Where the Flinders Ranges Meets the Outback

posted in: Featured, South Australia, walks | 2

I awaken to the distant sound of a sheep bleating, momentarily disoriented and then remember where I am. Harry and Chris are still asleep so I make myself a cup of tea and venture out onto the deck. It is a glorious morning. A sleepy smiling face peers out at me from the doorway. Harry comes out and asks whats for breakfast. At the same time we hear a rustling in the bushes in front of our building. “Its emus!” Harry yells excitedly. The emus peck around in the dirt while we sit on the deck eating our breakfast. The days get hot out here and if we are going to do a walk today it needs to happen early. We pack what we need for the day and make the 20 minute drive into Wilpena Pound.

Breakfast time with the emus at Rawnsley Park Station
Breakfast time with the emus at Rawnsley Park Station
Hanging out with the locals
Hanging out with the locals

The sun is rising quickly and showing off the golden sandstone mountain ranges in all their glory. The Flinders Ranges have been formed by the folding and faulting of sedimentary rock and form part of what is known as the Adelaide geosyncline. Wilpena Pound is a striking geological beauty, a natural ampitheatre, rimmed by orange sandstone mountain ranges topped with quartzite. The Adnyamathanha people who have lived in this area for thousands of years call Wilpena Pound, Ikara, meaning “meeting place”.

Outer rim of Wilpena Pound
Outer rim of Wilpena Pound

We arrive at the information centre and spend some time reading up about the geological, aboriginal and pioneering history of the area and try to work out what walk to do. I settle on walking the 7.5 km (return) to Wangarra Lookout via Hills Homestead as it looks like it will be something that Harry can tackle. St Marys Peak, the highest point in the area, will have to wait until another time.

Hills Homestead Walk
Walking among the river gums at Wilpena Creek

Hills Homestead and Wangarra Lookout Walk

The walk starts out following Wilpena Creek meandering through giant river red gums. It is a lovely cool shady oasis in here and you quickly forget how harsh and arid the terrain is just a few kilometers away. After 3.6 kms we come upon the restored Hills Homestead, home to the Hill family who had a pastoral lease back in the very early 1900’s. It is very quiet and peaceful here, a perfect stop for morning tea. We wander around reading about the family who lived here and their hardships. The trickle of water running down Wilpena Creek now is deceptive. The Hill family ended up leaving this land due to the creek becoming a raging torrent and making their livelihoods here impossible. Some of the old equipment is still lying about and Harry is interested to know what it was all used for.

Hills homestead
Hills Homestead


Old farming equipment
Old farming equipment

The final leg of the walk is only 600m away but it is all uphill from here. We climb up above the shady canopy of the river red gums and the late morning sun hits us. Harry impresses me and walks to the top of Wangarra’s lower and upper lookouts all by himself. I thought by now I would be carrying him in the backpack. He is a real little adventurer.

Wangarra lookout
Walking up to the lower lookout at Wangarra
Wangarra Walk
Got to keep up the fluids
lower Wangarra lookout
Taking a breather and admiring the vieiw

The views of the inside of Wilpena Pound are revealed as we walk higher. This landscape is beautiful and constantly changing. Rawnsley Park Station is only on the other side of the mountainous walls, and yet the landscape here within is so different. We stay awhile and soak up the views. Then its time to head back down and retreat into the shade for the hottest part of the day and have some well deserved lunch.

Wangarra lookout Wilpena Pound
Wangarra Lookout gives a panoramic view of the inside of Wilpena Pound
Wangarra lookout
Views from Wangarra Lookout
Harry setting off on the walk back down from Wangarra

Harrys legs and willpower have given up the ghost so we decide not to do any more walks today. He did a lot of walking this morning for a three year old and the temperature has heated up, so I think a scenic afternoon drive is in order. Upon driving out of Wilpena Pound and turning left, the landscape becomes very arid, the orange hues morphing into a deeper red. Windswept hills are framed by more mountains in the distance.

View from Hucks Lookout
View from Hucks Lookout

Hucks Lookout

We stop at Hucks lookout about 15kms from the Wilpena turnoff. This lookout offers stunning views to the outer north eastern rim of the pound and the surrounding ranges. Harry surprises me by asking alot of questions about the mountains and rocks. I read out the signs to him and point out the different colours and what they mean.

Hucks Lookout
Harry having a geology lesson at Hucks Lookout
Hucks Lookout Flinders Ranges
Admiring the view from Hucks Lookout
Hucks Lookout
Harry and I enjoying the scenery at Hucks Lookout

Stokes Hill Lookout

Stokes Hill Lookout
Views towards Wilpena Pound from Stokes Hill Lookout

We get back in the car and drive a bit further along until we come to the turn off to Stokes Hill Lookout. As we drive up the dirt track the remoteness of this area starts to hit me. At 750 meters above sea level, Stokes Lookout provides expansive views of this magificent country. As far as the eye can see there are mountains and hills blurring into the distance. There is some interpretive signage about the Adnyamathanha dreamtime legends and native foods which interest Harry greatly. It is like one great big outdoor classroom out here.

stokes hill lookout flinders ranges
The beautiful arid landscape at Stokes Hill Lookout


Stokes Hill Lookout Flinders Ranges
Harry learning about the local Adnyamathanha people

The metal relief of Wilpena Pound gives us an appreciation of the what this land form would look like from the air. Harry is fascinated by it and explores it in detail..

Stokes Hill Lookout
Metal relief of Wilpena Pound at Stokes Hill Lookout


A couple who are on their way to Coober Pedy drive in to take a look. They comment how this landscape reminds them of places they have been in Africa and that their travels around Australia have constantly surprised them. So much diversity they say. I couldn’t agree more. Less than 5 hours away from here we were in the leafy green Adelaide Hills and now here we are on the edge of the desert.

Stokes Hill Lookout
The arid landscape at Stokes Hill

I am kicking myself I didn’t come more prepared. This lookout is outstanding. We could have sat here with a cold glass of Clare Valley riesling and a cheese plate and watched nature put on its daily sunset spectacular. Next time. As we are driving back down the hill we spot a mob of kangaroos relaxing under the shade of a tree, its hard to imagine that there is enough for them eat out here.

The Cazneaux Tree

On the way back to Rawnsley Park Station we take a quick detour to the Cazneaux Tree. Harold Cazneaux made the big old river red gum famous when he took a photograph of it in 1937. He called his photograph “The Spirit of Endurance” and it won an international photography competition. It is a local landmark and is listed on the National Trust of South Australia’s Register of Significant Trees. And for an added bit of trivia the great Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith, is Harold’s grandson.

The Cazneaux Tree
The famous Cazneaux Tree with Wilpena Pound in the background

It has been an extremely satisfying day. We are tired but in a good way from exercising our bodies, minds and senses. As we drive back to Rawnsley Park Station I stop to take another photo I realise that there is no way I can do this place justice with my camera. Like much of Australia, it is just too big, too expansive, to capture in a photograph. The only way to experience places like this is to immerse yourself in it. And that is why I make travel a priority in my life.

Driving back towards Rawnsley Park Station
Driving back towards Rawnsley Park Station


At a Glance

map Hills Homestead and Wangarra Lookout
7.5 km (return) walk from Wilpena Information centre

mapHucks Lookout
Approximately 15 km from Wilpena along the Blinman Hawker Road

mapStokes Hill Lookout
Approximately 18 km from Wilpena along the Blinman Hawker Road
Google Maps Link

mapThe Cazneaux Tree
Just north of the Wilpena turn off


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2 Responses

  1. Jane

    Looks like a great time was had by all, Amanda. It actually brings back memories of when I lived in outback Western NSW. The country was very dry but I loved the red soil against the clear blue skies. Seeing your little boy made me think of my own first born running on ahead of me and exploring. We didn’t have the magnificent ranges in the distant though! Lovely post. Keep them coming. 🙂

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