Billion Star Luxury
Out of Africa, a comfortable way to experience South Australia’s wilderness is springing up in remote outposts from the Flinders to the Gawler Ranges
African-style safari tents are replacing the hassle of camping, with the comfort of a wilderness experience with mod-cons such as indoor plumbing with hot water, power, flooring, verandas and proper beds. At places like the Ikara Safari Camp at Wilpena Pound and the Kangaluna Camp in the Gawler Ranges these permanent tented camps offer an easy way to get away from city lights. Have a night fire under a billion stars, wake to find local wildlife browsing the camp, then explore nearby national parks.
roughing it in pure luxury
words brad crouch
In the quiet dawn stillness of an ancient landscape I cautiously open the flap of my African safari-style tent after hearing muffled sounds of wildlife. The hungry megafauna are just outside — and they look at me as I look at them. But this is Ikara, not Kruger. The animals are emus, not elephants. While the luxury tents are modelled on those found in up-market South African game reserves, this is South Australia — Wilpena Pound to be precise, in the Flinders Ranges 430km north of Adelaide.
The Ranges are gorgeous in an ancient way, and the Pound is its jewel — from above it looks like a huge meteor crater, but the oval ramparts enclosing this massive natural amphitheatre are the worn remnants of once-colossal mountains. You can hike it, bike it, or scenic flight it to get a sense of its glory. The extraordinary landscape is 800 million years old and has been home to Adnyamathanha people for millennia.
Adnyamathanha means rock or hills people in Yura Ngawarla, the language of the Flinders Ranges. Scientists talk of geological upheavals followed by erosion to explain Wilpena Pound; the Adnyamathanha tell of how two huge Akurra, or serpents, intertwined in an oval embrace. As the traditional owners of the Flinders Ranges, the Adnyamathanha people are co-managers of the Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park. With Indigenous Business Australia, they also run the Wilpena Pound Resort inside the national park. It is a comfortable base with facilities like Captain Starlight’s Restaurant and the Poddy Dodger Bistro, swimming pool and 60 rooms sleeping up to six including ones with kitchenettes to self-cater. There are also 400 campsites.
However, for those seeking a true wilderness experience with all the comforts try the luxury tented sanctuary of the resort’s Ikara Safari Camp. The 15 permanent tents sleeping up to four people have power, indoor plumbing including hot water, air conditioning, flooring and verandas. Each has an outdoor fire pit to gaze into at night as a change from TV. It is a sublime way to take in the grandeur of the Flinders Ranges.
Wildlife such as kangaroos, euros, various reptiles and loads of birds are plentiful, although the area has a dour roll all of extinct species since modern settlement. The western quoll has been reintroduced. My informal welcome to country included almost stepping in a emu poop just outside my door — it pays to watch where you are going while admiring the scenery. Each night in front of reception a local elder gives a proper “welcome to country” around a fire. This is a privilege for visitors, not to be missed. And it’s very social.
From the resort there are options to explore the area and learn a little of local culture. After all, the Adnyamathanha call Wilpena “Ikara” meaning meeting place, so as a visitor you had better meet the locals. Bushwalks range from the Drought Busters stroll to the full-day return hike to St Mary Peak, the highest point of the Pound.
For cultural reasons the Adnyamathanha would prefer you didn’t hike to the actual summit of St Mary Peak, and the view from neighbouring Wangara peak is just as good.Maps are available for self-guided hikes or take a guided tour. For example, join the escorted walk along Wilpena Creek into Wilpena Pound and on to the Old Hills Homestead where you can learn about the hope and hardships of the pioneering Hills family. There is also the easy walk to Old Wilpena Station where an indigenous guide will give insights into bush tucker and culture. You’ll come away knowing the Adnyamathanha belong to the land, not vice versa, and they generously refer to land as “our country” not my country.
Four-wheel drive tours take in rugged beauty such as Brachina Gorge and Bunyeroo Gorge, where you may spot an elusive yellow-footed rock wallaby, and the mysterious rock carvings at Sacred Valley. Brachina Gorge with its ancient fossils and graphic geological records of drought and flood is called a corridor through time.
To top off the luxury camping experience join the Sunset Spectacular Tour to the Stokes Hill Lookout. Enjoy champagne while drinking in gold-hued views of Wilpena Pound, Mt Patawarta, and the Druid, Chace, Elder, Heysen and Bunker Ranges. An indigenous guide will tell the stories of the region, turning a static landscape into a vivid living history. A ‘Dreamtime’ Wi-Fi hotspot sign shows this is an ancient country embracing modern changes. And relax as the sun sets – on this SA safari experience where there are no lions lurking in the darkness.
Wilpena Pound Resort,
or try this one
In the remote reaches of South Australia some 600km north west of Adelaide on the Eyre Peninsula, Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris have a permanent campsite, Kangaluna Camp. It may be a campsite, but not as you know it — three large tents have indoor plumbing including showers, solar power, verandas, raised floors and furniture such as queen-sized beds crafted as rustic artworks.
The communal dining room has huge jarrah posts and canvas walls which roll up to reveal the great outdoors. There is also the Galaxy Suite — a “swagon”, or swag in the back of a covered wagon where guests can pull back the cover to gaze at the stars. The luxury tents are an ideal base to explore the neighbouring Gawler Ranges National Park in small group tours.
It is a place of wilderness and wildlife, of few people and remarkable geological sights. Red and western grey kangaroos bound and abound, as do euros; there are emus, dunnarts, goannas and wombat communities leaving tracks across grass paddocks. Some 126 bird species such as rainbow bee-eaters and mulga parrots live in the area.
With little to disturb them, with stealth you can watch animal mobs go about their business rather than seeing them flee in the distance.
Changing landscapes include black oak and mallee forests, desolate salt lakes, rocky gorges, vast plains of bluebush and spinifex, sand dunes and rounded hills.
It is an ancient land that has convulsed with volcanic eruptions, been struck by a meteor, covered by ice sheets and been an inland sea.
The result is dramatic and odd landscapes, none more so than the park’s Organ Pipes. Volcanic activity 1500 million years ago left multi-sided rhyolite columns that look like, well, organ pipes. Formations can be seen at places like Yandinga Falls and Kolay Mirica Falls.
Gawler Ranges National Park is 163,000ha, next to the 130,000ha Pinkawillinie Conservation Park. It is vast and beautiful but as a remote wilderness is not a place to wander without due care.
That is where a small group guided tour showing off its secrets, then returning to a very cool campsite, makes sense.
A hot steak with salad, a cold beer and good company after a day’s exploring, then a five star tent under a billion star sky — bush bliss.
Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris,
1800 243 343