If you ever wanted to live like an aristocrat in The Outback, then Arkaba Station in the Flinders Ranges may just be the ticket. Words by Quentin Long.
It is certainly a conundrum. On one hand, The Outback is part of our national psyche, the keystone to understanding what it means to be an Australian. On the other hand, it often means rough, uncomfortable, expensive and difficult travelling, where the emotional outcomes of the journey are well worth the challenge – if you can hack it. More than ever though, you can experience The Outback in relative comfort.
“Our philosophy is pretty simple,” says Pat Kent, the jovial host at Arkaba Homestead. “Pretend you have a long-lost uncle who has an outback station. He throws you the keys and says, ‘The cellar and larder are stocked, the staff are on hand, knock yourself out.’”
It’s a stretch, but that’s a philosophy I can learn to love.
After bumping and bouncing in a small plane from Coober Pedy to Wilpena Pound via the amazing Arkaroola Ridge Top Tour (add that to your list), the luxury homestead in the heart of the Flinders Ranges is as welcome as a good coffee in a small town.
I want to leap onto an outdoor lounge next to the fully stocked self-serve bar, but it’s just too cool an evening. Instead, Pat introduces me to the staff: Brendan is the head guide, Kat’s another guide, Jo is the chef and Sally, his partner, is our co-host. With just five rooms and a maximum of 10 guests, it’s not going to be hard to get great service.
The homestead sits in one of my favourite landscapes. Every time I see the Elders Ranges, Wilpena Pound and the Chace Ranges that form the Central Flinders Ranges around Hawker, five hours from Adelaide, I feel dwarfed and overawed. I find the changing colours of these ranges in the morning and evenings more interesting than Uluru. The folded layers of pink, golden and red rock flicker like a fire at sunrise and sunset.
This is the accessible outback, where you can do as little or as much as you want. Scenic flights, 4WD self-drive and tag-along tours, bush walks, fantastic wildlife and intriguing geology make for some of the most interesting outback experiences in Australia.
The “make yourself at home” philosophy at Arkaba is, quite simply, awesome. Sitting beside the fireplace with a beer, I eye off some Penfolds Bin 389 for later consumption. Pre-dinner snacks arrive from Jo: grilled lamb chops. Now this is outback snacking.
The dinner that follows is home-style cooking with flair. Smocked hock with goats’ cheese and pomegranate, Eyre Peninsula beef with asparagus, mash and a red wine jus, and to finish it off, a cheeky chocolate fondant with salted caramel. Who said The Outback had to be tough?
Four of the five homestead’s guest rooms are within the homestead, with the fifth in a private ‘barn’. I stay in the homestead. My room is, in fact, three rooms – the bedroom, an enclosed verandah and bathroom. The room draws on the Outback theme, with old wool packs used to cover the side tables. Framed botanical prints adorn the walls. The bathroom is spacious but, sadly, there’s no tub for a relaxing soak.
The gem of the room inclusions for me is the species list. Every type of bird or animal you can possibly encounter on the property is listed. It’s a nice touch that encourages the deeper purpose of being in a place like this: appreciating it.
On a walking tour the next day, Kat leads us up a creek behind the homestead. For the next two hours, she reveals the secrets of the flora and fauna while identifying the marks left by indigenous people and identifying every bird.
Historically, a flat area above the creek was used as a dining room and ceremonial site.
As we head to Mt Arkaba we pass an old sawmill that once cut the sleepers for the original Ghan railway, which passed through Hawker and Parachilna. It no longer goes this way, following instead a similar path to the Stuart Highway.
The walk leads to fantastic views of the three enthralling geological structures, Chace and Elder Ranges and Wilpena Pound. Upon our return at the station, Jo greets us weary walkers – well, as weary as one can feel after a two-hour stroll – with a warm hot chocolate infused with banana. Ahhh, this certainly is the stylish way to experience The Outback.
• Arkaba Station, Wilpena Road, Flinders Ranges.
• $790 per person per night, which includes all meals and drinks, activities and road transfers from Hawker. Minimum two-night stay.