Bendelby Ranges sits south of the Flinders Ranges near Hawker and offers 170km of off-road tracks, from beginner level to advanced.
Words and images by Scott Mason and Liam Foster: There is a little gem hidden among the ranges in South Australia. I first discovered it years ago. I was a guest of an Isuzu trip there and, although I only got to spend two days on the tracks, I knew I would make plans to revisit. A few years later I had the chance to take Pat there, with last year’s TV show. Well, guess what? Pat also vowed to revisit. Fast-forward 12-ish months and we were back again… Bendleby Ranges.
Bendleby is located south of the Flinders Ranges and the township of Hawker. If you have done the Flinders before you have probably passed close by without even realising it exists. It is a freehold station of some 15,000 hectares and offers up over 170km of off-road tracks, from beginner level to advanced.
You could be easily forgiven for thinking of names like Flinders Ranges, Strzelecki Track, Lake Eyre, Oodnadatta and the Nullarbor when travelling in South Australia, and the beauty is, they are all great places within ‘relatively’ easy reach of each other, depending on where you want to end up. But this is one place you should definitely put on the list. It is close to the beaten path yet isolated, and offers a fantastic experience for the off-road tourer, no matter your style of camping and driving. But more on that later … let me tell you about our latest adventure.
I don’t know who was more excited to be back – myself or Pat. The station owner’s son, Charlie, had called me up and told me about a new track he had just cut in along with his dad Warren. It sounded serious. “Yeah, Dad could not drive the dozer back up it” was Charlie’s laconic response. He even sent a video to prove it. Crikey, this was going to be exciting. Here we were presented with a fresh cut track, that had never seen the treads of a 4WD before, and they wanted us to be the first to drive and name it.
While it seems stupid even to contemplate this, I need to dispel some drama here. We were not going to be driving uphill, no, this is a one-way track for the public, one which sees the steepest parts heading in a downhill direction. We were not going to attempt outdriving a dozer. We were planning to drive it as you guys would.
With another warm and genuine greeting out of the way at the check-in hut and with their young bloke circling excitedly on his little motorbike (pretty sure he wanted to be on TV doing a jump), we made for our digs. This, by the way, is how everyone is greeted. Drive in and stop at a little building near the family homestead, it is a small shop of sorts with some nice local produce and some essentials. This is also your stepping-stone to receiving your directions to camp and a map of the myriad tracks on offer.
In the past, I have stayed in the remote bush camps, the main campground (which also has showers and powered sites), and the shearers’ quarters. This time we were completing the full circle and staying at the old family homestead. What a lovely old building it is too, and we were looking forward to a shower later on.
With plenty of light left in the day, we wasted no time and headed up into the hills to meet our challenge.
Well, we had not even reached the new track, and I was in trouble. The track leading up to the ‘difficult’ one had caught me out. Negotiating a technical uphill section, one of my rear tyres flicked out a large rock, subsequently, the tyre fell into the hole created, and I had diffed out on a large mass of rock. I was stuck. With glee Pat backtracked and we laid out a snatch strap for a gentle tug out. Pat and I take a little too much pleasure in seeing the other get caught out, a little bit of friendly competition. Unfortunately, despite some rock placing beforehand, the back of the diff housing was damaged, the removable access plate had bent backward, and I was now slowly leaking diff oil. Nevermind, I would fix that later. Onward and upwards.
Reaching the summit, we got our first look at the new track; a barely discernible path that crossed a saddle before reaching a sharp peak then dropping off the face of the earth. The view from the peak was stunning, but the precipitous drop down got the blood pumping. This is where it gets steep. Moments later I watched as Pat’s Amarok disappeared sharply over the side, before re-appearing on the next less steep ridge, along with some wheelspin and in a nose-up position.
This was exciting. Heading down myself I quickly realised that this would be a tricky one to drive the other way; the steep incline, combined with the sharp scrabbly rock, would not allow for enough purchase for upward momentum. As I travelled up the next ridge, it was with a smile that I realised how lucky we are to have a place like this. A stunning station with tracks for all, and while we had just driven the gnarliest of them, we were also looking forward to driving the others over the next few days. But not before some bush repairs…
Early the next morning, Charlie arrived at our accommodation and informed me of a drive-over pit out in the yard. Within the hour, the diff cover was removed and had been hammered back into shape. A dose of some mastic sealant and the cover was back on and the diff ready for a top-up. Charlie was a great help and provided the tools we were not carrying, along with the fluids.
That is the great thing about station stays, the families that operate them have not only a wealth of bush-repair experience (borne out of necessity), but they are more than happy to help out in any way they can. You won’t find that kind of service in a State or National Park.
I have only touched on the other tracks available so far, but here is a quick rundown. Getting to the station and most of the trails around the station, and the North-South Range, can be easily driven in 2WD. The main camps, homestead, shearers’ quarters and most of the isolated bush camps are the same. The map you receive clearly indicates the track difficulty rating. Most of the sunset viewing areas can be easily reached with 4WD, and there are a few side tracks that are more challenging. The Bendleby Range on the eastern side of the property offers incredible views and is much steeper in nature. This is where the more challenging tracks lie; one of the more notable ones is Billy Goat Ridge. Billy Goat, much like its Victorian namesake, is a great technical climb that requires low range and some good wheel placement. It also offers stunning views and is part of a fantastic driving loop.
If you are camping, it is great to know that you have access to amenities around the property for a freshen-up, and there are three main amenity blocks available, in addition to the scattered local long-drops at the remote camps. Firewood is even provided as part of an eco-friendly attempt to stop the surrounding vegetation being thinned out. The station is Eco-Australia certified. The timber is imported from down south of the state and is quality hardwood – perfect for those warm smoke-free bush telly sessions.
There are a stack of bushwalking tracks, and you can get a list of the flora and fauna so far recorded on the property if you are into photography or learning about the environment.
Bendleby has a lot to offer the 4WD, RV or nature enthusiast. It is a worthy destination in its own right; oh, and make sure you check out the two new signs atop the new track, Pat’s Peak and Mt Scott.
ABOUT THE FAMILY Bendleby is owned by Jane and Warren Luckraft, along with Charlie and his wife Kylie and their young children. They have spent years developing the property to the point it is today. Times have been tough for not only them but also many other communities in the region, with barely any rainfall over the past three years. This has not stopped them making further developments to the station, despite the numbers of livestock (and income) being reduced to avoid overgrazing. Currently feed is being imported. The whole family are friendly and welcoming; they are the real deal. Warren has a turn-of-phrase and sharp wit that will likely have you in tears of laughter at some point; in typical outback style, he does not dabble in political correctness… it is all part of the charm.
This article first appeared in Pat Callinan’s 4X4 Adventure Issue 40; and aired in Season 12, Episode 1.