Some people are lucky enough to wake up each morning and look out over the timeless Flinders Ranges. This could be you
WORDS & IMAGES REBECCA HARKIN
From mountains that formed over 540 million years ago to dramatic gorges, there is no such thing as a bad view in the Flinders Ranges. There is a way to experience the stunning scenery, away from the many tourists that journey to this popular iconic region, without committing to a permanent change of pasture.
When we visit the Flinders Ranges we prefer to stay on a station rather than in formal holiday accommodation. With recent droughts, pastoralists have been forced to re-evaluate their source of income with many expanding their businesses into the tourism sector. Accommodation styles range from property to property with everything on offer from unpowered camping to modest shearers quarters and luxury cabins. Many Stations also accept dogs, which makes them an ideal place to stay with the four-legged members of your family.
For this trip, we booked a bush site at Alpana Station, a 60,000 acre sheep station that has been operated by the Henery family since 1878. Alpana’s owner Sally greeted us when we checked in, gave us some great information regarding the family history and the activities onsite, and directed us towards our temporary new home. We had a large clearing to ourselves with the obligatory magnificent views that surround you in the Flinders, all for a low $10 per night.
With our big-ticket items for the trip, Brachina and Bunyeroo Gorges, closed due to wet weather, we were initially at a loss with what to do next. A sign from the main Blinman Road pointed to a historical site, so we headed in the suggested direction to explore further. Arriving at the old Appealinna Homestead, we were pleasantly surprised to find a cluster of buildings in various states of ruin. Each building contained informative signs describing the life, and ultimate downfall, of Joseph Wills and his family. Among information regarding the main homestead, the signs hinted at bribery and deception on the home front, alleging that the family’s cook was paid to set fire to the Wills’ house. The mystery and intrigue doesn’t end there, as continuing further along the trail, you learn about the conflict between Joseph and a group of miners who were granted ownership over a portion of his land for the purpose of their operations.
If you follow the story through to the end, you will discover the dramatic events leading to
Joseph Wills being sentenced to hard labour at Yatala Labour Prison in Adelaide. The story is a fascinating insight into how difficult times were in the mid-1800s, and the brutality of life as a pioneer in the outback.
While originally disappointed at the gorge tracks being closed, if the roads had been open we would have missed out on discovering some fantastic, family-friendly spots. One of the reasons we love the Flinders is that there are no costs to explore other than the permit to enter the national park. This makes the region not only family-friendly but also budget-friendly! Located within the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, Sacred Canyon is a site of Aboriginal rock carvings. While the memory of those that made the carvings has been lost to the Adnyamathanha people, these carvings remain as a beautiful reminder of the original inhabitants of the region. The entrance from the car park has an interpretive sign explaining the symbols found in the small chasm. It is an excellent spot for families as you can take a photo of the sign and use it to help find the symbols carved into the rock faces. If you are lucky, like our two-year-old, you can do your exploring from what we affectionately call “Dad’s taxi”. Everyone we met agreed that it is the only way to travel!
Although the weather didn’t warm up during our stay, the rain did stop long enough for the Gorge roads to be opened to 4WD vehicles only. Brachina Gorge Geological Trail is often referred to as a corridor through time. The 20km self-guided trail is a wonderful drawcard for geologists, providing insight into a period of 150 million years of creation. Can you imagine that the land that now forms the mountains of the Flinders Ranges, was once at the bottom of an ocean? The sheer age of the rock faces surrounding you as you drive along the gorge trail is staggering when you think about it.
Adjoining Brachina Gorge is the 30km long Bunyeroo Gorge. Providing a different aspect of the pound, the Heysen Trail passes through the gorge, making it a popular hiking destination. Both gorges have several campsites available that can be booked via self-registration stations for $15 per night, paid in addition to the national park entry fee of
$10 per vehicle. Our investigations found that the majority of the campsites would be accessible by a caravan with high clearance. Good to know for future visits.
Not having visited Wilpena Pound itself previously, we took a break from driving to tackle a short hike. The main trail through the natural amphitheatre is wonderfully tranquil. Even the weather turned it on for us with a cool but clear day. We kept a steady pace en-route to our goal of the Wangarra Lookout. The 8km return hike felt like a piece of cake as we arrived at a sign that informed us there was only 500m to go to the lookout. Eagerly setting off in the direction of the arrow, we realised a key point somehow forgotten until now: we were heading to a lookout – and lookouts tend to be at the top of a hill to get the best vantage of the surrounding area! After a steady tramp up a very steep, rocky incline, I was sure that we were near the top, only to catch sight of a marker ahead proudly announcing that we had a further 400m to go. While I struggled to catch my breath, I had to spare a thought for Dad’s taxi up in front, carrying an extra 15kg on his back. Dad must have been doing it tough as he spent the last half of the climb with a concerned two-year-old rubbing his arms and asking if he was okay! Her encouragement was enough to get us to the top and while our fitness levels certainly left a lot to be desired, the view did not disappoint.
If you have ever visited the Flinders Ranges you will understand why it is one of our favourite places to camp as a family. We are lucky enough to be self-sufficient, which allows us to stay in areas where we can truly experience the beauty of the region. Whatever your set-up though, the Flinders has plenty to offer for the whole family, young or old. Each visit manages to offer something different and something unique from the last. For that reason, we will keep returning to this stunning, ancient and rugged region for years to come.
REGION: Flinders Ranges, SA
DISTANCE FROM ADELAIDE: to Wilpena Pound, 454km (GPS: -31.559, 138.574)
STATION STAYS: Check www.stationstayssa.com.au for more details and information on participating stations.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL: Summer daytime temperatures can be extreme so it’s best to visit in the cooler months. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit during winter but beware that entry into the park gorges is weather dependent.