The beauty of the Flinders Ranges can’t be expressed in mere words.
Her beauty, instead, is best seen in person. Brown and green mountains roll into the distance. The details of each escarpment and other rock formations glow when the sun is at its lowest points, the soft light emphasising a landscape as ancient as it is stunning.
Our adventure began in Rawnsley Park, a sheep station since the late 1960s. Three hybrid campers and seven travellers. We were there to test the offroad credibility of the rigs, but we were also there to explore.
THINGS TO DO
With a few days up our sleeve, we decided to drive the main road loops that give visitors an overall impression of the Flinders Ranges. The Bunyeroo Gorge Scenic Drive is a good starting point as it leads deep into the national park, through a valley and the Bunyeroo Gorge itself, before intersecting the Brachina Gorge Geological Trail, which is best driven in the afternoon — the layers of rock seem to glow in the soft light. The nearby Aroona Ruins will break up the two drives and provide an insight into the region’s pastoral history.
The next day, the Parachilna Gorge loop, which also takes in Glass Gorge, with offshoots to places such as the Nuccaleena Mine ruins, will take the best part of the day. Never fear: the Prairie Hotel, which sits adjacent to the road into Parachilna is the perfect stop for dinner at the end of it all.
Of course, there’s plenty more to explore in the Flinders, but if time is short, these loops will provide an impressive insight into the national park’s fascinating geological and mining history.
Our first trail: Bunyeroo Gorge, which cuts through the Heysen Range. The turn-off to the Scenic Drive is about 10km north of Wilpena, with some 30km of dirt and gravel leading to the gorge itself. Here and there, the going is a little rough but it could be traversed in a 2WD. If it’s been raining, however, it’s strictly 4WD territory.
Following twists and turns into the Bunyeroo Valley, the road leads to Razorback Lookout, the highlight of this particular drive. The vista is classic Flinders Ranges: a winding, descending road and the ranges in the distance. In short, it’s breathtaking.
There are a number of campsites around the gorge, some with basic facilities such as drop toilets and firepits – there are numerous hikes to do, too.
But if you’re passing through, as we were, you’ll by now have an appreciation of the primal splendour for which the Flinders is famous.
The Brachina Gorge, which is 13km north of Bunyeroo Gorge, cuts through the Heysen Range, the track switching between firm gravel and loose rubble. The 8km gorge exposes layer upon layer of rock, like the exposed bones of a prehistoric giant. This limestone, quartzite and shale were once the bed of an inland sea which, over many millennia and many geological upheavals, has become folded into the Flinders Ranges of today.
Here and there, you might even see evidence of the earth’s first animals in the form of fossils from the Ediacaran geological period, named after the Flinders Ranges’ Ediacara Hills. This is the geological period from which the first clearly multi-cellular life appears in the fossil record.
Failing that, look out for red kangaroos, emus, yellow-footed rock wallabies and wedge-tail eagles. If you can keep your eye off the scenery, that is.
Exploring Parachilna Gorge in the northern reaches of the Flinders Ranges is best done when you have a day or two up your sleeve – don’t try to squeeze it into the same day as your Bunyeroo and Brachina visits.
The drive through Parachilna Gorge stretches for about 30km and, while not as striking as Bunyeroo or Brachina gorges, it offers a variety of scenery and camping areas. Angorichina Tourist Village is situated about halfway into the gorge and offers a range of accommodation options, as well as some basic supplies and fuel.
The road ends in the historic town of Blinman, which was established in 1859 following the discovery of copper. It is a good base for a more detailed exploration of the northern Flinders.
From Blinman, you could either head south on the bitumen road towards attractions such as Wilpena Pound (or straight through to Rawnsley Park Station), continue east and take the 4WD-only track to the Artimore Ruins, or perhaps double back to the highway via the Glass Gorge Track. This track heads through the Moolooloo Valley (bordered by the Mt Samuel and Mt Elkington ranges) and Glass Gorge, with views of rugged mountain peaks and open plains to spare.
A 4WD-only track leads north from the Glass Gorge Track to the remains of Nuccaleena Mine, considered the best set of mining ruins in the Flinders Ranges. In its heyday, the mine employed more than 80 people, and in 1862 there was even a hotel, a general store and more.
Eventually, the Glass Gorge Track intersects the Parachilna Road, leading back out to the highway and the Prairie Hotel. By now, it’s time for a late lunch or dinner. Anyone for kangaroo?
Of course, there is more to the Flinders Ranges than three or four drive loops. Spectacular 4WD tracks and hidden campsites abound. Creeks and ruins, lookouts and springs. You could spend weeks in the Flinders and only scratch the surface.
But Bunyeroo Gorge, the Brachina Geological Trail, Parachilna Gorge, with a few other sites in between, will provide a fascinating and memorable insight into this essential outback destination.
For more information on Wilpena Pound Resort visit phone 1800 805 802.
For more information on the Flinders Ranges visit www.frc.sa.gov.au/tourism
Check out the full feature in issue #90 July 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.