A trip to the Flinders and Gammon Ranges ticks all the boxes when it comes to spectacular scenery and challenging terrain.
This must-see part of Australia can be divided into three distinct regions; the Southern Flinders Ranges, the Central Flinders (i.e. Flinders Ranges National Park) and the Northern Flinders, which leads into the equally adventurous and spectacular Gammon Ranges. Each destination offers a diverse range of four-wheel drive tracks with famous red mountains, towering gum trees, rugged landscapes and an abundance of indigenous wildlife littering the horizon.
Heading north from the southern cities, your first interesting stop will be Wilpena Pound. This natural amphitheatre is located in a huge crater surrounded by mountains. Luxurious accommodation is available at Wilpena Pound Resort, as well as a modern information centre, campsites and fuel.
Upon leaving the Pound, you’ll begin to notice the spectacular colours this landscape is famous for. Rugged bright cliff faces, stunning red landscapes, yellow and orange ochre clay pigments bedded into the earth, ancient gorges and extensive plains all under a blanket of blue skies which stay that way most of the year.
This landscape has dramatically changed over the years. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the dusty track from Wilpena Pound to Blinman and then to Arkaroola, was once an inland sea. Now, the land has formed the mountain ranges that can be seen today.
You need to be entirely self-sufficient in this area, so bring plenty of water, food and firewood – you’re not allowed to collect wood from within the parks.
The quality of the 4WD tracks in the Flinders and Gammon Ranges will not disappoint even the most adventurous 4WDer. Enthusiasts are spoilt for choice with a diverse range of self-drive tracks and private properties on offer, like the Skytrek Willow Springs Station – an impressive 70km track covering all sorts of terrain. The track takes about half a day to complete.
If you’re hungry, or thirsty for a beer after a dusty days driving, a good stopover in the area is the famous pub at Parachilna; The Prairie Hotel. You can set up camp right beside the pub and sample the menu at this iconic watering hole. The signature dishes of camel, emu and kangaroo are an appropriate dinner to accompany any outback trip. It’s a little bit out of the way when heading north to Arkaroola and the Gammon Ranges, but the minor diversion is well worth it.
From Parachilna, head north-east through Wirrealpa. The track will take you back to Blinman and on to Balcanoona. This is a hard day of driving as the track can be challenging in parts. From Wirrealpa, you still have another 90km of dusty track to conquer before reaching Balcanoona. On the plus side, you’ll be driving along the edge of both the Flinders and Gammon Ranges with amazing views over the wide open spaces east of the mountain ranges.
Before too long, you’ll enter the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park. Like the Flinders, this area is also rugged land, though not quite as red – but the light coloured plains are equally as spectacular as the neighbouring peaks.
The first European traveller in the region was Edward Eyre who, in 1840, trekked to the top of Mount Serle and spotted Lake Frome to the east. He was convinced he was surrounded by a crescent of impassable salt lakes, so like many explorers of the time, he turned back believing there was no route north.
Lake Frome is a huge white salt lake that dominates the horizon. The lake is more than 110km long and 40km wide and was named after Edward Charles Frome, the man who mapped the area back in the mid-1800s.
Arkaroola is, approximately 32km further from Balcanoona on a well-graded, yet dusty track. You’ll see warning signs on this road alerting you to feral camels that often run across the track. The Flinders and the Gammon Ranges are home to an array of wildlife including dingoes, emus, goats, red and western grey kangaroos, and don’t forget the recently re-established population of yellow-footed rock-wallabies.
There’s been a huge effort in recent years to protect the near extinct yellow-footed rock-wallaby, and it seems that all efforts have proven successful. If you’re lucky, you might even spot one hanging out in the higher rocky terrain. You’re also likely to see huge wedge-tailed eagles and many feral goats.
Arkaroola can be a surprisingly busy spot. Fellow 4WDers use the settlement to refuel and do spot checks on their vehicles before heading into the Gammon Ranges. The first thing you notice upon arrival into Arkaroola is the extensive rock display at the entrance to the village.
The display exhibits the types of minerals that have been mined over the years from the area. Other features on show include an interesting rock sculpture of two Aboriginal men and some traditional wagons and drill bits that were used by the many energy companies that have worked in the region.
At the Arkaroola information centre there’s maps and books on what the area has to offer, and you can also get a bite to eat in the cafeteria. The town of Arkaroola is a quirky place with an interesting history – two of Arkaroola’s well-known residents, Reg and Griselda Sprigg, put the town on the map after purchasing the original sheep property in the 1960s.
They then dedicated their lives to returning the land to its natural state. It’s also worth noting that the late Reg Sprigg, a geologist and conservationist, was also the first man to cross the Simpson in a motor vehicle.
If you have some time to spend in the area, there is a number of interesting tourism activities for 4WDers near town. This includes the well-publicised ecotourism rugged 4WD Ridgetop Tour. This tour runs along an amazing track to the top of the surrounding mountains; it’s an organised tour that uses custom-made 4x4s owned by the company.
If you don’t want to spend the night in one of the well-serviced campsites in Arkaroola, you can continue on to the Gammon Ranges. There are some spectacular bush camping sites located right in the middle of the breathtaking scenery.
There’s not too much that beats finding the perfect remote campsite, and when you do, it makes your adventure even more special. You also appreciate the benefits of owning a 4WD and more importantly using it for what it was built for; getting off the beaten track and finding magical bush locations. Another bonus of being out here is that you will be guaranteed no light pollution – at night you will see stars like you have never seen before. Arkaroola has a number of observatories and informative ways to view the night sky. See the office staff for details.
A trip to the Flinders and surrounding Arkaroola in the Gammon Ranges is an experience you’ll never forget. It’s an adventure that will give you an appetite for more of this dry but beautiful environment, offering sunshine, an abundance of indigenous wildlife, rocky gorges, salt lakes, wide open plains, challenging 4WD tracks and rugged mountains. All of which make this ancient land unique.
There is no question about it, a trip to the Flinders and Gammon Ranges gets under your skin and has a draw that will pull you back.
The Flinders Ranges National Park can be found between Hawker and Blinman. You’ll start to hit the Gammon Ranges en route to Arkaroola.
Get there via Broken Hill and Peterborough or you can go as far as Leigh Creek and take Copley Road.
There are a number of first-class bush camps throughout the Flinders and Gammon Ranges. We camped north-east of Arkaroola on a dried-up creek.
Official camping sites are also available at Wilpena Pound and at Skytrek Willow Springs Station, with basic amenities available. Arkaroola also has good camping facilities with excellent amenities.
Some of the roads can be challenging. The main tracks are in relatively good condition but the less travelled tracks take time as progress is dictated by narrow, dusty and rocky terrain. When you get to Wirrealpa it’s still another 90km of rough driving along the edge of the Flinders en route to Balcanoona.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
The Flinders and adjoining Gammon Ranges enjoy clear sunny days all year round.
FUEL AND SUPPLIES
The nearest major town is Hawker. Fuel can also be purchased at the Wilpena Pound. Basic supplies and fuel can also be purchased when you get to Arkaroola.
Australia Easy Read Road and 4WD Atlas: 9th Edition.
From the SA Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Size: 1:50,000.
Flinders Ranges National Park: (08) 8648 0048.
Wilpena Pound Resort: (08) 8648 0004.
Arkaroola Visitor Centre: (08) 8648 4848.
Outback South Australia Tourism: 1800 633 060.
Parks South Australia: (08) 8204 1910.
Hawkers Motors: (08) 8648 4014.
There are plenty of things to do so everybody should leave satisfied. You can go gold panning, bushwalking, and mountain biking. Scenic flights are also available close to Skytrek Willow Springs Station with amazing views of Wilpena Pound.
WHAT TO TAKE
This is remote travelling, so you’ll need to be totally self-sufficient. Bring plenty of water and food. Also take your own firewood as you’re not allowed to take it from the parks.
THINGS TO DO
The Flinders and Gammon Ranges are ideal for artists and photographers. The kids can enjoy excellent bushwalking with marked trails scattered throughout the region. You can also explore plenty of geographical formations or nearby aboriginal rock markings.
The Flinders is suited to relatively high-clearance vehicles – it can get rough depending on the tracks you take. Despite being very arid it’s advisable to check road conditions before departing. Road closures may apply during and after wet weather. For 24 hour info on road conditions, contact the Transport SA Road Condition Report on 1300 361 033.