Head to South Australia’s ancient Flinders Ranges in spring and the place is ablaze with the bloom of wildflowers. That’s a big reason you’ll find plenty of tourists on driving holidays criss-crossing its roads and tracks.
But just a few months later, in the heat of summer, the colours have faded and rock up to 800 million years old is exposed in all its stark majesty, often baking in 40-degree-plus temperatures.
The grey nomads have long departed for cooler climes and the Flinders has become a much quieter place. But people still visit.
In fact Sally Henery from Alpana Station, near Blinman in the northern Flinders says there’s been a steady increase in summer tourism.
“The appeal of the Flinders Ranges in summer is mostly European visitors escaping their cold winter, so they love it,” explains.
“You’ve got the ruggedness and the barren-ness that you can only see in summer that’s hidden by the spring green grasses.
“And it’s just about escaping and getting away from people.”
Sally and husband David have tapped into this unexpected tourism boom at Alpana, which is primarily a 20,600-hectare sheep station.
Tourists can stay in the shearers quarters, a more remote hut or use the camping grounds. Staying at Alpana also means access to private 4×4 roads, with tours available.
Getting off the beaten track is one of the great appeals of the Flinders. The place is criss-crossed by roads and tracks that make accessing spectacularly beautiful gorges,
Another big plus is how close it is to civilisation. You can drive the 440km from SA capital Adelaide to Wilpena Pound, the headquarters of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, on well-maintained sealed roads in just one day. The bitumen continues on to Blinman another 55km north.
But the deeper you delve into the Flinders the more you need to pay attention as the roads turn to dirt. An SUV is the best choice, a serious 4×4 is required for the toughest trails. Handily, there are signs that advise what sort of difficulty they present.
But it isn’t only the driving itself you need to think about in the Flinders in summer, cautions Sally.
“You need to think about the heat, the isolation and the potential visitation of animals like snakes and things,” she says.
“You need to think about your exposure to heat – so lots and lots of water and minimising your movements in the middle of the day.
“You also need to realise that if you have a flat tyre there may not be people travelling past, so you need to let your family know what your travel plans are.”
Things to do in the Flinders Ranges
Alpana Station is one of several working stations in the Flinders Ranges that offer accommodation and camping sites. Others include Gum Creek, Willow Springs, Upalinna and the upmarket Rawnsley Park.
Arkaroola Ridgetop Tour
Arkaroola is a nature conservancy in the northern Flinders Ranges run by the Sprigg family. The Ridgetop Tour is a guided 4×4 trip that takes you on a rocky journey back in geological time, reaching its high point at the amazing Sillers Lookout.
A wonderful escape from the heat of summer in the outback, the resort at Wilpena Pound offers all the mod cons, while sitting within the heart of a natural amphitheatre. Created over eons by erosion, the 17km ring of rock can be explored from the air, on four wheels, two wheels or on foot. Or just hang at the pool.
Escape the heat by heading underground for the Blinman mine tour. Cornish miners toiled here searching for copper from the 1860s to the early 20th century. Afterwards, the pub is literally across the road. In fact, nothing is far away in Blinman.
Glass Gorge Road
A spectacular tourist drive that connects Blinman and Parachilna. Ringed by scarred mountains and wending across open ground and through narrow gorges, it is a gravel track usually passable by light duty SUVs as well as heavy duty 4x4s.
The writer travelled to the Flinders Ranges as a guest of Subaru.