A pair of cheeky Mallee Ringnecks are busy as the sun rises outside my eco villa on Rawnsley Park Station, in South Australia.
The colourful parrots are joined by many other feathered friends, a few wallabies, and the occasional kangaroo all feasting, feverishly, on the native flora. Rawnsley Park Station is owned by Tony and Julieanne Smith, who are fourth-generation custodians of the station that sits at the foot of Wilpena Pound, or ‘The Pound’ as locals call it, within the Flinders Rangers in outback South Australia.
‘The Pound’ is the jewel in the Flinders crown of sprawling rugged ranges where, at its widest, it stretches 100 km within a 540 million-year-old region that remains wild and relatively untouched.
Our drive from Adelaide to the station on the new four-day Flinders Ranges Outback Tour with Kangaroo Island Odysseys (owned by the SeaLink Travel Group) is peppered with treats: meeting Shane Hamilton, the publican at Orroroo Hotel, and his pet cockatiel Frank; bargain shopping in bric-a-brac shops in Burra; visiting outback galleries; and enjoying entertaining commentary about the changing scenery and regions.
As we head further north into South Australia’s outback, we drive through towering columns of ochreous rocks painted in varying earthy pigments and carefully crafted by Mother Nature.
Flocks of emus escort us from one highlight to another: we spot endangered yellow-footed rock wallabies, shingleback lizards and painted dragons; wander around century-old ruins; and test our tastebuds with platters of Australian game that includes emu pâté – an absolute favourite.
One of the many highlights of this outback odyssey was bedtime at Rawnsley Park Station, which features a retractable ceiling. Each night I would drift off to sleep in pure comfort watching the ever-changing night sky above me.
It was heavenly. Two days out of the four-day tour were spent at Rawnsley Park Station where we learn more about the sheep, the history of this working station, and life in this remote part of South Australia.
Owner Tony takes us on a Sunset on the Chase Tour, past his mobs of merino sheep to a summit high on the range where we enjoy sparkling wine and canapés while admiring the rugged landscape and beautiful sunset.
That night, we enjoy a three-course dinner featuring Rawnsley home-grown lamb prepared by head chef, Jarrod Crispin, where we are joined by Matthew Lawson, of Kirrihill Wines, who expands our appreciation of South Australian wines.
Held monthly, it’s worth timing your stay for this delightful degustation paired with local wines. We are up with the sparrows the next morning as we have booked an optional extra adventure: to fly like an eagle with pilot Felicity Brown, of Chinta Air, and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the landscape.
Felicity is one of five females who hold a commercial pilot’s licence in Australia and she loves to show off her extensive backyard, which is breathtaking.
After bidding Rawnsley Park Station farewell we head further into the South Australian outback with our guide Peter Roberts, who patiently pulls up to find the endangered yellow-footed rock wallabies, tiny towns boasting the best Cornish pasties and great coffee shops where I stock up on home-made goodies such as chutneys, jams and honey.
We also visit lookouts with spectacular 360-degree views. But the Flinders Ranges is not all about exceptional views and great food.
This land goes back … way, way back.
In the mid-1980s, Ross Fargher, who runs Nilpena Station, discovered a fossil site on the side of a hill, just up from the shearers’ quarters. During a tour of the property, Ross explains that the site is home to ancient creatures that belong to the oldest animal ecosystem on Earth.
We have the chance to find a fossil – and each of us do – explore the woolshed and outbuildings and take in the views over this desolate landscape where time seems to have stood still.
Our appointment for dinner won’t wait, so we hotfoot it into Parachilna for sunset in front of the famous Prairie Hotel. Here, the lowering sun illuminates more ruins and sets them aglow, while others cast long shadows, making us wonder what life here a century ago would have been like.
Raising our glasses, we toast the end to another fabulous day against the backdrop of a stunning sunset and enjoy bright conversation with the locals who proudly tell us about this special corner of Australia.
To finish the night, I walk outside to witness the stars stretching from horizon to horizon.
Our final day starts with a leisurely breakfast at the Prairie Hotel before making our way to Adelaide for flight departures. Nothing is rushed, and we stop and see more ruins contrasting against a textured tapestry of crops before lunch at Paulett Wines in the Clare Valley and our farewell and final boutique food and wine tasting.
South Australia’s outback has won many hearts on this trip, and one of them is mine. •
Photography by Danielle Lancaster
- Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar fly to Adelaide. Another great way to get to South Australia is on the Indian Pacific from Sydney with Great Southern Rail.
- Qantas: qantas.com.au
- Virgin Australia: virginaustralia.com.au
- Jetstar: jetstar.com
- Great Southern Rail: greatsouthernrail.com
- Kangaroo Island Odysseys offers four-night tours of the Flinders Ranges. kangarooislandodysseys.com.au
Where to stay
When to go
- Autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November) are the most popular seasons.
- South Australian Tourism Commission: southaustralia.com