Activities - Explore
The Flinders Ranges region covers most of the central north-east of South Australia, and includes some sparse and isolated parts of the state. For most tourists, the areas most often visited are Wilpena Pound and the towns in the mid and far north of the state, though more adventurous travellers may choose to venture beyond onto the Birdsville and Strzlecki Tracks towards Queensland and the Northern Territory.
The Flinders Ranges are vast and can be divided into three distinct regions, each offering explorers a unique holiday experience; the Southern Range, Central Ranges and Northern Ranges.
You’ll reach the Southern Ranges first if you’re driving from Adelaide. As well as many national parks and small settlements, the main towns in the southern region are Booleroo Centre, Melrose, Wilmington.
Mount Remarkable National Park
A visit to the Mount Remarkable National Park will show you an amazing diversity of flora, dramatic gorges and provide you with some pretty amazing wilderness experiences. The plants and animals that have adapted to the arid climate really thrive in this park, making it a popular bushwalking and sightseeing destination. You can enter the park through three points: Mambray Creek via Hwy 1, 45 km north of Port Pirie; Alligator Gorge south of Wilmington; or Mount Remarkable 24 km south of Wilmington. A particularly excellent spot to visit is Mambray Creek, it has some of the park’s best attractions, including Sugar Gum Lookout and the secluded hiking experience of Hidden Gorge.
If you don’t fancy camping in the Mount Remarkable National Park there are accommodation options in Melrose, a quiet settlement right at the foot of the mountain and the oldest town in the Flinders Ranges! It has a national trust museum, a town heritage walk, a cafe, bakery and pub.
The Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park
The Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park is located 10 km north-east of Quorn, and the bluff within the park, The Dutchmans Stern, is its most prominent landmark. It is named such because of its likeness to the stern of an early Dutch sailing ship. Scaling the bluff via a 10 km loop walk will reward you with views of Spencer Gulf, the surrounding ranges and Willochra Plain. There are several other walking paths in the park, including a portion of the Heysen Trail, and a picnic area.
Wirrabara and Bundaleer Forests
Wirrabara Forest is situated west of the township of Wirrabara, three hours drive north of Adelaide. Bundaleer Forest is to the south of the township of Jamestown, 220 km north of Adelaide. In these enchanting forests you can enjoy walking, cycling and horse riding on the tree-lined tracks, or stop for a picnic in one of the sheltered glades.
Southern Flinders Flavour Trail
The trail includes nine locations throughout the south, giving Foodies a chance to sample the local produce and meet the local food producers; from small family operations up to large corporate industries exporting around the world. You’ll delight in gourmet meats, olive products, soft drinks, pastries, honey, condiments, seafood and South Australia's very own Golden North Ice-Cream in Laura. You can also drop in at the Flinders Ranges's first cellar door at Remarkable View Wines on the Main North Road between Murray Town and Melrose. To jump on the flavour trail ask for a brochure at any of the Visitor Centres in the area.
In the central region delve into majestic gorges and isolated caves, the famous Wilpena Pound and some tiny heritage towns. And whilst you're there take a ride on an historic scenic railway!
Flinders Ranges National Park
The Flinders Ranges National Park covers an area of 912 km square just north-east of the small town of Hawker, it is the heart of the Flinders Range and the place people most commonly associate with the entire region. It is a place of wondrous vistas with a wealth of geological attractions, flora, fauna and Aboriginal and European cultural history. Some of its natural features are the eucalyptus lined waterways, pointed red mountain peaks and undulating hillsides covered with a patchwork of native trees and bush wildflowers in Spring. There are many lookouts, small canyons and unusual rock formations, including Wilkawillina Gorge, Hucks Lookout, Brachina Gorge, Bunyeru Gorge, St Mary Peak, Arkaroo Rock, the Great Wall of China (just outside the park) and the famous Wilpena Pound.
One of the most recognised geological landmarks in South Australia, Wilpena Pound is a vast natural amphitheatre surrounded by peaks that change colour with the light, it forms the hub of the park. From here you can tramp one of the many winding and interlacing walking tracks, or join a tour operator on a 4WD or mountain bike adventure. You can also see ancient Aboriginal art at Arkaroo Rock, Sacred Canyon and Perawurtina heritage sites. The park centre at Wilpena Pound is accessible by sealed road from Hawker. Other areas in the park can be reached by unsealed roads, which are mostly accessible by two-wheel drive vehicles, except in really bad weather. Facilities include a Visitor Information Centre, ranger on site, kiosk, toilets, a campground, showers, public phone, picnic area, barbecue facilities, drinking water, accommodation and guided tours.
Quorn is a little heritage town founded in 1878 on the Great Northern Railway line. It oozes charm, hence many film makers have use it as a set for their movies. It has a Visitors Information Centre and with plenty of accommodation options, making it a convenient and delightful base for exploring the Ranges.
The Pichi Richi Railway
The Pichi Richi Railway is a restored length of the oldest remaining section of the famous narrow-gauge Old Ghan Railway. It runs for 39 km between Quorn and Port Augusta on the Eyre Peninsula, traversing the rugged semi-arid desert landscape that lies between the two towns. The Quorn Train Station itself is a charming sight to see, a historic and elegant stone and brick structure built in 1916. From Quorn you can take one of the ancient and lovingly restored steam trains to Woolshed Flat and back again, or keep going to Port Augusta. It costs $45 for adults and $15 for children. There are also tours of the Quorn Workshop available. This service is run by a very loyal group of local volunteers and is a not-for-profit organisation, so keep that in mind when shelling out the 45 bucks!
Blinman is a minuscule tourist town on the northern edge of the Flinders Ranges National Park, and its open, hilly countryside makes for super four wheel drive journeys and bushwalks. It is named after Robert Blinman who discovered copper in the area in 1859, and the town was built on the resulting copper mine which remained operational until 1908. You can now take a tour of the rusting remnants of this industrial relic. Nearby you’ll find the ruins of Artimore Station and the Nuccaleena Mine also. These spots are accessible via self-drive, tag-a-long or guided 4WD tours along pastoral access roads.
Beltana is a real life ghost town! With the loss of its railroad, main road, mining industry and telegraph station, and the expansion of nearby Leigh Creek, all of the original reasons for the town to exist have vanished. The population reached nine in 1984 and today the town survives as a historic tourist site and living ghost town. Most surviving buildings are now in private hands and not open to the public. There are no services or accommodation available, although there is an interpretive history trail and self-guided tour around the town, and it still holds annual picnic races. The Beltana Roadhouse, 12 km from Beltana on the main highway between Parachilna and Leigh Creek, acts as the town's local store.
The northern ranges really begin to resemble the outback, with jagged rock formations and clear nights rendering the sky into a breathtaking display of the Milky-Way and the universe beyond.
Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park
The Gammon Ranges are 750 km north of Adelaide and 65 km east of Leigh Creek, and lie within the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park which shares a border with the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. They encompass some of the most rugged and spectacular country in South Australia; an arid wilderness of spectacular rocky ranges and deep gorges, being of particular cultural significance to the Adnyamathanha people, the traditional custodians of the region. Their name for this area is Arkaroo, after a legendary great snake who drank up all the water in Lake Frome, and upset by its saltiness, wriggled into the depths of the ranges where his upset stomach continues to rumble to this day. These booming noises can still be heard in the ranges, and are thought to be either the wind whistling through narrow gorges or from large rockfalls. True historic appreciation for this land can be called into question considering the English name for this area is ‘Gammon’ - meaning a piece of bacon. Hmmm.
Some of the most interesting features of the park are the deep gorges cut into the south-eastern side of the Blue Range and bushwalkers often visit Bunyip Chasm, The Terraces and Fern Chasm. A favourite of rock climbers is Cleft Peak, a spectacular rock chasm with two summits. There are several ways into the park both for 2WD and 4WD vehicles, and facilities include campgrounds, 4WD touring tracks and an old shearers’ quarters.
Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary
Set in the wonderful landscape of the Northern Ranges, the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary landscape is one of tall gorges sheltering deep waterholes, mountain ranges laced with precious minerals and places with lyrical names such as Nooldoonooldoona and Bararranna. This is privately owned land, bought in 1968 for the purpose of acting as a wildlife sanctuary for endangered species. Luckily, today it remains as such, preserving the many native inhabitants of this fascinating and varying landscape.
There are bushwalks abundant throughout the area, but it is the rocky 4WD tracks which entice many visitors, the most popular being the Ridge Top Tour, a four-hour trip along the ridge top track providing panoramic views across the plains towards Lake Frome. Additionally, Arkaroola has two 14-inch telescopes, which are some of the largest privately owned telescopes in the Southern hemisphere. Since the weather is usually fine and there is little light pollution, observers can see literally millions of stars with these magnificent magnifiers. The Pinnacle, a basalt mountain summit is used for rock climbing activities.
There is a village within the sanctuary which has excellent facilities for such a remote outpost with accommodation, a shop, restaurant, swimming pool and a Visitor Information Centre.
Iga Warta is a small Indigenous community set amongst the mountains in the Northern Flinders Ranges, between the towns of Copley and Balcanoona. It is a tourist camp run by the Aboriginal descendants of the region and tagged as “...an experience in Adnyamathanha Culture with Adnyamathanha People on Adnyamathanha land, owned and run by...” Adnyamathanha People! Whilst there you can take cultural tours on a range of subjects including cave painting, ochre, women's gatherings, history, bush plants, food and hunting. It’s a great insight into this culture and you’ll learn a lot! They have accommodation if you wish to stay.
The Heysen Trail is a long distance walking trail which passes through all the regions of the Flinders Ranges. It runs from Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges to Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula, and is approximately 1,200 km in length. It is named after Sir Hans Heysen, a well-known German Australian artist who resided in Handorff until his death in 1968. He was particularly recognised for his watercolours of the Australian bush and painting locations around the Flinders Ranges.
Most people choose to walk sections of the track and there are many places to stay along the way. Hardy walkers who walk the track from beginning to end typically do so in about 60 days. That's a lot of steps! It's a community run trail, and The Friends of the Heysen Trail is a non-profit volunteer organisation dedicated to the trail's maintenance and development, which is a nice concept. Due to bushfire risk, large sections of the trail are closed annually from December through to April.
The Mawson Trail is a long-distance cycling trail starting just east of Adelaide in the hills, and extending to the outback town of Blinman in the Flinders Ranges. The trial is named after the famous Australian Antarctic explorer and geologist, Douglas Mawson, and is an ideal option for mountain bikers keen to travel through South Australia's regional and remote rural areas. Close to 900 kilometres long, the trail includes little-used country roads, state forest and National Park fire trails, farm access tracks and unmade or unused road reserves. The trail avoids traffic and bitumen roads and leads cyclists into the remote areas of the Mount Lofty and Flinders Ranges.
You'll need a sturdy mountain or touring bike, not a road bike, and you'll find several steep uphill sections and hard or unridable sections after prolonged or heavy rain. However, spectacular views, abundant wildlife, unique flora and extensive vistas always reward the hard physical work. The trail is open all year round, however the months of January to March can be fiercely hot and are best avoided.
In order to safely plan and undertake a ride on the Mawson Trail it is essential to have the official Mawson Trail maps, as they have been specially designed to complement the recent signage redevelopments. You can buy them from the Bicycle SA online bookshop.