Flinders Ranges, SA
Words by Fred Wright
Whether you’re an RVer and about to start exploring and experiencing our fabulous island continent, or a seasoned traveller, we think we have just the place for you. Imagine if you will, awe inspiring scenery with red sandstone walls towering high above, set amongst the green foliage of native pine trees and gigantic river red gums. What then if you add pleasant walks with kangaroos and colourful parrots to greet you each morning?
This scenario may sound quite surreal or perhaps remote and rugged but let’s not forget you also have at hand plane flights to give you an eagle’s view of these rugged ranges. Nearby, food supplies, fuel and water are readily available.
We’d travelled through Mt Gambier and the Limestone Coast of SA with its Blue Lake, fabulous food trail, red rock lobsters, magnificent beaches, caves and terra rossa red wines. It was now the time to turn the vehicle north, chasing our way to the tropics.
Leaving Adelaide we drove to Quorn with the Flinders Ranges in view as our constant companions. We stopped at Quorn Caravan Park to check out this eco-friendly park. It’s set among shady trees with spotlessly clean amenities and is described as a ‘little piece of paradise in the Flinders’. We’d certainly agree!
Quorn is a welcoming SA town some 340km north of Adelaide or about a four hour drive. During WWII Aussie troops travelling by train north to fight the Japanese in New Guinea were warmly welcomed by Quorn townsfolk with hot meals and small town hospitality.
You’ll find pubs with great meals and meal deals, a supermarket and quaint shops to stop for a snack or a coffee. Take a tip from us and taste the Quondong pie with Quondong jam and cream – it’s deliciously decadent. Or check out ‘Emily’s’ – A beautifully restored emporium where you’ll feel that unmistakeable old world charm. A ride on the Pichi Richi Railway may be on your ‘must do’ list, or perhaps a camel ride. This is a gem of a town to linger longer or use as a base to explore the southern Flinders Ranges.
Of particular interest is Warren Gorge, a free campsite some 22km out of town. The black ribbon of bitumen gives way to well maintained dirt road until the turnoff to the gorge appears on your left. You enter the gorge past signs that warn not to camp under trees or rocks towering above. The track is one vehicle wide, dusty and partly corrugated with some rocky outcrops. Sensible driving is required but large rigs and motorhomes should have few problems travelling these gorge tracks. Campers have the choice of many sites; all allowing open fires but you must bring your firewood with you. Rubbish bins are at the gorge entrance and it is pet friendly.
Early morning or late afternoon visits should reward your patience with sightings of the rare endangered yellow footed rock wallaby. Another significant feature of the gorge is the rock formations that rear up in front of you as you drive in. They reminded us of huge red stained ochre building blocks stacked one upon the other and reaching for the sky. There are toilets but you must bring your own water
Back to the Quondong Cafe where we were devouring the last of the pie and coffee when a 4WD pulled up. A couple we’d briefly met the day before hopped out and had a chat. They’d taken their van to Warren Gorge and invited us to come and see them there. We’ve met heaps of friendly RVers on our travels but none better than Mitch and Barbara who surprised us at Warren Gorge with some Quondong treats – they certainly knew our weaknesses.
It was once more back to the bitumen and off to Hawker. This is your turn off the highway into the Flinders and there are several fuel stations and a general store plus a caravan park. We’d barely reached touring speed, about 90km/h and around dusk when a roo darted from the side of the road and headed straight at us. It seemed as though the initial contact would be on the front mud guard and we braced for the impact standing heavily on the brakes. Sadly, the roo hit the front wheel and cart wheeled high into the air. It’s the first time this has happened to us and hopefully the last. It does reinforce the need for vigilance and luck towing in the outback. Prepare for the unexpected should be the motto we reckon.
We made our base at Rawnsley Park Station. The owners are friendly and helpful and there’s a variety of accommodation from powered sites to bush type camping. They’ve recently installed a dump site and new amenities block and you can pick up supplies at the shop as you drive in or why not have a swim in the adjacent pool.
Understandably we could hardly wait to explore these ‘bones laid bare’ so after unhitching headed for Brachina Gorge. We opted to take a loop road which would enable us to check out the national park campsites along the way. Here we met Kevin and Marie. Kevin’s a proud Vietnam Veteran and Marie is a passionate quilter. We were intrigued that Marie was able to enjoy her quilting on the road. As they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. They loved the freedom of their lifestyle and walked and explored the many great spots near their camp. Like Mick and Barbara they’d certainly come prepared for free camping and loved it.
Brachina Gorge did not disappoint and we’d recommend a trip here as the colours of the gorge and the magnificent trees are breath taking. Although we towed the Patriot van here which had no trouble handling the roads, I wouldn’t recommend it as the track can become one vehicle wide and this could present problems with oncoming traffic. Also bear in mind that there are few opportunities to turn around a large rig here.
On the way back stop at Razor Back Range for photos as well. You’re high up on the range and get a fabulous view of the road below as it meanders through hills with some of the ‘bones’ of the Flinders Ranges as a background. As the sun sets and when the light changes the colours to blues and oranges this scenery is truly spectacular!
Making our way through the turn off to Wilpena Pound we stopped at the Cazneaux Tree made famous by a poem from a well known photographer who like so many loved the Flinders. He thought this tree symbolised the spirit of Australia with its ability to withstand drought, flood, fire and everything nature could throw at it. This is another great photo op.
The DVD photographer John headed off from Rawnsley Park Station before 6am to take a Cessna flight over Wilpena Pound. It took a quick taxi up the airstrip to clear away any roos and then the 300hp engine lifted the plane off the strip and up above Wilpena Pound. John came back happy with his DVD shots so it was all worth it.
I arrived at the strip to collect him to find that I was about to go sky high as well. Drew, the young but experienced pilot gave me a taste of what the longer flight was like which was quite frankly spectacular, but soon it was time to land. I couldn’t stop taking photos every chance I got. His commentary through the headsets was great. Even the part about wedge tailed eagles being a nuisance didn’t faze me. John was filming as we approached the strip and said the pilot made a perfect landing. The fact that I never once thought about motion sickness was a bonus.
The old Wilpena Homestead is not far from Wilpena Pound itself. It’s one of the most iconic pastoral settlements in SA and was a working station for over 135 years. It’s also a significant and important Aboriginal site. Take a guided tour or stroll around the many well preserved buildings. The homestead has the most continuous and best preserved histories of use in a remote setting to be found anywhere in this state.
Wilpena Pound sees over 160,000 visitors a year and is set amongst native pines and huge gum trees. There were large green parrots and kangaroos that seemed oblivious to campers. The red sandstone walls of the pound can be seen from almost every campsite. You’re also able to get food and information as well as fuel from the shop’s well stocked shelves.
RVers have plenty of camping choices in the Flinders. You can stay at Rawnsley Park Station, a working sheep station; Wilpena Pound set amongst pine trees and tall gum trees with easy walking access to the Pound and national park sites of different varieties and locations. There’s also Willow Springs nearby and those who like remote camping on a sheep station with room to spread, the opportunity to explore on a fantastic 4WD track called ‘Sky Trek’, this may be tailor made for you.
We met a couple, Andy and Cheryl who’d been working since 2001 at Willow Springs cleaning amenities, fixing generators and doing odd jobs. They’d been welcomed by the station’s family to join them for dinners and absolutely loved it.
At Wilpena Pound we met a helpful ranger, Darren who suggested a good photo opportunity in the Pound itself. He guided the camera car through several locked gates with 4WD engaged until we came across a stone cottage owned by the early pastoralists with a lookout nearby. You can’t miss this pleasant walk you can take from the Pound where you’ll be surrounded by beautiful gum trees and pass the permanent waterhole that still supplies water to the Wilpena Pound Resort and camping area.
Our stay at Rawnsley Park Station had been a most pleasant one and our visits to sites in Wilpena Pound quite amazing but it was time to move on. It’s worth noting that we made our way up the bitumen to the Parachilna Hotel to sample some of their roadkill meals of emu, kangaroo and goat sausages. From here we headed into Parachilna Gorge which is somewhere you must take the time to visit.
There are so many beautifully stunning gorge views it is hard to keep count. We continued through the gorge to Blinman. The publican told us that the bitumen road to Wilpena had been finished some three years ago and that’s certainly an alternative road you might want to take the van. The population here is 25 but as two German backpackers were leaving tomorrow they’d be reduced to 23. There’s a memorial hall and general store and they tell me a nearby mine tour is a must.
From Parachilna we headed north again to Leigh Creek which has a pleasant caravan park with all amenities and is a friendly place where the caretaker makes you feel most welcome. There’s a Foodland supermarket, hotel, newsagent, service station and hospital, and it’s somewhere to check out before heading any further north.
Our final destination was Farina, a ghost town just north of Lyndhurst. Farina was a town that symbolised many pastoral ventures that failed due to climate change, even though a railway line passed beside them. It’s hard to imagine the blood, sweat and tears behind these scattered ghost towns throughout the Flinders. While you’re here why not consider the campground near the ruins for which there is a small charge but there’s a toilet, rubbish bins, fireplaces and plenty of shaded grass. From here you could explore the ruins to your heart’s content.
Our journey through the Flinders Ranges reinforced the fact that this is somewhere in Australia that is remote and rugged, but accessible. The RVer will be rewarded with photos to last a lifetime and plenty of memories and experiences to match. When we consider unique ‘must see’ places in Australia, the Flinders Ranges is definitely one such place, not least of all because here you can see ‘nature’s bones laid bare.’
Where: Willow Springs Station, Hawker
Ph: (08) 8648 0016
Prices start at $65 per vehicle for a self drive tour through some of the most outstanding countryside in Australia.
Try the ‘Flinders Feral Food’ at the Prairie Hotel, Parachilna. Don’t forget to finish off with a Quondong pie for desert – you will not be disappointed.
Stop at the Flinders Ranges Visitor Information Centre in Quorn to pick up a map and information pack. Take the 20km self-guided geological tour through the gorge, and if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby.
On the Parachilna to Blinman Rd, Parachilna Gorge is a spectacular place to stop either at the beginning, or end of the day when the light is soft. The colourful gorge walls come alive, and it’s even better after a bit of rain when the rock pools are full of flowing water.
named after photographer Harold Cazneaux who took an internationally renowned photograph of the tree in 1937 known as ‘Spirit of Endurance’. The tree is an important local landmark in the Flinders Ranges. Access is off Hawker to Blinman Rd 1km north of the Wilpena Pound intersection.
Wilpena Pound Scenic Flights
Experience the amazing natural formations from the air. It is a little expensive, but well worth the cost for a genuine once in a lifetime experience.
Prices start at $165 per person for a 20min flight.
HOW TO GET THERE
Quorn is 330km north of Adelaide via the Prince Hwy and Hawker-Stirling North Rd. From Quorn it is 120km along Hawker-Stirling North Rd and Wilpena Rd to Wilpena Pound, the heart of the Flinders Ranges. Wilpena Pound is 1,645km west of Sydney, and 1,170km north-west of Melbourne.
Finders Ranges Visitor Information Centre
Where: 3 Seventh St, Quorn
Ph: 1800 220 980
WHERE TO STAY
Quorn Caravan Park
Where: 8 Silo Rd, Quorn
Ph: (08) 8648 6206
Sites start at $17 per night
Rawnsley Park Station
Where: Wilpena Rd, via Hawker
Ph: (08) 8648 0008
Sites start at $12 per night
Wilpena Pound Campground
Where: Wilpena Rd, via Hawker
Ph: (08) 8648 0048
Sites start at $12 per night
Willow Springs Station
Where: Wilpena to Blinman Rd, PMB 3, Hawker
Ph: (08) 8648 0016
Sites start at $20 per night
Where: Farina Station, via Lyndhurst
Ph: (08) 8675 7790
Sites start at $5 per person, per night
TOILETS, FIREPLACES, PETS ALLOWED, NO DRINKING WATER
22 km north-west of Quorn via Arden Vale Rd
GPS – 32°11’14″S 138° 0’39″E
Perfect for self sufficient rigs, rubbish bins are provided at the gorge entrance.