Photograph by Daniel R. Westergren
The Flinders Ranges is an ancient folded landscape of craggy mountains and deep gorges, tinted purple and red in the clear desert light and carpeted by wildflowers after the spring rains. This majestic outback range is a major tourist lure, just a few hours’ drive from Adelaide, and its rich desert vegetation and water holes attract abundant wildlife. If somehow you have missed spotting kangaroos on your visit to Australia, this is the place to see them.
Wilpena Pound and the National Park
The heart of the ranges is protected by the Flinders Ranges National Park, and the heart of the park is the vast Wilpena Pound amphitheater, a valley ringed by weathered mountains. Wilpena, at the entrance to the valley, is home to the Wilpena Pound Resort—a hotel, visitor center, and popular camping ground. Kangaroos, accustomed to visitors, graze at the resort, and you may well wake to find them right outside your tent. Emus are similarly unabashed and wander with their chicks.
From Wilpena, you can explore the ranges on scenic drives or on foot. Drive or walk through Brachina Gorge, one of the park’s major attractions and a refuge for the yellow-footed rock wallaby, as well as birds and reptiles. A shuttle bus goes into the Pound, with access to some excellent walks; be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water. The taxing trail to St. Mary Peak, the highest point in Wilpena Pound, offers the reward of fine views. Mount Ohlssen Bagge and Wangara Lookout are easier climbs.
The short Sacred Canyon walk in the southeast of the park features weathered Aboriginal rock art images, while Arkaroo Rock also has impressive Adnyamathanha paintings that tell the creation story of Wilpena Pound. For multiday walks, the Heysen Trail runs through Wilpena Pound and on to Parachilna Gorge.
Graziers rushed to stake claims in the southern parts of the Flinders Ranges, and by the 1870s farm towns and wheat fields were found deep in the mountains. However, those settlers didn’t count on the vagaries of prolonged drought, and today the ranges are dotted with crumbling ruins of stone farmhouses and ghost towns like Eurelia, Hammond, Johnburgh, and Bruce.
Quorn is the main town of the southern Flinders, with grand pubs and a large railway station from more prosperous times. Quorn was on the old Ghan line, where the Pichi Richi Railway now runs tourist steam trains. Stock up on supplies at the local supermarket or in Hawker, a small outback town closer to the national park with a general store and restaurants.
In the hills north of the park, the once thriving mining town of Blinman now has a population of just 22, but it has plenty of historic charm and some good eateries. Parachilna was just a whistle-stop on the old Ghan, but it’s now home to the Prairie Hotel, the hippest pub in these parts, with rooms and “feral” meals of kangaroo, camel, and emu. Leigh Creek is the main service town for the northern Flinders.
Northern Flinders Ranges
The northern ranges are more remote but also very scenic. Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park has rugged mountains, deep gorges and canyons, and the vast expanse of Lake Frome’s salt pan. Adjoining the national park is Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, a privately owned, government-protected pastoral property. As well as stunning scenery, wildlife water holes, walking tracks, and tours, it has accommodations for all budgets and a restaurant.
When to Go: Flinder Ranges National Park swelters in summer and parts of it close due to wildfire risk from late November to early March. You can visit the park year-round, but April through October is the prime time.
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