Gawler Ranges and Lake Gairdner, South Australia

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Yellow footed rock wallaby

Gawler Ranges and Lake Gairdner, South Australia

Melding stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and a fascinating history, the Gawler Ranges and Lake Gairdner are among the hidden gems of South Australia. This article shares with you some of the interesting aspects of this region when you join a small group package tour for mature and senior travellers with Odyssey Traveller into South Australia and in particular the Eyre & York peninsula

Gawler Ranges National Park:

Gawler Ranges
Organ pipes, in the Gawler Ranges. Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

South Australia‘s National Parks and Wildlife Service describes the Gawler Ranges as a ‘special place where history, conservation and Aboriginal culture come together’, and we think that summarises it pretty well. While the Flinders Range might get the majority of the tourist traffic, the stunning and remote landscapes of the Gawler Ranges are equally worthwhile – and best of all, you can have them all to yourself.

The Gawler Ranges are located on the Gawler Craton, an ancient and stable landmass that has not been subject to major tectonic activity for over 1000 million years. The ranges themselves are a massif of ancient volcanic rocks, formed 1500 million years ago by volcanic eruptions. It is one of the oldest volcanic landscapes in the world, with the striking Organ Pipes, basalt columns formed by the cooling and cracking of molten lava, among the largest exposures of volcanic rhyolite (igneous rock with a high silica content) in the world.

The highest point in the park is Nukey Bluff, at 465 metres above sea level, though much of the park is above 400 metres. Hill, gorge, and gully complexes were defined by ancient rivers, but alluvial material has now filled most rivers in the park. The national park is no longer home to any permanent water stream.

The Gawler Ranges is a place of transition between the mallee landscapes of the Eyre Peninsula and southern South Australia, and the outback lands to the north. The park is home to both mallee and outback species, many at the limits of their geographical spread. In total, the park is home to 225 plant species, including several endemic to the area, including the Gawler Ranges Hop Bush and the Gawler Ranges Grevillea.

Likewise, the park is a haven for fauna from both the mallee and the arid regions further north. Birders will love seeing the Australian ringneck parrot, the major mitchell cockatoo and superb fairy-wren, and the park is Australia‘s only protected population of the short-tailed grass wren. Other endangered species found in the Gawler Ranges include the yellow-footed rock wallaby, the southern hairy-nosed wombat and the central long-eared bat. Thanks to work done by rangers, the yellow-footed rock wallaby population – which numbered around 6 in 2000 – now reaches into the hundreds.

Yellow footed rock wallaby
Yellow-footed rock-wallaby

Unfortunately, there is little information available about Aboriginal settlement of the Gawler Ranges. At the time of settlement, it was inhabited by the Gawler Ranges people, a distinct group of families of some, but not all, the Barngarla, Kokatha and Wirangu People.

The first European to pass through the Gawler Ranges was the explorer Edward John Eyre, in September 1839. He named the ranges after the second governor of South Australia, George Gawler.

Though Eyre was not particularly impressed with what he saw, pastoralists took up land here in the late 19th century. Paney Homestead, Old Paney Homestead, and Pondanna Outstation are vivid reminders of the struggle to survive in this remote and arid country.

In 2000, the 120,000 hectare pastoral property Paney Station was bought by the South Australian government. The following year, they acquired parts of adjacent Scrubby Peak Station, adding 42,000 hectares. The national park was proclaimed in 2002.

Walks within the park take you to Organ Pipes (a one-hour walk), Kolay Mirica Falls (despite the name, rarely flowing with water), and to the Waganny Campground (another one-hour trail).

The Gawler Ranges is so remote that the park has no light pollution, meaning that on a clear night it is one of the best places in South Australia for stargazing.

Lake Gairdner:

Lake Gairdner
Lake Gairdner. Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

To the north of the Gawler Ranges, Lake Gairdner National Park protects a large saline lake system, surrounded by the red dirt hills. The park includes Lake Gairdner, Australia‘s third-largest salt lake, as well as two other salt lakes, Lake Everard and Lake Harris.

Much like Lake Eyre, Lake Gairdner is a dry salt pan, only intermittently filled with water. It is 160 km long, 48 km wide, and is covered with a salt layer that is over 1.2 metres thick in parts. The lakes are remnants of the inland sea that covered central Australia millions of years ago, which stretched from the Southern Ocean to Menindee, near Broken Hill, New South Wales. 

The lake was visited almost simultaneously by Stephen Hack and Peter E. Warburton in 1857, and was named after Gordon Gairdner, a chief clerk in the Australian Department of the Colonial Office.

For Sir Richard Graves McDonnell, Governor of South Australia:

Its size and remarkable cliffs projecting into a vast expanse of dazzling salt, here and there studded with islands, render it one of the most striking objects hitherto met with in Australian scenery.

Thanks to its thick crust, Lake Gairdner is an ideal location for land speed records. In March each year, when the lake is reliably dry, it plays host to the Dry Racers event, attracting racing enthusiasts from all around Australia.

Odyssey Traveller visits the Gawler Ranges and Lake Gairdner as part of our new tour of South Australia. Devoted to the Yorke Peninsula and the Eyre Peninsula, this tour aims to uncover some of South Australia‘s hidden gems. Beginning and ending in Adelaide city, we head to Whyalla, which provides a launching point for our day tour through the rolling hills of the Gawler Ranges.

After this, we head south to explore the Eyre Peninsula. We head to the charming seaside town of Streaky Bay, from which we make a day trip to the remarkable rocks formations of Murphy’s Haystacks and Point Labatt Conservation Park, where we see Australian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals. Our tour also makes a stop for a walking tour of Port Lincoln with a local guide, the hub of Australia‘s seafood industry. If time permits, we may stop in at the charming seaside town of Baird Bay, which offers panoramic views of the Southern Ocean.

We then head around the Spencer Gulf to the Yorke Peninsula, stopping for a night at Port Augusta, the gateway to the outback. On the Yorke Peninsula we explore the copper-mining history and Cornish heritage of the Copper Triangle, before heading south to Innes National Park, which saw over 40 shipwrecks of sailors trying to navigate the rough southern Australia coast. Finally, our tour heads back to Adelaide where we enjoy a final tour dinner, sampling South Australia‘s famous gourmet food and wine.

If you’re interested in visiting South Australia, you may also be interested in our Adelaide and surrounds guided tour. This trip explores the wine regions of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, with cellar door visits and a wine tour in both; makes a day cruise down the Murray River, and heads to the Adelaide Hills to visit Arts and Crafts mansions. We also make a day trip to the pristine wilderness of Kangaroo Island (where we might be able to spot a great white shark!).

Travellers may also be interested in our tour of Perth and Western Australian wildflowers, and our tour of Marvellous Melbourne.

Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to Australia:

Selected small group package tours of Australia

Eyre & Yorke Peninsulas, and the Gawler Ranges

This small group tour to the Yorke Peninsula, Eyre Peninsula, and the Gawler Ranges is designed for mature and senior traveller or solo traveller to discover the hidden gems of South Australia. Visiting the lesser-known western half of South Australia to explore the pristine coasts of the Yorke Peninsula and Eyre Peninsula – often strikingly underdeveloped compared to the East Coast of Australia – and the rugged landscapes of the Gawler Ranges. Delve deeper, and you’ll find a fascinating and often unexpected local history.

Departing Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jul

Small group tour of Australia's Flinders range

Escorted small group tour of the Flinders range in South Australia from Adelaide. Learn about Coober Pedy, Wilpena pound and water system of Lake Eyre as we explore and learn also about the history of the people who explored the Flinders.

Departing Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Mar, Apr

Discovering Tasmania’s Wildlife

Small group tour of up to 12 mature and seniors travellers visiting and learning about Tasmania’s wildlife and history. Visit Maria Island, Freycinet peninsula, Cradle Mountain, Strahan, Lake St Clair and Bruny Island over 16 days.

16 days
Departing Oct, Nov, Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr

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