The Mid-North, South Australia
9 January 2012
Caravans and motorhomes are well catered for with parks ranging from the major chains with all facilities, to small council-run parks that are quiet, economical and clean. For free campers there are a number of options available in reserves and national parks.
Watervale, Leasingham and Sevenhill are just a few of the small villages through the valley that host numerous boutique wineries along with some of the big names in the industry. Clare, at the northern end of the valley, is the main commercial centre and boasts all major facilities along its main street.
Depending on your love of great wine and food, you can easily spend a few days in the valley exploring wineries, delighting in some of the many historical buildings and indulging in the work of many local artisans. Opportunities to stock the pantry and cellar with local produce are bountiful, and it's hard to leave without a drop or two of the good stuff!
The imposing sight of large white grain silos indicate your arrival at Gladstone, a once thriving railway town and commercial centre. The main road bypasses the town these days, but veer off it to find a well-maintained main street with easy RV parking, good clean toilets and a variety of shops.
Just 11km up the road is the town of Laura, with two major claims to fame: the first being the source of Golden North ice-cream, and the second being the place where Australian poet CJ Dennis spent much of his childhood. CJ Dennis, probably most famous for his poem 'The Sentimental Bloke', wrote 'Laura Days' in 1932 to celebrate the town's 50th anniversary.
A great time to visit is on the first weekend in April (unless it coincides with Easter – then it's the second weekend) when the annual Laura Folk Fair is held. This sees the main street fill with musicians, craft people and artisans of all descriptions. A wide variety of food and drink is for sale, all in a very family-friendly atmosphere.
If history is your thing, or you just can't go past a good bakery, Stone Hut is the place for you. This tiny village in the middle of agricultural land was first settled in the 1850s and the local people have done a great job in providing visitors with interpretive signs and the Stone Hut Heritage Walk brochure to ensure you don't miss a bit of the rich history and interesting background to this town.
Stone Hut is also the start of South Australia's newest wine area, the Southern Flinders. As you go north, you will see signs to a small number of boutique wineries. Some of these have restricted opening hours, but tastings are available at the Stone Hut Bakery, and the North Star and Melrose pubs in Melrose.
After heading further north for a short distance, the small town of Wirrabara comes into sight. The strange name is Aboriginal in origin, meaning 'a place of big trees'. It's the big trees that provide your main reason for easing off the accelerator, apart from not getting in the bad books with the local constabulary, and take a left turn to travel the 9km to the historic Wirrabara Forest. This 7000ha forest is largely native forest with about 30% planted to radiata pine, which is cut locally and largely used in the building industry.
The Ippinitchie Campground provides basic amenities for a very small sum and is RV accessible. The campground is closed during the fire danger season, but campfi res are allowed at other times and firewood is provided cut and ready to go by the forestry rangers.
The town of Melrose is dominated by the steep and rugged Mount Remarkable, which has a beautiful caravan park and camping ground right at the base, and is only a two-minute walk to the main street. This provides another great opportunity to settle in for a night or two. If you are feeling a little energetic, take the short trek up to the War Memorial, where you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Those with a 4WD will be rewarded by magnificent views over Spencer Gulf by taking a trip along the Bridle Track. This is well signposted and starts a few kilometres out of Melrose.
The dirt track passes through farmland and climbs steeply to the top of the range. You can then either return the same way, or better still, continue on down the other side of the range where the track fi nishes near Port Germein, and you can pop in and have a look at the enormous jetty. From there, a sealed road takes you through the picturesque Germein Gorge to Murraytown, putting you back on the B82 with only a short drive back to Melrose. So, take your picnic gear and make a day of it!
Our trip up the B82 finishes at Wilmington, in earlier days known as Beautiful Valley. Again, the history buffs will be rewarded with a walk around town and a caravan park in idyllic surroundings provides a further opportunity to stop and smell the roses.
Wilmington is also the entry point to Mount Remarkable National Park and the spectacular Alligator Gorge. The road into the gorge is steep in parts and not suitable for caravans. Once at the gorge car park, there are a variety of walks to suit most levels of fitness, all providing spectacular views of this rugged area. If the kids haven't been worn out yet, a trip to the Wilmington Toy Museum could provide some amusement and a trip down memory lane for mum and dad – no computer consoles here!
Clare Tourist Information Centre can be found on the corner of Main North and Spring Gully Roads in Clare and is open Monday to Friday from 9am until 5pm and 10am until 4pm on weekends. www.claregilbertvalleys.sa.gov.au
Southern Flinders Discovery Centre at 14 Gladstone Street in Gladstone is open from 10am until 4pm every day. www.gladstonesa.com.au
Laura Folk Fair takes place on the first weekend in April unless coinciding with Easter, when it is moved to the second weekend.
Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend: This is a great food and wine festival usually held mid-May each year.
Travel in this area can be undertaken any time of the year, although it can get very hot during summer. Well maintained, sealed roads make for easy travel throughout the region.