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From Clare Valley to the Flinders Ranges: a 7-day road trip through South Australia

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 4/06/2019 Naomi Ackerman
a sign on the side of a mountain road © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

In a tree-dotted, red-tinged wilderness, the undulating peaks of the largest mountain range in South Australia reach up to the sky. This is the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park — 95,000 hectares of unique topography, fossils, wildlife, Wild West-style mining towns and a magnificent Santiago-de-Compostela-esque hiking trail. It is remote, under-visited and perfect for a road trip.

A five-hour drive into Flinders from Adelaide, stopping along the way to snap koalas high in the bushes, is our first taste of the Outback. Roads become dirt tracks. A baby emu and its parent amble past. Dust flies behind us as kangaroos jump out — which make the last 45 minutes in the dark nerve-wracking: one ’roo crash will write off a car without a giant metal grill at the front.

The national park is co-governed by the Adnyamathanha people, who have lived here for thousands of years. Our first stop is the family-run, 12,000-hectare Rawnsley Park Station — a campsite, lodges and cluster of luxury huts at the southernmost point of the ranges’ most recognisable attraction, Wilpena Pound, or Ikara (“meeting place” in Adnyamathanha): 80 square kilometres of natural basin with a craggy circular rim. Next stop is Redgum House, a tasteful, energy-neutral lodge painted to match the red-orange dust. We watch parrots in the trees at breakfast, the sky a rich blue. With nobody in sight it is an eerie paradise.

From here it’s a five-mile round trip from the main national park entrance to Wangara Lookout, which offers fine views, and on this occasion, a normally shy echidna — that spiny, long-nosed, ultra-cute marsupial.

If we had two months we would have walked the 750-mile Heysen Trail — the longest hiking path in Australia, from Cape Jervis to Parachilna Gorge, which traverses the ranges.

a herd of sheep walking across a river: An Emu in Brachina Gorge (Shutterstock / Galumphing Galah) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited An Emu in Brachina Gorge (Shutterstock / Galumphing Galah)

Early next morning, after an obligatory shoe-check for spiders, we head to a tiny runway for a 30-minute scenic flight over the ranges. It is the best way to orientate yourself in the park. That evening, back at Redgum, there’s a barbecue on the veranda looking out at the stars, washed down with South Australian shiraz. The next day is a big one — a nine-hour 4x4 tour with a guide. It passes through landmark Brachina Gorge to vantage points, the guide stopping to point out the park’s rare Ediacaran fossils in the rock, some dating from 540 million years ago.

We spot a yellow-footed rock wallaby, an endangered species being nurtured in the park, and a 400-year-old yucca plant. It stands proud and strange, one of the last few in the ranges: settlers cut them down to use their resin for rubber, depriving the Adnyamathanha who had used them more carefully.

Aerial view of Flinders Chase National Park coastline (Shutterstock / GagliardiPhotography) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Aerial view of Flinders Chase National Park coastline (Shutterstock / GagliardiPhotography)

There is a stop at Blinman, a former mining village much like an American frontier town. These died with the end of the first copper boom in the 1890s, but old railway tracks still run across the landscape. The Prairie Hotel, just north of the national park at Parachilna, first hosted mining workers but is now famous for its Taste of the Outback menu, which includes slabs of emu and kangaroo burgers (the camel sausage was really good). We spend our last sunset watching the mountains go pink from the stunning Chace Range — worth the lurching, nausea-inducing drive up steep slopes in an old 4x4.

Before we drive back to Adelaide, we sit at the edge of a small swimming pool up the road from Redgum House, dipping our toes in and looking up, not wanting to leave the peace and calm of the middle of nowhere.

Details

South Australia, Emirates Holidays (emiratesholidays.com) offers a seven-night South Australia trip, including a three-night Flinders Ranges National Park experience, from £2,285pp. Flights, transfers and accommodation included.

The experience also includes two nights in Clare Valley on the way back to Adelaide from the Flinders Ranges. Sleep at luxury-but-homey Thorn Park by the Vines hotel, enjoy an information-packed day-long wine tasting tour with A Taste of South Australia, and try out the Riesling Trail on cheap rental bikes. Two nights in Adelaide at Mayfair Hotel are also included.

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