Old stuff isn’t really impressive unless it’s seriously old. OK, so we haven’t uncovered a T-Rex or Moses’ basket here; this is just rock. But it’s knock-your-socks-off rock.
We figure 800 million years on the planet being layered, eroded, sculpted, scoured and buffed by the elements puts this particular bit of earth onto the A-List of Old, no questions asked.
Wilpena Pound is in South Australia’s Flinders National Park, about an hour’s flight west of Broken Hill, and I’ve personally been wondering what the hell a Pound is for about 15 years. I’ve flown near it but never over the top of it to have my curiosity satisfied, until recently. Verdict: I think you’d better come on out here and see this one.
Truthfully, it’s not a stand-alone destination for longer than a night or two; it will need some backup, but that’s what I’m here for.
There are plenty of distractions all around here to fill a memorable week or long weekend fly-away and, as usual, I’ll give you a choice of beds to rest your head on, put a fine meal and your drink of choice within reach, and steer you to an airstrip nearby, seeings I know you’re all lazy and can’t be bothered looking it all up.
First, let’s get you landed. If you’re flying out from the east coast, fill up at Broken Hill – makes life easy – before continuing to the Pound, 150nm further west. From anywhere else, stop in at Leigh Creek for fuel. Wilpena Pound Resort does have its own airstrip, from which the local scenic flights operate, however for first timers that’s a short and tricky strip to negotiate due to surrounding hills. We opted to land at the safer alternative, the nearby Rawnsley Park airstrip, a short drive from the resort.
The charter pilots make the most of the calmer conditions in the mornings before the easterly wind picks up, and you will hear them on the local 126.7 frequency usually at around 4,500ft. Chief Pilot, Matt, recommends we fly a clockwise pattern around the rim should there be traffic about, but is happy to answer any queries by visiting pilots if you're unsure of local procedures. (Ph: 0408 089173). Popular tourist periods like Easter will see them operating virtually all day, such is the demand for this incomparable view from the air. The resort gladly offered us transfers.
As if the Flinders Ranges aren’t remarkable enough with their strikingly coloured quartzite and limestone outcrops, they are merely the support act for Wilpena, the drawcard nestled in their midst.
What you will see from the air looks like a massive natural amphitheatre, 17kms long by 7kms wide. A formidable escarpment of sheer rock up to 1500ft surrounds a huge circular basin – home to a whole host of animals, birds and vegetation and once a natural corral that graziers used for cattle needing higher ground in times of floods.
Try to overfly the Pound at sun-up or sun-down. As with most geological formations in our outback, this 80 sq.km. stunner will appear that much more spectacular bathed in the various hues and tones the rising or setting sun will offer. The most dramatic view of the Pound is certainly from above, however its unique and beautiful landscape is also on show down at ground level and the entire area is well set up for bushwalkers of all levels.
Wilpena Pound Resort
Our group of 10 stayed at the newly refurbished Wilpena Pound Resort, which was great for a one-night stop-over. After the few previous nights of admittedly dodgy accommodation, we all fell happily into crisp new sheets on king-size beds in quite glam 4-star rooms. There’s also a decent restaurant for breakfast and dinner with big open fireplace, Poddy Dodgers Bar for that beverage I promised you, and the most helpful staff I’ve encountered in ages. There’s also a swimming pool, Visitors Centre and general store where we were able to buy lunch for our next airborne leg.
Wilpena Pound Resort www.wilpenapound.com.au
Ph: 08 8648 0004
Rawnsley Park Station
You may also like to try the nearby Rawnsley Park Station which gets a great wrap from pilot friends of mine who are partial to a touch more luxury on their safaris, and highly recommend the Eco Villas. Rossy and I have stayed in their holiday cabins, which are less expensive but still supremely comfortable.
Rawnsley provides the perfect base for exploring the Flinders Ranges. From pitching a tent under the stars to living it up in the Eco Villas, there's accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. Their Woolshed Restaurant is a great spot for dinner and serves delicious country style food in air-conditioned comfort or outdoors on the deck overlooking Rawnsley Bluff. Check out their website www.rawnsleypark.com.au.
Whilst you’re in the area, you’d be mad not to visit the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna, https://www.flyingtheoutback.com.au/prairie-hotel-parachilna either for lunch or (preferably) for an overnight stay. It's an outback classic. The publicans, Ross and Jane Fargher, have nailed it with providing a stylish oasis of accommodation and dining, completely unexpected at this old rail-head on the western plains of the Flinders.
Additional overnight options in the area you may like to look into are the opal town of Andamooka https://www.flyingtheoutback.com.au/andamooka and the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. https://www.flyingtheoutback.com.au/arkaroola
Anyway, back to Wilpena! I recommend a morning bushwalk whilst you’re there. We found the walk from near the resort through the surrouding bush and up to a viewing platform really enjoyable. Once you reach the Old Hills Homestead on the way, storyboards will teach you all about the history of the area and the extraordinary hardship faced by the pioneering Hills family who called this place home over a hundred years ago. Talk about stoic. I’m never complaining about anything again in my life.
Having obtained the property lease in 1901, the Hills were determined to make a go of farming, a hitherto untried venture. Before they could start carving out an existence from this harsh and remote land, they first had to carve out a road which was a ten-year long labour of intense proportions. During this time, they were beginning to have limited success with crop cultivation inside the Pound, but life was hard and conditions unimaginably crude. Then, you wouldn’t believe it, there was a massive flood in 1914 and the entire road they’d built through the almost impenetrable Wilpena Gap was completely destroyed. I nearly cried when I read that bit. I can’t leave you hanging, so the ending tells how the little family didn’t have the fortitude to start all over again, so sold their homestead to the Government, and it wasn’t until the 1940s that its tourism potential was recognised.
Wilpena Pound is another of Australia’s geological jaw-droppers and certainly deservant of a diversion to take in its sheer arrogant stance in the middle of nowhere.