Flinders Ranges National Parks, South Australia

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Flinders Ranges National Parks, South Australia 

Rugged mountains, tree-lined gorges, an abundance of wildlife: the national parks of the iconic Flinders Ranges are the beginning of Australia‘s outback

The national parks of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges are one of the highlights of Odyssey Traveller’s Tour of the Flinders Ranges. Our tour begins and ends in Adelaide, stopping off in historic Port Augusta before heading into the outback, visiting the quintessential frontier towns of Woomera and Coober Pedy. We then head to Lake Eyre, before winding our way back through the collection of national parks preserving the spectacular Flinders Ranges.

Below is a guide to some of the fascinating geological and natural sights found in the Flinders Ranges.

Flinders Ranges

Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park:

Thanks to impressive geological features, native wildlife and Aboriginal cultural heritage, the 95, 000 hectare Ikara Flinders is one of South Australia’s most popular tourist destinations. 

The Flinders Ranges are part of an upland system that stretches from the South Australian coast to Lake Eyre, about 600 km. Geologically, the area is one of the most topographically youthful and dynamic parts of the Australian continent. The Flinders are the eroded remnants of a mountain range formed during the Cambrian era, around 540 million years ago (long before the first dinosaurs). The rocks comprising the mountains are even older, believed to be deposited in the Adelaidean Sea from eroding higher ground to the west. The alternating colours of the rocks of the Flinders Ranges seen today reflect the changing deposition of these sediments as the climate changed over millions of years.

The Flinders has a semi-arid climate with cool winters and hot summers. The flora of the ranges are mostly species suited to semi-arid climates, including sugar gum, cypress pine, mallee and black oak, while moister areas support plants such as grevilleas and ferns. 

The Flinders Ranges are home to a notable population of kangaroos and wallabies. Perhaps surprisingly, this population has increased since European settlement, as the eradication of dingos and establishment of permanent waterholes for stock has allowed the land to support a more permanent population. The Flinders is home to red kangaroos (the largest kangaroo species), western grey kangaroos and wallaroos. The yellow footed rock wallaby neared extinction after the arrival of Europeans (due to hunting by foxes), but has since recovered in numbers.

The Flinders is also home to several lesser-known marsupials, including the dunnart, and the planigale. There are a large number of bird species in the region, including emus, parrots, galahs, and wedge-tailed eagles. Reptiles include goannas, snakes, dragon lizards, while the streambank froglet is an amphibian found only in the Flinders Ranges and Gammon Ranges. 

Wilpena Pound (Ikara):

Wilpena Pound
Aerial shot of Wilpena Pound

Wilpena Pound, known to the Adnyamathanha people as Ikara (or ‘meeting place’), is a natural amphitheatre of mountains at the heart of Ikara Flinders Ranges. Geologists believe that the extraordinary shape was formed by quicker erosion of the soft rock on the valley floor when compared to the harder rocks which form the cliffs of the Pound. The floor is around 200 m higher than the surrounding area, and the highest point of the mountains is St Mary’s Peak, at 1171 metres above sea level.

According to the traditions of the Adnyamathanha people, for whom Ikara was an important ceremonial space, the structure was formed during the Dreamtime when two giant serpents surrounded a hunting party. After a long battle the hunters killed the serpents and they petrified, forming the mountain ranges.

Wilpena is a major centre for visitors to the national park, with accommodation at Rawnsley Park Station and Wilpena Pound Resort.

Edicaran Fossils:

The Flinders Ranges are home to some of the earliest remnants of complex life on earth. The fossils were first found in the Edicaran Hills in the Northern Flinders Ranges in 1946 by the geologist Reginald Sprigg. This marked the first time that a whole community of ancient soft-bodied creatures had been found worldwide.

Fossils - Brachina Gorge
Fossils in rocks, Flinders Ranges.

Gradually, their significance – as one of the earliest forms of complex life – was internationally recognised. The fossils are likely the remnants of soft-bodied creatures, similar to jellyfish, that lived in what was (between 570 and 540 million years ago) shallow, warm seas. Some of these creatures got trapped in the soft silt that formed the Flinders Range.

The findings transformed the study of geology. Scientists had previously believed that only creatures with hard structures – like shells or skeletons – could be preserved in the fossil record. Today, this period is recognised as the Edicaran Period, the first geological period to be declared in 120 years and the first to be named after a location in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Today, these ancient fossils can be seen at the South Australian museum in Adelaide, while the site of discovery – home to significant remnants from the Edicaran period – is now protected as a Conservation Park.

Until recently, parts of the fossil collection remained under the protection of farmer Ross Fargher, owner of the Nilpena Cattle Station, who assisted scientists and vigilantly guarded the fossils from looters who had raided nearby deposits. In 2019, the Australian Government bought 60, 000 acres of the Nilpena Cattle Station to better protect fossils, including an internationally significant site believed to contain the first evidence of sexual reproduction.

Brachina Gorge Geological Trail:

Euro (Small Kangaroo) near Brachina Gorge.

Brachina Gorge is where the fascinating geological history of the Flinders Ranges is most apparent. The geological walkspans over 650 years of the earth’s history. On this self-guilded 20-kilometre trail, signage provides an insight into past climates, the formation of the ranges, and the evolution of early life forms.

Brachina Gorge is also home to significant populations of the yellow-footed rock-wallaby, as well as several species of bird.

The Flinders Ranges are home to a number of gorges worth exploring, including: Bunyeroo Gorge, Parachilna Gorge and Alligator Gorge in the southern Flinders Ranges. Odyssey Traveller’s tours also include a visit to the privately-owned Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the northern Flinders Ranges.

Lake Eyre National Park:

Lake Eyre
Lake Eyre

Our Flinders Ranges outback trip also heads north to visit Lake Eyre. Known to Aboriginal people as Kati Thanda, Lake Eyre is Australia‘s largest salt lake and the lowest point on the Australian mainland at 15.2 metres below sea level. The lake is normally dry, filling completely on average twice a century – though partial, minor fillings happen much more often. When filled completely (as happened in 1950, 1974, and 1984), the lake takes about two years to dry up again.

Few experiences match the isolation of standing on the dry lake, extending as far as the eye can see. When the rain comes the lake becomes a centre of life, bringing waterbirds in their thousands, including pelicans, silver gulls, red-necked avonets, banded stilts and gull-billed terns.

To appreciate the massive size of the lake, our tour takes a scenic flight over the National Park.

The surrounding park covers 13.5 square kilometres, and offers the quintessential Australian outback desert landscape of red sand dunes and mesas.

Articles about Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to the Flinders Ranges and South Australia: 

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