The natural delights of the Flinders Ranges and the Outback

Flinders Ranges

Joanne Brookfield

Posted May 01, 2023

You’ll understand exactly why poet Dorothea Mackellar described Australia as the ‘wide brown land’ once you’ve visited Flinders Ranges and Outback South Australia.

With uninterrupted vistas of endless arid plains, plus cliffs and craters and the occasional waterhole and wetland, you might wonder if you’ve somehow travelled back to the beginning of time.

The palette of this extraordinary landscape encompasses more than brown, however, with golden oranges, reds and pinks dominating sunsets and the many ancient geological wonders this land contains.

With some of the Southern Hemisphere’s darkest and clearest skies, at night you will be blanketed by an infinite galaxy of stars so you can enjoy some quality time with the Milky Way.

With plenty of hiking, guided tours, scenic flights, wildlife encounters and unforgettable experiences to have along the way, a drive through the Flinders Ranges and Outback is the road trip of a lifetime – with something for everyone.

Indigenous history

Australian Aboriginals are the world’s oldest continuous culture with a history that dates back at least 60,000 years.

Warratyi in the Flinders Ranges is home to the oldest known site of their activity. This rock shelter contained artefacts and fossils that prove the Adnyamathanha people were living in the area around 49,000 years ago.

The region is rich with Indigenous history and spiritual significance, including cave paintings and rock engravings at Arkaroo Rock and Sacred Canyon. RACV Members can learn more about this incredible culture on tours here.

Wilpena Pound

One of South Australia’s most popular and iconic tourist destinations is Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park. A five and a half hour drive north from Adelaide and you’ll be in 95,000 hectares of semi-arid spectacular scenery, including soaring mountain peaks, tree-lined gorges and show-stopping centrepiece, Ikara/Wilpena Pound.

Holding its own against other similarly red, rocky natural wonders, millions of years of erosion has formed this ‘amphitheatre’ which has ramparts measuring 8km by 17km, making it eight times larger than Uluru.

While there is no vehicle access into Wilpena Pound, which holds spiritual significance for the Aboriginal community given it was an ancient meeting place, you can bushwalk and hike there.

At the visitor information centre, you can also book guided cultural walks, 4WD tours or perhaps the best way to appreciate the vast scale, scenic flights.

Orche Cliffs. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission

Orche Cliffs. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission

Bush Tucker

The rugged environment nourished Aboriginal people for a millennia and many of those bush tucker ingredients – such as quandongs (native peaches), kutjera (bush tomato), wattle seed, saltbush and lemon myrtle - are making their way onto contemporary menus across the area, as well as native animals.

While you can easily get a more regular meal at restaurants, cafes and pubs, there’s also the option to get a lot more adventurous at the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna, who are famous for their Feral Mixed Grill, which includes camel sausage, emu filet mignon and kangaroo fillet.

An hour and a half drive from there is Quorn, a small town in the Southern Flinders Ranges establishing a reputation as Australia’s Bush Tucker Capital. The town's ‘Bush Tucker Walk’, a two-kilometre loop trail surrounded by bush food gardens empowers visitors to enjoy diverse local native plants.

A must-visit in the area is the Quandong Cafe in Quorn, where you can sample the famous Quandong cheesecake and other treats such as slice, pie, chutney and jam.


Iga Warta Tours. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission

Iga Warta Tours. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission


“One destination, three distinct regions” is how the Flinders Ranges, Southern Flinders Ranges and Outback are referred to.

The Outback area of South Australia is massive, spreading right the way to the borders of the Northern Territory, Queensland and NSW. In this part of the world, there’s endless open roads, vast desert plains and unrelenting sun.

While extraordinary experiences await, this is not an environment for the unprepared, so pack spares and back-ups because the sheer size of the place means there can be a day’s travel between the small, quirky towns scattered across the map.

Oodnadatta Track

The legendary Oodnadatta Track passes through some of the most remote towns in the Outback, as it covers more than 600 kilometres between Marree and Marla - you’ll need a 4WD to make the journey.

On the way, you’ll be in the ‘neighbourhood’ for Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre. The largest salt lake in Australia, it’s more like an inland sea given its size. Covering an area 144km x 77km, it is larger than islands such as Cyprus or Puerto Rico, however it is rarely full.

When the lake is full of water, it is alive with birdlife and when it’s dry, the salt crystals shimmer in the sunlight. Either way, this stunning panorama is best observed via the several charter flights on offer.

Further along the Track, there’s Cowards Springs, a wetland with date palms, butterflies, sunset views and a natural thermal spa. With rustic timber decking around it to create a pool setting, it’s an Insta-worthy oasis within the desert. With water around 30 degrees, a dip in it under the starry night sky is the stuff memories are made of.

Keep going and you’ll eventually reach the world-famous Coober Pedy, the subterranean opal mining town that has starred in many films. With such ridiculously hot desert temperatures, most of the town lives and works underground, so take a couple of days to really burrow in there to enjoy the eccentric tourist attractions, fossick for opals or marvel at the Mars-like saturated reds and oranges of nearby Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park or the 80 million year old Anna Creek Painted Hills.


Oodnadatta Track. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission

Oodnadatta Track. Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission

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