The Flinders Ranges is the quintessential Aussie outback experience. Wild, immense landscapes, abundant wildlife, remote sheep stations and that intensely rich, red sand of desert dreams.
The best thing about it though (apart from the delicious food and wine and luxurious accommodation), is that you don’t have to spend days journeying in a car to get there. It’s the most accessible part of Australia’s outback, just three hours north of Adelaide.
My Flinders Ranges journey began with a scenic drive through fields of wheat, rye, barley and canola, great swathes of yellow and green pasture broken up by sweet little towns like Burra, with its Cornish connection and fantastic bakery, and the odd sheep station ruin.
I was fascinated by these ruins. Our guide told us there was a huge drought in the 1860s, which caused a third of the sheep and half of the cattle in the Ranges to perish. It was so devastating that many of the area’s landowners had to walk off their properties and declare bankruptcy.
It’s heartbreaking to think about these farmers whole lives being turned upside down in one season. But goodness the ruins that are left are beautiful, particularly Kanyaka Station.
By the time we reached Rawnsley Park Station, a family-owned still-functioning sheep station with an incredible view of the southern side of Wilpena Pound, we couldn’t have been more ready for the chilled sparkling and canapés that awaited us on a mountaintop. As the sun turn the rugged landscape golden all around us, we lifted our glasses to discovering this magical part of Australia.
After waking with the sun in our luxurious pink rammed earth cabins the next morning, we took a guided hike through the bush. We walked under the eucalypts and wattle trees, chunks of pink quartz glinting beneath our feet, until we found the perfect spot for our barbecue bush breakfast. Nothing but the trees and a few curious kangaroos and emus for company.
Then it was time to head off to explore Bunyeroo Valley and Brachina Gorge, an area with a geological history dating back over 500 million years. There, beneath soaring layered rock walls that tell the story of the gorge’s creation, we came face to face with endangered yellow-footed rock wallabies, soaking up the warm afternoon sun.
The day ended with a lamb feast back at Rawnsley Park, then we lay out under the stars in one of the paddocks. Stargazing, drinking delicious South Australian wine, and singing along to tunes our guide strummed on his guitar.
If you do one thing in the Flinders Ranges, let it be a sunrise flight over Wilpena Pound. Ours took place in a tiny six-seater plane flown by one of only five female chief pilots in Australia. She whizzed us over the stunning natural amphitheatre, the tracks left by floodwaters looking like kids’ scribbles on the ground beneath us. Then all too quickly, it was time for us to head off to our final Flinders Ranges destination, Parachilna.
A town with a population of just eight, Parachilna is home to what has to be one of Australia’s most sophisticated outback hotels, the Prairie Hotel. Set it an historic stone building opposite the disused train tracks of the old Ghan Railway, it was the perfect base from which to explore the nearby flaming sand dunes.
We took the 30-minute drive out there with Dr. Jim Gehling, one of Australia’s top paleontologists, who showed us the incredible fossils buried out there. Some of them, he told us, date back 550 million years.
Standing these under those vast open skies, in the presence of fossils that could very well be our ancestors, was an experience that will stay with me for a long, long time. Maybe not as long as the experience that came right after it, though: sitting on the Prairie’s front patio watching the sunset streak they sky with apricot and rose, a glass of their frosty Fargher Lager in hand.
I TRAVELLED TO THE FLINDERS RANGES COURTESY OF FLINDERS RANGES ODYSSEYS