Rawnsley Lookout - Flinder's ranges

Ikara-Flinders Ranges (Ikara meaning “meeting place”), being a bit closer from Adelaide than its northern counterpart, Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges, tends to be more popular and considered a bit more easily accessible. Although both are well worth a visit, the Flinders Ranges is packed with plenty of adventure and scenery for all.

The traditional owners of the land are the Adnyamathanha people, which translates to “people of rock/hill” which makes perfect sense when you see the place. The park is probably most well-known for Wilpena Pound, an impressive, crater-like formation at the southern end of the park. The pound, which gets its name from early settlers using it as a pound or animal enclosure, was formed by intense pressure forcing earth upwards to create the circular cliffs, and it is spectacular. But we’ll get to that one later

Our first stop after unhitching the van at Trezona campground, a lovely, wooded camp near a dry creek bed in the northern section of the park, was the scenic drive through Bunyeroo Gorge. Bunyeroo Road winds between the two main ranges of the park, the Heysen, and ABC Ranges.

Scenic drive, Bunyeroo Rd,  Flinders ranges
Scenic drive, Bunyeroo Rd, Flinders

The Heysen Ranges is named after Sir Hans Heysen, a German-born Australian artist. The ABC Ranges are thus named due to there being as many (or more!) peaks as there are letters in the alphabet. We’ve never seen so many lookouts packed into such a short distance; just when you think you’ve seen the best of it, the next stop tops it. It didn’t take long for the Flinders to win us over.

From there we continued on to a couple of locations of ancient Aboriginal art and carvings, Arkaroo Rock and Sacred Canyon, which included being eyed off by a not-so-friendly-looking feral goat!

We quickly discovered there was no shortage of beautiful drives in the Flinders. The Brachina Gorge Geological Trail is like a drive-through history, up to 650 million years history to be more exact; along the drive, you can stop and see a variety of different, very ancient fossils up close. Not to mention Brachina Gorge itself is stunning, and you may see the occasional yellow-footed rock wallaby as they have a protected habitat there. From Blinman (the highest surveyed town in South Australia at 610 meters), we also did a drive through Glass Gorge, not a challenging drive as it can be completed in a 2WD but great scenery nonetheless.

For more challenging 4×4 drives, Skytrek in Willow Springs Station is the place to go. It’s one of many “pay to play” 4WD tracks in the area, meaning you pay a fee to do a “self-guided tour.”

Rawnsley Lookout flinders ranges
Rawnsley Lookout

To do their main track, Skytrek, you need to start no later than 10 am, as it’ll take most of the day to complete. It was full of fun challenging tracks and was my (Sandy’s) most difficult 4×4 drive yet. But I got through it, and more importantly so did the car! Besides just being a super fun track, there are some amazing views over the station, Flinders and Wilpena Pound as you’re driving around, so we couldn’t help but stop multiple times along the way to take it all in.

On days we were feeling more energetic, we opted to do some of the many walks in the park. On ANZAC Day, we got up before sunrise, trekking the 4 km to Red Hill Lookout just as the sun was peeking over the ranges. We had perfect 360-degree views of the ABC Ranges and the valley below. It felt like a great spot to have our own “dawn service”.

Red Hill Loukout, Flinder's ranges
Red Hill Loukout, Flinders

Later on that day, we still had enough in us to complete the 6.4km return hike up Mount Ohlssen Bagge. This walk is known for great reptile life (of which we saw a bit) and spectacular views of Wilpena Pound, but be prepared to sweat for it! It’s no surprise that they shut the walk in the summer months. In hindsight, it would have been wise to do this one at the start of the day before the sun really starts to bear down on you.

And for the best views yet, St Mary Peak Hike is the best option. It starts out fairly level, then for the last hour you climb up the outer cliff of the pound which can get quite scrabbly in places. The Adnyamathanha ask that you not climb to the summit of the peak as it is an extremely sacred place in their Dreamtime stories, but the views you get from the cliffside are more than satisfactory. You get a true appreciation of why the Flinders Ranges are called the Spine of the Outback.

Red Hill Loukout, Flinder's ranges
Red Hill Loukout, Flinders

From there you have a choice: climb back down the way you came or take the 12-13km loop around to the trailhead. We took the loop option but honestly, after the first few kays it got fairly monotonous. There is a nice-looking campground which if we had our gear would have been great to break up the hike a bit.

Although the Flinders Ranges had a hard act to follow, it very easily won us over with its range of activities both on foot and behind the wheel.

Words and images – Sandy and Marc – The Wanderers at Heart

By Marty Ledwich

Marty Ledwich is a writer and photographer who is on the road full-time with his wife, Kylie, towing their off-road Roadstar caravan with a Toyota Land Cruiser 200 series. Marty was a volunteer in the Victoria Sate Emergency Service for 30 years and has travelled extensively around Australia.

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