YUNTA TO WILPEANA ... SA

The definition of a shortcut usually means, ‘a shorter route that is usually taken’ and that’s what I thought when we headed offroad to another destination, but little did I know what we were going to find along the way.

The ‘original’ plan was to head across to the Flinders after recent rainfall from Broken Hill into SA and up to Wilpena Pound to hike and revisit the area. But with an over night stay at Yunta in SA, we found that we could cut across the desolate plains towards the Flinders and maybe save some time - or so we thought.

Now Yunta, on the Barrier Hiway between Broken Hill and Adelaide has a population of just under 100 people but it was once a bustling rail town, today it's just a stop over for fuel.

Established back in 1887, Yunta was extremely busy where over 5000 miners passed through on their way towards new gold fields at Teetulpa and Waukaringa to the north, as well as being a busy rail town on the growing Adelaide to Broken Hill line. Around Yunta there’s still a few rail relics standing from the bygone era, but not a lot else.

Yunta is also known as being a base for the well known Harry Ding who took on Arthur Kruse’s business in 1934 which included a general store and a post office. It was from here that the legendary Tom Kruse at the ripe old age of 22 first started his iconic runs up to Birdsville on January 1, 1936.

For nearly 20 years Tom and his aboriginal offsider, Henry Butler worked tirelessly to get the mail truck to Birdsville and back enduring a range of conditions and hardships. It wasn’t until 1957 that a road was graded for a Ampol car trail to Birdsville that made life easier for the Tom and the crew.

Heading out of Yunta I spotted an alternative route towards Arkaroola and Innaminka, and was hoping that we could track across to Wilpena.Tea Tree Road heads north which was at least in the right direction and warning signs indicated that the entire road was open, going straight to dirt just out of the towns limits.

The land is barren out here with mountain ranges in the distance, but it was surprising to see pastoral stations out here, we just wondering what the stock would feed on. With just 35 km under our belt we came across roadside ruins and always the one to check them out it turned out to be more than what we bargained for.

Reading the roadside info signs, this was the Waukaringa goldfield area. The sandstone blocked building beside the road was the post office that was manned from 1875 through to 1984, it also ran as a general store and the local bank.

It moved to the present location in 1903 after a fire burnt down the original building. Reading the postmasters sign it seemed that the job was handed down through many family members over the years.

Across the paddock large and significant ruins still stand today, this is the Waukaringa Hotel which was built in 1889 and served the last drink in 1964. The township was proclaimed in 1888 where a population of nearly 500 was driven by the local goldfields.

Today the massive crumbling ruins have multiple rooms on the ground level, the underground cellars can be seen and the building has 3 huge chimney’s which would of been used during the cooler months for heating and for cooking. There are other ruins in the surrounding area like smaller walls, huge bricked pits maybe for underground storage and just a mass amount of metal materials like vehicle wrecks, large square water drums, thick metal plates and so much more.

The town of Waukaringa was built due to gold bearing reefs found nearby in 1873 by James Watson who was a shepard on a local pastoral run. Originally there was chatter that it would be perfectly useless to search for gold in that direction to the north. At the time gold was being freely found more to the west at Kooringa where the gold could be seen in the quartz and ironstone, so Waukaringa developed very slowly over a number of years and was to become one of the longest lasting goldfields in SA.

Starting as alluvial goldfields where independent miners claimed small fortunes, larger companies soon moved in and commercial operations started. The nearby fields and ranges soon became full of deep gold mines and shafts plus lead was found in abundance.

Good gold was being found and there was intent on running two shifts a day to make it more profitable but in most cases when large companies come in, there was conflict as the miners refused to work after 1pm on Saturdays. Consequently all the miners were sacked on the spot and others transported up from Victoria. It's reported that just on 1,427 kg of gold was pulled from the ground here.

Panning around and scoping the horizon two huge chimneys caught my eye on a ridge nearby, as well as a massive sunken roof section in a gully. Exploring across the area the stacks ( one huge stone stack and a smaller metal one ) were part of the mine setup.

Close by it was easy to find where the boilers, stampers and crushers were going by the massive steel threaded bolts protruding from the ground. There’s plenty of stonework still around the area, like basic shelters, chimney flues, walls and relics scattered about.

The main mine, the Alma, can still be found, documents say it's over 500m deep, has 14 different levels and over 1600 m of tunnels - truly impressive. Other mine tunnels can be found - BUT with warning signs declaring bad air inside, its not wise to go in even tho it was tempting.

Down in the gully the massive low roof that seems to be sitting on the ground actually covers the old water supply where water runoff was channelled to the undercover tanks from a few different areas. Still holding water today it's like a magnet attracting birds and insects.

Like most towns that have a steady population growth, two cemeteries were built, Waukaringa had a Catholic one near town plus a general cemetery away from town in the town common. The whole area was finally abandoned in 1982.

Our time was up here so we kept on heading north on Tea Tree road for another hour, to hopefully find a cross road towards Wilpena and the Flinders. Road conditions were pretty good with long stretches of desert like sections, plenty of dry creek beds ( these were rough ) and over small rocky ranges. We often chatted about being an early explorer in these areas and just how tough not would of been, climbing up onto a range to see more of the same into the distance, definatly soul destroying.

Eventually we found a turn off just past Curnamona Station and swung left onto Martins Well road with the Flinders in the far distance. Along the way we did notice the closer we got to the Flinders, there were more creek beds, gums were bigger and more solid mountain ranges started to be noticed. Out here these are known as Calcareous Plains where there are small rises and low hills covered in bladder saltbush, sandhill wattle, desert cassia with a mixture of under growing grasses.

Passing the huge Martin Wells Station we were finally on the last leg of the ‘shortcut’ now with the Chace Range towering beside us to the south, which some how would be connected to the stunning Flinders Ranges close by. Our last stop was up to the very impressive Pugilist Hill lookout. The short steep track to the top led us to the most amazing 360’ view towards stunning prehistoric ranges that are claimed to be the oldest rock in the world, holding so many secrets from the past.

Across the landscape below it was easy to trace where old creek beds were with trails of green gums that have been soaking up the water for many years, and it was easy picking seeing other travellers with their dust trails lingering without a breeze to disperse the dust.

Our journey was nearly over as it was only another few kilometres to the Flinders Ranges Road and up to camp. Now while the short cut got thrown out the window because we spent a day the ruins, it definatly was great exploring the goldfields and getting off the beaten track. #woolgoolgaoffroad


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