You’ll find the Helena Aurora Ranges in the Great Western Woodlands, located in the south-west of Western Australia.
Stretching from the Nullarbor Plain in the east to the rabbit-proof fence in the west, and from near Esperance in the south up to Kalgoorlie in the north, the Great Western Woodlands are 16 million hectares (that’s almost the size of England) of huge swaths of woodlands and heathlands interspersed with salt lakes and amazing banded ironstone ranges.
Unfortunately, these banded ironstone ranges are being systematically targeted by the mining industry for iron ore. Due to their formation of layers of chert and iron oxide, the ranges are extremely valuable to our mineral export industry.
Several ranges in and around the Great Western Woodlands are already in the process of being destroyed by mining companies. Mining is allowed as the area is currently part of a conservation park; if it were a National Park, it wouldn’t be permitted. Petitions to upgrade this area to National Park status have so far been unsuccessful, so it’s best to go see the ironstone ranges before they’re gone.
The destination on this trip was the Helena Aurora Range (Bungalbin) located 100km north of Southern Cross in the Great Western Woodlands. The Helena Aurora Range currently has mining proposals looming over it by Polaris Metals, and the urgent need for protection becomes abundantly clear as the mapped track off the Bullfinch-Evanston road is blocked off – Polaris has created a detour track around its new J4 Mine, which is already operating at the north-west end of the range.
On the plus side, Polaris didn’t put much effort into its track building, so it makes a nice off-road drive into the Helena Aurora Range. This approach from the west is the long way, but it’s well worth the effort if you have the time. A more direct route is to come up through Southern Cross via Koolyanobbing, then onto the Mt Dimer track which will deposit you on the south side of the range.
As the Helena Aurora Range is located within a conservation park it’s not managed for recreational use and there are no facilities. The unofficial campsite is located on the north-west side of the range and is simply a reasonably level stretch of ground beneath the trees – not a bollard in sight. You’ll need to be totally self-sufficient and remember your camping etiquette: if you bring it in, take it back out with you.
The direct route is still a six-hour drive from Perth, so a few stops along the way should see you arrive and set up camp just in time for beer o’clock. Depending on the time of year, there are many different wildflowers to be found around the area. However, due to the harsh conditions and the lack of water, wildlife can be a bit sparse – we did spot some emus early in the morning, though.
It’s easy to spend an entire day driving around the Helena Aurora Range. Heading east from the camping area you’ll pass the sign for Ridge Track, which recommends high clearance 4WDs only past that point. The track is rutted and steep in places – the family sedan certainly wouldn’t make it.
This track, as the name suggests, takes you up to the top of the ridge where you’re treated to stunning views in all directions. There’s evidence of past campsites at the top of the ridge, but camping here is no longer encouraged. The vista at sunset would no doubt be stunning, but it was quite exposed and very windy on our trip.
The maps show a circuit track around the entirety of the range, but it’s no longer possible to trace it. The section of track at the eastern end of the range is very steep and is well and truly washed out and impassable. This is one case where the ‘track closed’ sign was entirely warranted.
As you backtrack past the campsite you can loop around the southern side of the range all the way to the bottom of the closed section at the eastern end. At this point it’s well worth getting out of the vehicle to take a hike up this section, if only to reassure yourself that you weren’t too quick in obeying the track-closed sign.
A mountain goat would feel right at home on the washed-out, deeply rutted, boulder-ridden remains of the track which would be near-on impassable even for the most hardcore 4WD – and if you break something out here, it’s a long way to get help.
The scenery at this end of the range is rugged and beautiful. Be sure to take the camera as you hike up the closed track to complete the loop, as the surrounding rock formations are stunning.
As you meander back to camp, there are numerous tracks off the main loop road which head in towards the range. These are fun to explore; although, be warned that they are rather overgrown and the wheel tracks often disappear entirely, requiring some guesswork to keep you heading in the right direction. However, the scenery is lovely and the tracks make interesting and reasonably easy side trips. If you’re a bit precious about your paint work, though, stick to the main loop road.
It’s sad to think that such a beautiful place may soon be dug up, put on the back of a boat and sent overseas. The balance between developing WA’s mineral wealth and protecting its unique geology, plants and animals is seen by many to have swung too far in favour of the miners. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever; as anyone who has had the misfortune to drive through a “rehabilitated” mine site will contest. Come and see it while you can – it might not be here much longer.
The Helena Aurora Range makes a great destination for a long weekend out of Perth. There’s plenty of space for a group to spread out and camp. For those who want to bring a camper or off-road caravan along, access to the campground is possible via reasonable gravel tracks.
The Helena Aurora Range is 100km north of Southern Cross in the Great Western Woodlands. It’s about a six-hour drive from Perth, four hours to Southern Cross and then two hours north to the range. The last hour is on a good dirt road.
WHEN TO GO
The most spectacular time is before the summer heat during spring, when the wildflowers are blooming. Winter and autumn can also be pleasant. Rain in any season can make parts of the track impassable. Enquire about recent and expected local weather conditions.
During the drier months the Helena Aurora Range is accessible by 2WD, but 4WD is recommended. High clearance is required to drive up to the ridge of the range.
WHAT TO BRING
You’ll need to be totally self-sufficient. Take at least one spare tyre, an air compressor and a puncture repair kit.
It’s all bush camping, with zero facilities.
- 2837 Bungalbin: 1:100,000
- SH50-12 Edition 3 Jackson: 1:250,000
- More information can be obtained through publications such as Explorer Series’ 4WD Days in the Goldfields of WA or websites such as: www.helenaaurorarange.com.au