The Flinders Ranges promises outback adventure and wows of wonderment, and nobody knows it better than Tony Smith at Rawnsley Park Station.
The Flinders Ranges is quintessential outback Australia. It took half a billion years to carve out these orange gorges and rust-red cliffs. Outsized landscapes are buckled and twisted. Red river gums stand in rocky valleys. Endless vistas and year-round sunsets explode. At night, the staggering stars of remote Australia twinkle as if to celebrate the end of another remarkable day.
The Flinders Ranges in South Australia provides one of the outback’s best experiences without requiring a major expedition. Its ancient mountains loom ahead after an easy five-hour drive north of Adelaide, and soon you’re amid dramatic scenery. All the outback has to offer is here: abundant wildlife, rich Aboriginal heritage, quaint country towns, and the best of contemporary visitor experiences.
Rawnsley Park Station is just such an experience. You can’t get more Flinders Ranges than this. Owner Tony Smith is from a fourth-generation Flinders Ranges family; his great-grandfather John Smith arrived in 1885. His parents Clem and Alison Smith bought Rawnsley Park Station in 1953 and first ventured into tourism in 1968 with a single cabin and some sheep-shearing demonstrations. It would prove a visionary decision.
Tony and his wife Julie took over in 1985 and have raised three sons (all now adults) on the station. Although Rawnsley Park still runs 2000 sheep and is very much a working property, it has been transformed into an award-winning tourism facility that gets rave reviews from its lucky visitors. It has also won numerous state and national tourism awards and was one of the first South Australian businesses to gain official ecotourism accreditation.
Tony says he has a deep affinity with the Flinders Ranges and, given his family history, it isn’t hard to see why. Visitors might encounter him patrolling on his quad bike, faithful kelpie Vader on the back ready to round up sheep at a whistled command. Ask Tony anything you like: there’s not much he doesn’t know about the natural environment, history and top sights of the Flinders Ranges.
Tony and Julie’s knowledge makes them the best people to show you this magnificent corner of Australia. Over the decades, they’ve honed the details of an ultimate luxury bush experience that visitors love. Rawnsley Park Station sprawls over 11,735 hectares and, with its many facilities and activities, you hardly need leave for a satisfying Flinders Ranges experience.
Accommodation choices include camping, caravans, cabins and luxury eco villas. The straw bale and timber eco-villas hunker beneath the shade of cypress trees and eyeball Rawnsley Bluff and the Elder Range. The swimming pool has views of red rocky ridges sculpted by the eons; at night they turn purple, then blue, before fading into the starlit night.
Enjoy evening meals at the Woolshed Restaurant, where modern Australian tucker – including lamb from Rawnsley Park itself – is matched with world-class South Australian wines. The wide veranda is cooled by breezes scented with eucalyptus.
You don’t need to leave the property to enjoy amazing scenery, plenty of wildlife and experiences such as the Daybreak Loop Walk or mountain-bike tracks, which link into a 200-kilometre trail across the Flinders between Wilpena Pound and Blinman. Then there’s the sunset drive to spectacular views of the Chace Range – accompanied by canapés and sparkling wine, of course. Tony reckons this is his favourite sunset spot of all for the lingering purple and mauve light you won’t see from the valley.
A half-day Station Run tour takes you behind the scenes at Rawnsley Park Station, on which you’ll meet the sheepdogs, visit the woolshed, and learn about the challenges of running a sheep property. Take the chance to ask about the Smiths’ environmental commitment. Tony and Julie support projects such as the protection of the diverse plant life of Rawnsley Bluff and the reintroduction of the western quoll to Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park
You will, of course, want to stray from the station, too. Rawnsley Park makes an incredible base from which to explore. Among ways in which Tony and Julie Smith offer a complete outback experience are day walks, 4WD tours and scenic flights by plane or helicopter. The Flinders Ranges’ most famous landmark, Wilpena Pound, is gobsmacking from above. It looks like the crash site of a gigantic meteor, though is actually an immense circle of eroded cliffs.
You can learn about the history and ecology of this time-worn land as you soak up the scenery on three- and five-day guided bushwalks. Treks take you to top outlooks around Wilpena Pound and then north to Blinman and Parachilna Gorge.
The Flinders Ranges is a top spot for 4WD enthusiasts, with a network of 15 private and 24 public-access tracks. Moralana Scenic Drive is one of the easiest, but perhaps the most stunning, taking you across countryside backed by rugged red ranges.
Bunyeroo and Brachina gorges, formed from ancient seabeds, are unmissable. Fossils of some of the earliest creatures on Earth are ghostly shadows on the rocks, and are among reasons the government is applying for a World Heritage listing for the Flinders Ranges. Rare yellow-footed rock wallabies hop in the late afternoon.
Collisions of colour-banded crumbling cliffs rise in every direction at Bunyeroo Valley Lookout. Brachina Lookout is a fireball at sunset, with views over outback plains that seem to bend on a horizon yellow at the edges, like paper held to flames.
But the ultimate Rawnsley Park tour is surely overnight heli-camping, on which you’re whisked to an exclusive campsite in the Chace Range for a night in a swag among twisted pines and mallee trees. After the helicopter buzzes away into the immensity, an immense soul-soothing silence unfolds.
Enjoy a chef-prepared two-course dinner that you heat up in your camp oven, then a chocolate pudding followed by a sumptuous show of declining light and an extravagance of stars. Next morning, as you tuck into your bacon-and-egg breakfast, you’re rewarded as the climbing sun throws magnificent colour over the magnificent Elder Range and Wilpena Pound. It’s a splendid sight you won’t soon forget.