The Flinders Ranges in South Australia indisputably belong among the jewel cabinet of Australia’s outback tourism industry, but it’s only in the past 30 to 40 years that much of it has again become publicly accessible, with the removal of stock from some of the properties and their conversion to conservation parks and private reserves.
Warraweena Private Conservation Park, once a sheep station of 355 square kilometres, is one of those gems. Over the past two and a bit decades, since its purchase in 1996 by the non-profit conservation organisation Wetlands and Wildlife, and under the diligent guidance of manager and ranger Stony Steiner, Warraweena has been slowly returning to its former natural glory.
And it’s all available to those who wish to see the Northern Flinders Ranges in something like their original state.
WHAT THE WARRAWEENA
Warraweena is situated 24km east of the small township of Beltana (between Parachilna and Leigh Creek), just off the highway (Barndioota Road), 540km north of Adelaide. It’s a landscape of steep hillsides, mountainous climbs, bare red earth and river and red gums along dry creek beds which become raging torrents when rains fall.
The area was well populated in the 19th century, when copper was king in the region. As with a number of other locations in central South Australia, copper became one of the driving forces in the settlement of the Northern Flinders, inspiring grandiose dreams for its future.
The now derelict 1870s town site of Sliding Rock (aka Cadnia) nearby — once home to over 400 people — and its adjoining mines and processing works at Sliding Rock, as well as several other smaller workings on the property and in the region, remain as a reminder of more optimistic times within or close to the Warraweena boundaries. In the end it was flooding in the mines which caused them to fail.
You can spend a day at Sliding Rock (the Cadnia name has been dropped from usage today but still appears on some maps), or continue along the same track to spend a day in nearby Beltana. Food, fuel and other supplies are available from Leigh Creek, further up the highway to the north.
The real interest in Warraweena, however, lies in the natural environment. As with all of the Flinders Ranges this is an area of deep gorges and steep mountain slopes, ranging up to Mt Hack’s 1,086 metres (the highest in the Northern Flinders Ranges), fashioned from rocks formed in a shallow sea between 600 and 800 million years ago.
It is home to a wide range of native animals, which are slowly recovering as feral pests are brought under control. Foremost among the former is a good population of the threatened yellow-footed rock wallabies, which have made a comeback following good rains in recent years, as well as over 130 species of birds.
STAYING ON SITE
The property is accessed by and caters for all manner of people interested in recreational tourism, including those in 4WDs, motorcycles, on mountain bikes and on foot, as well as photographers and artists.
Camping facilities begin with unpowered secluded individual bush camp sites, with composting toilets, camping tables and fire rings. These pretty much guarantee you a private valley or gully of your own. For more comfort there are the more distant shepherd’s huts, dating back to the pastoral days, which feature rain water tanks, concrete floors, indoor fireplaces and compositing toilets, but will require a 4WD just to access.
If you want more comfort, the main homestead still stands and is available for hire, with 240 volt power, fridges, kitchen, showers and all facilities. It caters for up to 20 people, and the nearby shearers’ quarters are also available and offer six bedrooms, showers (complete with a wood-fired boiler) and other facilities.
Shower, toilet and laundry facilities are available for use by other campers.
EXPERIENCING IT IN A 4WD
While Warraweena itself is 2WD accessible, the property has over 150km of 4WD trails, in three major tracks, ranging from the extremely difficult to the easy, one taking only four hours to traverse and others close to a whole day.
These pass through a range of environments, from old mine workings to deep and sheltered gorges, to creek beds and up onto the iconic Mt Gill. The outlook from the latter is at times breathtaking, with panoramic views over Lake Torrens to Mount Samuel, the ABC Range and Wilpena Pound, Mt Hack and the Gammon Ranges, and the vast plains to the north.
There are steep shaly descents that will test your driving nerve, long sandy and gravel drives along creek beds studded with river red gums, steep climbs over water worn rocks and long lonely stretches where you are unlikely to see anybody else all day. Each track comes with its own map and trip notes and special instructions from Stony before you start.
THE MAN BEHIND IT ALL
Property manager Stony (a corruption of “Steiny”) is a genial Swiss who at first appears very out of place in this parched environment, away from the snow capped and lush landscapes of his native Alps, but he considers himself an Aussie, despite his strong accent. His love for this land makes him an ideal custodian of its preservation and restoration.
He completed a degree in conservation and park management at the University of SA, married an Adelaide girl and had two daughters, who were largely raised at Warraweena and were educated via the School of the Air.
“This is a great place to raise children,” he says. “There are no boundaries. Where I grew up in Switzerland the forest, the gorges, the village belonged to us kids, as long as we were home by dark. Here it’s the same thing. The kids could ride their bikes, climb the hills, but they knew they had to be home before nightfall.”
A WELCOME TREND
Other Northern Flinders properties which have been destocked and set aside for conservation include Arkaroola, Nantawarrina, Pinda Springs, Arkaba (south of Wilpena Pound), Balcanoona (Gammon Ranges-Vulkathunha National Park) and more recently Witchelina station north of Leigh Creek, which was purchased by the Nature Foundation in 2010.
Most of these reserves, state and private, are working together to effectively restore habitat across the region with initiatives such as the Bounceback Program to restore populations of yellow-footed rock wallabies and other native flora and fauna.
“The wildlife here is pretty healthy these days,” Stony told us, “and I have seen quite a few echidnas and pythons recently.”
There has been a concerted program to remove all feral animals on Warraweena, including goats, foxes, rabbits and cats, and this has seen a gradual return of native fauna. There is a location on the side of one of the tracks, where a fenced area has kept out feral croppers and the long and lush grass there is indicative of the sort of pasture that would have been present in the area in its natural state.
VISIT IT YOURSELF
There are charges for the property use, varying widely depending on the level of accommodation desired, and the activities you plan, but, as Stony emphasises, all income goes towards the preservation and conservation of this unique location for future generations.
Ensure you seek prior approval if bringing pets or using generators, chainsaws and motorcycles. There’s strictly no firearms or metal detectors permitted. Fires may only be lit in allocated fire rings. It is encouraged that you bring your own firewood or, alternatively, purchase it from the office.
Location: Turn off Barndioota Road towards Beltana between Parachilna and Leigh Creek and head east. Drive through the village and follow the signs for 24km. GPS: 30 48’34”S 38 24’19”E.
Facilities: Individual camp sites with composting toilets and fire rings. Cabin accommodation at outlying huts with tank waters, composting toilets and fireplaces. Undercover accommodation in homestead or shearers’ quarters with hot showers, power and cooking facilities. No phone reception. Tank water available at homestead and shearers’ shed.
Rates: Day visit $10 per car; bush camping $15 adult, children under 16 years $10; 4WD tracks $50 per car. Bookings are advisable. Additional fees for powered sites, bush huts, shearers’ quarters or homestead.
Pets: Dogs permitted on lead but must be approved in advance as 1080 fox baits are laid across the property.
Nearest shop: Leigh Creek (60km).
More info: www.warraweena.com