During six months of living in South Australia, there was one destination we were repeatedly encouraged to visit. Not the Barossa Valley or Kangaroo Island, but the Flinders Ranges.
The Flinders are the largest mountain range in South Australia, and by all accounts something we needed to see with our own eyes. There was only one problem—it was out of the way. Winter temperatures were settling in, and I had my eye on the prize: Darwin, with its warm, sticky nights full of the promise of shorts and mosquito spray.
To go to the Flinders, we’d have to divert off the Stuart Highway to Wilpena, then backtrack to Port Augusta before resuming our journey north. All up it would add an extra 5 hours of driving and 3 days to the trip.
If that sounds like a weak excuse to skip the Flinders, that’s because it is. Obviously we decided to go.
On the way we stopped in Quorn for a sweet quandong pie, which made me forget all about detours. The quandong is a bush fruit, compared to both cherries and peaches but tasting like neither. It reminded me of flavors labeled ‘wild berry,’ which basically means ‘whatever fruit we could find’.
The big deal of the Flinders is Wilpena Pound, a ring of mountains that is especially impressive when viewed from the inside. You can camp at Wilpena Pound Resort or at Rawnsley Park Station; we opted for the latter. It was a good choice, as we learned from our site neighbors that they’d been turned away from the fully-booked Wilpena.
We had great views of the Pound from Rawnsley, which easily made it worth the extra 15 minutes we had to drive the next day to reach it.
There were a few nice hikes around the campground, so we followed a trail for 45-minutes and got a good feel for the place. At one point we turned a corner to discover a rock surrounded by kangaroo bones. I instantly imagined a criminal on the run, spearing roos and eating them raw, leaving a collection of bones in his wake.
Jared tells me it’s also possible that the old kangaroos simply went there to die.
“They do die of natural causes, you know.”
That night we cooked laksa out of a packet as everyone around us fried up giant hunks of delicious-smelling lamb that had been raised on the station. Then Jared ate a whole dried chili and I thought he was going to pass out right there at the table, but fortunately a spoonful of butter fixed him right up.
In the morning we drove to Wilpena to check out the Pound. The Wangara lookout hike is an easy 7.8km return walk from the information center and it takes you straight into the ring of mountains. The last 1km is an uphill scramble over some rocks, but you can take a breather at the top and soak up the scenery.
Afterwards we drove around and followed the brown signs, one of my favorite road trip activities. They brought us to the ‘Cazneaux Tree,’ a tree that was the subject of a famous photograph in 1937. The picture was called ‘The Spirit of Endurance,’ and it brought lasting notoriety to photographer Harold Cazneaux.
The tree continues to endure; in fact it is on the National Trust’s Significant Tree Register.
On Jared’s instinct, we took a tourist drive through the Bunyeroo Valley. It was a rough gravelly road, but the old Nissan was fine. My brain rattled a bit, but my eyeballs were happy because they saw this:
I was confused because so many cars bypassed this lookout, but as we drove on we discovered that there was another one further down the road. It was pretty good, though I still thought Bunyeroo had the edge.
On the way back, we also stopped at Stokes Lookout. It was the drive that wouldn’t end, up a rocky road and past hordes of kangaroos that stared at us, clearly judging. At the top we did get the guidebook’s promised 360° views, but the wind was intense. We didn’t stay long.
The Flinders were never really a detour; it’s tough to divert from your path when you don’t have a fixed one to begin with.
We visited the Flinders in July 2017 and paid the following:
Power + water, 2 people, camper trailer: $33.30 per night (includes 10% Top Tourist discount)
Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park Pass
A 24-hour pass cost $10. We purchased in person at the Visitor Information Centre after we were unable to buy it online due to a technical error.