The term desert region with sand dunes normally congers up images of heading to the centre of Australia and conquering the Simpson desert. But I’ve spent a few days in southern SA tackling long sandy tracks with plenty of dunes thrown in for good measure, and its def no where near the centre of Australia.
Ngarkat Conservation Park is tucked right on the SA-VIC border covering a huge 270,000 hectares where its known for solitude, the abundance of wildlife and the Border Track.
Ngarkat ( pronounced Nar-kat ) has a web of tracks across its area waiting to explored and there’s several ways that you can access the park. After getting vehicle and a camping pass - depending on your options its a matter of heading towards the park from any direction.
My option was to head into from the north at Parrakie, where back at there turn of the century it was known for the massive rail yards that were built for the loading of grain grown in the area. Parrakie was on the main line between Tailem Bend and Pinnaroo and it wasn’t long before a refreshment house was built beside the new station as it was the only stop along the line.
Soon a hotel was built and that’s when the trouble started and in 1909 a police cell was built as the town locals were complaining of ‘objectionable behaviour by the patrons’. The cell was used many times up until the 1930’s when the town slowly died with buildings moved away. By 1963 huge grain silos were built at Geranium taking the business away causing the rail head to close. Today there’s not much left at Parrakie, just a few ruins and the long siding next to the abandoned rail line.
Heading towards Ngarkat, there’s a free camp just outside of the park called Band Hill reserve. Its a simple area with a covered area and pit toilets. From here you can wander around and over some of the dunes behind the camp where the views across the Mallee country are pretty special.
Bann Hill Road leads directly into the park where like the other entries info boards give a stack of both critical and informative information, from closures through to the parks ecology and wildlife. Bann hill trails cuts through the park on the western side and with another couple they are generally pretty easy.
If you got a camping permit ( oh and there’s little to no service out here ) both Box Flat and Bucks Camp offer basic bush camping. Both have designated sites some with fire pits and there are a few tables scattered around. One feature in the park are the walking tracks that attract many hikers to the area. From the great views, flowers in spring and the birdlife opportunity there’s always something to see. The hikes range from short 10 min hikes through too hard day hikes for the more experienced.
The endangered Western Whip-bird has been seen and heard in the south western side of the park, apparently it sounds like a squeaky gate. Plus you might see the western grey Roo’s, Emu’s or even the rare Malleefowl as you meander around the park.
Down at Box Flat camping area there’s evidence of European settlement that failed due to drought, wild dogs, water salinity and isolation. The ruins of Garra Station built in 1894 are barely standing today with only a few walls left made from the local limestone.
Through Ngarkat and at some of the camping areas, water soaks have played an important part for when it rains these play a huge part for the ecology and in past times the local Aboriginal people who roamed through here many years ago.
Ngarkat does also a harder 4wd track on the eastern boundary called The Border Track. Only open between April 1 and October 31, due to fire season its a pretty adventurous 380km track from top to bottom. This Iconic track is known for its steep dunes and the ability to peel off at any time doing sections of the border track. The section through Ngarkat is known for being the harder stage where it's 30km one way, north to south only.
The dunes are huge with some having easy by-passes around them, the track is narrow and its unmaintained making for millions of corrugations, and the one way section is in place to protect the dunes. I reckon if you stripped the vegetation off Ngarkat, the Border Track would be like driving through an outback desert with dune after dune.
From the northern end of Ngarkat all the way to the bottom section of the park, there’s certainly a few stops to check out, like water soaks, Cox’s Windmill, the restored timber lined 58m deep Nanam Well, Hensley Trig, Fishponds ( a clay pan between the dunes ) and a few short hikes to stretch the legs. Its not a fast track by any means so along the way theres a few
camp spots ( but you need service to book these ), Doggers Hut, the Gums, Cox’s Windmill and the Pines all are tucked in the Mallee scrub and are special in their own way.
Between the high dunes, Hensley’s Trig and mount Shaugh the views across the Mallee wilderness are pretty amazing. From up here the park looks easy to to trek through, but its not until you start walking off the tracks that you realise that the scrub is just above head height and so easy to become dis-orientated. I found that Ngarkat is a place not to be rushed, there’s a handful of loops that you can do and I found by heading up the centre track it gave me the chance to tackle the harder one way Border Track.
It’s a peaceful park where the silence during the day was only broken by the wind passing through the gums or a willy wagtail asserting his presence when I stopped. Ngarkat is surrounded by huge sheep grazing stations and wheat fields making the conservation park pretty unique with its diverse landscape, farming the sandy landscape has been a challenge in this area for the past century. Bees play a massive importance through the park, especially when the Banksia is in bloom. Commercial Bee operations are huge in Ngarkat and Apiarists place their boxes in winter across the park.
Now while most 4wders will pass through Ngarkat on the Border track, there’s a lot more to see in this Conservation Park with its maze of tracks, highlighted European history, rare and endangered fauna plus the unique Mallee scrub that this area is known for.
It's easy to spend a few days in Ngarkat of set up a base camp in one of the nearby towns to explore with 4wd loops. The towns around Ngarkat like Keith, Pinnaroo, Parrakie and Bordertown are all rich with history in their own way and relate closely to Ngarkat.