Uncover the history of Wilpena Pound with incredible Indigenous cultural tours

Remote, ravishing and deeply spiritual, Wilpena Pound is the kind of place that humbles – in the best possible way. A visit to this pocket of South Australia’s Ikara-Flinders Ranges will put life into perspective.

There’s a moment, as the sun rises over the Ikara-Flinders Ranges, when the rest of the world fades to insignificance. The only things that matter are the resplendent ringneck parrots fluffing feathers in a red gum. That, and the unexpected shakedown of an emu, plus a couple of wallabies grazing in the day’s first rays.

All this, and I haven’t even left my bed. Such is the outlook from the Ikara Safari Tents at Wilpena Pound Resort, this string of accommodations surprisingly plush for their remote setting. They boast queen beds, air-con, ensuite bathroom, a patio I never want to leave and a firepit.

I’m a short walk from the main hub of resort cabins, pool and restaurant. But I’m far from anywhere else.

Wilpena Pound Resort Accommodation
Relax in Wilpena Pound Resort’s secluded Ikara Safari Tents © Archie Sartracom

Wilpena Pound cultural tours

The location is 430 kilometres north of Adelaide in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, amongst 90,000 hectares of red peaks, gorges and valleys. A place where mind-bending striated rock formations create an enormous natural amphitheatre (the Pound), providing a window through 800 million years of the Earth’s history.

This is Adnyamathanha Country, and its Custodians are rightfully passionate about it. Mick McKenzie has been guiding the Wilpena Pound Resort’s cultural tours since 2016, just as the surrounding national park was renamed Ikara-Flinders Ranges. Ikara is the Adnyamathanha word for ‘meeting place’.

His ancestors have been here for tens of thousands of years. On an early morning hike to Akurra Adnya (Arkaroo Rock), Mick tells me that he sees his role as an interpreter of the land he belongs to.

Wilpena Pound cultural tours
Mick McKenzie leading a cultural tour © Archie Sartracom

His nephew Isiah is along for the stroll. “There’s nothing online about the significance of this land. It’s all in people’s heads and passed down. You have to be on Country to learn about it,” he says.

That’s how Isiah, Mick and his brother John (also with us) discovered the various properties and uses the region’s native plants: bush bananas, native curry leaves, plump mistletoe berries.

There’s also ‘bush incense’. Mick fossicks around at the base of a Xanthorrhoea and produces a clump of dried plant, which he sets alight. The aroma perfumes the air and wards off bad spirits.

This spiky grass tree seems to be the most handy plant on the planet. Mick’s ancestors also used it as a fire stick, and he carries a dried stamen as a sturdy walking stick.

Spotting wildlife on a cultural tour
Animal spotting © Archie Sartracom

Understanding cultural significance

Wild daisies and she-oaks line the trail all the way to Akurra Adnya, a deeply spiritual place. The sacred area is decorated with ancient rock paintings that tell the story of Wilpena’s creation.

Mick points out the two serpents that formed the amphitheatre, as well as an Ikara painted using red ochre and charcoal mixed with emu oil. We take a minute of silence to appreciate their significance and the stories they tell.

This hike is among a handful of experiences led by Yura Custodians from the resort. Others take you along Wilpena Creek through soaring river red gums to the Old Wilpena Station, one of South Australia’s oldest and best-preserved pastoral settlements. It’s eye-opening to discover the landscape and biodiversity from an Indigenous perspective.

Another experience sees a group of resort guests gather to be Welcomed to Country by Mick in his traditional Yura Ngawarla language. It’s a fitting way to end the day – but not before more of Mick’s Dreaming stories, this time delivered from a lookout that offers horizon-bending sunset views over this extraordinary countryside.

Once again, the world goes quiet. Because when the moment is this moving, what’s left to say?

Exploring culturally significant sights with First Nations guides
Gain a deeper understanding of First Nations culture and history © Archie Sartracom

Wilpena Pound Resort

Wilpena Pound Resort serves as the only resort within the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. Accommodation ranges from hotel rooms to ‘glamping’ safari tents, and powered and unpowered bush campsites. As one of only a few First Nations-owned and -operated resorts, Wilpena Pound Resort’s hallmark feature is its Aboriginal cultural experiences.

Visitors to the resort can set off on a Wilpena Pound cultural tour with a Yura guide to uncover the rich history and mystique of both ancient and contemporary Aboriginal culture.

With 50,000 years of experience, the Yura guides provide an unrivalled insight into their land and one of Australia’s natural wonders, on a range of walking and 4WD tours.

Another must-do is the spectacular scenic flights which provide breathtaking views of Wilpena Pound and the surrounding Flinders Ranges.

Scenic flight over Wilpena Pound
Scenic flight over Wilpena Pound © Tourism Australia/Adam Bruzzone

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