Destination Australia: Why the Flinders Ranges are an enchanting holiday destination

Newshub Travel's Daniel Rutledge writes about South Australia's Flinders Ranges as a spectacular holiday destination.
Road trips are rarely as spectacular as those around the Flinders Ranges. Photo credit: Getty Images

I took a lot of wonderful memories away from my first trip to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, but one of the boldest is the smell of the Outback after a morning rain.

On my final morning at the awesome Rawnsley Park Station, it showered sometime before dawn, meaning I got to inhale one of the most delightful fragrances ever.

I asked a few people what the scent was and got mixed answers. The most likely was the rain washing a thick, dry dust coating off the cypress pine trees, which meant they all breathed hard after being partially suffocated for a while.

That seems about right, combined of course with just the aroma of moisture on the particular type of earth the Outback is made up of.

While it may seem weird to go on about a smell like this, it really was incredible - but perhaps my appreciation was heightened by just how happy I was after spending a few days in the Flinders Ranges.

It's an ancient land of dusty red roads and vast open spaces, occasionally lined with huge cliffs or punctuated with deep craters. It's hard to describe just how spectacular the area is and photos absolutely do not do it justice.

Entry to Rawnsley Park Station by Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges.
Wilpena Pound as seen from the entrance to Rawnsley Park Station. Photo credit: Daniel Rutledge / Newshub.

After over a year of being restricted to New Zealand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Flinders Ranges was enchanting and made for an ideal reintroduction to international travel.

While a lot of Kiwis have experienced South Australia, many more have not, often restricting their travel across the ditch to New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria instead.

But the trans-Tasman travel bubble being open before most of the world is makes it an ideal time for New Zealanders to explore parts of Aussie they haven't before.

How to get there:

  • Air New Zealand recently restarted direct flights from Auckland to Adelaide. Flying each way takes between four and five hours.
  • From Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges is about a five hour northbound road trip. A few hours into it, it becomes a beautifully scenic and enjoyable drive.

You should plan to spend longer than five hours on the road, however. It's easy to make a day of it as you'll want to often stop and take photos or just soak in the view, and along the way are some superb wineries.

You could detour through the legendary Barossa Valley, but the famed Clare Valley is directly on the way and home to loads of five-star wineries. There are more than 50 cellar doors on the 40km stretch between the towns of Auburn and Clare alone.

Sevenhill Cellars and Paulett Wines come highly recommended, but I can personally attest to what a fine time one can have at Pikes Wines. Its Slate Restaurant has tables overlooking the vines - sitting at one and gazing upon them while enjoying a signature Riesling and delicious three-course meal was a brilliant pitstop.

Clare Valley lunch recommendation - Slate Restaurant at Pikes Wines.
Lunch at Slate Restaurant in the Clare Valley. Photo credit: Daniel Rutledge / Newshub.

As you get closer to the Outback, you'll start to see a lot of kangaroos. Unfortunately, most of them are dead on the roadside, which only adds to the multiple warnings you will get about driving between dusk and dawn.

Your hire car outlet's insurance policy won't even cover you during those times as hitting roos is so likely. It's a serious problem for the area. That may dissipate any guilt one might feel when they then eat kangaroo, which is on offer at most eateries.

Rawnsley Park Station is a working sheep station with a variety of different accommodation options available for people who want to stay in the heart of the Flinders Ranges. It sits right underneath the stunning natural amphitheatre of mountains that is Wilpena Pound.

Wilpena Pound is a stunning natural amphitheatre of mountains in the Flinders Ranges.
Wilpena Pound as seen from the sky above. Photo credit: Getty Images

I had a couple of nights in a luxury eco-villa at the station and spent a lot of my time there just staring at Wilpena Pound, as it really is captivating.

I also got to drink in the sight of it from a high point on the nearby Chace Range, while actually drinking sparkling wine and nibbling on delicious canapes. The Sunset on the Chace tour is one of many 4WD safaris offered by the staff at Rawnsley Park Station and is a lovely way to start an evening.

Another 4WD tour I can highly recommend is of the Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorges. I only hope you get a tour guide as knowledgeable, friendly and funny as the bloke I went with, Phil Coleman.

4WD tour of the Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorges from Rawnsley Park Station in the Flinders Ranges.
Phil the Rawnsley Park Station 4WD tour guide. Photo credit: Newshub.

The sheer amount of facts he held in his head and could share on command was mighty impressive. It really was fascinating learning about the geology of the area - seriously, how often do you place your hand on a 600-million-year-old beach in the middle of a desert?

I also touched fossils that are some of the oldest examples of both single-cell and multicellular organisms on the planet, and had fun watching wallabies hopping around rocky mountainsides.

We also saw plenty of kangaroos, of course, as well as a great deal of other wildlife like emus, kites and the mighty wedge-tailed eagle, a fearsome monster with a wingspan of up to 2.3m you have to see to believe.

Lunch at the historic Prairie Hotel was another highlight of the 4WD tour. I hope to stay at this place on another trip, as rarely does a venue's character beam so strongly. The 'feral foods' platter on offer was a quirky delight, with the emu pate being my unexpected favourite.

Newshub Travel enjoys Sunset on the Chace tour in Flinders Ranges, South Australia.
The Sunset on the Chace tour provides an amazing view for canapes and bubbles. Photo credit: Daniel Rutledge / Newshub.

Later, when the tour was well over and after a delicious meal at the Woolshed Restaurant back on the station, it's quite something to lie in the eco-villa and hit a button on a remote to roll back a skylight and stargaze from bed.

That sort of luxury in such a remote setting is really quite special.

But of all the activities I was treated to, it really is one of the simplest that sticks with me the most - admiring Wilpena Pound on a quiet, still morning while inhaling the scent of the Outback after a rainfall.

I hope to smell it again soon.

Newshub travelled around South Australia as a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission