Like many of you in the Adelaide Bushwalkers, my partner and I love nothing better than walking in the Northern Flinders Ranges. I first visited the ranges by car in 1977 when the Gammon Ranges were still part of Balcanoona Station, and during Easter 1984 I completed my first bushwalk in the Gammon Ranges National Park. By 1990 I had become so inspired by the area that I published a book on walking in the Northern Flinders Ranges. I was hooked, and we have been walking there regularly ever since.
What I do remember is that first walk in April 1984 and the number of people that we saw walking around Cleft Peak and The Terraces. It was a fairly busy place. I did many walks in the Gammon Ranges National Park and Arkaroola Sanctuary in the 1980s and I do remember at least occasionally running into groups of people. While the number of visits per decade I have made to the Northern Flinders Ranges has decreased over time, I still manage (in my sixties!) an extended bushwalk every couple of years or so. My memory, which is tending to fade, tells me that I have seen very few people (almost no-one in fact) in the remote areas of either Arkaroola Sanctuary or the Gammon Ranges National Park in the 2010s.
Is this decline in overnight bushwalking numbers real? You probably have your own opinion on this matter, and it would be interesting to hear from people as to whether there is general agreement on the subject.
While I suspect that the decline in numbers is real there are several factors which may be contributing to my perception. The first is that my early days of bushwalking in the Gammon Ranges were just after the southern (Balcanoona) section of the park had been declared, and there was a lot of interest in the newly expanded (and much more accessible) park. Also at that time the bitumen road from Hawker to Leigh Creek had just been opened, making the journey much easier on the spine. Perhaps that time was the pinnacle of Gammon Ranges bushwalking?
The second is a trend that applies to many bushwalkers, and that is that as you become more familiar with the country you branch out into more and more remote parts of the park. My partner and I have done a number of our recent trips in the Western Gammons, north of Oocaboolina, and this is not an area where you are likely to run into other overnight walkers.
One thing I do know is that National Parks have little or no data on overnight bushwalkers. Also tourist operators, who for obvious reasons want to keep a positive attitude towards changes in tourist numbers, are not helpful people to talk to when discussing this topic. I think that tourist numbers in the Northern Flinders Ranges have declined slightly over the years, but I cannot confirm this. I do remember talking to the owners of Edeowie Station some years ago on a walk into Edeowie Gorge, and they said that the visitation rate to Edeowie Gorge was about one third of what it was in the 1980s. That is a big drop in numbers.
The good news story to all this is that as bushwalkers who love this special part of the world, we look like we are going to be able to keep it all to ourselves. In a world of increasing population it is rare that you can find a bushwalking location where numbers are actually decreasing. To many it is a place of little water and hot, dry conditions. For those of us who know it better, we know it as a place of great diversity and beauty, dotted with some wonderful waterholes. We continue to have the courage to go into this wilderness knowing what a magnificent place it truly is.
Adrian is a regular hiker in the Flinders Ranges and Tasmania. His interests include botany and ornithology