The Flinders Ranges – Where Culture, History and Nature Meet

Image: Brian Hatchard

The Flinders Ranges

Australia is so blessed with an abundance of incredible natural wonders. Our earth tells the stories of life from millions of years ago and one of the best places you can learn about these stories and experience nature’s overwhelming beauty is in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

This region holds so much significance to Australia. Both to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

The Flinders Ranges are the traditional home of the Aboriginal Adnyamathanha people. Evidence of their teachings and stories about the ‘Dreaming’ is all over this area. The Adnyamathanha believe that powerful ancestral beings such as the dreamtime serpent ‘Akurra’ created the natural formations in the land.

Their everyday guidelines, education of the land and local surroundings, and traditional laws are depicted in caves and sacred sites for generations to follow into the future.

Upon European settlement, many pastoralists attempted to carve a new life out in the harsh and unforgiving lands of Outback South Australia. Although many may have found initial success when Australia was booming as a prime producer of quality wool in the world, contending with such extreme conditions was their downfall with properties such as the ruins of the once great pastoral run, Kanyaka Homestead sharing its tragic story of boom to bust.

Image: Copyright SATC

There’s nothing like the experience of sitting back with a glass of bubbles reflecting on the day as you watch the afternoon sun dip behind the magnificent Flinders Ranges. The sunset creating a kaleidoscope of colours as they cover the hills and fade to darkness.

Quorn

Quorn was the beginning point of our Outback South Australian adventure and our base while exploring the region. It’s a great little town filled to the brim with history. Quorn was originally the railway junction point for rail journeys Sydney – Perth and Adelaide – Darwin. When the railway traffic dried up, agriculture became the primary industry in the area. Quorn now relies on tourism to bring in income to the region.

The Flinders Ranges Motel (The Historic Quorn Mill), Quorn. Image: Graham Scheer

The Pichi Richi Railway is a must do when visiting Quorn. You can take either a full-day or half-day trip aboard one of their restored steam or heritage diesel trains on the original Ghan route between Port Augusta and Quorn. A fantastic way to see the Flinders Ranges, taking in the beautiful scenery just as they did in the early 1900’s.

We stayed at The Flinders Ranges Motel (The Mill) while in Quorn. Nice and central on the main street. Our rooms were simple but had air-conditioning, en suites, tea and coffee making facilities and were clean and tidy.

Adventure Tours Australia

We joined about twenty other travellers on a tour with  Adventure Tours Australia. This was such a great trip with an awesome group of people. There was a nice mix of young and older people from all over the world. It was funny, because except for our guide, Trev, Dad and I were actually the only Aussies in the group. It was a good chance to learn about other places and make new friends.

The guides were so knowledgeable and easy-going and we were really well looked after at all stages. This tour wasn’t your typical luxury coach tour, you are expected to help out with washing up or meal prep throughout the trip and everything is a little bit more relaxed and less ‘fancy’ but if you want to see more of Australia with a tour company that knows the areas well and to do it without breaking the bank, then these are your guys! At one point we were following the same route as one of the more expensive coach tours, seeing the same landmarks each step of the way until we reached an area where their huge bus couldn’t enter due to ground clearance. We continued on and enjoyed the sights and unfortunately they had to miss out. 

Dutchmans Stern

Our first afternoon was spent tackling Dutchmans Stern, a mountain within the Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park. Offering some of the most beautiful flora and fauna with amazing vistas over the Spencer Gulf, Willochra Plain and the surrounding ranges. It truly was beautiful. Just be aware though, that the walking trail is a circuit of over 10 kilometres, up hill and over quite rugged ground at times. At each turn I kept thinking, this has got the be the top, but no, up we’d continue. It seemed to take an eternity but was well worth the effort when you reached the summit.

Be mindful of the time of the day you attempt the track. We arrived at the top in late afternoon and it was beautiful as the sun was starting to go down and the temperature had dropped considerably.

Kanyaka Homestead

In the 1850’s to 1870’s Kanyaka Homestead was booming as a cattle (and later sheep) station. Situated between Quorn and Hawker, South Australia the station stretched over 360 square miles and once supported over 70 families. Many children were born on the property and like most outback cattle and sheep stations, they became very self- sufficient.

A severe drought from 1864 – 1867 impacted on the station terribly, with the loss of over 20,000 sheep. Kanyaka was temporarily abandoned until owner John Phillips returned with another 10,000 sheep. With less sheep, fewer workers were needed. Kanyaka went from housing seventy families to employing only fifteen single men. The station was eventually divided into smaller holdings and was finally abandoned once again in 1888.

This site had the most impact on me during my trip through the Flinders. I’m not sure if it was just the eerie stillness of the area or the fact that many of the buildings’ walls were intact giving you a greater visual of the layout of the property, but as soon as I arrived I felt an energy change. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was that I felt, maybe it was sadness at the tragedy and hardships that were endured at this site, maybe understanding and empathy of the struggles they endured at times and the amazing highs contrasting against the heartbreaking lows. Whatever it was, it was powerful and stayed with me for a long time. I found the ruins and the story behind this once great pastoral holding captivating.

Wilpena Pound (Ikara)

Bush Pilots Scenic Flight, Wilpena Pound. Image: Copyright SATC

If you love natural icons. You can’t go past Wilpena Pound or Ikara which is it’s traditional Aboriginal name. This sunken amphitheatre is mind-blowing. Especially from the air. The ironic thing about Wilpena Pound is that for it’s size (17 kilometres long x 8 kilometres wide, eight times the area and 300 metres higher than Uluru) it has managed to slip under the radar to some extent. I guess being nestled away in the heart of the Flinders Ranges National Park has helped it keep a lower profile.

Apparently the amount of people around the tree equals the number of hundred years old it is.

Wilpena Pound is a bushwalker’s paradise. It was such a relaxed and enjoyable walk. We managed to explore the ‘Pound’ on an overcast day which really highlighted the amazing red river gums and natural beauty of the area. With gorgeous boardwalks and creek crossings and beautiful Australian bush everywhere you looked, it was so nice just to take our time and walk through at a leisurely pace.

We walked the 6.6 kilometre return Hill’s Homestead trail where the historic pioneer cottage of the Hill family is located and then followed this further up to the Wangarra lookout to take in the views in the pound just before large storm clouds started rolling in. We had a few light drizzly showers, but nothing major… little did we know how the Flinders’ reacts to rain! Give yourself a couple of hours to complete the walking trail.

The Hill family cottage. The family lived here while clearing and working the land within Wilpena Pound.

The view from Wangarra Lookout. The Adnyamathanha people believe that two Akurra (giant dreamtime serpents) were on their way to a ceremony at Ikara eating people all along the way when they eventually died. Their bodies are intertwined and circle the edge of Ikara. You can see the Akurra on the right hand side of the above image.

Flash Flooding In The Flinders

Completely oblivious, we continued back to Quorn for the afternoon only to be stopped half way down the road by a flash flood. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Apparently, because the earth is so dry, when it rains, even just a little, the water isn’t easily absorbed and instead just sits on the surface causing flooding. What started as a slight covering of the road turned into a raging torrent in minutes. The sound of the wall of water rushing along and over the road was incredible.

Our tour group temporarily stranded

We had no other option but to turn around and head for Hawker pub for dinner. The kitchen was all but closed for the night but in true outback style, they turned everything back on and whipped up chicken schnitzels and salad for our tour! How wonderful were they! Thankfully, our guide also managed to secure emergency accommodation for us at Rawnsley Park for the night. Unfortunately we couldn’t explore the property the next morning as we were on a time schedule but from what I saw, it was lovely. I look forward to returning for a better look one day.

Lake Gairdner National Park

The following day we set out for Coober Pedy, the iconic South Australian Outback town famous for it’s world class opals and for it’s community mainly living underground in ‘Dugouts’ to escape the searing heat.

On our way, we stopped at Lake Gairdner salt lakes. The lake was amazing! The white salt just glistened in the midday sun. Even though it was very hot, we just had to get on the salt and see it up close. Apparently, the salt in some parts of the lake is up to one metre thick! It’s crazy!

The Dry Lakes Racers of Australia holds its annual Speed Week event on Lake Gairdner where cars, trucks and motorbikes all compete to break one-way speed records. This event attracts visitors from all over Australia and the world and is a great drawcard for tourism in the area.

You can read about our time in Coober Pedy here.

So Much To Experience

This Outback South Australia adventure was so much more than I had anticipated. If I’m honest, I looked on it as the gateway to Coober Pedy and then onto the exciting things like Uluru and the Northern Territory and didn’t really give to too much thought. The Flinders Ranges grabs your attention, stirs your emotions and fills your heart with appreciation for the natural beauty we are so blessed to have in our country.

This trip was a taste of what is on offer in this region. There are so many places yet to explore such as the previously mentioned Rawnsley Park Station or you can absorb the history of Wilpena Homestead through one of the fantastic cultural tours on offer through Wilpena Pound, go star gazing at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, Experience The Prairie Hotel in Parachilna and treat yourself to their famous feral mixed grill of kangaroo, camel, emu, goats cheese etc. or make your way to Coober Pedy and try your hand at noodling for opals.

We plan on hitting the road mid 2018 to become full-time nomads lapping around Australia and will be making sure we re-visit the Flinders with no time restrictions to fully immerse ourselves in all the area has to offer.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit, make sure you do!

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