Less than a day’s drive north of Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges is one of Australia’s most inspiring and diverse landscapes.

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Night skies present a multitude of stars. This 30-second exposure was taken just as the moon was rising over Rawnsley Bluff on the outer edge of the Wilpena Pound.

Why visit?

Within reach of Adelaide and mostly accessible by two-wheel drive vehicles, the Flinders Ranges National Park presents an abundance of subjects for photographers, ranging from rugged mountains to spectacular gorges, tree-lined creeks and abundant wildlife. The area has great historical and geological significance and plenty of facilities for tourists, including guided tours, scenic flights and accommodation ranging from bush camping to four-star resorts.

This area has a rich cultural heritage, covering both Aboriginal and pastoral history. The Adnyamathanha people (meaning hills or rock people) are the traditional custodians of the land and their connections can be seen in ancient rock paintings and engravings at Arkaroo Rock, Sacred Canyon and Perawurtina Cultural Heritage Site.

European settlers came to the area in the 1850s. Remains of settlements and mines can be seen throughout the area, the most impressive being the restored Old Wilpena Station inside Wilpena Pound.

The Flinders Ranges provide plenty of scenic bushwalking tracks, with four walks and 14 hikes catering for people of different interests and abilities. Passing through the area is the Heysen Trail, a long distance walking trail that extends 1200 kilometres from Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula to Parachilna Gorge, just north of the park.

Wildlife photographers can expect to find plenty of subjects, including the rare Yellowfooted Rock-wallaby, which can be seen in Brachina and Wilkawillina gorges. In spring, wildflowers are abundant, bringing in a variety of colourful birds. Emus and kangaroos are often seen near camping areas and in gorges.

When to go

Visitors can travel to the area almost any time of the year, although the middle of summer can be very hot and night temperatures often dip below freezing during winter. Campfires are prohibited during the summer; usually between late October and mid-April.

The best time to visit is between April and October, when daytime temperatures are comfortable for walking and cycling. Some walking trails may be closed when the risk of fires is very high.

Rainfall is usually low throughout the year, but is most likely in the cooler months. When it rains, it is often the result of storms and flooding can occur, resulting is some road closures.

Getting there/ getting around

Most people drive to the area, either north from Adelaide, south from Leigh Creek or west from Broken Hill. Access roads are generally well signposted. From Adelaide, there are several routes to Hawker, the closest town to the park, which is reached by following the signs to Wilpena.

If travelling south from Leigh Creek, visitors can travel to Parachilna and then either enter the park from the north or west, or head east from Leigh Creek towards Vulkathunha- Gammon Ranges National Park, and then follow the signs south to the park. If approaching from Broken Hill, turn north at Yunta on the Arkaroola Road and follow signs to Blinman.

The main road through the park and into Wilpena Pound is sealed. Most other roads are unsealed and, although accessible by two-wheel drive vehicles, can be affected by weather conditions and vary in quality. Careful driving is essential.

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A view of the celebrated Cazneaux Tree with the ramparts of Wilpena Pound in the background.

Gear to take

The equipment you take will depend on whether you will spend most of the time in a vehicle or how much you plan to hike. Car-based activities place few limits on the amount of equipment you can take. If you’re embarking on longer hikes, light gear will be vital.

A well-made camera bag is essential. Make sure it offers adequate protection, particularly against dust. (Take care when changing lenses.) Bring a cleaning kit consisting of a blower brush and micro-fibre cloth to keep your lenses dust-free. In most situations, wide-angle lenses will provide the best coverage of the scenery but we suggest you include at least one longer lens with a reach of at least 200mm in 35mm format for photographing wildlife. A focal length of at least 300mm will be required to photograph Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies as they are very shy.

Night skies in the area can be spectacular, so it’s worth having a solid tripod in your vehicle. A tripod is also handy for photographing birds.

Specific places to visit

Wilpena Pound is situated in the heart of the central Flinders Ranges and makes an ideal base for exploration with accommodation, an information centre and several day walks. Covering an area measuring about 17km long by 8km wide, it has a level floor, surrounded by rocky walls that are remnants of an ancient mountain range that has been eroding for millions of years.

The ‘pound’ was used by early settlers for enclosing their flocks of sheep and cattle. A 7.5km (return) walk takes you to the Hills Homestead, where you can see the restored buildings of the original settlement in an attractive natural environment.

Some photographers may wish to take a scenic flight over the pound and surrounding landscape. Bookings for 20 and 30-minute flights are available from the Wilpena Pound Resort. Old Wilpena Station is one of the most scenic pastoral settlements in South Australia. Today it combines an Aboriginal heritage site with archive of pastoral history. Entry passes are available at the Visitors’ Centre, with the fee including a Souvenir Guide and information on Ikara – The Meeting Place.

Sacred Canyon is a small chasm located 19km from Wilpena, off the main Hawker-Blinman Road. A short walk along a creek bed takes you into a gully where you can see Aboriginal rock engravings representing animal tracks, people, waterholes and other symbols, carved into the sandstone walls. The best times to visit are in the early morning and late afternoon.

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The Sacred Canyon track takes visitors along a creek bed, through a small chasm with intermittent waterholes and ancient rock carvings on the sandstone walls.

The Cazneaux Tree was made famous by photographer, Harold Cazneaux, who won first prize at an International Photographic Exhibition in 1937 with his photograph of the tree, which he titled The Spirit of Endurance. The tree is located beside Wilpena Creek north of Wilpena Pound. Access is off the Hawker to Blinman Road about 1km north of the Wilpena Pound intersection. The site is accessible and open to the public all year round.

Brachina Gorge is an important refuge for the Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby as well as many species of birds and reptiles. It also contains a 20km self-guided trail that passes through 130 million years of earth history. Detailed interpretive signs are posted along the route providing information on past climates, the formation of the ranges and the evolution of early forms of life. The trail is best travelled east to west, commencing at the Brachina Gorge/ Blinman Road intersection.

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A long telephoto lens is required to photograph the endangered Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies in Brachina Gorge.

Aroona Valley was a favourite place of the painter, Hans Heysen, and remains an attractive landscape. The area was settled on a permanent spring in the 1850s and the remains of Haywards Head station can still be seen, nestled between the Heysen and ABC ranges. Early morning and late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky, are ideal times to visit.

The Bunyeroo Valley Road with its impressive razorback ridge and lookouts starts 4km north of the Wilpena junction on the main Hawker- Blinman Road. The lookout is a great place for shooting panoramic views over the valley.

Article and images by Margaret Brown

First published (with additional images) in  Photo Review Magazine Issue 64  

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