goanna!

We also did the Brachina Gorge Geological Trail. There was some good rocky road which made us feel like we were almost 4 wheel driving (it is actually classified as 2WD but it is rough!) We saw a bunch of sign posts of different rock formations and thought that Ryan would like this…

The Brachina Gorge geological trail.
The Brachina Gorge geological trail.
Rock formations.
Rock formations.

We did the Bunyeroo Scenic Drive on the way back, where we got a lot of lovely views of the mountains.

The Bunyeroo Gorge scenic drive.
The Bunyeroo Gorge scenic drive.

At the campground we discovered you can go in the resort pool if you are camping, HOWEVER, they don’t seem to heat their pools here so ICEBERG pools = 5 second swims.

Woke up one morning and there was a roo at our campsite...
Woke up one morning and there was a roo at our campsite…
Young roo.
Young roo.

ALSO when we were in Quorn there was a huge spider in a bag in our tent that Chris chased away, only to later find him (or his brother or something) in our car, peering out at us from the underside of our bed. We had already been doing a bit of a spider search of the car before sleeping but now this experience has made that protocol mandatory!

Arkaroola

We took the drive to Arkaroola through Blinman which was an interesting unsealed road drive, with some “gibber rock” (sharp red stones), hills, and sandy patches. The Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is a resort/camping ground/wilderness sanctuary that was set up by a geologist, so this is their front entrance:

Ark Henge, showcasing the rocks of the region.
Ark Henge, showcasing the rocks of the region.

When we got in, we had an orientation of all the things to do, like drives and walks. The lady at the reception said that the Echo Camp Backtrack was “extreme 4WD” and “difficult”. We mentioned we had just done a 4WD course but she was skeptical. She told us to do the Station Backtrack and some of the other routes as a test, so off we went!

The Station Backtrack was pretty straightforward, and we got to go up a steep hill to a viewpoint called Frome Lookout. Then we went to Arkaroola Waterhole to find yellow-footed rock wallabies.

Driving the Station Backtrack.
Driving the Station Backtrack.
A big climb.
A big climb.

Going to look for the yellow-footed rock wallabies was actually the main reason I wanted to come to Arkaroola, as they are quite hard to find in most of Australia but there is a large population of them here (which is either because of or why the sanctuary exists). The best way to see them, we were told, is to go to one of the waterholes at dawn or dusk. We chose dusk (obviously, as it’s much easier), and were not disappointed! They are quite shy so photographing them takes a bit of stealth. After driving up the creek bed and then hiding behind some rocks I managed to snag some good shots though. It was like National Geographic up in here.

Yellow-footed rock wallabies!
Yellow-footed rock wallabies!
Cute <3.
Cute <3.

The second day we decided to start off our morning with the Acadia Ridge hike, which has some of the best views of the ranges. We made excellent time as Chris was powering along, due to both wanting to beat the various grey nomads who were also on the trail, and also because there were a lot of ants. For some reason Chris’s relationship with ants is “It’s Christopher, let’s bite his feet!” which drives him bananas but gives me some pretty hilarious visuals.

Chris on the Acacia Ridge summit.
Chris on the Acacia Ridge summit.
Me on the Acacia Ridge summit.
Me on the Acacia Ridge summit.

Anyway we made it to the summit and back just as the restaurant was opening up for lunch, so we decided to reward ourselves with roo burgers, which were amaaaaaazing. Is it wrong to enjoy viewing an animal in the wild, then immediately eating it later?

Chris being super excited about his roo burger.
Chris being super excited about his roo burger.

After lunch we did some more 4WD practice by driving out to Arkaroola Springs, as well as Bollabollana Springs and the crazily named Nooldoonooldoona Waterhole. It was quite windy out though so not that much wildlife was around.

The view around Arkaroola.
The view around Arkaroola.

Our last day we went to drive the Echo Camp Backtrack. Chris had to sign some forms saying we understood that it was a difficult track, that we didn’t hold Arkaroola liable, and that we had “advanced 4WD training” (gulp!). It was going to be our first tricky 4WD track, but we figured it was a good place to do it since they automatically send a search and rescue party for you if you fail to return “within reasonable time”. Once we got the keys to the gate off we went!

Starting the "extreme" Echo Camp Backtrack!
Starting the “extreme” Echo Camp Backtrack!

The first part of the track is pretty steep and rocky but with our skills we had gotten from Norman and our trusty low range, it was pretty straight forward.

Driving down some mountains.
Driving down some mountains.

We then went to Barraranna Gorge, which was much more “extreme”. There was a few steep sections where divots had been created by other drivers. Chris was a little white-knuckled on this part. On the way back his face was a pretty scrunched, especially since on one downslope he heard an ominous clang on the undercarriage. But no harm done!

Made it to Barraranna Gorge!
Made it to Barraranna Gorge!

The gorge was worth the drive though, as it also contained Stubbs Waterhole, the most full waterhole we’d seen in Arkaroola, which meant that we got to sit and watch a lot of kangaroos and wallabies come and go.

Wallaby!
Wallaby!

There were some more hills, nice lookouts, and fun rock formations throughout the rest of the drive, which gradually got easier as we wound our way back to the main road. We finished within 4 hours, the recommended amount of time, and with no real damage to the car except for some “bush pinstrips” (i.e. scratches in the paint from branches and the like), so it was a pretty good success!

Our last evening we decided to make ourselves some tea and go stake out Arkaroola Waterhole to watch the roos as the sun went down. It was Chris’s idea (as he is the patient one) to sit quietly and watch them come out to drink, and it worked amazingly. We got to see the fun dynamics between the roos and the wallabies as everyone jockeyed for position at the waterhole. We watched until it got dark, then felt a bit guilty when we eventually got up and all the animals went scattering back to the trees.

Drinking at the waterhole.
Drinking at the waterhole.
The view from our sneaky hiding spot.
The view from our sneaky hiding spot.

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