South Australia’s Flinders Ranges are the perfect locale for a long weekend out of the city. Hike around Wilpena Pound, drive through 580 million year old rock formations, and explore the outback.
First Time in the Flinders Ranges
The Flinders Ranges is the heart of South Australia’s outback and a place I’d always thrown in the too hard basket. Will I need extra jerry cans of fuel? A tonne of water? A 4WD? How much food? Too hard, we’ll do another weekend camping on the coast.
I’d always thought I’d need at least a week to make it worthwhile. Turns out I was wrong – an (extra) long weekend is the perfect chance to get an outback fix that’ll leave you itching for another.
So if you can talk the boss into a couple of days off, here’s how to spend four days in the Flinders Ranges. Load up the car, throw on a podcast and head out back.
Day 1 – Adelaide to Wilpena Pound
Time: 5 hours
Day one is about getting your shit together! Once you’ve loaded up the car, swung through a servo and circled back home for the forgotten camp oven, it’s time to head north from Adelaide.
The drive’s long and straight, as you follow the signs to Port Augusta before turning off to Hawker. It’s all signed, and once you turn off the main highway away from the coast, the drive becomes incredible. Winding through water-worn mounds and hills of dirt that become redder and redder as the odo clicks over.
If you’re in a rush, you could book up at night after work while keeping an eye out for kangaroos. Dedicating day one to preparing and travelling means you get to take it slow, pit-stopping for photos and gawking at the changing landscape as the flat arid paddocks begin to turn into ranges.
All up it’s about a 5-hour drive from Adelaide. Once checked in at the national park’s visitor centre we claimed our temporary home among the gumtrees, prepped the fire and headed for the small hill behind the campground.
This is the perfect spot to watch the setting sun paint the towering walls of Wilpena Pound different shades of red and orange.
Day 2 – Hiking St Mary’s Peak
Direct route: 6 hrs return / 14.6km
Loop route: 9 hrs / 21.5km
This peak of the range is at the heart of the Adnyamathanha Dreaming, and the Traditional Owners, the Adnyamathanha people, ask that you don’t climb to its very top. But there’s no need to – the views from Tanderra Saddle of the winding desert ranges to the horizon are like nothing I’ve seen before.
The loop hike is roughly 18km to the top of the pound and begins at the Wilpena Pound Visitor Centre. It ventures through the pound’s walls and winds through its centre where the landscape and vegetation change drastically. Giant creekside gum trees turn into a thin, plantation-like bush as you enter the pound.
Steadily you begin to climb the rocky pound walls before reaching the top and Tanderra Saddle. It’s the first time on the hike that the other side of the pound reveals itself and the arid wilderness that stretches to the horizon’s haze.
It was the perfect spot to rest the pins, tuck into the snacks and take in the view. From here the loop track ventures down the other side of the escarpment.
Alternatively, there’s a more direct version of the track, that’s shorter, but a lot steeper than going through the pound.
At the end of day two, a night at the Wilpena Pound Resort Campground is ideal. After the hike, you can jump in a hot shower, buy more firewood, and sit back reliving the day with humming legs.
Day 3 – Driving through Bunyeroo Gorge
Distance: Approx. 100km round trip
After the big hike the day before, day three is ideal for getting behind the wheel and steering through one of the scenic drives. It’s going to be more comfortable in a 4WD, but if you keep your wits about you, a 2WD won’t stop you bouncing down the corrugated roads.
We drove through Bunyeroo Gorge, Brachina Gorge and Aaroona Valley which ventures through 580 million year old rocks, slowly getting older and older, as you wind along.
The drive takes you through the rocky mountainous terrain, up close to some incredible cliffs. As you make your way back, you’re approaching from far enough away to see how grand the ranges are amongst the flat and arid land.
Day 4 – Wilpena Pound to Adelaide (via the bakery)
Time: 5 hours (plus a stop-off for bakery treats)
Day four means it’s time to mosey back to Adelaide. Sure you could tack this onto the end of day three if you’re short on time, but you’d miss out on an extra night by the campfire and daytime rubbernecking at the ranges as they disappear into the distance.
The trip isn’t over without a pop in at Flinders Food Co, which makes the best veggie pastie I’ve ever had – a claim not taken lightly. Is it the highlight of the trip? Maybe, but there’s plenty to choose from. I can’t wait to see more of the Flinders Ranges, and it won’t be without a pastie.
For a quick and easy trip like this, the Wilpena Pound Resort Campground is ideal. There are unpowered or powered sites, you’re surrounded by gumtrees, plus there are hot showers and flushing loos. Enticing enough to turn your non-camping mates into outback adventurers.
- Camping gear
- Firewood (can’t collect in the park but can buy)
- Backpack, water and snacks (hiking essentials)
- 4WD for comfort but not essential
The hiking can be hot and steep and much of the driving around the ranges is on dirt, corrugated roads.