By Julietta Jameson
The starriest of night skies, the most soul-moving dawns and unforgettably vivid sunsets are your backdrop to a spectacular outback experience in the South Australian Flinders Ranges.
An ancient landscape of dramatic gorges and soaring rock faces, the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park is also home to a changing parade of distinctly Australian wildlife: endangered wallabies, and several species of kangaroo and the ultimate predator of the sky, the mighty wedge-tailed eagle.
Tour it with an Aboriginal guide and see the giants and serpents come alive as their stories paint a vivid picture of the Dreaming.
Be awe-inspired by Wilpena Pound, a massive natural amphitheater formed by mountains and home to the highest point in the Flinders Ranges, St Mary Peak, complete with stunning views.
Find your way
The largest mountain range in South Australia is around 220 miles due north of Adelaide.
Take your time. There are some scenic routes to the area that take in some of South Australia’s best attractions. You can head there via the Barossa and Clare Valley wine regions.
Find your stay
Wilpena Pound Resort is the only accommodation option actually within the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park itself – and it’s a great one. Choose from 60 hotel rooms, glamping (glamorous camping) accommodation or a caravan and camping ground with some of the best views you’ll ever encounter.
Ikara Safari Camp offers 15 permanent, premium safari tents with king-size beds, private bathrooms, full power and air-conditioning as well as private decks and orientation to tranquil views.
Wilpena Pound Caravan & Campground covers more than 120 acres and is close to the entrance of the pound. Take your trailer (caravan), pitch a tent, or stay in one of the permanent canvas tents on site.
Rawnsley Park Station is within 25 miles of the park with stunning views of the Pound and offers “eco villas”, camping and the luxury Rawnsley Homestead which features a private swimming pool and barbecue terrace with views of Wilpena Pound.
And Wild Bush Luxury’s Arkaba Station is a five-bedroom 1850s homestead surrounded by 60,000 acres of sheep ranch turned private wildlife conservancy.
If you have longer than 48 hours, the Arkaba Walk is a four day/three night walking safari across the property, starting with a night in the homestead, then a series of permanent camps with showers where you sleep under the stars or in discreet shelters that don’t disturb the incredible vistas. Each night, enjoy gourmet meals with wines. Along the way, visit secret spots on the conservancy and hear stories of the indigenous people, explorers and settlers. The Walk is part of the Great Walks of Australia program.
A bird’s eye view
To get a sense of the magnitude of the area, take a scenic flight. There are several operators that can be booked on arrival or in advance. The flights focus on the Pound and surrounding mountain ranges to give a view of the sheer vastness of the landscape, and an understanding of its meaning to the traditional owners of the land, the Adnyamathanha people.
Ranging from 20 minutes to an hour, a longer flight gives a bigger picture of the Flinders Ranges, soaring over the Western Plains, Parachilna and Parachilna Gorge, Blinman, the Bunkers Range and more, taking in the colors and formations of one of the Australia’s most remarkable landscapes.
Local lamb for lunch
Try the lamb the area is famous for in Rawnsley Park’s old woolshed, now a restaurant, which serves Modern Australian cuisine. There’s an open fire in winter, and a shady deck for taking in the views when the sun is out. The Woolshed restaurant serves Southern Flinders and Clare Valley wines, and nearly always has a Rawnsley lamb dish on the menu, sometimes throwing special lamb-inspired four course suppers and spit roasts. If you’re staying here, it’s a great spot for supper, too. See rawnsleypark.com.au
Horseback or horse power
Rawnsley Park also runs horse riding tours in the region.
For four-wheel driving, Wallaby Tracks Adventure Tours will take you on anything from half-day to seven-day tours with as much bushwalking as you want. On a longer tour, discover the unique sites of outback South Australia such as the Dog Fence that stretches 3500 miles from eastern Queensland to the South Australian coast at the Great Australian Bight. Erected in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was designed to keep dingoes out of South Australia, a job it continues to do and is actively maintained to do so, to this day.
You could stay for days at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. The 385 square mile, multi award-winning and family operated property lays claim to some of Australia’s most spectacular mountain views. You can take an SUV to the top of granite peaks that overlook ancient gorges and waterholes or bushwalk through the stunning landscape and watch for the incredible concentration of wildlife.
There are more than 160 species of birds in the sanctuary and if you’re sharp-eyed, you might spot an endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby, which also calls the area home.
Take Arkaroola’s SUV Ridgetop Tour to discover ancient sea beds and fossils and hear the history of Arkaroola founder Reg Sprigg whose family still runs the property. Sprigg was a pioneer of ecotourism and inspired its conversion from a sheep ranch to wilderness sanctuary.
Choose from a choice of accommodation styles, from motel rooms and self-contained apartments, to camps and motorhome sites.
Take a short scenic flight or a half-day adventure to see as far as the inland Lake Eyre and surrounds.
At night, take the unmissable Astronomy Tour. With no light pollution, Arkaroola has some of the best star gazing conditions in Australia. It has three fully equipped observatories featuring professional-grade telescopes and the tours include expert commentary. Arkaroola says this is “an experience that normally isn’t available to anyone but astronomers and scientists”.
Dine in distinct style
Be prepared for a dinner with a difference at the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna, 16 miles from the Brachina Gorge Geological Trail. This world-famous 1876 heritage landmark is an eccentric slice of South Australia’s unforgettable outback, with the rugged Flinders Ranges on one side and desert plains on the other.
While the pub is your classic good old-fashioned outback affair, the seasonal menu is something unique.
Go the ‘FMG’ or Feral Mixed Grill or the ‘Feral Antipasto’ which includes kangaroo mettwurst, emu pate, goats cheese and bush tomato chilli jam.
The chefs regularly use local ingredients such as quandongs, wattle and acacia seeds, saltbush, native pepperleaf, thyme and wild basil herbs, lemon myrtle and mountain pepperberries.
You can stay the night, too. There are renovated rooms in the main hotel building or nearby self-contained apartments.
Airlines operating international flights into Adelaide include Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Air New Zealand. Virgin Australia and Qantas fly to Adelaide from all major Australian cities (flights from Sydney and Melbourne are under two hours).
At the airport, pick up a car from any of a number of reputable rental operators, including Budget, Avis and Europcar. An SUV is recommended for outback driving.
It’s a 270-mile drive from Adelaide to the Wilpena Pound. But it’s recommended you take your time and choose a scenic route. For suggestions, see southaustralia.com
You can also fly to Wilpena Pound Resort in less than three hours’ flying time and with a Scenic Flight Transfer.
The Scenic Flight Transfers is in two flight parts: a 1 ½ -hour transfer from Adelaide to the mining town of Roxby Downs (Olympic Dam Airport) with Alliance Airlines, on a 52-seater Fokker aircraft. Then there is a one-hour scenic flight to Wilpena Pound Resort with WrightsAir, on a GippsAero GA8 Airvan that can seat up to seven.
Wilpena Pound Resort runs special packages that include flights, accommodation, meals and experiences.