Telowie Gorge Conservation Park

Telowie Gorge Conservation Park is located in the Southern Flinders Ranges, roughly east of Port Germein. I decided to make the trip there after briefly visiting the place a couple of years ago during the summer. Even then the creek was flowing slightly (there had been a substantial amount of rain proceeding my arrival) and given the wet winter the area had so far this year I was very keen to visit the place. The area rises sharply off the coastal plains, and although not the highest point in the area, it appears to have the largest purely foothills catchment, with the upper catchment being located in a significantly wet place when compared to surrounding areas. The higher peaks of the area are known to average up to 700mm which is high by South Australian standards. The park itself rises off the plains from 100m to 600m at the most south eastern point, it does so over a rather short distance and so the hills can be very steep in places. Because of the large catchment and high rainfall, Telowie Creek flows well during the winter months and over the course of many many thousands of years has cut out a deep gorge for which the park is named.

The trip to the park itself was interesting with drizzle and fog conditions persisting for much of the trip from the Clare Valley to the area. Even the relatively dry area of Port Pirie was shrouded in a thin fog and drizzle at damn near sea level, lots of moisture around. I stopped at the Rocky River in Gladstone for a quick look as I knew it had had high flows from an event back in June. The river was still running well and you could see the debris marking the height of the water, in places the backing up of water was obvious with it maybe even breaching its banks ever so slightly. The adjacent farming land is looking good as a result of these rains.

Getting out to the Gorge was a bit of trouble since I wasn’t sure which roads were suitable for a 2wd, given it was rather wet. I ended up trying from the Port Germein Gorge road and although unmarked the 2 roads southward closest to the ranges turned to a clay mess very quickly and I had to bail on them. Back near the highway I found a much better and properly sealed road that ran diagonally towards the gorge. I followed this and eventually got out there with little trouble, although halfway I had to stop to allow a flock of sheep to cross the road. It was quite foggy in this area with light drizzle and visibility down to 200m or so, I still hadn’t even seen the majestic ranges. I found where the two roads I tried previously joined onto mine, noticing dry weather road only signs on them, might be handy if they were to put signs at the other end also!

When I finally arrived at the park the rain had cleared but I was still left with a lingering fog. It was quite cool, maybe around ten degrees, perfect weather for hiking. I could finally make out the steep hills rising either side of me from the fog and could hear the creek flowing loudly from through the scrub. I planned to follow the Nukunu Trail up the gorge before continuing on as far as possible. When I first seen the creek I was surprised at the amount of water flowing through it, in  the flatter parts in spanned maybe 5-8m of flowing water and was quite clear, at least for South Australia. The Nukunu Trail would be straight forward in Summer I’d image when flows are low to non existent, the pictures I’ve seen from summer tend to show a dry creek bed with only a few permanent waterholes. However with the flow being quite high, the trails crossed in places where you would need to get wet feet to cross. The further I progressed up, the more difficult it was to follow the creek as the slope began to rise and the creek ran faster. I would imagine during a high flow event, as was evident in debris much higher than the river flow, it would be nearly impossible to even cross without losing footing. I came to a sign that recommended experienced bush walkers only to continue far beyond this point but the trail remained relatively clear from foot traffic. The next 500m or so was similarly easy to the trail but the sides steepened and became higher. It really is an amazingly deep gorge as you need to bend your neck right back to see the tops of the hills in places. It was apparent that the wind was being funneled through the gully up high as even over the sound of the creek, a roar at times could be heard and trees could be seen swaying on the ridge top. Many more awkward creek crossings up ahead and some waterholes surprisingly deep, maybe up to around 1.5m in places were seen.

I came to an opening in the gorge where it widened and flattened out, not before having to climb up a a dozen scattered small waterfalls. Where it widened out there was an extraordinary stand of simply beautiful native pines with cliffs to either side rising up maybe 80m straight up. There were huge chucks of rocks, up to the size of buses scattered around the area, evidently fallen from the tops of the cliffs where some of these giant boulders remained, weathering away. The creek also split into two distinct streams here, as this was the area where the two main streams converged to form the Telowie Creek. The creek that drained from the South appeared to have marginally more flow but it was hard to tell, pretty even really. Now I had originally planned to take the southern stream to find a point at which to climb to the ridge line to avoid what I had read to be very difficult terrain up the main gorge. However it came to be that the sides steepened to sheer cliffs, with a waterfall plunging maybe 3 metres, with a reasonably high volume of water, over a lip in the cliff. This was essentially unclimbable and meant that I would need to find another way, but I didn’t mind as damn was this spot nice. Water action over the years had cut into the rock behind the waterfall creating a concave rockface that was incredibly smooth. The small lagoon just out from the waterfall had a beautiful gum tree and either side cliffs rose out of the valley. I had to climb down a 2 metre ledge, onto a tree and then onto where river debris had created a bit of a shore to the right side of the lagoon. This allowed me to set up the tripod and get some images of it, which was difficult as it was raining + waterfall spray. Behind the waterfall itself was a near deafening  roar and it was very surreal. To my disappointment I noticed some idiots had carved their initials into the smooth rock face, environmental vandalism, and completely unnecessary in my opinion. I fired a few quickfire shots from behind the waterfall, and decided to head further up the main gorge, since there was nowhere to safely climb out of the gorge in this area.

The walk up the now smaller creek was straightforward at first, however it quickly became harder and harder to make progress, with trees, a narrow ledge on which to walk and deep pools  making it a tight squeeze at times. I came to a ledge, angled maybe 20-25 degrees, sloping into the creek and covered in moss. This was a 20 or so metre scramble across trying to place feet in cracks to avoid slipping into the waterhole. It was from here on things became near impossible with the amount of gear I was carrying. I had the choice of scaling a small cliff, then walking across a slippery narrow path across a cliff face to the other side or walking through knee deep water. I opted for the cliff face, not before testing it without my gear. It seemed alright so on i progressed, however this is where I hit the end of the line. The creek goes to veer hard north with a left turn just after this spot. The spot consists of maybe 70 degree rockface either side of the creek and maybe 4-5ft of water to swim through to progress. The sides before the waterhole are also very steep. I could see a way forward, by stepping up stones onto a very high ledge and shuffling across but it didn’t really seem worth it. At this stage from the frequent showers, fog and dripping trees I was pretty well drenched. I figured there was no way I was going to get out of the gorge safely from anywhere I had walked, and it only being 2.15pm I turned around with the aim of arriving back at the car park by 3pm. Knowing the general way to head back made it quick and relatively easy. I was surprised to see only 300m back from my turnaround point a dad with his kids. The walk back was pretty uneventful but I continued to lap in the incredible atmosphere, the fog covered ridges above me and the bird calls echoing.

After a lot of effort I made it back to the car park by the time I had hoped. I really wanted to head up the ridge to see the gorge from above and lap up the views of the Spencer Gulf from the higher areas. This gave me 2 hours and 15 minutes to do it before sunset. The low cloud had gradually been lifting during the day and for now I could finally see the foothills of the ranges.

I had originally wanted to climb to the top of the gorge on the northern side by going around the deepest part of the gorge, to save me extra walking up along the fire tracks, but inevitably I ended up doing a relatively short fire track that involved the Western Boundary Track and then up onto Whytes Track which rose to somewhere around 375m asl. By map this was a short 2.5km walk, however rising almost 300m in only 1.5km of that distance is brutal. The rain had finally cleared at this stage and up I went!

To say this walk wasn’t very challenging would be a lie, I was trying to make good time, but for this leg of the track, along the Western Boundary Track, rose sharply up and down over and over and I could already feel myself tiring in the legs. Once you reach Whytes Track however, that’s when the real challenge begins. From this point it is nothing but a steep, endless, at times slippery and very gravelly road all the way to the top. It was interesting to see as I gained altitude I somehow timed it to be right on the boundary of the cloud base, and so my views down onto the plains were always quite misty.

I stopped about 3 times, just to relieve the aching muscles in my legs during the ascent to the top. At about the 200m mark there is an opening in the scrub with incredible views to the north and west. From here it is easy to see across the gulf down onto the Point Lowly area, and more northward to the hills between Whyalla and Port Augusta. From this point onwards it gets a little less steep as the ridge top starts to rise less rapidly. I noticed the ridge had curved around to a more westerly direction and amazing views could be seen down Telowie Gorge back towards the plains. I did about 300m of proper bush walking looking for a clear view and the scrub is seriously thick in places, but I got there in the end. The low cloud was at my level again, but the view down the gorge wasn’t blocked fortunately. I found a bullet shell up here as well which surprised me a little at first, but given the goat and fox problems, it was to be expected. I continued onwards with the trek until I finally met a cross roads and a bit of a camp spot with some remnant ash. The road to the left lead to a higher spot than the right, however the hill to the left was well shrouded in fog, and to the right I expected some nice views overlooking the gorge. Another couple of hundred metres and finally I came to a sign saying no through road, with the road abruptly ending at a wall of vegetation.

Now as much as I love streams and appreciate them, probably due to the sheer lack of them in South Australia, nothing can beat an incredible mountain view, and an incredible mountain view this was. Pictures can’t do this scene justice but those hills in the distance rise to 600m + with the gully in front of my at only about 200m. As was the general problem from throughout the day, vegetation was in the way but oh boy this was magical. It was about 4.15-4.30 at this time and pretty tired so just sat for a good ten minutes and just watched the stratus thicken and form over the distant hills.  This was probably the highlight of the day, it was incredibly peaceful up here, not a single human noise, just nature.

Looking south from the fire track.

On a side note, I noticed some interesting funnel web nests around the place, of which I’ve never really seen before. I’ve got an inkling it might be the Flinders funnel-web spider, however there’s no real way to confirm this, the Flinders funnel-web is endemic to this area.

The best funnel-web spiders nest I found. The web was sitting a coupe of cm above the surface.

It was rapidly getting dark and so I had to end it there, I really would like to camp up there one day, amazing spot.

The walk down was quicker than the walk up but the day of hard hiking had taken its toll and the pressure from continually walking downhill was really getting to my knees. I only made the one stop on the way down, and this was at that nice 200m spot that looked out brilliantly over the plains. The sun was near setting with stratocumulus dominating the sky however this lead to some nice crepuscular rays on the horizon, which viewed at this height, looked like spotlights searching on the horizon.

I took one last series of shots here before making the main final descent through the steepest part of the track and this was brutal. It was getting quite dark at this stage but I managed to make it back to the car, exhausted, but before nightfall. I took a few long exposure shots in the dark of Telowie Creek before bidding farewell to this magical place.

I’ve never rated much of what South Aus has to offer nature wise, however this part of the Flinders is quite spectacular and really worth the trip. I would rate this as one of the nicest places I’ve seen, maybe not so much due to the place itself, but because of the awesome weather conditions I experienced, the beautiful fogs, mists and rains, the rushing creek and of course the vegetation and animals. I’m not sure I would enjoy it as much in summer due to the hot temps, dry terrain and creek beds and the lack of cloud cover generally. However it is probably something I will do at some point as the gorge will be much easier to climb when the creek isn’t flowing and I will be able to properly explore the area, and maybe see one of those yellow footed rock wallabies 🙂 . I did see quite a few kangaroos while I was hiking but that was about it.

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