The Flinders Ranges and Outback South Australia offer some of the most epic 4WD tracks for the off road enthusiast. We travelled through this region as a family, immersing ourselves in station stays, long distance 4WD touring and remote camping with our 4WD and off road caravan.
The Flinders' spectacular geography is characterised by escarpments and ochre coloured peaks. This is ancient country embedded with Dreamtime stories which explain how local landmarks were created. Ikara (Wilpena Pound) was created by two giant snakes who coiled around an initiation ceremony and ate most of the participants. The snakes couldn't move because they were so full and died, creating the walls of Ikara.
The traditional owners, the Adnayamathanha peoples, are a collection of tribes who traded the prized red ochre deposits of the Flinders. Sacred rock carvings, paintings and caves exist throughout this ancient mountain range.
After filling the fuel tanks and fuel cans in Yunta, South Australia, we turned off the bitumen on to Tea Tree Road and towards one of the biggest adventures of our lives. Travelling this route involves unsealed surfaces that get rough after storms, heavy rain and intensive use. We crossed several dry creek beds before the road delivered us to the edge of the Strezlecki Desert.
Stargazers and photographers flock to this region to capture the pure night sky. We met a photographer who explained to us that ideal conditions for nightscape shots (photographs of the Milky Way) are found in Arkaroola. This small outback town, near the edge of the desert, is well known for being almost devoid of light pollution. On a new moon winter’s night, you will be rewarded with one of the most exquisite canopy of stars in Australia.
Heading east, we arrived at Mount Chambers Gorge, a place of natural and cultural significance with Aboriginal rock engravings etched into the walls. The gorge featured some of the most detailed and well preserved rock art in the Flinders that we had seen. It lies on the Wertaloona Station pastoral lease and they have very generously allowed free camping on their property at the gorge. On our first night here, with the full moon rising, we hear a lone dingo howling throughout the gorge. The mournful sound echos through the valley and we all feel so incredibly privileged to have experienced it. We can sense the isolation of the Outback and in the three nights we stay here, we meet just four people.
We traversed on the unsealed Parachilna Gorge Road, keeping a vigilant eye on the bumpy road littered with sharp rocks and flags pointing out of the gravel to signal a random tree root and other hazards. Parachilna Gorge offers free off grid camping and we used it as a base to explore Blinman, Glass Gorge, Parachilna and the Northern end of the 1200 kilometre long Heysen Hiking Trail.
On Glass Gorge Road, we discovered a short, steep, un-signposted 4WD track which rewarded us with magnificent views of the ABC and Heysen Ranges. It was here that we decided we should hike the northern section of the Heysen Trail. It is inaccessible by vehicle and is suitable only for the well prepared. The trail was only a few kilometres from our camp site, and after a few hours of schooling, we set off.
Our walk was relatively flat and involved crossing several dry river beds. The track was well signposted and the sense of isolation was real, we did not encounter any other people on the walk. We turned back after an hour of peering up at deep purple escarpments, marvelling at the resilience of the eucalyptus trees and feral goats. The warm, dry air and inability to escape the beating sun made this walk one of our most difficult family hiking expeditions so far.
After camping in the bush for a week, we rewarded ourselves with a gourmet pub meal. The Prairie Hotel in Parachilna is famous for its Feral Food Platter (camel, kangaroo and emu platter) and is a popular stop over for the weary traveller. We tried the emu burger and it was truly delicious! The burger was tender and sweet and was washed down with the local beer - Fargher Lager.
A station stay is a fantastic way to peer into the real Australian Outback. We chose to stay at Beltana Station, a working sheep and cattle station on 580,000 acres of remarkable history and confounding beauty.
Beltana Station offers several accommodation options to suit every type of traveller but we are self sufficient and chose to occupy an unpowered site complete with a cubby house for the kids. At 6.30pm, the dinner bell rings and the guests are pulled away from their cosy fire pits to indulge in true Aussie hospitality. Guests and station staff mingle together in the old shearers shed, now a museum and restaurant and feast on a roast dinner, followed by traditional bread and butter pudding.
Outback stations often have 4WD tracks and Beltana offered three to choose from. We picked the 70km round trip to Deception Hut, one of the shorter tracks on offer. After we ate breakfast, we set off with fellow travellers we met at the station.
The track consisted of rocky shale, some soft sandy sections and outstanding views of the North Flinders Ranges. Mount Deception rises 650 metres above sea level, there are numerous vantage points where we could visualise how this ancient land was formed millions of years ago.
The Deception Hut track provided a brilliant ‘road school’ lesson for the kids. They learnt about geology and agriculture practices in the Outback, all in one session! Arid regions may appear barren and lifeless but they are far from it. They support a unique range of native plants and animals. We come across small flocks of sheep which are grazing on the local saltbush plant. Later, back at the station, we dined on saltbush lamb sourced directly from the farm to the table.
Moving on from Beltana Station, we stocked up on groceries at Leigh Creek, a former booming mining town. A drive through the streets here reveals large pockets of deserted homes and closed businesses in town. The Country Women’s Association, the hairdresser and butcher shop are gone for good. There is a small grocery store, fuel station, hotel and bottle shop. The post office is only open until two o’clock, which was discovered the hard way when we arrived at a quarter past two!
Heading north on the Outback Highway, we arrived in Farina, a town of ruins being rebuilt by volunteers. At its peak, the town had a population of 300. There is a designated camping area and it features an emotional ANZAC monument. Information boards depict a town that was robbed of its men by war and which signalled the beginning of the end for Farina, however volunteers have been painstakingly raising Farina up from the derelict stones that lie crumbling on the ground.
Farina is the latin word for flour. We discovered that the Farina bake house is up there with the best in the country. Using the original underground ovens, they have perfected the humble white slice. As we headed further into the Outback, we savoured our ham, beetroot and mayo sandwiches, and secretly thanked Farina for bestowing such lovely fresh bread upon the travellers to their little town.
After Farina, we reached an intersection where turning right meant taking on the Birdsville Track and heading towards the Tirari Desert. Our course took us straight instead, towards Marree and the beginning of Australia’s most iconic roads – the Oodnadatta Track – and deeper into the Outback.
After having enough of living in Sydney, Mia, her husband Adam and two children (Jett, 11 & Skye, 8) are embarking on an epic tour across Australia. She lives in a caravan full time and shares the family’s off grid adventures on her travel blog at lappingoz.com.au
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