The Flinders Ranges are located 450km north of Adelaide, at the northern end of the Heysen Trail. Wilpena Pound is the major attraction, a huge amphitheatre surrounded by a ridge of mountains, including St Mary’s Peak. The mountains continue into the national park, creating beautiful valleys and tree-lined gorges, perfect for bushwalking and 4WDing. There is heaps of native wildlife running around like kangaroos and emus (bush chooks), as well as introduced stock such as feral goats and rabbits.
The Flinders Ranges is abundant with geological features and fossils and most of the rock is made up of quartzites, limestone, shales and sandstones. It formed about 800 million years ago beneath the ocean before the land was lifted out of the ocean, causing folds and fractures in the earth. Aboriginal culture is important to the area. The Adnyamathanha people are the traditional custodians of the region and their name means rock people. Dreamtime stories about how the land and animals were made are published on plaques around the national park – why crows are black and how the rivers beds were dug through the earth.
We raced the sun as we drove through Quorn and Hawker to get to Wilpena before dark. We stayed one night before heading into the Flinders Ranges National Park to our next camp spot – Aroona Ruins. In the morning, we packed up and headed towards Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park. This part of the flinders ranges is much more rugged and isolated and features Arkaroola, an award-winning wilderness sanctuary. Unfortunately, after copping two tyre punctures on the way there, we decided to cut our losses and head for the highway to make our way back down south towards Port Augusta.
While we were out there in the dry heat, dealing with our second puncture at Balcanoona, we realised that it takes a very special person to see the romantic side of the outback and the life of a bushranger. The aridity and isolation, flies and thirst – they’re not pleasant. While the scenery is fantastic, it’s probably more comfortably enjoyed via a Ken Duncan photograph. Unless you and your rig are fully prepared for the intense landscapes, dirt roads and plethora of floodways, stay close to civilisation because there’s no reception and people are few and far between.
POINTS OF INTEREST
If you want to check out Wilpena Pound, many walking tracks begin at Wilpena, which is basically a resort town sporting a variety of accommodation from flash cabins to unpowered campsites. The visitor centre is located right in the middle and while you have to pay for entry into Flinders Ranges National Park, you have to pay more to stay at the resort overnight. It is a good pit stop to fill up on water, and they have showers, BBQs and picnic areas.
Kangaroos are everywhere, so be careful during sunrise and sunset, but the scenery is incredible. St Mary’s Peak, almost 1200 metres high is one of the mountains that make Wilpena Pound, and while we didn’t do the Pound hike, we woke at sunrise to watch the mountains turn red.
Bunyeroo Valley & Gorge
The drive through the national park was beautiful – rolling hills with dry forests of native pine, dirt roads winding through the valleys and gorges. The view of Bunyeroo Valley from the Ridgeback Lookout was phenomenal and the Bunyeroo Gorge was nice to drive through.
We thought we’d go and explore Brachina Gorge before setting up camp at Aroona Ruins. We found a campsite of people who had found a puddle of water in a creek bed. The vegetation was lush in this area and we watched goats cross the hillside in the distance, salivating at the thought of a slow-cooked goat curry.
Aroona Ruins & Red Hill Lookout
This campsite was great, but would have been even better if there was water in the creek. There were kangaroos and goats prancing about. We also saw a rabbit, foraging only a few meters from us, so we ran to get the bow, only to decide not to shoot it because we had a fridge stocked with meat biscuits and lamb chops.
The Ruins included a log house and shed and were built in 1925. The famous artist, Sir Hans Heysen stayed in the house a few times to paint the surrounding landscape.
During the day, it was hot and dry and we were very lucky to have drinkable water from a tap nearby. We lazed in the sun like kangaroos, reading and writing and snoozing. Out there in the wilderness, it’s like time stands still and the hours sauntered by. Many times the quiet was noticeable and only broken by the sound of flies buzzing about your ears or the distant bleat of a goat.
Once the sun was low in the sky, we put our hiking boots on and headed for Red Hill Lookout. It’s a 4.3km hike with plenty of inclines to a fantastic panoramic view atop Red Hill. It took us an hour to get there, with plenty of wallaroo spotting on the way. By the time we got back, we were wet with sweat so we rinsed off and enjoyed our first night without the fly on the dome tent, gazing at the stars until we were asleep.
We were looking forward to getting to Parachilna and checking out the Prairie Hotel, but when we found out that they’re closed for 6 weeks at this time of the year, we were aghast! The pub is famous for its Feral Food Platter and atmosphere, but they don’t advertise their closure so people come from miles away, sometimes from other countries to go there, only to find out they’re closed!
“Balls”, we said – and boycotted the town entirely. Instead, we went to Parachilna Gorge and spent another night without the fly on the tent. A really beautiful camping ground that is free for all, provided that campers keep respecting the area.
If you’re travelling from Port Augusta to the Flinders Ranges, you may as well stop in Quorn and have a quick look around. There is an old mill with an exit door on the second floor (???) and the town park has great
General store is the place to go for coffee, food and advice. They also have a great selection of camping equipment, a bottle shop and souvenirs. At the entrance of town are toilets and coin-operated BBQs at 20c a pop. There are also a few lookouts nearby, like Castle Rock and Camel Hump.
Located at the top end of the Flinders Ranges, Leigh Creek is the oasis in the middle of the desert. It was originally set up in 1980 as a place to accommodate contractors who were involved in the coal industry. Over the years, the population dwindled from 2500 to 500 and is now a gateway to central Australia.
The town boasts a friendly tavern with a great beer garden and schnitzel day on Wednesday, free electric BBQs by the footy oval, a local supermarket and café, as well as an Olympic-sized swimming pool to provide the perfect relief after a few days in the arid ranges. Entry is $3 for adults and it was great to have a swim and a warm shower before moving on.