Adventure, tranquillity and spirituality co-exist in this sun-seared, spectacular desert region. The majesty of the Flinders Ranges red ochre vistas make it a drawcard for landscape artists, and a must-see travel destination and one of Australia’s 16 Ultimate Escapes
The Flinders Ranges is an ancient landscape with a quiet power. This majestic, timeworn region, made famous by the paintings of Sir Hans Heysen, stretches north from Port Pirie to the South Australian desert, sprawling across three national parks in all its rust-coloured, sunburnt beauty. This is the Australian outback – nature in its rawest and most striking form.
Visitors often speak of the spiritually uplifting energy and sense of peace and serenity they feel when exploring the Flinders, particularly at Wilpena Pound. This colossal natural amphitheatre rises from the desert in the shape of a cauldron. Sculpted by thousands of years of rain and sun, its jagged, thousand-metre quartzite peaks beg to be explored.
The Flinders is also known for its indigenous history. The Adnyamathanha people lived in the region for tens of thousands of years, and you can see their weathered rock carvings etched on the walls of Sacred Canyon. Other gorges, such as Bunyeroo and Brachina, are famous for geology, fossils and rare animals, including the yellow-footed rock wallaby.
You can take a 4WD expedition, a thrilling mountain bike ride, or soar above the ranges in a light aircraft, but many like to appreciate this remarkable landscape at a slower pace. Head out on one of the self-guided trails or do the Arkaba Walk, which traverses Wilpena Pound and 16,000 hectares of Arkaba’s wildlife conservancy. Whichever way you travel, you’ll discover old mining towns, charming pubs and ancient stories, all set against the incomparable beauty of the outback.
Walk: wild bush luxury trek
Soak up the essence of the outback on an exclusive walking safari. The four-day, three-night Wild Bush Luxury journey is a chance to marvel at the landscape with expert naturalists guiding the way. The trek traverses the wondrous Wilpena Pound and 16,000 hectares of Arkaba’s private wildlife conservancy, following the famous Heysen Trail. Nights are spent camping in a luxury cocoon – a deluxe swag set atop an elevated timber platform – and at the restored 1850s Arkaba Homestead. As for food, forget camping standards like pot noodles and instant coffee. All meals on this walk are lavish three-course affairs, accompanied by fine wine, stories and star-filled nights. Walks are held from mid-March until the end of October. Phone: 1300 790 561.
Explore: hit the 4WD trails
The Flinders offer some of the greatest desert four-wheel driving in the world, traversing waterholes, historic sites and vast salt lakes. Follow the trails blazed by explorers, stockmen and Afghan camel-drivers, the Overland Telegraph and original Ghan railway. Learn of this ancient area’s fascinating geological history, and spot rare yellow-footed rock wallabies. Set off on a self-guided trip or let someone else do the driving on a guided tour. Wilpena Pound Resort (08 8648 0004) offers a number of day- or half-day trips exploring clifftops, gorges, an old mining shaft and a classic outback hotel where you can feast on a platter of “feral food” including delights such as emu pate, camel, quandongs and kangaroo mettwurst.
Luxury: historic homestead hideaway
Steeped in atmosphere, Akarba Homestead is a classic Aussie bush farmhouse. A working sheep property since 1851, it’s long been a favourite of landscape artists, including Hans Heysen, with its backdrop of the dramatic ochre ranges. Flanked by wide, shady verandahs with cool stone walls, a corrugated iron roof and five comfy bedrooms, there are plenty of luxury touches, yet it maintains its old-world charm, with the artwork of Rosie Woodford Ganf scattered throughout and plush early-settler designs like bed posts fashioned from old fences. Cool off with a dip in the pool and at night, choose a book from the library, sink into a leather armchair with a glass of Barossa wine and watch the sun set over the Elder Range. Phone: 02 9571 6399.
Indigenous: Dreamtime bush feast
Discover the ancient culture of the Adnyamathanha peoples of the Flinders Ranges with an unforgettable Yullu Wirru Aboriginal Cultural Experience. Yullu Wirru, which means kingfishers’ wing, is the personal totem of Uncle Ken, one of the elder guides who shares his culture through storytelling, song and dance – accompanied by a three-course gourmet bush feast beneath the stars. The setting isn’t too shabby, either. Located in the heart of the Ranges, tucked in between the Pichi Richi Pass, Tickle Belly Hill has been designed to resemble an outback woolshed, with majestic views across the mountain ranges. More: Tickle Belly; 0459 386 284.
Adventure: pedal the panorama
Mountain bikers will be in their element on the Flinders Ranges By Bike (FRBB) cycle trail, a 200 kilometre circuit taking around three-and-a-half days and linking Wilpena Pound in the south to Blinman in the north. For the novice, there are plenty of easier trails to take on in the bushland surrounding Rawnsley Park Station (08 8648 0030), with mountain bikes and helmets available for hire. Head out in the early morning for a one-to-10 kilometre ride and marvel at spectacular landscapes, emus roaming and roos snoozing beneath trees. Download a route map showing details of the FRBB trail.
Family: glamp beneath the stars
Gazing up at the galaxy, roasting marshmallows around a campfire, sharing stories, singing your favourite songs… camping in the outback will create some of your most magical family memories. The glamp-sites at Wilpena Pound Resort are perfectly placed for exploring the best of the Flinders with your brood, and the good news is, you don’t need to rough it or spend time tackling tent pegs. The new, permanent Ikara Safari Tents at the resort boast fluffy king-sized beds, aircon and ensuites. It’s like a hotel room in the wilderness, with timber decks set among red gums, native pines and wildlife. Made from sturdy, insulated canvas, the family tents are even bigger, with kids’ bunk beds.
Wildlife: wake up with wallabies
Share Weet-Bix with the wallabies, say g’day to the emus or drink a chilled glass of bubbly at night as bats fly overhead on a wildlife tour at the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. Stay at the sanctuary or simply join one of the tours to learn about the region’s extraordinary wildlife – like the yellow-footed rock wallaby. The two-hour Waterhole Tour visits some of this endangered marsupial’s favourite hiding places, like gorges and tranquil waterholes, in the early morning. At dusk, wallabies can also be seen drinking by the Bolla Bollana springs. Watch them while sipping a glass of sparkling wine on the Bats & Bubbly tour, which takes you on an evening drive and walk along Arkaroola Creek. All tours are weather dependent – call ahead to check. arkaroola.com.au; 08 8648 4848
Getting there: The Ranges are a five-hour drive from Adelaide on a sealed road. Daily one-hour flights depart Adelaide to Port Augusta, and from there, it’s just over an hour by road. You can also charter a plane from Adelaide for a 65-minute flight.
Eating there: If camping, expect to cook your own meals on barbecues and campfires, although many resorts, motels and lodges have an on-site eatery. Most towns have general stores for takeaway, bakeries and classic Aussie pubs serving fantastic steak or “feral food” – modern bush dishes like roo burgers and emu egg omelette.
Staying there: There’s a huge range of options in the Flinders Ranges, from powered camp sites to self-contained cottages, motels and lodges. You’ll also find glamping-style safari tents and upscale, refurbished homesteads with five-star touches such as in-house chefs and infinity pools. More: see southaustralia.com