OUR camp just above the creek was a cracker.
Tall, spindly red gums, most sprouting new growth in defiance of the recent drought, lined the banks of the creek, while native pine trees dotted the nearby hillside. Reeds and bulrushes formed a dense green veil along the trickling creek, while flowering cassia bushes added a dash of yellow and green to the tangerine colour of raw rock and earth.
Overlooking all was a craggy, red and fulvous-coloured bluff, which marked the northern edge of the gorge we had passed through to find our camp. But concentrating all of our attention was the small group of yellow-footed rock wallabies that had come down from their precipitous home to feed on the grasses and bushes along the creek, just metres from our camp.
Occasionally, a bigger hairier euro or hill wallaroo bounded its way through, but it was the delightful rock wallabies that captivated us. These beautiful and strikingly marked animals, which are relatively uncommon and only found in the Flinders Ranges east to the Barrier Ranges in western NSW, have made a bit of a comeback in recent years after being decimated by foxes and cats.
Warren Gorge in the southern Flinders is home to a small and growing colony of them, while a bigger, more vibrant community is found a little further away in the fully protected (no public access) Buckaringa Gorge Sanctuary, which is operated by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
Warren Gorge, with its spread-out camping area dotted along the creek, is one of our favourite spots in the southern Flinders. Nearby is Argadells Station, a 32km² property that takes in some of the finest mountain country in the immediate vicinity including the crest of Mt Arden, the highest point in this southern section of the ranges.
From the township of Quorn, access to this entire area is easy. Quorn was once the railway hub of the region – the Ghan train ran from Quorn to Alice Springs. The important and tangible railway heritage is preserved for all to enjoy in the form of the Pichi Richi Railway, where young and old alike can take a trip on a steam train through the pass that gives the railway its name.
Further south (but on the tourist track) lies Mount Remarkable National Park’s host of walking trails, while Port Germein offers seaside camping, fishing and crabbing from the historic jetty, as well as swimming in the shallow, protected waters of the Gulf.
The Bridle Track is an easy 4WD foray into the ranges from near Port Germein, which leads east to a gravel road that takes you north to Melrose, one of the most delightful little towns in the area.
Heading north from Warren Gorge, you can stay off the blacktop by heading past the turn-off into the gorge, past Buckaringa Gorge (no entry), and past the historic Proby’s Grave to the low stone ruins of Simmonston.
Veering left here will take you on little-used dirt roads to the once boisterous settlement of Hookina, now nothing more than a few piles of stones marking where buildings once stood, including the upright ruins of the old hotel, an old plough or two, and a forlorn cemetery. If you are into geocaching, you’ll find at least one around here.
If coming to the Flinders from the east, the flat saltbush plains give way to grassy rolling hills around Jamestown, Orroroo and Peterborough, all hinting at the more mountainous delights that lie ahead. North of Orroroo, the Bendleby Ranges’ assortment of range, hill and plain country offers four-wheel drivers, walkers and mountain bike riders some of the most pleasant and challenging routes in the region.
There’s also great camping in an array of spots, and you could easily spend three or four days here and not double up on any of the tracks.
Further north is the Worumba Experience, situated on the 220km² Worumba Station. A 36km self-drive 4WD route takes you through a diverse range of habitats to the crest of Mount Plantagenet, the highest peak in the area. There are low-key camping sites dotted along Willow Creek, while there’s also accommodation in the property’s shearer’s quarters.
Once at the town of Hawker, it’s a short black-top trip north into what some consider to be the best of the Flinders. Wilpena Pound makes up the centrepiece of the encompassing Flinders Ranges NP, while the nearby resort located at the entrance to the pound has accommodation and camping.
Just down the main road is Rawnsley Park, a very popular camping spot. If you stay at either of these places (which are on the tourist trail, but still worth it) take the time to visit the Old Wilpena Homestead with its magnificent red gums lining the nearby creek, and take the short walk to Wangara Lookout.
One of my favourite drives in all of Australia begins here. At first light, head from Wilpena up the bitumen a short distance and take the dirt road west to Yanyana Hut, where you’ll enter the hills again and climb to the iconic Bunyeroo Valley Lookout. The Heysen Range and the ABC Range dominate the view to the west, while the light show in the early morning is divine.
The road drops into the Bunyeroo Gorge before passing between the ABC and Heysen Ranges. Once at a major road junction, take the diversion to the spectacular Aroona Ruins and its great campground spread along the creek.
Return to the major road junction to continue the drive, and then turn west to pass through Brachina Gorge. Some small campsites are tucked in the ranges through here, and the impressive peaks of Hayward Bluff, The Guardian and The Armchair put on a great display whatever the light and season.
Then, once on the bitumen on the western side of the ranges, head south and take Moralana Scenic Drive back to Rawnsley or Wilpena, through the hills along the southern flank of Wilpena Pound. Just up the road from Wilpena is one of the most popular 4WD destinations in all of the Flinders Ranges: Willow Springs Station.
Blinman, just 30 minutes’ drive north, was once the most significant copper producer in the Flinders Ranges, and the mine is now open for tourists – if cramped, dark places don’t worry you.
However, it wasn’t the only copper mine in the region. Today, a Public Access Route (PAR) allows four-wheelers to travel the 18km from the Glass Gorge Road just north of Blinman through rugged hills to the site of the once prosperous Nuccaleena Mine. This mine, operational in the 1860s, is definitely worth exploring.
Also coming off Glass Gorge Road is a PAR that heads through Hannigan’s Gap to the ruins of the Old Artimore Station. This route passes through some marvellous mountain country, with the distinctive Patawarta Hill dominating much of the scenery.
The ruins of the near-completely deserted Beltana Township – north of Blinman – are faring a littlebetter, while further east and deeper among the ranges is the Warraweena Private Conservation Park. You’ll pass the ruins of the historic Sliding Rock mine, which are worth a walk around, before arriving at Warraweena Homestead. The homestead is the heart of this large property and provides an ideal base to explore the surrounding area’s tracks and walks.
West of the Beltana Township is the historic property of Beltana Station, once owned by Sir Thomas Elder who, in the 1860s, was responsible for bringing camels into Australia. For many years the station was the base for a camel transport network that, before the railway pushed north, stretched to Alice Springs and deep into South West Queensland.
In 1875, Ernest Giles left on his groundbreaking expedition from the property, and today many of the buildings from those early days still stand. The station also has some great 4WD tracks, including one to the top of Mount Deception (named by Eyre in 1840) and another to the ruins of the Copper King Mine.
The property offers camping along the nearby Warrioota Creek and accommodation in the historic overseer’s cottage and the shearer’s quarters.
As the long stretch of mountain country heads to its final climax before petering out in the desert country to the north, the Flinders puts on one last extravaganza in and around the Gammon Ranges NP and adjoining Arkaroola Wildlife Sanctuary.
On its southern flank is the Nantawarrina Indigenous Protected Area, which covers 580km² of Aboriginal land and was the first Indigenous Protected Area to be declared in the country. You’ll need a permit to camp at the few designated spots on this land (available from the Nepabunna Community office).
The Moro Gorge camp is the most well-known, but you’re still almost guaranteed to have the place to yourself. There are a number of other campsites within the park, but remember this is a hot, dry and very rugged region, so you’ll need plenty of drinking water, especially if you get out of the car and go for a walk.
There is no doubt that the Arkaroola Sanctuary is the best known destination in the northern Flinders Ranges ... and so it should be. Established long before ‘eco-lodges’ and ‘conservation’ became bywords of the environmental movement, Arkaroola was established by Reg and Griselda Sprigg, and the sheep were moved off and the feral goats culled.
Today, the property is still run by the family and offers the adventurous traveller a range of accommodation, camping and tracks to enjoy. While the Echo Camp Backtrack is a beauty and is a self-drive affair, the route to Sillers Lookout and its great views can only be enjoyed on a tour; it is well worth it!
On the western side of Arkaroola – and reached by a somewhat rough and often eroded 4WD track – are the remains of the old Yudnamutana smelting and mining operation. Two old boilers that once powered the operation are a reminder of the mine’s 1860s heyday, while a graveyard near the creek has a number of refurbished headstones.
There’s some enjoyable camping to be had near here, and you’re almost assured to be on your own. The smelter and most of the surrounding mines are on Mount Freeling Station, which occasionally offers camping and access to its extensive network of trails (permission is needed).
Heading north-west from Yudnamutana will lead back to the station homestead via Tin Hut and MacDonnell Creek (probably the largest ephemeral stream in the northern Flinders). Heading north-east will lead along some tough 4WD trails and across some rugged ridges to Hamilton Creek, which can be followed to the ruins of Mt Fitton Homestead.
Once at Mt Fitton, you can head east along a rarely used ‘road’ to Terrapinna Waterhole, located in a break in the range on Hamilton Creek. Heading west will lead via the recently abandoned Mt Fitton talc mine to Mount Freeling Homestead.
Explore more South Australian destinations
Just north of Terrapinna Waterhole, the Flinders Ranges fizzle to a low, stunted end of rounded hills at Mount Hopeless. From here, a sterile view of desert country and shimmering salt lakes stretch away to the distant horizon; little changed from when Edward John Eyre was turned back by the same desolate scene.
South from here is some of the best 4WD territory in Australia; so go and discover it for yourself.
Two state forests, three national parks, one IPA, seven conservation parks and three PARs, as well as a host of private properties that offer four-wheel driving and camping (see below), make the Flinders Ranges an ideal and enjoyable destination for the adventurous 4x4 traveller.
The best map is Hema Maps’ The Flinders Ranges. The best guide is The Flinders Ranges an Adventurer’s Guide by Ron and Viv Moon.
Camping and 4WD trails are available on the following properties:
Almerta Station: www.almertastation.com.au
Alpana Station: http://alpanastation.com
Argadells & Mt Arden: www.argadells.com.au
Arkapena 4WD Track: www.rawnsleypark.com.au
Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary: www.arkaroola.com.au
Beltana Station: www.beltanastation.com.au
Bendleby Ranges: www.bendlebyranges.com.au
Edeowie Station: www.frabs.com.au/edeowie.htm
Farina Station: www.farinastation.com.au
Horseshoe Rim: www.thehorseshoe.com.au
Moolooloo Station: www.moolooloo.com.au
Merna Mora Station: www.mernamora.com.au
Mt Caernarvon Track: www.caernarvontrack.com
Rawnsley Park: www.rawnsleypark.com.au
Spear Creek: www.spearcreekcaravanpark.com.au
Warraweena Private Conservation Park: www.warraweena.com
Willangi Bush Escapes: www.willangibushescapes.com
Willow Springs & Skytrek: www.skytrekwillowsprings.com.au
Wilpena Pound: www.wilpenapound.com.au
Wirrealpa Station: www.stationstayssa.com.au/station/wirrealpa-station
Worumba Experience: www.worumba.com
For info and camping fees in the national parks and reserves in the area, follow the links at: www.environment.sa.gov.au