South Australia’s Outback is iconic Australia. Aboriginal culture, eternal landscapes, stunning colours, natural amphitheatres, wild kangaroos, emus, bearded dragons — these are just a handful of essential sights visitors miss when they cling to the coast. The perennial excuse is that it’s too hard to get to, but all of this (and much more) is found in the Flinders Ranges, just a five hour drive north from Adelaide.
South Australia’s largest mountain range is home to ancient Aboriginal culture, and to fossils dating back more than half a billion years — providing unique insight into the evolution of multicellular animal life — making the Flinders Ranges a strong contender for UNESCO World Heritage status. This is unmissable Australia.
1. Spot a huge variety of wildlife
A trip Down Under really isn’t complete without seeing a kangaroo in the wild, but there are literally thousands of reasons for wildlife lovers to explore South Australia’s easy-to-reach Outback. The Flinders Ranges, encompassing 600-million-year-old formations of rocky gorges, weathered peaks, and unmistakably Australian semi-arid landscapes, attracts seven-foot-tall red kangaroos and western grey kangaroos, as well as emus, parrots, wedge-tailed eagles, and myriad reptile species. Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park is home to Australia’s largest salt lake and, from April to October, it attracts thousands of waterbirds.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby too. Naturally attracted to rocky habitats, which provide protection from predators and shelter from extreme temperatures, the yellow footed rock wallaby is a particularly attractive marsupial, distinguished by white stripes on its cheeks, orange ears and limbs, striped tails and, obviously, yellow feet.
2. Go hiking
Stretching for over 425km and encompassing six separate national parks, there are scores of trails throughout the Flinders Ranges, from short strolls on well-maintained paths to long-distance hikes like the Hubert 100km.
Mount Remarkable National Park offers bush walks for all ages and abilities, including the very manageable 400-yard walk to the top of Alligator Gorge, and the two kilometre Gorge Circuit Hike along the bottom of the gorge, which sounds easy until you factor in the 250 steps between the top and bottom.
In Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park you’ll find dozens of routes, most notably the challenging hikes to the peaks that surround the natural amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound, which rewards walkers with panoramic views of the Flinders Ranges, Aroona Valley, and the western salt plains.
3. Explore on two wheels
You’ll find some of Australia’s very best bike trails within the Flinders Ranges. From long-distance rides on bitumen, unsealed roads and cattle station tracks, to BMX pump tracks and black diamond single tracks for downhill riding.
The oldest town in the Flinders Ranges, Melrose, is the region’s favourite cycling hub and acts as the gateway to the dozens of trails on offer at Mount Remarkable National Park. The experts at Over The Hill will make sure you have the best kit to make the most of the epic adventure. Meanwhile, you can hire a bike from Wilpena Pound Resort and embark on guided and non-guided tours around Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.
Why not embark on a multi-day biking adventure with Escapegoat Adventures? The company offers epic mountain biking trails through the Outback and you can join a small group on a multi-day 200km bike ride starting at Wilpena Pound with five days of riding in the Flinders Ranges before a visit to Melrose on the way back.
4. Enjoy a scenic flight
Some of the wonders of the Flinders Ranges are only revealed from an aerial perspective. Only from above can you grasp the proportions of the natural amphitheatre that is Wilpena Pound or appreciate the scale of Lake Eyre, which — on the rare occasions that it’s full — is the largest lake in Australia, covering an area of 9,500 square kilometres.
Anna Creek Painted Hills — formerly known as the Secret Painted Hills — is a recently discovered section of pristine Breakaways country in the far north of South Australia. These varicoloured hills of various sizes bubble up unexpectedly from an area of flat desert landscape that is practically inaccessible by land vehicles.
The scope and wonder of its shapes and colours — iron red, white, and mustard yellow — can only be properly appreciated from up high anyway, so consider a flight with outback pioneer, Trevor Wright. Trevor started Wrightsair in 1992 with just $50 in his pocket, and today he owns a fleet of planes offering aerial tours of the Painted Hills, Lake Eyre, and South Australia’s incredible Outback.
5. Learn about the rich culture of the land
Long before these places were known as the Flinders Ranges, Wilpena Pound, Lake Eyre, or the Painted Hills, they had other names. Aboriginal Australians have lived in harmony with the land here for over 50,000 years and, before European colonisation, there were more than 250 Aboriginal languages.
The Arrernte people have known the National Heritage-listed Dalhousie Springs, in the far north of South Australia, as Irrwanyere, and for thousands of years it has been an important site to them, and to the Wangkangurru people, as a source of food, shelter and bush medicine.
The Adnyamathanha people — or simply the ‘Yura,’ as they call themselves — know Wilpena Pound as Ikara, which means ‘meeting place,’ and its from this that Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park gets its name today.
Join the Yura Udnyu walking tour to Old Wilpena Station and Ikara to learn from the traditional custodians of this land about native species, bush tucker, and to discover ancient fossils, Aboriginal rock art, and the rich history of ancient and contemporary Aboriginal cultures.
Don't miss a visit to Wadna which will reveal authentic aboriginal artefacts. You can head out on a guided tour of the picturesque Adnyamathanha region to soak up more of the heritage.
6. Go stargazing
You’ve never seen the stars like you’ll see them in the Flinders Ranges. Light pollution is so prevalent in our daily lives that we’ve become familiar with starless nights, and we marvel at spotting The Plough or Orion’s Belt when we’re out in the British countryside.
The Flinders Ranges however — far from urban centres and shielded by mountains — has practically zero light pollution, so when you look up after sunset you’re sure to be dazzled.
The celestial display here is truly out of this world and, if this is your first time Down Under, you’ll find it an alien experience. With your naked eye you’ll witness the Milky Way like you’ve never seen it before — a splash of pearlescent primordial soup spilled across a black tablecloth, dotted with diamond lights in unfamiliar shapes.
The southern hemisphere, of course, has different constellations — ones invisible to us in the North, that we call Apus, Chamaeleon, Mensa and Octans — each with their own Aboriginal astrological creation stories.
7. Bed down for the night at authentic accommodation
Forget hotel chains and identikit stays: you’re in the Outback now and the accommodation is as varied and authentic as the people and landscapes. The Flinders Ranges offers eco-lodges, pubs with rooms, cattle station stays, countless campgrounds, and Outback hotels, and you can even sleep under the night sky.
If you don’t fancy going it alone, sign up for a tour, such as the Arkaba Walk, and enjoy a guided, multi-day hike across a private conservancy, sleeping in swags under the stars, while still enjoying hot showers and gourmet meals laid on by the attentive staff.
Prairie Hotel at Parachilna is an iconic pub and hotel, all corrugated-iron awnings and endless Outback views, while William Creek Hotel, in one of the smallest towns in Australia, is surrounded by the world’s largest cattle station.
We’re big fans of Rawnsley Park Station too, which offers two bedroom eco-villas with retractable ceilings so you can view the night sky from the comfort of your bed.
Make it happen
Fly to Adelaide with Qatar Airways, named World’s Best Airline at the 2022 Skytrax Awards. Stretch out in comfort, onboard one of the youngest fleets. While you dine, sleep or watch some of the 4,000-plus entertainment options, you’re sure to enjoy the inflight experience.
A 12-night holiday to Australia with Trailfinders including flights, 2 nights Adelaide, 10 nights motorhome hire for travel to Flinders Ranges and return ferry transfers to Kangaroo Island costs from £2,399 per person (based on two sharing). Call Trailfinders on 020 7368 1354.