By Kathy Marks
You want to fall asleep with crickets chirping and awaken to birdsong – but you want to do so between Egyptian cotton sheets in a large, comfortable bed.
You want stunning views, but you want to enjoy them with a glass of fine wine in your hand.
You want to get close to nature, but you definitely don’t want to be digging holes in the bush.
You want, in short, to go glamping – and the South Australian outback is the perfect place for it.
Ikara Safari Camp, Flinders Ranges
In the language of the original inhabitants of the Flinders Ranges, the Adnyamathanha people, Ikara means “meeting place”.
For tens of thousands of years, Wilpena Pound – a giant rock basin at the heart of the Ranges, where this award-winning camp is located – has been an important gathering and ceremonial site.
A five-hour drive north of Adelaide, the area – recently renamed the Ikara-Flinders National Park – is often overlooked in favor of more famous outback destinations.
The Wilpena Pound Resort, though, has been quietly welcoming discerning visitors since the 1950s, and Ikara Safari Camp, which opened in 2014, is a welcome addition.
In a secluded spot away from the main campground, 15 roomy tents with king-size beds, tiled bathrooms and timber decks are set among majestic red river gums and native pines.
With floorboards, solar power, running hot water, fluffy towels, bedside reading lights, fresh coffee, ceiling fans and gas heaters, every creature comfort is catered for.
Each tent faces the eastern wall of the Pound, a rocky, rust-colored natural amphitheatre created by hundreds of millions of years of erosion.
Brought alive in the paintings of the German-born Australian artist Sir Hans Heysen, who described the Flinders as “the bones of the Earth laid bare”, the haunting, multi-hued mountain range is one of the world’s most ancient landscapes.
Five miles long by 10 wide – large enough to accommodate eight Ulurus – Wilpena Pound teems with native wildlife, including kangaroos, emus and threatened yellow-footed rock wallabies.
A popular five mile return walk follows Wilpena Creek into the Pound via the restored Hills Homestead, a reminder of the area’s pastoral history.
It culminates in a short, sharp ascent up Wangara Hill, which rewards you with panoramic views of the Pound.
At the camp, which is part-owned by the Adnyamathanha people, meals arebreakfast is taken in a large, fully furnished communal tent, which also serves as a lounge.
The resort’s facilities, include a bar, restaurant, swimming pool and general store.
Cell reception is patchy at Wilpena, wifi (an Australian invention) is limited and there are no TVs in the tents. But who needs any of that when you can sit on your deck, watching sunlight dancing off the wall of the Pound and producing a kaleidoscope of shimmering color?
Ikara Safari Camp has a three-night package from $95 per night, including breakfast.
Dine at the camp or in the resort’s restaurant.
Arkaba Walk, Flinders Ranges
Just south of Wilpena Pound sprawls Arkaba Station (Australian for ranch), a 60,000 acre former sheep farm that forms the backdrop for one of Australia’s most spectacular guided walks.
Rated “moderate to challenging”, the trek covers 30 27 miles in three four days, immersing walkers in the harshly beautiful scenery of the Flinders Ranges.
The dramatic vistas of rugged gorges, rocky peaks and dry creek beds lined with river red gums are not the only draw, however. At the end of each day, after washing off the sweat and red earth in a hot “bush shower”, you sit down to a three-course, chef-prepared supper at a table spread with white linen and illuminated by lanterns hanging from the trees.
After supper, you retire to your luxury swag (Australian for sleeping bag) – a self-contained canvas sleeping compartment, complete with bedroll, 500-thread count sheets, fluffy pillows and comforters – to gaze up at the stars and listen to the sounds of the outback.
Extra touches include hot water bottles which camp staff slip inside your swag in winter.
Walking groups are small, with a maximum of 10 people, and unlike at Wilpena Pound, guests will not see another soul – meaning that, as Brendon Bevan, the manager and one of the guides, puts it, “you can really plug into the wilderness”.
Two nights are spent at Arkaba’s well-appointed bush camps, where swags are laid out on elevated timber decks screened on three sides for privacy.
The fourth side is open, enabling you to watch the rising sun daub a palette of ochres, purples and greens across the hillsides.
The walk begins at Wilpena Pound, traverses Arkaba, with its mountain ranges, steep canyons and cypress forests, and ends at the impeccably renovated, mid-19th century homestead, where guests spend the third night.
With the help of Bevan and other knowledgeable guides, you’re certain to see flocks of emus and kangaroos, and wedge-tail eagles soaring overhead.
A long-term conservation program, run by Arkaba’s owners and aimed at eradicating feral predators, has sparked a resurgence of native wildlife.
The walk takes place from mid-March to mid-October, and a support vehicle carries your luggage, leaving you free to strike out unencumbered.
The Arkaba Walk has a new four-day Long Weekender package which includes transfers to and from Adelaide – arriving by air, returning by road, via the Clare Valley – for around $1700 per person.
That includes all accommodation, meals, snacks and drinks.
Chef-prepared meals are served at the camps and at the homestead.
Kangaluna Camp, Gawler Ranges
It’s a fair bet that few Australians have heard of the Gawler Ranges, let alone visited this sublime wilderness region 370 miles north-west of Adelaide, cradled within South Australia’s newest national park.
One local, Geoff Scholz, has been running tours in this remote part of the windswept Eyre Peninsula since the 1980s. Now he and his wife, Irene, have built a luxury safari camp amid the mallee woodlands, accessible only by SUV.
Located just outside the Gawler Ranges National Park, Kangaluna Camp consists of three two-bedroom tents and a “swagon” – a converted grain wagon incorporating a double mattress swag, a cover that peels back to reveal the night sky, and a shower stuck on the end of a native myall tree branch.
The spacious tents have a queen-size bed (the second room has two singles), sisal matting, hot shower, flush toilet and verandah.
The artist-designed bedding and furnishings feature the local fauna – wombat hot-water bottle covers, for instance.
Curved roofs keep the air flowing, helping to cool the interior in summer.
Delightful though it is, the camp is primarily a base to explore the National Park, with its ancient geological formations such as the Organ Pipes, a collection of hexagonal volcanic columns. It also offers a chance to get close to the abundant wildlife, which includes the scarlet-breasted parrot and the endangered southern hairy-nosed wombat.
Other highlights of the region include Lake Gairdner, a vast salt pan glistening in the middle of an ochre-red landscape, and abandoned homesteads and shearing sheds – reminders of the tough lives of early settlers trying to farm the arid landscape.
Scholz takes camp guests to all of these sites and more in his SUV, whipping out lunch and drinks in picturesque spots.
Dinner is served back at Kangaluna, in an open-sided central “mess hall”, and then it’s time to survey the outback night sky through the camp’s powerful telescope.
Tour leaders pick up camp guests from Port Lincoln Airport, although you can also self-drive or catch a coach to Wudinna, the nearest town to Kangaluna.
Koalas can be seen in the wild at Mikkira Station, near Port Lincoln, while near Wudinna are the huge granite outcrops of Mount Wudinna Rock. All that, and a swagon too.
Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris, which owns Kangaluna Camp, has four-day, three-night tours from just over $1500, including accommodation, all meals and pick up/drop off at Port Lincoln.