The Flinders Ranges is probably the most accessible outback region of Australia. This accessibility however, does not alter or deminish the beauty or majesty of this wonderful mountain range area.
The major impression gained by a visitor to the Flinders Ranges is one of colour: purple ranges; ribbed orange quartzite ridges; brilliant green eucalypt foliage and bold white trunks; steel-blue waterholes; swathes of carpet colour when the wildflowers are blooming; blue skies of an intensity so typical of outback Australia; the flashing brilliance of the parrots, lorikeets and rosellas. Combine those with the ancient rocks of the mountains themselves, some more than 1,000 million years old, and harbouring fossils of the oldest animal life on earth, throw in the waterfalls, the weathered canyons, the pristine Aboriginal rock art and you begin to understand the distinctive apeal of the Flinders Ranges that brings visitors back time and time again. In fact, a large number of Australians make the Flinders Ranges their annual holiday place, returning each time to a different location until finally settling upon a favourite. Because the region changes so significantly throughout the seasons, a place one sees on last year’s trip could appear completely different at another time of year, making it worthy of a return visit.
The Flinders Ranges are South Australia’s most visited tourist attraction – 120,000 people visit them annually. The major areas of interest are Wilpena Pound, Bunyeroo Gorge, the Heysen Trail, Blinman historic town, Mt Chambers Gorge, Arkaroola and Mt Remarkable, but there is lots more to explore if you have the time. Visitors have a variety of options by which to explore the Flinders Ranges. Sealed roads suitable for all types of vehicles lead the start-off points of many hiking trails, areas to fossick for opals (around Andamooka) and even a golf course with no grass. Those with a serious sense of adventure can take a 4-wheel drive vehicle and some camping gear and drive deep into the Outback to spend time exploring the many legendary desert tracks. Alternatively, and just as rewarding, a scenic flight over the Flinders Ranges also demonstates the sheer magnitude of the Ranges. The Flinders Ranges National Park conserves the central section of these ranges. The tracks throughout the park wind through some stunning rocky gorges and across shallow creeks. The air is crisp and clear, the colours vibrant and the wildlife abundant. Walking tracks criss cross the huge national park.
How to get there: By road, travel north from Adelaide via Princes Highway. For Southern Flinders Ranges, take Main North Road to Wilmington at Winninowie. For the Central and Northern Flinders Ranges, continue on Princes Hwy to Stirling North, taking Quorn Road to Quorn and Hawker. Many tour companies operate tours to the Flinders Ranges from Adelaide. By air, regular air services operate to Port Augusta (160 km from Wilpena Pound). Other small private airstrips in the Ranges may be used by arrangement only. Many outback adventurers come to the Ranges via the Birdsville Track or the Strzelecki track from Queensland or the Strzelecki track from Cameron’s Corner at the junction of the borders of Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales.
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Located five hours drive north of Adelaide, Wilpena Pound is a huge majestic natural amphitheatre and lost world located inside a giant stone crater. A wall of mountains almost completely encircles the gently-sloping interior of the Pound, with the only breaks being the gorge at Wilpena Gap and a high saddle in the south-western range over which the Heysen Trail passes.
One of the most popular sites in the Central Flinders Ranges, Wilpena Pound has particular appeal to international tourists who want to visit the outback, mainly because of the large development that has occurred at the Wilpena Pound Resort and Rawnsley Park Station. Both have many modern facilities there that makes the ranges appealing for people who are not familiar with the semi-arid conditions. Wilpena Pound is accessed via a sealed road.
The Pound is a very popular area for bushwalking, appealing to people of all levels of experience as it traverses some of the most beautiful country in the Flinders Ranges. Visitors can do short few hour long walks out of the resort, visitor centre and campground. Semi-serious walkers can spend the best part of a day climbing up to St Mary Peak.
Serious hikers often go lightweight camping around the Pound in order to take in all the peaks in one trek. As well as walking, visitors can go bush camping, horse trail riding or join tag-along 4-wheel drive tours. Popular destinations in the Pound include Arkaroo Rock (Aboriginal rock art), Edeowie Gorge, St Marys Peak, Brachina Gorge and Wilkawillana Gorge.
Another popular destination is Arakoola village, the settlement and resort at the hub of a wilderness sanctuary in the Northern Flinders Ranges. There are many self drive tracks for 2-wheel drives and 4-wheel drives, ranging from beginner to advanced in difficulty. A popular attraction of Arkaroola is the organised Ridge Top Tour, which is a four-hour trip along the ridge top track that ends at Siller’s Lookout, providing a panoramic view across the plains towards Lake Frome and the Beverley Uranium Mine. The Echo Camp Backtrack is also popular and is a very challenging drive. It leads through some wonderful country and then over the hills (rough) and down onto plains to the east of the Flinders Ranges. This joins another track back to Arkaroola via Stubb s Waterhole (aboriginal cave paintings), Bararranna Gorge and Welcome Pound. In 1930, opals were discovered around Arakoola and an opal of 34, 215 carats was found there in 1967.
Aroona Ruins are a reminder of the Australian pioneers who struggled for survival in this region last century. The Paralana Hot Water Springs, situated 27 km from Arkaroola, begin deep within the surface of the ground. They are famous because they are the last sign of active volcanoes left in the whole of Australia. The Sliding Rock copper mine is also an attraction in the Flinders Ranges. This mine was a very successful copper mine, which mined over 1,000 tonnes of copper, until 1877, when it flooded. It is situated twenty-two kilometres from Beltana, a small town which was also ruined in the flood. Both are now famous ruins.
A three hour drive north of Adelaide, Mount Remarkable is a major geographical feature of the Southern Flinders Ranges. At 960 metres, it towers above the small town of Melrose. A variety of well-maintained and signposted walking trails from Melrose lead up the mountainside, including one to the summit. Mount Remarkable lives up to its name, with an abundance of rock formations, deep gorges and dramatic scenery. Alligator Gorge, on the eastern side of Mount Remarkable National Park, includes deep gashes in red-brown quartzite rocks, forming gorges rich in colour while on the western side, Mambray Creek’s canopy of ancient Red Gums are framed by a collection of steep and rolling hills. Patches of wildflowers dot the landscape during spring (September-November). Hikers can stay overnight at secluded campsites strategically located throughout the Park. Camping grounds and a cabin are available at Mambray Creek in the Park, while a self-contained homestead is available at Alligator Gorge. Access to the Park is via the towns of Wilmington, Mambray Creek and Melrose.
Like many towns in mid-north South Australia, Quorn is largely a child of the age of steam, when the railway lines from the south and the east snaked out to connect with far-flung settlements, their intersections and junctions forming the bases for busy railways towns like Quorn. The town sits at the northern end of the Pichi Richi railway, built from Port Augusta to carry ore from the busy mines to the north. Today it is the only line that still operates here and the tourist railway that uses it has the distinction of being one of the oldest intact railway systems in the world. The original Pichi Richi Railway opened in 1879, and was part of the first stage of the Great Northern Railway – the Ghan – that was intended to link Port Augusta with Darwin. It only made it to Alice Springs.
In 1917, the Pichi Richi Railway became part of the East-West route between Sydney and Perth. Both Transcontinental trains (the north-south Ghan, and the east-west Indian Pacific) use other routes today, leaving Quorn a quiet backwater. The town’s picturesque streetscape has remained intact, as if frozen in time, and has often been used as a backdrop in period feature films. These include Gallipoli, Sunday Too Far Away, The Shiralee, the 1962 Hollywood movie The Sundowners, which starred Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov and Chips Rafferty, and Enigma, a romantic thriller directed by Michael Apted and starring Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet.
Blinman mine lookout
Nestled in the Central Flinders Ranges on the edge of the South Australian desert, the tiny, isolated and picturesque town of Blinman came into being with the discovery of copper there in 1859 and the commencement of mining in 1862. Much of the town’s interest centres around the copper mine and memoralbilia which remain in all their rusted glory. Today the settlement verges on being a ghost town; there is little more than a pub and a few houses. Blinman Mine is a popular visitor attraction with tours available below ground. The highest town in South Australia, Blinman makes an ideal central base from which to explore the Central Flinders Ranges and is the perfect stop over on the way to Arkaroola and the Northern Flinders Ranges. Self Drive, escorted 4WD tours and scenic flights are available at Blinman. The town is 60 km north of Wilpena Pound and 485 km north of Adelaide.
Kanyaka Homestead Ruins
Once an important railway town, Hawker is today the tourist gateway to the Flinders Ranges National Park. Located 42 km north of Quorn on the road to Hawker, the Kanyaka Homestead ruins are definitely worth visiting. A strange collection of ruins dating back to 1851 when Kanyaka Station was a huge wheat property (984 square kilometres) on the limits of the desert. At the time it supported a station population of nearly 70 families (working on farms at the time was labour intensive) but the inevitable droughts drove the people away so that all that is left are the ruins of the buildings.
Aboriginal Heritage and Culture
The Flinders Ranges is one of Australia’s richest areas of Aboriginal heritage and living culture. The majority of sacred sites are open to the general public and in the Northern Flinders Ranges, the local Adnyamathanha people have provided interpretative signage for visitors in order to promote greater understanding among indigenous and non-indigenous people. Visitors may also visit sites of historical significance to the Adnyamathanha people since European settlement, such as old ruins and graves.
The natural features of the Ranges are still of strong personal significance to them, and the geology, topography, flora, fauna and climate all feature in traditional stories and legends. Indeed the whole area is criss-crossed by many mythological tracks and song lines that tell how the land, animals and plants were formed. In northern Flinders Ranges, the Adnyamathanha people at Iga Warta welcome visitors to share their culture and knowledge of the Yarta (land). They offer tours, accommodation and bush camping. Arabunna Cultural Tours, based at Marree, has a range of tours of this country including seven-day tours that include Lake Eyre and Mound Springs, day tours and tailored tours.
Yourambulla Caves Historic Reserve is an Aboriginal art site near the road to Wilpena Pound between Kanyaka and Wilson. There is a walking trail that leads to the stairs at the base of the cave. The cave contains many paintings, all of which are in excellent condition. There is also an interpretive sign showing the meaning of the painted symbols used. The art portrays “the Dreaming” in which artists record the exploits of their ancestors, outlining rituals and explaining the creation of land formations, animals and plants. The markings themselves look like a secret language, Art Brut with childlike patterns that are beautiful and rhythmic. These enchanting works act as an oasis of visual splendour in a dry and arid land. The view out across the plain from the caves, which nestle below Yourambulla Peak, is impressive. The colors of the cave paintings mimic the colors of that landscape – no surprise, as many of the ochres come from the earth itself.
Sacred Canyon art site consists of engravings on rocks within a gorge, not behind bars as is the case with Yourambulla Caves. With its natural spring, the canyon proved the ideal place for men to gather, swap stories and leave their mark. The engravings date back perhapd tens of thousands of years, the Aboriginal people believing they were done by the spiritual people. The Ranges were once part of a major trade route, and these were chiseled in the stone using a piece of granite, probably traded by people from as far afield as Cape York; the granite tools explains why the engravings have not eroded with time. They are simple forms, often circles, made by banging one stone against another to create small marks which then coalesced into lines, or by rubbing a sharp stone to produce a groove. Many simple circles here represent camps (arngu), the cicrles signifying waterholes. Circles with lines in and around them signify events at initiation ceremonies. Sacred Canyon is a short fifteen-minute drive from Wilpena Pound Resort.
Arkaroo Rock art site has many paintings, including bird tracks, snake lines, waterholes and people), created in red, yellow and white ochre and charcoal. The site has been dated as 5000 years old. Allow 1 – 2 hours to complete the scenic walking trail to this important Adnyamathanha site that depicts the formation of Wilpena Pound.
One of Australia’s most scenic and wonderfully diverse regions, South Australia’s Flinders Ranges stretch from Melrose in the south to about Leigh Creek in the north, including the amazing Wilpena Pound. The Ranges are part of a mountain chain which extends from Cape Jervis at the south-eastern extremity of St Vincent Gulf for 800 kms to a point about 160 kms east of the outback town of Maree, a town that was on the original Ghan railway line to Alice Springs. They begin in the west of the town of Peterborough, roughly 250 kms north of Adelaide. The most colourful and spectacular of their peaks and valleys are in two areas – the first north-east of Port Augusta and the second, north of Hawker and incorporating Wilpena Pound, where several mountains rise to altitudes of between 1,000 and 1200 metres. Wilpena Pound is 17 km long and 8 km wide and contains 8960 hectares.
It is believed that the Flinders Ranges was once covered by an inland sea over 750 million years ago. All that are left today are rugged valleys, gorges, peaks, mountains and rich vegetation. Wilpena Pound is one of Flinders Ranges’ most renowned places. It is surrounded by a circle of mountains reaching over 1000 metres in height and covering over 50 square kilometres of land. The site is in the shape of an amphitheatre. The name, “Wilpena”, is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of bent fingers’ that was probably given to it because of its strong resemblance to a cupped hand. According to the Dreaming, Wilpena Pound was made by two giant snakes as they stretched into a giant circle to die after attacking a tribal ritual.
Deep red gorges, such as the Bunyeroo Gorge, run through the southern and northern Flinders Ranges. Walking trails along the gorges give wonderful views of the Flinders Ranges, including Wilpena Pound. Geologically the range is very old. The ranges themselves are believed to have been thrust up after shattering the earth’s crust about 60 million years ago in Tertiary times, but the rocks exposed by this gargantuan movement have been identified as deposits of the Proterozoic and Cambrian periods, from 500 million to more than 600 million years old. They are quartizites, enormous masses of sandstone hardened by heat and pressure, which have resisted the agents of erosion levelling the surrounding plains.
Unlike most of Australia’s desert ranges, the Flinders Ranges in parts carry a good deal of vegetation – huge river red gums in the creek beds, casuarinas and native pines, and many species of wattle. In spring after rain the display of brilliant wildflowers is breath-taking. The play of light on rocky spurs, towers, gorges and valley floors make this country a never-ending delight for landscape artists and colour photographers. Much of its rhythm and form and chromatic delicacy was captured by the eminent Australian artist, Sir Hans Heysen.
Climate: The Flinders Ranges have a dry climate, especially those closest to the deserts in the north. Rainfall is also very rare in that region. Towards the south of Flinders Ranges the creeks, dams and rivers completely dry up in summer and overflow in winter. Days are usually quite warm, but the nights get fairly cold. Temperatures vary quite a lot, depending on the season.
Vegetation and Wildlife: Vegetation and wildlife in the Flinders Ranges is quite varied depending on the temperature at the time. The Sturt Desert Pea, which is South Australia’s floral emblem, is commonly found there, as are River Red gums. Mallees, a type of eucalyptus plant, and casuarinas, a type of tree with tiny, scale like leaves, are also common plants found in the Flinders Ranges. Most of the Flinders Ranges contain rolling hills which are home to many animals, birds and reptiles. One of the most common animals found there are the Red Kangaroos.
The Euro, a common rock wallaby, and the echidna are also commonly found in the area. The Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby is a rare sight these days. The birds found there include the Wedge-Tailed Eagles, Emus, Ringneck and Mulga Parrots, Little Corellas and the Peregrine Falcon. Over 60 species of lizard and 18 species of snake have been identified in the area. Along with these beautiful birds and animals are feral goats and foxes introduced by Europeans. Fortunately today, the feral animals are being successfully kept to a minimum in order to protect native animals and birds.