Exploring outback South Australia at Wilpena Pound

With travel restrictions easing in South Australia, we’ve found the perfect getaway at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges that has something for everyone. (Image source: Madeline Ilee)

By Madeline Ilee | @madeline_ilee

Once known as a sheep station in 1851, Wilpena Pound was also home to a large horse breeding area throughout the late 1850s. In 1899, the Hill family leased the land and dedicated it to wheat farming and with ongoing success, the family built a small stone house, now known as the old homestead.

In 1920, the Wilpena Pound land was declared a National Forrest Reserve. Then in 1945 the Resort, which was known as the Wilpena Chalet, was leased to the highly respected Rasheed family. By 1985 Wilpena Pound was added to the National Park, which was renamed in 2016 to the Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park.

By 2012, through a joint venture by the Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) and Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA), the property was acquired from the Rasheed family. Since the acquisition of the property with the ATLA, the resort has become focused in sharing the spectacular and ancient land filled with rich cultural history, unique biodiversity and stunning landscapes available for visitors to enjoy.

(Image source: Madeline Ilee)

Located 429km North of Adelaide, Wilpena Pound covers nearly 8,000 hectares of the Flinders Ranges and is known for its remarkable outback beauty. While Wilpena Pound is approximately a five-hour drive from Adelaide, it is the perfect location for a weekend away. If you are like my partner and I and like to make the most of every minute of the journey, you’ll be waking up at the crack of dawn to ensure a lunchtime arrival at Wilpena Pound.

One of the best parts of camping is escaping the world of social media and gadgets and taking time out to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings located in your backyard with the people you love. Going camping is also a great way to partake in activities you can’t do back home.

Upon arrival at Wilpena Pound you’ll be surrounded by the beauty and nature of outback South Australia. Covered in rich red soil, shrubs and lanky trees you’ll be almost ready to sit back and relax… provided you won’t need to set up your camping spot. Now, if setting up the traditional camping tent or swag isn’t your ideal holiday, then you may want to choose from the large variety of accommodation at the Resort. The Resort offers luxurious glamping tents that cater for two to eight adults, hotel inspired deluxe rooms and the common powered and unpowered camping sites. Prices for accommodation during the high season (April to May and August to October) start from $16 per person for an unpowered site to $310 for two people in the glamping safari tent making it an affordable getaway. A park pass is also required during your stay in the Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park and can be purchased at reception which is also Wilpena Pound’s visitor centre. The park pass will only set you back $11 and is valid for 7 days.

(Image source: Madeline Ilee)

Currently the Wilpena Pound Resort is owned and operated by IBA and ATLA and has approximately 80 per cent Adnyamathanha people as staff members throughout the resort. The Adnyamathanha people are the traditional owners of the land which is now known as Wilpena Pound. Through the increased popularity of the resort, with visitors from across Australia, the Adnyamathanha community has continued to endorse the ability to share information with the wide variety of people that travel through the resort. Through the journey and stories of the Adnyamathanha people you will also go on a journey through their rich cultural history and connection to the land.

One of the highlights of the trip would be attending the traditional welcome to the country presented by the Adnyamathanha staff members. The traditional welcome to the country is on every night at 6pm by the flagpole located in front of the bistro within the resort. This activity is completely free and suitable for the whole family. As you sit around the campfire the Adnyamathanha people share their stories. The beauty behind these stories is that there is someone different each night within the sharing of stories about their culture and the history that shaped the land which is now known as Wilpena Pound. As I looked around at the people surrounding the fire, there were families of all ages with little toddlers to young teenagers, young adults like my partner and I, to adults and even the elderly. It was incredible to see so many people together listening to the voices and stories of the Adnyamathanha people.

(Image source: Madeline Ilee)

After listening to the stories by the locals, you are then invited to another campfire (this one is located just next to the door behind the bar) where staff members sit and chat and visitors are welcomed. It truly was a welcoming and comfortable experience and although most visitors were strangers, by the end of the night we were all friends. During our time at the campfire I spoke with new employee Joe*. Adnyamathanha man, Joe grew up at Wilpena Pound with his father who was a ranger throughout the 80s and from our casual conversations over beers I instantly knew this was a special place to him and the Adnyamathanha community.

“I always come back here,” Joe said.

“Even when I worked in Adelaide or when I lived in Melbourne, even when I was down in Tasmania for a while, I just kept getting drawn back here because this is where the heart is, and this is what I class as home.” He added.

With a few more beers in his system, Joe then went on the hunt to find other family members to share their stories about their history and connection to the land with me. As the flames of the fire flickered in the wind, more chairs were filling the circle around the fire as visitors left the pub to have a cigarette outside. Joe then returned from the bar with a beer in each hand and his brother John* next to him. Once I began talking to John, I discovered John had been living at Wilpena for the past six years and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

“This place here is definitely home. It’s where our family is,” John said.

“Most importantly, this is Wilpena. This is Ikara and this is home for us.” John added.

The Adnyamathanha people translate the word Wilpena as Ikara which means ‘meeting place’ and through their culture passed down by many generations the Adnyamathanha people continue to share their stories. While the land is welcoming for visitors it remains a sacred place for the Adnyamathanha people and is an important aspect for visitors to remember. It is also important for visitors to respect the Adnyamathanha people’s beliefs and all geological, cultural and heritage sites, including those on the hiking trails.

A trip to Wilpena Pound Resort would be incomplete without going on a nature walk or hike, and with a variety of tracks suitable for all levels of experience and ages there is something for everyone. With my brand-new hiking boots on, my partner and I decided to hike through to the Wangara lookout. This is considered a moderate level hike and is an extension of the easy Hill’s Homestead trail and will take you to two stunning lookouts that give spectacular views inside Wilpena Pound. This track took us approximately 3 hours, but I would recommend allowing up to 3.5 hours to ensure you have time to get all your happy snaps without being rushed! If you need a break there are toilets and picnic tables at the Hills Homestead making it the perfect resting spot before hiking up to the lookouts where the beauty of Wilpena will leave you wanting to explore more of the Flinders Ranges. If you are wanting more of an interactive and hands-on walk through Wilpena then you may want to go on the Yura Udnyu tour. This tour is offered by the resort and offers an informative stroll throughout the land by an Aboriginal guide. To partake in the Yura Udnyu tour it will cost you $45 per adult, $35 for children under 12 years or $120 for a family of five and will approximately go for one to two hours.

(Image source: Madeline Ilee)

There are also 4WD tracks available throughout the Flinders Ranges. While you don’t need a four-wheel drive (4WD) to access Wilpena Pound or the Flinders Ranges, since my partner is a 4WD enthusiast it was only expected that we would find a 4WD track to go on during our holiday.

Rawnsley Park Station is a quick 25-minute drive from the resort and offers access to the Arkapena self-drive tracks for $40-$50. The Arkapena Track is made up of two sections; the all-wheel drive (AWD) and 4WD track, allowing more visitors to discover the beauty of the Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park.

(Image source: Madeline Ilee)

The highlight of this would be the 4WD part of the track, and especially the Prelinna Ascent, also known as number 15 on the track. Driving up this steep ascent heading towards the last lookout I began to feel like a pair of socks in a washing machine listening to the water splashing from side to side in the 50 litre jerrycan in the back of the car to the rocking sensation of our car as it crawled up the hill. Feeling the wheels rotating through the rich red dirt we eventually reached the breathtaking lookout point known as Prelinna Lookout. Approximately 680 metres above sea level, the panoramic view will provide you with a look inside central Flinders Ranges. The unique part of four-wheel driving is the ability to go to place you can’t with a normal car.

This hidden beauty will make for the perfect location for your next long weekend road trip. Next time you are planning a short holiday be sure to make your destination outback South Australia, and especially Wilpena Pound. All you need to do is the pack the car with the basic items, a change of clothes or two and set off in the early morning for a holiday in your hidden backyard at Wilpena Pound. This is a holiday destination you don’t want to miss out on!

*All names are fictional as requested by the Adnyamathanha people as a way of respect.

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