The road to the Flinders Ranges took us through Port Augusta, Hawker and Copley. In Port Augusta we finally found the elusive Santa we had been chasing since leaving Perth. We had promised the kids we would see Santa to deliver their Christmas wish lists (a bit of a ritual in our family) but thought it was too early in Perth. It had become a running joke as each town we visited since then we were either one day early or one day late for Santa’s annual visit. But in Port Augusta the stars aligned and we found him tucked away in a building resembling an old town hall with a delightful helper who took photos for us. It was such a lovely experience and this, combined with a mega shop for supplies for the next week or so, left us feeling quite festive.
Christmas is quite a festive occasion in our house and there are a few traditions we like to keep. These had to take a new twist on the road. Izzy and I made an advent calendar for the car and we found a cute little cardboard tree in Perth for the car, as well as a Rudolph collected in Augusta to raise money for Alzheimer’s Australia. These got a bit cluttered thanks to Woolworths Pop Outs that the kids got obsessed with and our dash was soon overwhelmed.
In Hawker we met my parents who we are very grateful to for deciding to join us for this rather hot part of Australia for Christmas. We were a day late for Dad’s Birthday but managed a meal at the pub to honour it all the same and the kids had painted some special cards during our time at the Gawler Ranges.
We then took the road up to Copley which took us past the famous Parachilna Hotel, which was closed for summer. We enjoyed the great metal sculptures there though, especially the one of the Gahn which was installed as a perspective piece to be viewed from the camera.
This stretch of road is famous for lots of road kill. We were constantly slowing to dodge roos and tooting the wedge tails and crows. Coming over one crest we saw a dead emu on the other side of the road and slowed to allow the birds to fly off. A huge wedge tail eagle flew off but then changed course and veered straight towards us landing smack into the windscreen perfectly in line with Andrew’s head. Kudos to Andrew for keeping the car steady. Andrew is still wondering how it did not end up on his lap. When we drove back it was sitting still on the side of the road and would have come up to my thigh. The bird was huge.
In Copley, Dad got a new tyre and we were on our way to Grindell’s Hut for Christmas. We stopped in Balcanoona to pick up the key and have a quick look at the old shearing quarters and facilities.
Originally we had planned to meet Andrew’s side of the family for Christmas but as the time got closer it got harder to try and get people from three locations around the world to get to a remote location and the stress of it began to outweigh the benefits so plans changed. So that left us open to choosing a new location to spend Christmas. We had imagined a bush camp and cooking a roast in the camp oven but a bit of research soon revealed that this would not be possible in WA or SA due to blanket fire bans over summer. So the next place that sprung to mind was Grindell’s Hut in the Gammon Ranges, the northern section of the Flinders Rangers. We had camped here in September 2016 and were amazed by the striking ranges, wildlife and rugged beauty. We remembered the hut on the hill with its stunning views and imagined coming back one day and staying in it. Having seen how booked out many sites in WA were and that Grindell’s was available we decided to commit to covering some ground to make it there for Christmas, and braced ourselves for a hot one.
Since that time Andrew and I had both wondered if our memories were accurate or had morphed into a romantic version. There was no need to worry. As we drove in and the ranges opened up around us and we ascended the hill to Grindell’s Hut we all went WOW!
We opened the door to reveal a really comfortable hut, more like a house with couches, a kitchen and to Izzy’s delight a bathroom with a flushing toilet! Her Christmas wish had come true!
That night as the kids slept the adults were in awe of the moon rising over the ranges.
We spent the following day, Christmas Eve, settling in and making the house a bit more festive. We made a gingerbread house, put up the decorations the kids had made over the past few weeks and decorated our tree, a dried branch found on our morning walk.
We also decorated the lone outside tree that was perfectly located outside the house, a place we would spend much time sitting, admiring the view, reading and eating.
That night the kids hung their stocking and were delighted to find that Santa could still find them in such a remote location. We spent the day enjoying company and the kids playing with some new gifts, painting, drawing, reading, making Lego and playing some new games.
Thanks to wonders of modern technology Andrew and the kids managed to speak to his family on the satellite phone.
Probably the most special present of the day was the toy puppy that Izzy has been slowly making for Matthew over the last few months. She’d put in a huge effort to get it finished for Christmas and had even managed to keep it mostly hidden from Matthew while knitting in the car. Matthew loved it and it was great to see the kids doing something special for each other.
It was rather hot, so we nibbled all day and braved lighting the oven at about 5pm to cook the roast. It really was spectacular sitting outside surrounded but this magnificent view, sharing such a special meal together with family, and the yellow footed rock wallaby that joined us!
Dessert was truly special as mum and dad had brought a homemade Christmas pudding with them, so the tradition of lighting the pudding, then finding the coins hidden within was enjoyed. Izzy had asked for a pavlova. I had questioned my sanity when I was beating egg whites by hand in 30 degrees at 10pm Christmas Eve, but seeing her delight decorating it Christmas day made it all worthwhile. Matthew had requested choc ripple cake and was rather impressed with his creation as well.
Needless to say it was a very special Christmas to cap off what has been a remarkable trip around OZ. Liam and Mali even made us some t-shirts to celebrate.
The following days were spent relaxing, eating leftovers, playing copious games of Cleudo, Rhino Hero and other games. And we just spent a lot of time just staring out at the jaw dropping views.
We also did not do much due to the heat which continued to build up over the week at Grindell’s, The Thursday and Friday made it to 44 degrees. One day Izzy, Andrew and I snuck up to Arkaroola and had a refreshing dip in their pool. The hut is made of stone which retains heat, great for winter but intense in summer. Even at 11pm as we walked up to the house we could feel the heat radiating from the stone. The last few nights Andrew and I felt like our bed had the electric blanket on full.
Another day Andrew, Matthew and I did the Wurtupa loop drive. A drive we had wanted to do last visit but did not get around to as the kids were enjoying playing in the rivers with the emu chicks. One thing all of us really noticed was how much drier it was this visit. The landscape seemed more arid and open. Sian, the Ranger, told us that there has been very little rain since our last visit and a black frost this winter also has contributed to the struggling fauna and flora. It was a contrast to our last visit when all the rivers were flowing and many of the roads in the area where flooded. The Australian landscape really is remarkable.
After a couple of days we turned the hot water service off as the cold tap was burning hot. And the last two days the intensity of flies increased. Andrew and I took a walk late on our last day and the sky was thick with them by the time we returned.
But we had always known it would be hot. One day in particular the gas fridges even struggled and our own tempers rose at times. But we had all committed to this location knowing full well it would be hot and as I write this post at 11pm when it is still 31 outside and warmer inside, I know none of us regret travelling out here to share a truly special Christmas.
The Gammon Ranges are an area that Andrew and I both love and, having now been twice, we’re still keen to return. There’s a raw beauty to the place that speaks to us.