Outback South Australia

A visit to the Flinders Ranges in outback South Australia is one of my favourite camping trips; an opportunity to enjoy the solitude of Australia’s haunting and ageless landscape, distinct flora and fauna, bushwalks, ancient rock art and more. One visit is not enough, as the Ranges cover a vast area, stretching over 400 kilometres.

On the way from home near Melbourne, I stay at campsites on the banks of the Murray River, at quaint and quiet country towns, or in some of South Australia’s prime wine regions like the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley. Tasting wines before camping in the desert has a certain piquancy.

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The tranquility of the Murray River is occasionally broken by a flotilla of pelicans gliding  by the campsite, or a passing houseboat.

Lyrup

Burra is an appealing South Australian country town close to the Ranges. Typically, it has grand buildings, a characterful pub, and fine streetscapes, a testament to a more prosperous past; in its case, copper mining.

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The Burra Hotel

Another classic country pub at Peterborough.

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Bush camping at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges. The billy is boiling on the open fire while the solar panel charges the battery to power the portable refrigerator and lights.

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Emus wander through the camp, at home in an arid environment.

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Red gums line the creek beds waiting for infrequent rains to flood the watercourse.

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A walk or a drive provides these views.

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Ruined stone houses are common around the Flinders Ranges. European settlers established farms in the nineteenth century and misunderstood the Outback climate, believing that a good season or two was typical. Ultimately,  the usual drought-like weather conditions prevailed and within a generation, most small settlers were ruined. A tragedy for them, but worse for the Aboriginal people who were displaced by the settlers, after living in the area for tens of thousands of years.

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A visit to Emei Shan, China’s holy mountain

Emei Shan (Mount Emei) is one of China’s four holy Buddhist mountains, a place of pilgrimage for nearly two thousand years, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Traditionally, pilgrims hiked to the top of the mountain, a distance of about 30 kilometres, while stopping off at temples and monasteries on the way. Many monasteries still provide overnight accommodation. Modern pilgrims can take the easier option of ascending by bus and cable car, and staying in hotels.

Like important pilgrimage sites elsewhere, many now visit Emei Shan for reasons other than religion. The walk up the mountain is the pinnacle of the experience, and is reputedly a place of enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. Pilgrims and hikers often use thick bamboo poles to assist their climb, a reminder of the wooden ‘Pilgrim’s Staff” traditionally used for the Camino de Santiago, the long walk to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

Emei Shan is 3099 metres high (10,167 ft), providing superb views of misty mountain slopes reminiscent of classic Chinese landscape paintings, lush forests, mirror like lakes, waterfalls and rushing streams. The temples and monasteries, of which there are more than one hundred, vary in age and style, and are often constructed to best fit into the landscape and exploit the views. Those interested in temples, Buddhism and Chinese history will find Emei Shan very rewarding, while hikers can enjoy the natural world and challenging walks.

Our friends from Chengdu observed that the admission fees paid to each temple or monastery, given the numbers of visitors, indicated a substantial source of income. An interesting point. Religious institutions often do have a very successful business model, whether in China or elsewhere, one that supplies more revenue than required to simply meet the spiritual needs of their devotees.

Before arriving at Emei Shan, our friends mentioned that on the return journey of a couple of hours to Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital city, they could take us on the ‘Narrow Road.’ Not quite understanding the meaning of this option, we agreed. During our several days on the mountain, they kept us informed about weather conditions, eventually explaining that the absence of rain meant that we could undertake the trip as there would be no landslides, and the road would not be too slippery. Should we have been more alert and a little alarmed? This road was not one of China’s modern tollways, or even a modest country road. It was something much more challenging. But that is another story.

This is my contribution to Fiona’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter ‘E’.

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