PETE’S jaw dropped mid-sentence as the inquisitive creature’s foul-smelling breath intruded on the deliciously rich, earthy outback air.
“Quickly!” he said, breathing as I scrambled in the passenger seat to grab my camera from the dusty red floor of the Land Cruiser. “Zac” had decided to participate in the cheerful human banter, projecting his huge rubbery mouth through the car window to give Pete a fetid, sloppy kiss.
I am on a secluded four-day trek with renowned landscape photographer Pete Dobré, run by Camel Treks Australia, deep in the varied landscape of the South Australian Flinders Ranges. Venturing on a spectacular journey from the perspective of an outback pioneer aboard a single humped camel, I was keen to capture the iconic ranges, a photographer’s utopia with a showcase of abundant wild- life and astonishing landscapes.
From Adelaide airport, we drive north through the Clare Valley wine and gourmet food district, established in the 1850s by Jesuit priests fleeing Silesia (Poland) and religious persecution (definitely worth a stop for lunch and perhaps a sample of the local vintage if you are a passenger!). Six hours and 400km later we arrive at the edge of Wilpena Pound—a natural mountain amphitheatre home to the small township of Hawker, 12km from our final destination.
The road to Wonoka Station basecamp is a hard compact dirt road, meaning there is no need for a 4WD, although the driveway is over 10km long. The alternative is travel via coach from Adelaide, with Genesis Tour and Charter to Hawker, where staff will collect and shuttle you to Wonoka Station.
We are greeted by husband and wife team Karen and Paul Ellis and their two children. The couple operates Camel Trek Australia tours over 20,000 acres. Following the obligatory safety drill, the gentle giants seeming to mildly protest their chewing being disturbed, groaned and then (not so graciously) lay down while the excited, impatient riders climbed aboard.
We were off!
Travelling in string formation, with each camel tied to the one in front Indiana Jones-style and led by a “cameleer”, we ventured 5km to our first base camp for the next two days. The honey-coloured sand- stone blocks of Mayo’s Hut are well over 100 years old, but renovated to house weary travellers on the Heysen Trail as well as those on camel treks. Camp was already set up and from the delicious aromas wafting by, it was obvious dinner was underway. Treated to nibblies, wine and a three-course meal prepared in mouth-watering, rustic outback style (all dietary needs catered), we kick back around a roaring campfire to exchange lively banter until it is time to hit the (rather luxurious) swags.
We awake each day to a huge hearty breakfast, and with lunches packed in camel saddlebags, we hit the trail each day for a new adventure.
For four days our surrounding scenery is an enticing smorgasbord for the eyes. The constantly evolving landscapes alternate from ruggedly mountainous ranges and spectacularly harsh, golden rocky gorges to delightfully cool and relaxing bubbling creeks (after the rain), sheltered by ancient river red gums and then onto the deep, rich sandy red plains stretching across the horizon as far as the eye can see.
Camel Treks Australia presents a fantastic opportunity to experience the organic breathtaking landscape of the Flinders Ranges, with many tour options to discover. It caters for school groups, families, photographers and adventurers—there is a trek for everyone.