For many Australians, the word ‘heli-camping’ probably conjures visions of adventurers perched precariously on sheer, snow-capped mountain ranges in countries far, far beyond our reach right now. If you are one of those Australians, there are two things you really should know.
First, you can now add the Flinders Ranges to those mental postcards of landscapes in the Rocky Mountains and New Zealand’s South Island. Second, Rawnsley Park Station, 450 kilometres’ north of Adelaide, does heli-camping a little differently. Visualise bush camping on a spectacular outback outcrop that is barely accessible by any other means. Well, actually, you don’t have to visualise any longer.
As the sun relaxes into the afternoon sky, your helicopter lifts off from the vast sheep station-cum-farm-stay at the feet of mighty Wilpena Pound. Trace the natural amphitheatre’s steep ramparts, then hover over formidable Rawnsley Bluff, where you’ll catch your first glimpse of ‘The Pound’s’ immense inner-bowl. Only from high above can you truly appreciate the prodigious scale and geological magnificence of the Flinders Ranges.
The helicopter heads for Rawnsley Park’s secluded campsite high in the Chace Range. After touchdown on the heli-pad with the small footprint, it’s only a 150-metre stroll to your perch for the evening.
Everything is ready and waiting for you. The deluxe swags, which feature soft mattresses, are rolled out amid the mallee trees and propped up like mini-tents, with built-in fly screens. Later tonight, you’ll want to roll back the canvas to unleash a spectacular star show.
As darkness begins to advance, the chopper banks away into the distance. Plonk into a comfy canvas chair among the grass trees and devour the gourmet cheese platter with your other half. A complimentary bottle of South Australia’s finest wine breathes as lightly as you do. Let the barely fathomable remoteness and silence envelop you.
Aromas of the (pre-prepared) two-course camp oven bush feast nearing readiness accompanies the campfire glow. The sunset sharply silhouettes the far-off profiles of the Elder and Ulowdna ranges. The sky gradually and almost imperceptibly turns orange, then yellow, then crimson, before the inevitable and infinite star-specked midnight blue prevails. Only a gentle breeze and occasional birdsong lightly punctuate the outback silence.
Come dawn, a campfire bush breakfast prepares you to swoop back down to Rawnsley Park. But, if you are feeling adventurous, you can turn your heli-camping experience into a heli-hiking adventure. With a light backpack of bare essentials, and under the experienced eye of one of Rawnsley Park’s astute walking guides, you stride onto the wild and wonderful Chace Track.
Rawnsley Park’s three- and five-day guided walks cover a diverse smorgasbord of outback landscapes to complement your heli hike. There are seven main trails to choose from plus plenty more ‘secret’ hikes that you can mix and match to tailor to your pace, ability and energy.
Rise early for the testing hike straight up from the station to Rawnsley Bluff. Your efforts are rewarded with vast vistas over historic Rawnsley Park, which has been operating since 1895.
The two-hour Arkaroo Rock Circuit takes you to a natural shelter that features Indigenous rock art said to be more than 5000 years old, which tells a Dreaming story of the Adnyamathanha people. A one-hour drive from Rawnsley Park, Blinman Pools Walk meanders along creek beds lined with red gums to natural spring-fed rock pools. Make sure to pack your cossies for an outback cool-off to remember.
You can sample a small section of the famed Heysen Trail, which traverses 1200 kilometres of the South Australian landscape, all the way from Cape Jervis, south of Adelaide, to Parachilna Gorge. The Wilcolo Creeks Circuit includes part of Bunyeroo Gorge. Your guide knows the best place to clap eyes on the notoriously shy and rare yellow-footed rock-wallaby.
All of the walks that snake around Rawnsley Park connect visitors with flora and fauna that many only see on the Discovery Channel. Stroll past families of emus and well-fed euros (wallaroos).
Skyward eyes are rewarded with scenes of giant wedge-tailed eagles gliding high in the sky and cherished glimpses of Mallee Ringneck parrots. Bush tucker is never far from your guide’s grasp, too. Taste a quandong or native pear and take a nice strong whiff of ‘curry’ bush.
After all your peregrinations, it’s time to spoil yourself. Relive your adventures over a lamb platter at Rawnsley Park’s Woolshed restaurant. Uncork a classic Clare Valley wine, retire by the wood fire, and let the stories flow.
Rawnsley Park’s owners, the Smith family, are deft hands at combining classic outback hospitality with contemporary luxury. The Eco-Villas here are the pick of the extensive accommodation options, which also include The Homestead, family units and a caravan park. The secluded, fully self-contained, one- and two-bedroom villas have (energy-neutral) space galore, well-appointed kitchens and chic bathrooms.
Best of all, each Eco-Villa offers a surprising, under-the-stars experience. Press a button to automatically retract your over-bed skylight, which unveils a private star show. All without having to leave you comfy cocoon and plump pillows behind.
Still dreaming of far-away places?
For more information: Rawnsley Park Station’s Heli Camping Experience costs $725 per person (minimum two people). It can be incorporated into the three- and five-day guided Walking the Flinders Ranges itineraries. Prices for Eco-Villas start at $470 per night. Other activities include scenic flights and 4WD tours of the gorges.