DESTINATION: FLINDERS RANGES, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
It’s one of the finest drives in the country, best savoured in the first flush of early morning. Just north of Wilpena, SA, you take the road west across rolling hills which, in the early morning light, can be alive with roos grazing on the short grass and emus strutting across the nearly bare plains. As you approach Yanyanna Hut, the low hills with their gum-lined creeks give way to steeper hills covered in stands of native pine until, suddenly, you come out on top of a ridge overlooking the magnificent Bunyeroo Valley. The view will take your breath away and, no matter how many times I’ve driven this route, we always stop and admire this extravagant sight.
The road winds spectacularly down the hill from here to the first of a number of creek crossings within the Bunyeroo Gorge (where there are a few small bush camps available) before climbing the steep northern bank and winding north along the valley between the ABC Range to the west and the Heysen Range to the east. Near the turn-off to the Aroona Ruins and a well-established camping area, you turn again to the west into the winding Brachina Gorge with the great bulk of The Sentinel guarding the eastern approach. There are a number of (generally) shallow rocky creek crossings to wade through and you’ll pass a number of pleasant campsites tucked in a fold of the surrounding hills, above the trickling creek.
If you are into geology and old rocks, this route through the range and out onto the billiard table-flat western plains encompasses a few hundred million years of life on earth. But, for most people, it is the steep mountains, sheer rock cliffs, trickling creek and the wildlife attracted by the near permanent water source that are the major attractions.
For the return trip back to Wilpena and the main Hawker-Blinman Road, I always wait for the evening light when the western and south-western wall of Wilpena Pound is lit by the last flamboyant rays of the setting sun. The drive along the Moralana Scenic Drive at that time is truly memorable.
Just north of the junction where the Moralana Scenic Drive and the main bitumen road from Hawker meet is Rawnsley Park Homestead, with a well-established campground and accommodation.
Further north, and in the heart of the national park, is Wilpena. The impressive formation of Wilpena Pound has long been the central attraction of the Flinders Ranges, with the almost totally encircled Pound dominated by tall peaks (the highest in the ranges), the flat plain within dotted by lovely groves of gum trees and native pines and abounding in wildlife. Walking trails radiate from the camping ground and there is accommodation at Wilpena to stay at while you visit near and distant natural treasures.
Back on the main road and heading north, the road to Bunyeroo heads west while the blacktop continues north out of the park and winds past the vantage points of Hucks Lookout and then Stokes Hill Lookout.
Willow Springs Homestead has numerous bush camping spots, a range of other accommodation closer to the homestead and a small camping/caravan ground suitable for those who want power. It is best-known for its famous and fabulous Skytrek 4WD track. It shouldn’t be missed.
Continuing on, and just south of Blinman, is Alpana Station, still run by the Henery family who first established this property in 1878. The property has a number of natural attractions including the delightful Blinman Pools, along with one of the best small camping grounds (each caravan site has an ensuite) in the area. There are a couple of 4WD trails, one of which is more challenging than most and takes you to Mt Samuel on the western edge of the ranges.
At Blinman, where the bitumen stops, we took the underground tour of the once-rich copper mine that fed life into the nearby township. A couple of old buildings remain dotted around the scattered township, while the pub offers not only a good meal and a cold beer but also caravan and camping sites.
Just down the road a bit is the old historic cemetery. Here, you’ll find the grave of William D Kekwick, John McDouall Stuart’s 2IC for his 1859-1863 expeditions that saw Stuart cross the continent.
Heading east from here, a good dirt road winds through Parachilna Gorge, which has a number of excellent campsites tucked in among the rocky bluffs of the ranges.
Another route east from Blinman is through the smaller, but less-spectacular, Glass Gorge and it meets with the Parachilna Gorge road just before it exits onto the vast flat Western Plains. This route also gives you access to Moolooloo Homestead (which Stuart used back in the 1860s as a base) which has accommodation, camping and excellent 4WD trails.
Nuccaleena, once a rich copper smelting plant and mine, is now one of the best historic sites in the area and is well worth a visit. A rough 4WD track – a public access route leads through pastoral country – runs to these ruins from the Glass Gorge road.
A rougher, more isolated, track, for which you need a key from Warraweena Homestead, leads from here north to Sliding Rock, Beltana township and the Warraweena Private Conservation Park. For most travellers, though, the easiest access to these places is via the main road north from Hawker to Leigh Creek.
Turning off the blacktop at Beltana Roadhouse will take you to the historic Beltana Homestead. Established in 1854, the property soon became the headquarters of Sir Thomas Elder’s vast pastoral holdings. He was responsible for importing some of the first camels to Australia in the 1860s and it was during that decade that many of the buildings on the property were built, many of which still stand today.
The station was the starting point of a number of important expeditions into the unknown interior and a large monument near the shearing shed commemorates the Ernest Giles 1875 expedition.
Today, Beltana, which incorporates the Puttapa station lease, is 1876sq km in area (460,000 acres) and is owned by Laura and Graham Ragless. While historically the property ran merino sheep, beef cattle and meat sheep are being run today, and tourism is seen as an ever-growing and important feature of the property.
There’s a couple of good self-drive 4WD tracks on the property and we took the opportunity to head out to Mt Deception, first named and climbed by Edward John Eyre in 1840. Another leads past some hidden and delightful waterholes to the abandoned Copper King mine.
Nearby is the ghost town of Beltana, once one of the most important towns in the region. Here, copper ore from the mines at Nuccaleena and Sliding Rock, along with others, were loaded for transport south while supplies and hopeful miners disembarked to find work and their fortune in the surrounding rugged hills.
With some legs of salt-bush mutton from Beltana station in the fridge (this is a meat lovers’ delicacy you’ve got to try) we headed off from the homestead and took the original route north through Puttapa Gap. The old Ghan railway also followed this route through a rock-shrouded pass in the ranges and, while the main road and railway now bypass this section of range country, it is the more scenic and enjoyable way north.
While our travels were to take us to other hidden spots within the Flinders Ranges over the next few weeks, we knew we’d be coming back to enjoy the delights of the central Flinders once more. You’ll be doing the same!
TRAVELLING THROUHG THE FLINDERS RANGES
- Hawker and the start of the central Flinders Ranges are about 400km north of Adelaide.
- Beltana Station is about 130km north of Hawker and 35km south of Leigh Creek. It is about 6km east of Beltana Roadhouse and 4km west of the historic Beltana township.
- Blinman is 120km north of Hawker via Wilpena. Note, there is no fuel in Blinman.
- Wildlife spotting, 4WDing, rock-hunting, bushwalking, historic sites
- Accommodation and camping is available at Hawker, Wilpena, Blinman and on a number of station properties along the way.
- 4WD tracks: A number of self-drive 4WD tracks are available and these include the famous Skytrek on Willow Springs and the Mt Deception track on Beltana Station.
- For more information, visit www.flindersranges.com.
- For detailed information on the whole of the Flinders, especially those hidden places off the beaten track, check out Ron and Viv Moon’s book, The Flinders Ranges, an Adventurer’s Guide.
Originally published in Caravan World #518, September 2013.