SOUTH Australia has long been known for its multitude of outback station stays, all of which offer amazing experiences. Property owners in this part of Australia twigged early to the financial benefits of opening up their lands to 4x4-borne tourists, and there are now many of these types of off-road adventures available.
Alpana Station is a great example of this kind of escape, with the massive (206km²) working sheep station just north of Wilpena Pound (around five hours’ drive from Adelaide) first offering 4x4 guided tours in 1998 and now offering both these and a number of self-drive adventures around the property’s amazing landscape.
Plus, the accommodation is pretty awesome; the four powered campsites (for caravans and camper trailers only) each have their own private en suite bathrooms, while the other amenities at this campground – covered barbecue, table, firepit and toilet – make it even more spectacular. As a bonus for dog owners, the station is pet-friendly.
Bush camping on the station is restricted to two sites (and is again pet-friendly), with the high-clearance-access Horseyards campground set off the nearby road and accessible only if you have a key from the station. There are four sites in here, with pit toilets and – if in season – a running creek right next to them.
The Bill’s Paddock campground is closer to the Alpana homestead, nestled on the bank of Butler’s Creek, and is accessible to ’vans and even 2WD vehicles. For those who want to mix a luxury digs experience with a night in the bush, you can even book an en suite bathroom for your own use.
Of course, for that truly luxurious outback ‘camping’ experience, you can opt for one of the buildings on the property (including a huge shearers’ quarters building for large groups), with the 4x4-accessible Nungawurtina Hut (a traditional-style hut built from pine and stone), located in a secluded valley.
This hut offers sleeping room for six, a gas stove, table, chairs and solar-powered lighting, and it would be a cracking weekend away for a family (you can also set up additional tents around the hut if there are more in your group). There’s even a walking track that takes you into the nearby Angorichina Village.
The station has some great 4x4 tracks that range between easy to very challenging, all of which take you through some truly amazing outback South Australian terrain.
The two self-drive options are a mix of moderate grade and challenging. The two-hour Sunset Hill 665 self-drive track is the perfect option for those keen on witnessing an outback sunset/sunrise, with the top of Sunset Hill offering expansive views across the ABC and Heysen ranges. Views to the south take in Wilpena Pound and its red-rock cliffs, as well as the distant waters of Lake Torrens.
You can also tack on an additional 10km of driving to Nungarwurtina Hut (if there’s nobody camping there). The big bopper is the one-way, five-hour Mt Samuel Track, which is rated challenging. This drive will most definitely test your off-roading skills, but the reward is a journey through the full gamut of quintessential Flinders Ranges terrain.
This drive doesn’t mess around; after winding through open grazing country, you are soon into the serious stuff and confronted with a steep climb along a narrow creek bed that throws in rock ledges, a loose, shale-covered surface and plenty more.
Throw in regular steep washouts that will test your 4x4’s approach and departure angles, as well as plenty of ruts (caused by flooding during heavy rain), and you can see how the ascent to near the summit (of what is actually two Mt Samuels) achieves such a tough rating.
Once you finish the long, steady ascent you’re about a 30-minute walk from the summits of Mt Samuels. It’s a steep walk but you’ll regret it if you don’t make the effort as, again, the views from the top are magnificent.
The next part of the self-drive is the descent into the aptly named Mt Buggery Gorge where, if you have the option, having someone walking out front of your vehicle will help to guide you down this steep section – it is definitely low-range, first gear for this.
Upon reaching the bottom (and letting out that held breath) you trundle along the still-challenging track that follows Mt Buggery Creek, with the high peaks of the surrounding mountains shadowing your progress. The terrain here is still a challenge with washouts, tree roots (and branches) and large rocks to ensure you pick your way slowly along.
If there has been recent rain – and you are visiting in season – this area offers the chance to view some wildflowers. It’s a cracking experience and definitely one to challenge drivers.
For those less keen on the rough stuff, joining the guided Alpana Station Experience is a must. There are half- and full-day options and these drives are still great fun, with the added bonus of showcasing both the history of the station and just how much work goes into running these properties.
It’s a bit of a haul from Adelaide, but for those looking for the true ‘station stay experience’ Alpana Station does a great job of fulfilling that dream. And then, of course, you can always return and tackle a few of the other station stays in the area, a number of which fit the Adelaide weekend escape bill to a tee.