Over three hundred kilometres north of Adelaide in South Australia looms a mountain range with breathtaking natural beauty on a grand scale. As I sit here penning this blog to the sounds of the bird life around me, with glimpses of red rocky outcrops through the trees, I am ashamed to say that like most Australians I had no idea this place existed up until a couple of months ago.
“We should do a road trip to Wilpena Pound,” my partner said to me a few months back while discussing possible holiday options.
My first response was something along the lines of, “Why would we want to visit an animal shelter on holiday?”
After an indignant response to my remark I was soon made aware that Wilpena Pound is in fact part of the Flinders Ranges National Park and not a rehousing program for unwanted companion animals.
Simply referred to as ‘The Pound’ by locals, Wilpena Pound is a huge natural amphitheatre that superficially resembles a meteorite impact crater. The interior of The Pound is 11 kilometres long by 8 kilometres wide, hemmed in by a series of peaks, the largest of which, St Mary’s, is 1171m in height. If it sounds amazing that’s because it is. The scale of it is unlike any geological feature I’ve ever seen. So large is it that you could fit six Ulurus into it quite comfortably.
The geology of the area is very similar to Uluru but even more ancient. The Pound is thought to be the remnants of sedimentary layers of an ancient seabed that were laid down as far back as a thousand million years ago. For those who know their epochs, that’s twice as old as the Cambrian period that saw a boom in abundance and diversity of life on earth. Some of the rocks around The Pound predate the existence of multicellular life forms on the planet.
Since these early days The Pound was formed into its current state by millions of years of geological forces that buckled and folded the underlying rock, eventually pushing it above the earth’s surface. Despite its ancient, unicellular-era origins, it is home to a wonderful array of multicellular plants and animals today. The landscape is one that almost doesn’t belong in Australia. There are large tracts – forests, I guess – of white cypress pine (Callitris glaucophylla) that more resemble a North American forest than an Australian one. That is until you see a mob of emus wander past.
We’ve been on a couple of walks since arriving here a few days ago. We climbed one of the peaks, Mount Ohlssen Bagge, on the first day to come to grips with the small fish we felt in this great bowl. The climb up revealed many native herbs in flower such as Hibbertia spp. poking out from the rocky incline.
At this time of year the rough grevillea (Grevillea aspera) is in full flower and a magnet for bees. Just yesterday we set off for a walk that traversed The Pound’s floor and ended at Bridle Gap, a journey that is a must-do when visiting. One of the things that struck me on this walk was the segregation of tree communities – very rarely did stands of white cypress pine and eucalyptus species overlap, each preferring to grow in blocks rather than intermingle.
The river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in and around The Pound are the largest I’ve seen anywhere. Many examples of the river red’s never-say-die attitude exist, with some trees long since split in two by old age or lightening slowly beginning to reunite their cloven trunks. It struck me yesterday how the regrowing limbs of many of the river reds here are a clear example of how trees grow. In my student days we were told that, generally speaking, every year a new tree grows over the old wood. Hence the formation of tree ‘rings’ that are seen only when a tree is cut down or a limb is severed. The river reds around here illustrate the point wonderfully as, year upon year, a new layer of life is added to their heft and the gaping wounds they have grow less noticeable.
Tomorrow we leave Wilpena Pound behind for the town of Blinman on the northern side of the Flinders Ranges National Park. From there we’re off to the Grampians back in Victoria as well as the Otway Ranges before heading home to Melbourne. Wilpena Pound will be a hard place to leave behind. We were told yesterday, during a sunset tour of the area, that The Pound was named so due to early pastoralists using the natural amphitheatre as a spot to contain grazing animals in. Therefore, it was a pound or animal shelter in some sense of the word, so my initial response to the suggestion that we holiday here wasn’t far off. Where cows and sheep once grazed are now kangaroos, wallabies and emus. From my short stay here I can say that Wilpena Pound is most definitely an animal shelter you want to visit for a holiday.
Until next time, happy gardening.