As the sun rises, the landscape
takes on varying hues of blue, then pink, gold and yellow, before the
rocks and scrub don their daytime garb of ochre and olive green. At
sunset, the scene changes again, as the ranges absorb the colours of a
darkening sky, moving through cobalt and navy blue to rich oranges and
reds, then finally to purple just as the light fades.
The changing moods of the Flinders Ranges, which stretch 300 km (186
miles) from Gladstone near the Spencer Gulf northward to the edge of the
Strzelecki Desert, have enchanted visitors for decades, and it's no wonder
that generations of artists ranging from the great painter Sir Hans Heysen,
who first came here in the 1930s, to modern-day chroniclers using cameras
and film have tried so hard to capture the magic of these mountains.
Situated 446 km (277 miles) north of
Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges are,
for the majority of South Australians, the most accessible part of the
outback. A sealed road leads all the way from the state capital to Wilpena
Pound, at the heart of the ranges, and there is also a slightly shorter
route through Orroroo and Jamestown, which is all bitumen apart from a
50-km (31-mile) section of smooth gravel south of Hawker. Within the
ranges, too, good dirt roads suitable for the family car lead to most
points of interest; only after severe rains or floods do they close, and
then usually just for a short time.
Flinders Ranges National Park
Today, Flinders Ranges National Park encompasses 94,908 ha (234,518 acres)
of the central ranges. Its centrepiece, Wilpena Pound, is an enormous
natural amphitheatre measuring 11 km (7 miles) by 5 km (3.1 miles) and
rimmed by battlement-like ridges, which on their outer edge plummet as
much as 300 m (1000 feet) to the surrounding plains. The highest point in
the pound, 1188-m (3898-foot) St Mary Peak, is also the tallest mountain
South Australia. The Aboriginal name Wilpena is said to mean 'cupped
hand' -a highly appropriate description, while the epithet 'pound' derives
from the landform's use as a natural stock enclosure by pioneer graziers.
Several bushwalking tracks departing from Wilpena Resort allow visitors to
investigate this dramatic landscape more closely. Shorter tracks lead to
the old homestead and up to Wangara Lookout, a return trip of one or two
hours depending on your level of fitness and on how long you spend
admiring the superb views over the surrounding country. At the entrance to
the pound, there is also an hour-long nature trail as well as a more
strenuous two-hour hike to a lookout on top of Mount Ohlssen Bagge.
Longer walks of a day or more can take you south to Bridle Gap or north to
Edeowie Gorge. A circuit route leads via the heart of the pound and
Cooinda Camp north to Tanderra Saddle, where there is a detour to the top
of St Mary Peak, before returning south along the battlements to Wilpena
You can also hike part of the Heysen Trail, a long-distance walking track
that runs all the way from Cape Jervis, south of
Adelaide, to the northern
end of the FlindersÑan epic journey of around 1500 km (930 miles). It
enters the park at Bridle Gap, then leads north along the ABC Range to
At Aroona, where the ruins of the homestead face magnificent views, you
can follow another trail along the nearby creek or climb to Red Hill
Lookout, a 7.5-km (4.7-mile), two-hour trip. You can also hike east to
Trezona Bore and the headwaters of Brachina Creek; from there, you can
either return along the same route to complete a 14-km (8.5-mile) round
trip, or continue south to the road near Trezona camp site and Brachina
Creek, and then follow the roads west and north back to Aroona. All up,
this is a 25-km (15.5-mile) hike, requiring at least a day.
Brachina Creek runs all the way to the western edge of the park, where its
waters flow through the Heysen Range at delightful Brachina Gorge. Here,
bluffs and gum trees line the creek, creating a shady refuge favoured by
local wildlife, including corellas, kangaroos and wallabies. Nearby, a
geological trail leads for 20 km (12.5 miles) along the gorge past signs
explaining the formation and development of the rocks, some of which date
back more than 600 million years.
Another spectacular gorge is located in the far north-east of the park.
Wilkawillina Gorge, 25 km (15.5 miles) off the Oraparinna road, was formed
as Mount Billy Creek gradually cut its way through the Bunker Range. There
is a camping ground at the end of the road, from where a walk of about 1
km (0.6 miles) will take you into the gorge itself. This part of the
Flinders is much drier than the Wilpena side, but Wilkawillina usually
holds some water.
Aboriginal art sites can be found throughout the Flinders and one of the
best is Sacred Canyon, a small chasm reached via a 14-km (8.5-mile) dirt
track that branches off the main Blinman road just north of the Wilpena
Pound Resort turn-off. A short walk from the car park along a tree-lined
creek brings you to the canyon, where engravings, or petroglyphs, of
animal tracks, circles and other symbols decorate the walls.
One of the best ways to see some of the park's wildlife is to drive the
Yanyanna Hut-Bunyeroo Valley road early in the morning. Red kangaroos are
common here and as you get closer to the main range you're likely to spot
euros and western grey kangaroos, too. This is also a good area for
wildflowers, which bloom profusely after rain, and the views are
fantastic, with the pine-clad hills rolling away to the sheer bluffs of
the Heysen Range. If you want to make a day of it, continue to the Prairie
Hotel in Parachilna for lunch and then take the Moralana Scenic Drive back
to Wilpena. This 36-km (22-mile) route provides fabulous views of the
western walls of Wilpena.
Wilpena Pound Resort has a motel, caravan park and store, as well as a
fuel outlet, ranger base and information centre. It can get crowded during
school holidays, so it is best to book accommodation well in advance.
At Aroona Valley, the main camp site east of the homestead ruins has
toilets and water. Further east, along the headwaters of Brachina Creek,
at Slippery Dip, Trezona and Youngoona, bush camping areas have been set
up; although all have toilets, you need to take your own water. Camping
areas are also located at Dingly Dell on the Blinman road, 30 km (18.5
miles) north of Wilpena Pound Resort; along the main road through Bunyeroo
Gorge, 27 km (16.5 miles) by road from Wilpena; and at Wilkawillina Gorge.
Another excellent area for camping can be found at Brachina Gorge, where a
scenic dirt road leads from Aroona Valley through the Heysen Range to the
arid plains surrounding the park. There are no facilities at the gorge,
however, so campers must be self-sufficient.
The Flinders Ranges Trek starts in Quorn, 350 km (217 miles) north of
Adelaide, at the southern end of the Flinders Ranges. Originally
established as a farming community, Quorn became the hub of the rural rail
system but declined in the 1950s following the rerouting of train services
through Port Augusta. Tourism has, however, helped it recover and the town
now meets all the usual needs of the traveller. In addition, the local
Pichi Richi Railway operates short trips on historic steam locomotives
into the scenic Pichi Richi Pass, allowing passengers to experience rail
travel as it once was.
From Quorn railway station, take the road heading west toward Port
Augusta, but instead of following the main road once you have crossed the
railway line, drive straight ahead, keeping the mountains on your left.
Continuing north, rolling hills and farmland stretch away to your right;
on the left, the ranges rear up dramatically to their ragged battlements.
The most prominent peak is Dutchmans Stern, which is protected by a small
conservation park reached via a turn-off 7 km (4.4 miles) out of Quorn.
The park encompasses some of the most rugged country in the Flinders, and
if you follow the trail to the ridge you will have spectacular views of
the ranges to the east and Spencer Gulf to the west.
Continuing along the main dirt road, a track junction 21 km (13 miles)
from Quorn marks the turn-off to Warren Gorge. This small, sheer-sided,
shady canyon holds water in all but the driest spells. Beyond the far end
of the picturesque gorge is an area of rolling hills dotted with native
pines, a popular picnic spot.
About 8 km (5 miles) further on along the main dirt road, it's worth
making another short detour, to Buckaringa Gorge. The cliff on the right
as you enter this small canyon is popular with climbers, and there are
camp sites at either end of the gorge. Beyond the gorge, the track
continues for 2 km (1.2 miles) to a car park, where there is another camp
site and a trail leading to Middle Gorge. If you follow the creek down to
the southern extremity of this gorge, you will come to a viewing platform
which overlooks a rocky bluff -the home of a small group of rare
Back on the main road, the route skirts the eastern side of the ranges and
6 km (3.7 miles) later arrives at Proby's grave. Hugh Proby, proprietor of
nearby Kanyaka Station, drowned in Willochra Creek while mustering sheep
one stormy night in 1852. You cross the wadi-like creek just past the
grave and then come to another junction, 6 km (3.7 miles) beyond the
grave, where you should turn right. On your left, you will see the ruins
of Simmonston, which was founded in 1872 to service a proposed railway but
then abandoned when the railway was rerouted. Continue south for another 6
km (3.7 miles) before turning left again, then drive 9 km (5.6 miles) to
the main Quorn-Hawker road, which is sealed. When you reach this road, you
will have driven 56 km (35 miles) from Quorn, although it is only 34 km
(21 miles) away via the main highway.
Turning left at the junction takes you onto Willochra Plain. Nearby are
the ruins of Gordon, a hamlet established, like many others in the late
1800s, in the mistaken belief that conditions here were ideal for growing
wheat. The ruins of Kanyaka Homestead and its outbuildings lie just off
the main road, 7 km (4.4 miles) nearer Hawker. At its peak in the early
1870s, this was one of the richest properties in the area, accommodating
over 70 families and 40,000 sheep. You pass another ruined farm, Wilson,
on the way to Yourambulla Peak, 16 km (10 miles) further north, where you
can admire Aboriginal rock art and fine views.
The small township of Hawker is 9 km (5.6 miles) north of Yourambulla. To
reach the centre of town, turn off the main road at the 'Wilpena Pound'
signpost. Hawker has a number of general stores, fuel outlets and a good
range of accommodation.
As you head north-east from Hawker across gently undulating country, the
Flinders Ranges loom ever larger on the horizon; to your left you will see
the Elder Range and to your right, one after another, the Lower, Druid and
Arkaba Station Woolshed, 19 km (12 miles) north of Hawker, sits on a low
rise with a panoramic view of the Elder Range. The woolshed is open most
days and offers coffee, tea and scones, as well as souvenirs and local
art. You can also join guided tours of the property, which is one of the
most impressive in the region, and even rent a cabin if you feel like
Approximately 5 km (3.1 miles) beyond Arkaba, on the left, the Moralana
Scenic Drive branches off the main road. It skirts the southern rim of
Wilpena Pound before joining the Hawker-Leigh Creek highway. Staying on
the main road, you soon reach Rawnsley Park Station, which is situated
below Rawnsley Bluff on the edge of Wilpena Pound. The station has a
camping ground and accommodation, and can provide food and fuel.
As you near the pound, the ranges close in from the west and dense stands
of native pines grow right up to the edge of the road. Just before you
enter Flinders Ranges National Park, 44 km (27 miles) from Hawker, you
pass the turn-off to Arkaroo Rock, where a short walk leads to a natural
cliff gallery featuring striking Aboriginal rock art.
The turn-off to Wilpena Pound is 8 km (5 miles) further along the main
road, 52 km (32 miles) from Hawker. Turning left leads to Wilpena Pound
Resort, 4 km (2.5 miles) away. It's worth spending a few days here to
explore the pound properly.
Continuing north from the Wilpena Pound Resort turn-off, the bitumen soon
stops, and after just 1 km (0.6 miles) you pass the track to Sacred
Canyon. At the major road junction 5 km (3.1 miles) north of the resort
turn-off, head left toward Yanyanna Hut and Bunyeroo Valley. This dirt
road initially winds through low hills and valleys of red gums, then
climbs through native pine and finally crests a ridge after 14 km (8.5
miles); from here, you enjoy expansive views down the Bunyeroo Valley and
across the domes of the ABC Range to the ramparts of the Heysen Range.
From the Bunyeroo Valley Lookout, the road follows the ridgeline for a
short distance before winding its way down to Bunyeroo Creek. The next 2
km (1.2 miles) or so lead along the creekbed into the gorge. This is
generally no problem for a 4WD, but the rocks and boulders may damage a
low-slung car. Once the road leaves the creek, it swings north between the
ABC and Heysen Ranges. Reaching the T-junction 10 km (6 miles) north of
the creek and 28 km (17 miles) from Wilpena Pound Resort turn-off, veer
left and follow the road along the creek and into Brachina Gorge. There
may be water here but a 4WD will cope easily. Brachina is an exquisite
place and its camp sites are among the best in the park.
The road crosses the creek for the last time 7 km (4.4 miles) from the
T-junction, then climbs a low hill, from where you have fine views back
across the creek and down the Heysen Range to the northern walls of
Wilpena Pound. It then heads due west for 12 km (7.5 miles) until it
strikes the main Hawker, Leigh Creek road 43 km (26.5 miles) north of
Hawker, 109 km (68 miles) from Quorn via the main road, and 166 km (103
miles) along the route you have travelled. Here, you can either turn left
and return to Hawker along the blacktop, or veer right toward Parachilna,
Marree and the deserts of central Australia.