Footloose in the Flinders
Just five hours’ drive north of Adelaide, in the heart of the South Australian Outback, the red-clay vistas of the Flinders Ranges open out before you, around every bend in the road, over every rise, as far as the eye can see.
It’s serious Outback, filled with genuine bush folk, baked rock and ranging kangaroos. Traditionally a poorly located sheep-farming area (the arid climate doesn’t lend itself well to grass growing and lamb fattening), the
Flinders farmers are reinventing the region as a tourist attraction.
Whether it’s four-wheel-driving among the craggy rocks, taking to the sky for a scenic flight or wandering the bush trails for a close-up look at the native wildlife, there’s plenty to do for the adventurous.
The sweeping, barren landscape of the Flinders Ranges is completely different to the surf and sands of the more traditional Australian getaways, but it’s much more rewarding.
Indeed, it’s the beautiful red emptiness that wins you over – just ask nature guide Tim Tyler, who arrived in the remote Flinders region eight years ago a broken man. After a morning tramp, over a bush breakfast he’s just cooked on a barbecue under a eucalyptus tree, Tyler happily discusses the course that led him to the only place he wants to be.
‘‘It’s funny about this remote place,’’ he says. ‘‘It seems to attract damaged people.
‘‘I came in 2005 and just fell in love with it. I’d just gone through a marriage breakup and my whole world had fallen apart. I came here and I did wonder: ‘Am I too far away from everything, is this just crazy?’ But I went for a walk and watched the sun go down and it was just so quiet and peaceful.’’
Five hours’ drive from Tyler’s former life in Adelaide, in the heart of red-clay nowhere, the former office administrator found a new home – and a new, more relaxed, way of life.
Eco resort Rawnsley Park Station lies at the entrance to the Flinders Ranges, nestled against the foot of the region’s most iconic rock formation, the mountainous natural enclosure known as the Wilpena Pound.
The morning’s bush exploration starts with Tyler picking us up in his ute and driving us into the shadow of Rawnsley Bluff, one of the mighty cliffs that make up the circular Wilpena Pound. You get a different view from the ground, neck craned, looking up at the distinctly layered rock walls than you do from the air, as we did the day before during a scenic flight.
Inside the pound, the cliffs drop away again, forming a huge circular basin which, at one time, had been used by farmers to naturally pen in their grazing animals. There are only a couple of very thin entrances to the enclosure by foot.
But we aren’t climbing up and over, Tyler informs us; we’ll just be just skirting it. The sun hasn’t risen completely above the bluff and, as we walk up the foot of the slope, stopping here and there to examine the flora and fauna, we step in and out of the shade of the mountain, the red rock beneath our feet alternating between bright tangelo orange in the sunshine and burnt red-brown in the shadows.
We wind along the track, Tyler stopping us every so often to point out ant nests, or explain why so many of the dense needle-sharp prickly bushes are flattened at their centre (the kangaroos stamp them down for impromptu beds).
And all the while the kangaroos watch us, sceptically, from a distance. Around just about every bend there’s another, be it the nuggety brown euros, the mid-size western greys or the larger reds. They stand in twos or threes, alert.
If you get too close, they’re off bounding over bushes and boulders.
Along the base of the cliff, down through an empty creek bed, we are back by the ute. The breakfast is half the outing, and our guide gets right to work over the old grill: on the menu are tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, bacon, eggs and fried bread.
Sitting down to eat at a stone table at the base of Rawnsley Bluff, with no sound save for the bush tea boiling in the billy and the crowing of a curious raven nearby, Tyler says it wasn’t hard to throw off the trappings of town. There’s no greater joy, he says, than waking every day surrounded by nothing but breath-taking scenery, empty spaces, and the odd passing emu.
‘‘I love it out here. I can’t wait to get out every morning. It’s so rich here, it’s always different.
‘‘You feel the suck of the place when you get out here. You feel the re-energising – which is surprising, because you don’t even realise you’re lacking it until you get out here.’’
At five hours’ drive, it’s just far enough away from the city to feel completely isolated, Tyler says.
‘‘Most days I’ll have a tour of some description, with people from all over the world. I think one of the things Australians and New Zealanders have in common, we’re more connected with our wild.
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Australia and the South Australian Tourism Commission.
The Dominion Post