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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 in 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 Creek.

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 Aroona Valley.

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 yellow-footed rock-wallabies.

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 Chace Ranges.

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 staying longer.

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.

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