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An Outback Adventure

I visited several national parks when I was in Australia, but my favorite one by far was Flinders Ranges NP. This was the place I took my longest and most challenging hike, almost 10 hours to the summit of St Mary Peak (the highest point in the Flinders Ranges) and back with temperatures up to 40 degrees. This post won’t be about that though, but about what happened a day earlier.

I arrived in the Flinders Ranges after a day’s drive from Adelaide and a night in the outback town of Hawker, where I saw the most amazing sunset I have ever seen in my entire life.

I was supposed to meet two of my French friends, who would also be coming from Adelaide, at the campground in Wilpena two days later.
This allowed me to have a day and a night on my own to start exploring the area. Which, of course, I did. I took three short hikes that day. The first one started on a point a little off the main road towards Wilpena. It led to Arkaroo Rock, an overhanging rock next to a massive rock wall, covered in ancient Aboriginal paintings.

What struck me most, was how green everything looked. After all, I was in the middle of the Outback and you expect to see mostly red sand. But as a matter of fact, it was only a short period of time after heavy rains flooded large areas in southeastern Australia. Obviously the plants benefited from this. Hence, the lush green look.

The next two hikes where within the borders of the National Park. The so called Drought Busters Hike is a loop through one of the driest places in the Flinders Ranges and takes you past some interesting looking and extremely well adapted plants.

My last short walk of the day was to Hills Homestead and Wangara lookout, which offers a great view of Wilpena Pound.

As the day started coming to an end, I was thinking about where to go to spend the night and about what I was going to do the next day. After a quick look in my Lonely Planet I decided I would go for a drive. There was supposed to be a beautiful unsealed road through the Ranges, which apparently was suited for 2WD cars as well. It was a loop drive that would take about a day to complete, exactly what I needed!

When I arrived at the start of that road, there was a road sign saying ‘Road closed’ (remember the bad weather?), but I decided to ignore that and try it anyway. I drove for about 20 kilometers, which actually took me almost an hour. After it had gotten too dark to drive any further, I stopped, cooked some dinner and went to bed.

I woke up at sunrise the next morning and after I stumbled out of my car, I saw this view:

Lonely Planet hadn’t lied. It really was a beautiful road! I ate a quick breakfast and got on my way. I was excited to experience more of the desolateness of the Outback and to see more landscapes like the one I woke up to.

It was a pretty, winding road running over hills and through valleys. But after a while it got bumpier and I started to notice that there were more rocks and branches on both sides of the road than at the start. Of course, this got worse, but I still wanted to continue, convinced that it would get better. And of course it quickly got even worse… Until the point where there was a little stream crossing the road. I had driven across some puddles before that, but this was when I realized I couldn’t go any further. I reluctantly tried to turn around my car. I backed out and when I wanted to go forward again, I felt that the car didn’t move. At all. I was stuck in the river bank.

This was the first time in my life I really panicked. It wasn’t like, for example, the panic you feel in college, when you realize you haven’t studied at all for tomorrow’s finals. My car was stuck in a river in the Australian Outback, at least 40 kilometers in any direction from the nearest sealed road. I quickly regained my calmness though. I always made sure I had a lot of water and a sufficient amount of food in my car. I could stay there for several days if I had to, but the biggest problem was that no one knew I was here and there probably wouldn’t be any cars passing by. The road was closed…

Walking back was another option, but that would take at least nine or ten hours. And that meant I’d have to spend the night on the side of the road. Temperatures were soaring and carrying enough water, food and a tent for a such a long walk in the sun was almost impossible.

Before starting to walk back or to just wait for someone to pass by, the most logical thing to do was to try and free myself. So I started trying everything I could think off. I pushed and pulled, but obviously I wasn’t even nearly as strong enough to move my car by myself. Next, I tried to dig away the mud around my tires. I got in my car and tried to drive backward and forward. Nothing happened.
An hour went by as I tried to dig deeper and deeper, resulting in my car only sinking more into the river bank. Eventually I even used all my cooking pots and pans to help remove the mud. Suddenly I felt something hard. I had reached a rocky surface. This was when I realized that this could actually work. I removed more mud and used a lot of small and larger stones to hopefully create some traction. I tried driving again, a few times, and suddenly, smoothly, my car jumped forward. I can’t even start to describe the relief I felt when I drove my car back up the slope.
I stopped and checked the underside of the car for damage. Everything looked fine.

Completely soaked and covered in mud, I washed myself in the stream, put on some clean clothes and drove back in the direction I came from.¬†I don’t think I have ever driven so slowly than I did on my way back. I was careful, but I was also really enjoying everything I saw. The mountains, the sky, the abundant wildlife.

When I got back to the campground, my friends were already there, waiting for me. I told them my story and they were absolutely right when they told me that that was an amazingly stupid thing to do.

The next day we hiked up to St Mary Peak, which was a truely incredible hike, but that’s another story…

This video is of me driving on that very road, almost right up until the point I got stuck. You can actually see the road getting worse.

Taking that road possibly was the dumbest thing I’ve done so far, but looking back at it, it also was a great experience. I stayed calm, thought about what to do and I did get myself out of it.

Definitely my biggest adventure in Australia.

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