THREE DAYS AT WILPENA POUND RESORT
Before we even stepped foot into Wilpena Pound Resort, we knew we were heading somewhere special. The incredible beauty of the Flinders Ranges landscape lays before you for at least 100km and feels like driving towards a rainbow, wondering if you will ever find the end.
Silence, space and 540 million-year-old fossils make this ancient landscape mesmerising and quickly elevate it to one of our favourite places in Australia. Whether you take a quick drive through on your way somewhere else or spend a week or more exploring, you really need to include the Flinders Ranges on your visit to South Australia.
A Short Break Itinerary for the Flinders Ranges
Last June we spent three days exploring Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, hiking, driving the gorge tracks and visiting the nearby towns. We quickly felt outback Australia at its best, a spot slightly off the tourist radar and full of jaw-dropping beauty. The star of the show is Wilpena Pound, Australia’s largest natural amphitheatre! Eight hundred million years in the making and covering 95,000 hectares. This is not a place you will cover in a few days, but three days here will give you a taste you will not forget.
How to Get to Wilpena Pound
It’s a long drive from Adelaide, 436km to be exact and a little under 5 hours if you don’t stop too many times. However, this is difficult to do as there are so many worthy spots along the way.
Day 1: Adelaide to Wilpena Pound
After departing Adelaide at 7am, we stopped in Clare for a quick morning coffee and a thirty-minute stroll around town. We will be back for a more extended stay next time, but for now, it was time to keep moving. The next stop was the Farrell Flat silo; we hope to cover all the SA silos on this visit.
Burra is a beautiful historic town with a Megafauna Fossil Display at the restored train station, several beautifully restored buildings, and great food. If you have time, maybe stop a night or two. We made a return visit later in the month and enjoyed our time there.
The next stop was the famous “Midnight Oil House” 3km outside of Burra for photos and our last stop, a picnic lunch by the river at Orrorro. This made our route 472km. It took us closer to 8 hours to reach our destination.
If you are not “Oils” fans, you may not understand why the Burra House is so unique and why we made the detour. The abandoned cottage is one of the most photographed ruins in the country. It became famous after iconic Aussie photographer Ken Duncan captured it, and sometime later, it found its way onto the cover of Midnight Oil’s ‘Diesel and Dust’ album.
From Burra, we took the Wilkins Hwy (B78) and R M Williams Way (B80) to Flinders Ranges Way in Hawker. If you are not sure of your plans, I think a quick stop at the Hawker Visitor Information Centre is a good idea. They can help you sort out what to see and do in the time you have. Also, if you don’t have paper maps, maybe pick some up. Internet reception is almost non-existent out here.
From Hawker to Wilpena Resort is 55km, and I guarantee any photographers among you will want to pull over several times to capture the scenes in front of you on this drive. There are several official lookouts; we stopped at Arkaba Hill Lookout and Station Hill Lookout and left the Elder Range and Rawnsley Lookouts for the return journey.
We arrived in Wilpena just before sunset and right on time for the daily 4.30pm (or 6pm depending on the season) Welcome to Adnyamathanha Country by one of the Yura staff members. I recommend not missing this on your first day, but if you do, slot it in for the next day. Along with the official welcome, we heard Dreamtime stories of the area that enhanced our walks in the coming days.
Wilpena Pound is known as Ikara to the Adnyamathanha to the traditional owners of the land of the Flinders. They share their local culture generously with guests of Wilpena Resort. The pound itself is known as Ikara to the Adnyamathanha, hence the park’s name here, the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.
The Adnyamathanha are known as the “rock people” of the Flinders Ranges,
Day 2: Exploring Wilpena Pound
After breakfast at the resort, we headed out on the Hills Homestead walk, one of the most popular walks in the park. The 6.6km return hike is flat, easy, and well shaded.
Stop 1: Hills Homestead and Wangarra Lookout
The walk takes you through “Pound Gap” into the pound itself and to the small stone house built by the Hill Family. The Hill family moved from Hawker to work the farming land inside Wilpena Pound. They lived here for a couple of decades, but the harsh environment threw them challenge after challenge. Their story is shared on some signboards at the site.
Once you reach the Homestead, it’s just another 300m to a lower Wangarra lookout and a further 500m to the higher lookout for extraordinary views into the pound. It was fabulous to be inside the pound and see the walls of the serpent that we had learnt about last night, closing us in.
The lower platform is suitable for most hikers, but the upper lookout requires some scrambling over a rocky path. The surfaces are uneven and probably too challenging for anyone with any mobility issues. Adding these two lookouts results in a 7.8km return walk to the resort. If you are keen to learn more about the area, book the 2 hour guided cultural heritage tour with a Yura guide. This will take you in the opposite direction to the old Wilpena Station but is an excellent addition to the morning’s walk.
After a quick stop by our room to wash off the dust and grab snacks, we jumped in the car to do some more exploring.
Stop 2: Cazneaux Tree
The first stop was the famous Cazneaux Tree, one of the most famous red river gums in the south Australian outback. Made famous after a photographer named Harold Cazneaux captured the tree in the mid-1930s and entered his photograph, which he titled “The Spirit of Endurance”, into an international competition. He took out first place and the tree because a local landmark.
Where: You will find the turn off about 5 minutes past the turnoff to the resort. It’s easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled; we drove past it the first time. If you prefer to walk, it’s an 8km return walk from the resort to Cazneaux Tree.
Stop 3: Hucks Lookout
We were heading to the lookout below when we saw the sign for Hucks Lookout. This viewpoint offers 360-degree views looking back to Wilpena Pound. Along with this incredible view is a mobile phone tower and the best internet signal in the area. If you are towing a caravan, you might prefer this lookout to the steep drive up the top of Stokes Hill Lookout.
Stop 4: Stokes Lookout
We were lucky enough to view Stokes Hill lookout by day and sunset. After a very steep looking drive, we made it to the top. I am not sure how a caravan would go.
At the top of Stokes Hill, you will find several signboards exploring the region’s cultural heritage. What we found super interesting was the scale model (above) of the Pound that helped us get our bearings.
Step 5: Sunset Tour
We ended the day with a sunset tour, which took us back to Stokes Hill. It was led by Mick, a Yura man and a qualified geologist. I could have listened to him for hours; he is a great communicator and shares his knowledge generously.
The tour was excellent and well worth the price. Mick told us about the ranges white we sipped on red wine and nibbled cheese. Then we let our cameras loose on the stunning scene before us. Nothing we could capture on our phones did any justice to the amazing light.
Day 3: Brachina and Bunyeroo Gorge Scenic Drive
This morning, we chased more lookouts. Bunyeroo Valley Lookout and Razorback Lookout were top of the list, but today, we discovered much more. Sadly, the weather was not the best, and our photos are dark and cloudy, but you get the idea. And it gave us an excellent reason to head back next time we are in South Australia.
Stop 1: Bunyeroo Valley Drive
From Wilpena, head north, and you come to the Bunyeroo Gorge Road just 9km along Flinders Ranges way. From here, you are on dirt, but the road is graded regularly, and while the 29km is slow going, it’s a beautiful drive.
The road was suitable for our 2WD Nissan SUV in May, but there is no way we would do this road in this car if there had been any rain at all. As it was be did not venture far into Brachina Gorge, stopping at Brachina East Campground where the graders were working on the road.
Through both Bunyeroo & Brachina Gorge, then you drive via Aroona Valley to the Blinman. The return trip from Blinman to Wilpena is a 61km drive and much quicker.
Stop 2: Razorback Lookout
The breathtaking views on this drive make up for the bumpy road. We did the drive in an SUV, and it was fine, but in any wet weather, I would feel more comfortable in a 4wheel drive. The jewel of the day was to make our way to Razorback Lookout. The first time I saw this view was in an ad for a 4-wheel drive, and I have wanted to visit ever since.
The cloud cover was low and hid most of the mountain, but it was still spectacular.
Stop 3: Brachina Gorge Geological Trail
Brachina” is derived from the Aboriginal word ‘vachina’, meaning cranky, refers to a mythical argument between birds over a grindstone.
If you prefer not to take your car on this route, you can book a half-day four-wheel drive tour of Brachina and Bunyeroo Gorges. This can be a great alternative if you are travelling in a rental car. Our insurance did not cover driving after dark due to the danger of hitting kangaroos, so we missed hanging about waiting for the Yellow-footed rock wallabies to come out in the late afternoon.
Stop 4: Blinman
We were happy to hit the tar and civilisation when we arrived in Blinman. Blinman was once a mining town populated by Cornish miners, who mined tin here between 1862 and 1907. It’s also South Australia’s highest point. These days there is a general store, a pub, a post office. We had phone reception for the first time in days and espresso!
Grab a pie at the pub and do the underground mine experience and pick up some homemade cakes from the general store.
Stop 5: Glass Gorge
The visitor’s centre staff suggested taking the circular drive through Glass Gorge and Parachilna Gorge Road back to Blinman. The scenic road is only 60 kilometres, but it will take you about two hours to complete without stopping. We pulled in a few times when we spotted emus and some gorgeous birds, including parrots, galahs and corellas. It didn’t offer the distant view that this morning’s drive did. However, the gorges were beautiful.
Day 4 – Heading home via Port Augusta or Burra
We woke on our last morning to clear skies and cursed the weather a little for changing when we were heading home. I bet the people booked into the scenic flights get to go up today!
Stop 1: Flinders Fine Foods in Hawker
Breakfast – Flinders Food Company Hawker
We left Wilpena early Saturday morning and headed to Hawker (58km) for breakfast at Flinders Fine Foods. We discovered them on Instagram when searching for sunset lookouts a few days earlier and were keen to get there for at least one meal. It was one of the best breakfasts of our month in South Australia (see the photo in the gallery below). The owners, local couple Doogal Hannagan and Louise Lynch spent years overseas eating and travelling the world and returned to their hometown to bring high-quality food to the town. They have certainly done that. We wished we had been staying closer to check out the nighttime offerings.
Stop 2: Kanyaka Station Historic Site
Just 28km along, you will see a turnoff to the Kanyaka Station Historic site. If you are a history buff like me, you will want to pull in here; there is enough left of the property to get a feel for the place and a couple of signposts showing the floor plan of the homestead and give some background to the people who lived here.
It was lovely to photograph against the blue sky in the morning light.
Stop 3: Quorn
The next stop was 101km down the road in Quorn.
One good reason to stop is to sample the famous Quandong Pie from the Quandong Cafe. If you have never heard of quandongs, they are a native fruit only found in arid regions. A member of the sandalwood family, it’s a bit tart and perfectly suited to a crumble or sweet pastry case. We had no room for even a snack after our epic breakfast, so we bought a slice to take away for dinner tonight.
Quorn is also home to one of the silos on the Australia Silo Trail; this one is a little different in that to see this one, you have to visit at night to see it! I loved this little town, and it would make a nice place to stop over for a night if you have time. Everyone we met on our short morning walk was super welcoming.
We made our way to Port Augusta for a quick visit to the Arid Lands Botanic Garden and then on to our first night in Cowell on the Eyre Peninsula.
Port Augusta is 105km south of Hawker, and the trip will take about one hour and 15 mins without stops. We took about 2 hours with our two stops included.
Where We Ate
The resort has a bistro, and while the menu is limited, they offered some great nightly specials, and we found enough to keep us happy for our three-night stay.
We popped into the Blinman General Store for a coffee and discovered a fantastic range of homemade cakes. After a wander around town (a 5-minute walk from end to end), we headed to the North Blinman Hotel. The hotel is famous for its pies, and when we arrived, they had just been pulled from the oven. While I resisted, Charles showed no restraint and ordered one the minute the pub opened.
Wilpena Pound Resort
Wilpena Pound Resort is owned and was managed by the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association and Indigenous Business Australia from 2012-2021. NRMA Parks has recently taken management over; however, the Adnyamathanha people, who make up 80% of the staff, will continue to work at the resort. A $3 million transformation is planned, and to be honest, for the prices they charge for the rooms, this is long overdue. While it’s a fantastic location and the staff are outstanding, the place looks like it could use some love.
Regardless they off a range of accommodation options that will suit all types of travellers.
- The picturesque campground is located just inside the entrance, a short walk to the visitors’ centre and shop. The campground offers regular campsites and powered sites.
- Ikara Safari Camp when glamping tents and a large communal area.
- Budget hotel rooms with air-conditioning, small fridge and older style ensuite.
- Family hotel rooms with kitchenettes and dining tables. These rooms are much bigger.
Guest facilities at the resort include a swimming pool, bar and restaurant with an open fireplace and an IGA Express for stocking up on snacks and meals for the campground. If Wilpena is booked out or travelling with pets, you might like one of these nearby options.
Things We Missed
- Prairie Hotel at Parachilna for lunch offering a ‘Feral Feast’ however it was closed for renovations during our visit.
- Sacred Canyon Tour – Site of the regions best-preserved Indigenous Petroglyphs, we plan to return but if you don’t be sure to include it.
- Arkaroola – a privately owned wildlife and astronomy sanctuary with three observatories and the nearby Paralana Hot Springs
- The climb up St Mary’s Peak – the traditional owners prefer people don’t climb this peak as it is a sacred site.
- Blinmen Mine – the Underground Sound and Light Experience in the Blinman Heritage Mine was taking very limited numbers on each tour and sadly, as we were pretty disorganised, we missed out.
- Scenic flights are the top attraction but we missed our window – of our three days here only one was flying weather and it was booked out too. One negative of travelling without plans!
Tips for Staying at Wilpena Pound
There is a surcharge for bills paid by credit cards, so I suggest you do not bill your meals and drinks to your room, or these will add to the overall total. There is no Optus coverage here at all. You can get a Telstra signal, and the resort has free Wi-Fi in the bar area and some rooms surrounding that, but it does not cover the whole resort. Optus signal is available at Blinman and Rawnsley Park Station if you need coverage.
Flinders Ranges FAQ
Do You Need A 4WD For Flinders Ranges?
The short answer is no; you don’t need one. We did this entire quick visit in a conventional SUV; however, the freedom that a four-wheel drive offers opens up many more experiences. A compromise is to book a four-wheel drive tour once you arrive.
What Is The Best Time To Visit Flinders Ranges?
April to October offer the best temperatures for hiking and exploring the dirt tracks. I would avoid Oct to March; it becomes too hot to walk during the summer, and many of the attractions close for their holidays.
While the resort facilities are a little dated, the staff and the location are excellent. The park offers unique experiences, fantastic hiking and a range of 4wd tours if one of the earth’s oldest landscapes. For us, it was every bit as impressive as the time we spent at Uluru, and we highly recommend you put this great Aussie road trip on your bucket list.